A short time ago a very young man wearing the wings of the Army Air Forces on his uniform and a troubled look on his face came to our office for advice. He was just about to be assigned to a combat squadron. He had been reading what the pseudo-experts say about the airplanes he was about to fly. He had misgivings but he had no fear. All he asked was to know the truth so he could make a sound appraisal of. his chances under fire. Here are some of the things we told him to correct the impressions he had received from the writings of professional scandal-mongers, who seem to be unable or unwilling to read the daily combat records of our. aircraft which are the best evidence of their value.
Type for type and purpose for purpose we have no apologies to make for any of our flying equipment. Our best engineering brains are working day and night to retain our leadership in the quality of our airplanes.
Aircraft design is one of the most complex branches of engineering. Its complexity is inherent because the designer must, draw on almost all of the sciences and some of the arts in his eternal battle against weight and overweight. Each of the thousands of individual parts of an airplane must be stress analyzed, weighed and balanced with thoughtful care to determine how it can do its,job and still keep down its weight. Metallurgy, chemistry, physics, mechanics and mathematics must be always at the finger tips of the industrial designer. Fuselage form, position of engines, wings, tails, surfaces and landing gear and the mutual interaction of all of these elements are but a few of the critical design factors.
Improvements in fuel technology and solutions of the problems of lubrication throughout the relentless temperature range from white heat to the sub-zero of the substratosphere must go hand-in-hand with the design of engines of ever increasing power and lightness, for all of the efforts of the airplane designer are limited by horsepower available. Available horsepower may be used for speed and climb and range or load carrying in the proportions desired. But if an excess of. one element is required, the others must be sacrificed.
When the ideal performance compromise for a given purpose has been worked out, a full size plane is built and then begins a long intensive period of test flying of the prototype. Not until most of the changes dictated by flight test are made is it safe to begin tooling up for quantity production. And it is highly important that the tooling be made sufficiently flexible to accommodate the continuous design change of an ever-improving product.
It is small wonder then that the period between conception and quantity production of a new type of aircraft before the war was normally about seven years. The same period of time tor development was necessary in Germany, Italy, Russia, Poland or Czechoslovakia. Human brain capacities are about the same regardless of the color, creed, or language of their bearers. The war has accelerated the whole procedure of design, development and production engineering and this gives rise to a new danger. We must not compromise with the completeness of our development work any more than with the quality of the manufactured product.
When war clouds gathered all around America it was simple logic to build as many as possible of. the planes available as quickly as possible but at the same time provide production facilities so flexible that new designs could be utilized as soon as they had passed through their long development cycles. The long range bombers we are producing in such encouraging quantities were designed in the early 'thirties. Bigger and better ones were designed a little later. They will be produced in quantity a little later. Much bigger bombers were designed in the late 'thirties. They will be produced in due course but we can't sit back idly while we are at war and wait until they are ready for production. Even if we could they would be obsolete compared with some of the designs now at the blueprint stage. The same is true of fighters, cargo carriers and everything that flies. We have nothing to fear until the day comes when we run out of new and better designs for future assembly lines.
We must not be too hasty in declaring a plane obsolete. There may be a greater use for it than we are able to foresee. Our enemies are still building obsolete Messerschmitts at the rate of several hundreds a month. The Junkers JU-57, designed more than a decade ago, is still in substantial production.
In comparing airplane types we must remember that American airplanes were designed to defend America, British planes were designed to defend Britain and German planes were designed to defend Germany. None of the strategists of any of the European nations foresaw the character of this global war. Neither did our strategists and designers foresee the need for us to fight in a theater as compact as that of Western Europe. Both the British and the Germans failed to foresee the need for long range bombers. Now both are racing to produce them and the RAF is busy blasting the German factories where they are built.
Our defense problem was different. We knew not where lightning would strike between Alaska and Panama, and we had only one Navy for two oceans. So our designers created fast bombers with sufficient range to go where they were needed in a hurry, carrying supplies, protective armament and a reasonable load of bombs. The turbosupercharger, with its marvelous metallurgy, made it possible for these ships to carry the air war to the altitude limits of human endurance. There they became stable bombing platforms for the functioning of our very effective bombsight. That is why our B-17s are bombing Germany so effectively today and doing it in daylight with negligible losses. Our B-24s have already distinguished themselves in the long range operations for which they were designed. Detailed comparison of these ships with British bombers since designed for the specific job of bombing Germany from England is found on page 96. But their fighting record speaks more loudly than any figures because a bomber that is able to do its work and return safely to base is as good as a new bomber off the production line. It can be seen from their brief record under fire that these ships are the best of their type in the world today. This whole war effort boils down to a race in which the winner will be the side that can first drop the largest tonnage of well-directed bombs on the other's vital sources of supply. This will be done by the planes that make the most trips before they are shot down.
