Despite America's heavy responsibilities in the Pacific zone, large numbers of United States airplanes are still arriving in this country, and although great credit must be given to United States industry, the real handout must go to the Allied Merchant Navy.
New types are being introduced into the RAF with a lot less delay than previously, and the three pursuits, Mustang, Lightning, and Airacobra are going into squadrons in ever-increasing numbers.
American airplanes have naturally been quite a problem to British officials for, like British machines, there are always modifications to be made as the result of fighting experience. With home-produced ships this problem is comparatively easy to overcome when the parent firm is on the doorstep with trained personnel available. When the parent firm is up to 7,000 mi away there are only a limited number of expert service engineers available, so there is liable to be long delay in getting new types up to front-line pitch.
Recently the Ministry of Information gave newspaper men a break, allowing them the chance to look over a large RAF depot used exclusively for training instructors on American products, overhaul and repair United States airplanes, motors, radio and instruments. In addition the depot has created special facilities for instructing both civilian and RAF staff to American aviation practice. From a small group of experts used as instructors an organization has grown with semi-skilled and automobile service station hands which is handling complicated aero-mechanisms and assemblies with 100 percent results.
The whole organization was impressive in size and efficiency, and to an American like taking a quick trip back home. There were only two British aircraft, and these old types used for urgent transportation of parts and equipment when the need arose.
It is interesting to know that the original building forming this training school was built from the early packing cases from the ex-French Maryland bombers and erected by Polish labor. From those early days buildings have sprung up over a very large area, and now house many self-contained sections, such as airplanes, motors, propellers, radio, instruments, etc.
This British-American depot is staffed mainly by British engineers, though an engineer from each of the large American aircraft corporations is permanently stationed there and is responsible for any technical problems concerning their own company's products, and also for giving advice regarding instructions classes which are held both for civilian and RAF personnel.
In forming such an organization the Ministry of Aircraft production had to face difficult personnel problems expert technicians in all fields were required on British airplanes, and, naturally, under such circumstances only a limited number of men were available for initiating training work on American products, It would have been normal to figure that the authorities would take the view that British airplanes and equipment should come first, but it must be handed to the Ministry of Aircraft Production when they took the opposite line in diverting some of their best men to the servicing and instructing of RAF engineers in the technique of American aircraft practice.
Aeronautical engineering and procedure differs greatly in Britain and United States, and, taking the inspection side alone, staff have had to get acquainted with different thread forms, material, specifications and methods of construction which in many instances do not conform to the usual Air Ministry requirements. Motor and radio design differ widely from British standards and such differences are liable to cause adverse comment under arduous service conditions if the technicalities of equipment are not adequately understood and correctly serviced.
Apart from minor criticism during the early months when all kinds of United States airplanes and equipment were pouring into squadrons and technical facilities stretched to the limit, there have been no adverse remarks due to the speed with which the RAF service setup has organized. Right through, American products have received top attention.
As the war goes on and greater initiative is taken, the manpower problem will become increasingly difficult in the United States as it has here, especially in such a specialized branch of industry as aircraft engineering. Despite personnel problems at home, United States firms should, if at all possible, extend their servicing arrangements here, and one man to act as liaison to RAF squadrons in maintaining his company's products at high pitch is well worthwhile. The RAF greatly appreciate such a gesture while the advertising side of 100 percent service and the good will it creates is an important factor which United States firms in peacetime have always kept before them.
In teaching United States technique to British personnel the RAF and Ministry of Aircraft Production have spared no effort to clarify verbal instruction with working models and accurate perspective drawings of more intricate assemblies and mechanisms. In the school section of this depot there are large panels showing the workings of electric and hydraulic landing gear retracting mechanism and flap operation, with sectioned rams and valves, etc, so that even a dumbbell engineer can figure out their means of functioning.
The Bendix-Stromberg injection carburetor differs a whole lot from British carburetion ideas, and there is a special section dealing with this complicated component. Incidentally, the RAF have many jokes about the injection carburetor because of its many external gadgets, but, nevertheless, it is generally appraised for doing a great job.
Both Curtiss-Wright and Hamilton Standard propellers are explained in minute detail by expert instructors and there are full-scale working models built in mockup frames alongside of which are sectioned hubs and sectioned components of the control mechanism. The whole job is so beautifully set out and the drawings so carefully and cleverly carried out that even the auto-service hand, who has spent his time pulling Buick motors apart, can very soon understand the intricacies of these propellers.
The motor training section is a marvel of efficiency and perfect layout. The three American motor types Wasp, Cyclone and Allison are all segregated and the various parts laid out in subassemblies, some of which again are sectioned. There are special demonstration exhibits of crankshaft and connecting rod assemblies, supercharger drive and clutch gearing, reduction gears, while special attention is given to cylinder and valve gearing in order to show the pressure lubrication system of the valve mechanism a feature not found on British radials.
There are also sections and models of the forward mounted gear-box and extension shaft used in the Airacobra, while there are special examples to show the unusual accessory drive on the Allison V-1710. Another exclusive for the moment American specialty, the exhaust-driven turbocharger, used on the Fortress and Lightning, is shown in sections, so that you can immediately see the superfine craftsmanship employed in its construction.
Trainees are encouraged to visit frequently the large well-planned repair shops, so they can see what happens to motors, airplanes and components returned from service flying. Thus, after a few weeks of excessive training gaining first-hand experience of the various products, when turned over to the squadron they are familiar with any inherent troubles and know how to put a stop to many would-be difficulties before they actually arise.
High United States Army Air Corps and Navy officers visiting this country will do well to take a look at this training establishment not that their problems back home are similar to those here, but a whole lot about training personnel can most surely be learned.
Since the last writing most of the Fortresses have left this country and for a short while they were being used on operations in Libya. The RAF have been a little disappointed in the Fortress as a considerable amount of trouble has been experienced with it, maybe due to many modifications too hastily carried out. This ship was unsuitable for service in Europe, due to its comparatively light armament, and when in Libya, I heard that it was experiencing trouble from operating in desert sand conditions. There are most excellent reports here about the new Fortress which will no doubt be used to drop heavy bombs in the European zone, when sufficient numbers of these planes are available.
The Douglas Boston has been modified and developed as a result of operational experience, and suggestions from RAF and Douglas engineers. Increases to armament have improved its striking power, while other improvements have boosted the performance, making it the fastest and most maneuverable machine in the category. Improvements will still continue to be made, and in the coming offensive it looks like the Boston will achieve a degree of fame similar to the Hudson.
Many engineers and fighter pilots here criticized the Airacobra when the first details of its design and construction were published. Pilots figured that the motor being behind them would cause instability and lack of maneuverability at high speeds, while they didn't like the idea of not having the protection of the motor in front of them. I have spoken to several men who have flown this aircraft, and all of them speak very highly of it, while Fighter Command give it the most excellent report.
No details have been released about the Mustang, but it is rumored that it is as hard-hitting as the four cannon Hurricane, at the same time possessing comparable performance. I have seen the Mustang fly, and its remarkable resemblance, at certain angles, to the Messerschmitt 109 will give observers and spotters plenty of worry.
The RAF are very keen to get hold of information regarding the behavior, performance and bomb-carrying load of the Martin B-26 Marauder, airplane chief engineers are also very interested in this, on account of its advanced design.
This article was originally published in the July, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 41, no 7, pp 94-95, 295-296.
The original article includes 5 photos.
1 photo credited to OEM Defense; other photos not credited.