A MERE hundred planes a month in 1938; 200 in 1939; 450 in 1940; 1,600 in 1941, and today, as this is written, plane production goes on at a rate of 5,000 a month. A previous year's production now in one single week every week.
So begins the story of the greatest industrial expansion in history; an industrial miracle that far surpasses anything our enemies ever have done or can do. Not only did we out-produce the Axis but the acceleration in our production during the past 12 months exceeded the greatest increase in German output during their forced-draft war preparation of 1939, when their production rose from 1,100 to 1,600 planes per month.
The toughest part of our job was accomplished in 20 months. We boosted deliveries from 100 or so to 1,000 planes a week, passing the combined Axis powers. Today, Germany's curve is flattening; ours is climbing steeply. Lt Gen Henry H Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, assures us that Army contractors will produce not less than 148,000 planes in the remainder of 1942 and in 1943. During that same period Navy contractors will turn out at least 37,000 additional planes.
Manpower in the airframe, engine and propeller industries was increased from 125,000 to 450,000 workers during the past 20 months, with the prospect that the industry will be employing more than 1,000,000 men and women in 1943. Many manufacturers are solving their personnel problems by recruiting women workers. More than 40,000 of them teachers, stenographers, waitresses, housewives and school girls today are welders, assemblers, machine operators and inspectors on aircraft production lines. Productive floor space in the airframe, engine and propeller industries expanded from 18,000,000 sq ft to nearly 55,000,000 sq ft during the last 20 months. Further expansion to more than 60,000,000 sq ft may be expected this year and an ultimate figure of more than 100,000,000 is a distinct possibility.
To grasp the full magnitude of this task we must remember that a single medium bomber has 30,000 parts, which are built into 650 minor sub-assemblies to make 32 major sub-assemblies. The entire process involves 30,000 man hours of labor. Each of the two engines in this plane requires 50,000 specialized inspections. Every one of the 50 instruments entails many hours of precision workmanship. Yet today there is one factory turning out 4 bombers every day. Another produces fighters at the rate of nearly 20 a day.
To the amazement of the entire world these manufacturing miracles were accomplished without sacrificing the high standard of American aeronautical equipment. There has been some loose talk about the quality of our combat airplanes as compared with those of our allies and our enemies. Indisputable evidence of the superior stamina of our aircraft under fire is written between the lines of almost every war communique. Every battle record tells a story of heavy losses inflicted at small cost upon numerically superior enemy forces. The consistency of this performance on all the far-flung battlefronts constitutes the most eloquent testimony of the high calibre of our designs, our manufacturing methods and the skill and daring of our pilots.
And let us remember that our decisive victory in the battle of production was not won without headaches and heartaches on the part of management, labor and government. When the President sounded the call for 50,000 planes in the spring of 1940, the program called for only 5,500 military aircraft. Government and industry reeled from the shock both determined, however, that it could and would be done.
The Army, the Navy and the old Defense Advisory Commission set to work to draft a program. This has been revised many times upward! Congress then proceeded, more slowly, to modify the laws that would have obstructed the realization of the objective. Then the aviation industry, without contracts, in the face of discriminatory profit-limitative legislation, and with nothing but oral assurances of governmental intentions, went ahead with its Herculean expansion plans. New factories were completed long before facilities-contracts and their funds were forthcoming.
The rugged individualists who had founded and built the aviation industry cast aside their rivalries and embarked upon a period of unselfish cooperation. Priceless engineering experience was exchanged. Material was relinquished for transfer to plants where it was needed more urgently. Successful personnel training methods and experience in the use of women workers were pooled for the benefit of all concerned. During one recent month, the cooperation among eight southern California plants averted more than 1,860 potential bottlenecks in production.
As the lessons of the war dictated the need for greater numbers of particular airplane types, many manufacturers accepted orders for planes designed and developed at rival factories. Striking examples are the long range bombers being turned out by plants where only trainers, fighters or dive bombers formerly were made.
Mindful of the risk involved in educating rivals, thereby creating future potential competition, subcontractors nevertheless were sought and trained by pioneer manufacturers. Makers of toys and wheelbarrows, automatic stokers and linoleum were among those who rallied to the call. Within a year subcontracting rose from 13 to 36 per cent of the total program. It still is rising,
When the automotive industry came into the picture, aviation manufacturers gave generously of their time and knowledge to start the newcomers. Liberal licensing arrangements enabled them to reap the full benefits of technical developments. Automotive engineers swarmed through the aviation plants in search of the exacting "know-how" of the aeronautical industry.
Each type of aircraft that reaches the production stage is the result of long periods of research, design and development. The unseen workers toiling in the wind tunnels and the laboratories of government and industry are the unsung heroes who tirelessly are striving to surpass all previous efforts. Their brilliant accomplishments are eloquent testimony of the superiority of men and women who are blessed with freedom of action and thought. Today more than 20 experimental combat airplanes are under development and will replace older types as soon as they fulfill the exacting requirements of our armed forces. Among these are aircraft that promise to outfight and to out-perform any and all of the much vaunted warplanes of the Axis military machine. And this without loss of production.
Every man, woman and child of all the United Nations may fervently be thankful that those who chart our course in aircraft production have not frozen design to such a degree as to make impossible the immediate adoption of improvements as they come out of these laboratories.
What does this brilliant record mean in terms of final victory?
Every newspaper reader has learned this basic war lesson air supremacy is the essential ingredient of military success. As the balance of air power shifts, so do the fortunes of war.
In those dark days when our output was 500 planes a month, Germany's was 2,000 and the German air force was twice that of our Allies. When we reached 2,000 a month last fall, Germany had advanced to a monthly rate of 2,500. Today, as this is written, we have caught up with the enemy's backlog. The air forces of both sides are about equal numerically and United Nations' production exceeds that of the Axis by 27 per cent. Next summer (1943) both the air force and the output of the United Nations will be double those of all the Axis powers.
That is the pattern of ultimate victory!
The pattern of the peace to follow also is gaining in definition. The airplane has shriveled the world to one-fifth its former size. Its use as an instrument of destruction is but a momentary distortion of the pattern of human progress. Its potential power, as a stern preserver of peace, is beyond imagination. Today's air routes of our Army Air Force Ferrying Command are the international trade routes of tomorrow. Giant airliners, by reducing time and space, will speed fraternity among the nations and disunity will give way to better understanding and goodwill.
Flying freight trains, with aerial locomotives towing glider boxcars, will serve large cities, decentralizing population and giving to inland cities many of the commercial advantages of seaports. Air mail and passenger pick-up lines will fill the gaps between these transcontinental trunk lines and tie in the smallest hamlets. Universal fly-it-yourself services will provide airplane facilities for those who do not own low cost private aircraft. Roadable rotary wing aircraft and family planes of the fixed wing type may even run household errands.
The coming generation of business men who today is piloting our war planes will find aircraft as essential to business as it now finds them essential to victory. Commenting on our war production record, Donald Nelson has said, "We are today in the position of men who realize that they are actually doing the impossible". The mass production miracle that the aviation industry management and workers alike has performed through the all-out effort of free enterprise can and will serve civilization in peace as it has in war.
With this boundless new medium of transportation and its concurrent technological developments we shall rebuild our way of life to a rich, new fullness upon the ruins of a war-tom world.
This editorial, signed by James H McGraw, Jr, was originally published in all McGraw-Hill magazines in September, 1942, including Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 9 pp 89-90.
A PDF of this editorial is available.