Our medium range bombers of the B-25 and B-26 types have already distinguished themselves by doing many jobs for which they were not designed. The men who conceived the B-25 had no idea that it would be used to bomb Tokyo. The Japanese learned much about the versatility of our B-26s when they dropped torpedoes in the Aleutians. Most of our pseudo-experts fail to remember that the single-seat interceptor fighter was a purely British development for a single British purpose the defense of London in the daytime. Many years ago the strategists of England realized that trouble could come to them from a distance of but twenty miles, which in terms of airplane speeds means less than five minutes notice. To intercept this potential sudden attack, a fighter was needed in which all elements of performance were subordinated to climbing rate and fire power. And so began the long line of development that led to the Hurricanes and Spitfires of today. These ships and their descendants are and should be the best available weapons for the purpose for which they were designed.
With full credit to the RAF for the development of its brilliant defense of London with these ships in daylight, it must be remembered that, when the Germans switched to night bombing, the single-seater fighters were not able to answer the challenge. It was a much larger twin-engine American ship, the old Douglas DB-7 ordered originally by the French, that was impressed into service because of its greater range, endurance, and carrying capacity. A later version of this ship, the A-20, is credited with stopping Field Marshal Rommel in his recent advance in Libya.
In America we had no problem comparable to the defense of London. Our boundaries were much wider. It was only logical that the developments of our fighter planes should proceed along other lines. It was natural that our fighters could not do as good a,job of something for which they were not intended. That is why it is so ridiculous for columnists to clamor for "the American aircraft industry to build the Spitfire". This can be done and British fighters actually have been built in Canada. But it is our strategists, not our columnists who must decide who is to build what and where.
No airplane that reaches the production stage is all good or all bad. A given type may excel another in one or more performance elements or it may be better suited to a special job. But it is illogical to compare it with a ship designed for some other purpose. Our 2,000 hp single-engine fighter, the Republic P-47, will outperform. the lower powered fighters including the new Nazi Focke-Wulf 190 with its 1,600 hp. engine. Our North American P-51 derives some additional performance over ships powered with the same engine because of its highly efficient laminar flow wing.
Type for type and purpose for purpose our fighters are more ruggedly constructed and carry more ammunition and armament than those of the enemy. Our .50-in-calibre machine guns have a higher muzzle velocity and greater penetrative effect than the .30-in-calibre types commonly used abroad.
The 37-mm automatic cannon built into the nose of the Bell P-39 is the largest yet to be carried aloft. Cannon in use on European airplanes fire a 20-mm shell. Besides this impressive armament our planes carry protective armor plate and leak-proof fuel tanks because we want our pilots to come back and fight again. Obviously, this increases the weight of our planes and decreases their performance and maneuverability slightly. But it is certainly better to go to war in a tank that in a pleasure car. And our pilots at the fronts have gone on record in their preference for our policies.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Our P-40s have defeated the Japanese Zeros in every engagement in which they have taken part. The Grumman Wildcat has a 3-1 score against land based planes of the Japs. The Bell P-39 has operated against Zeros above 30,000 ft,. and the Lockheed P-38 has taken them on above 35,000 ft. These facts cannot be laughed off by the gentlemen who criticize our planes so glibly. More facts about our fighters and our bombers are presented in the pages that follow. But even snore convincing than these facts are those that can't be told because of. the aid that their disclosure would give the enemy.
Far more important than specifications and statistics are the actual combat records of our planes in action. As this is written the average ratio of enemy losses to our own is nearly 4 to 1. This means that our planes are nearly four times as effective in combat as those of our enemies. This is the true measure of superiority of American airplanes. As long as we can outfight our enemies it would be both criminal and impractical to strip our planes of their protection or reduce their fire power to improve their maneuverability.
This is not a defense of American designers, engineers, or manufacturers. They have established a record which will go down in history as amazing. Least of all, is this an expression of an attitude that our current designs will continue to be adequate to the task. Our current planes are good and adequate weapons for the moment. Tomorrow they will be inadequate. The High Command of our Army and Navy Air Forces know this. Our manufacturers, designers and engineers know this. And as you read this they are bending over their drawing boards, studying designs in the wind tunnels, and working at the flying fields on the new models which will bring complete air supremacy to us. A cheering word, an expression of confidence will do far more to advance their important work than a kick in the pants. When the time comes to criticize we will be the first to call attention to shortcomings and to do it with bare knuckles.
The privilege of free speech and free press for which we are fighting carries with it a simple but solemn obligation to get the facts straight before they are published, and to refrain from the temptation of disseminating demoralizing gossip for personal gain.
This editorial, signed by Leslie E Neville, Editor, was originally published in the October, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 10, pp 91-92.