Readers of Flying know that the 185,000 plane production program outlined by the President of the United States involves an effort on the part of the established aircraft manufacturing industry unparalleled in history; and that is why scores of other industries in the United States, including the automobile industry, are being called on to produce part of this equipment.
What we are doing today is the result of nearly two decades of planning on the part of the War Department, the Navy Department and the aircraft industry. They have followed the traditional military policy of the United States of maintaining nuclei of well-trained and well-equipped military forces capable of rapid expansion in an emergency.
Obviously no industry can be maintained during 20 years of peace for the vast production necessary in wartime. The cost of such maintenance would be prohibitive, and would impose too much of a burden on the taxpayers. It would be for the most part a useless expenditure, because production of equipment in vast quantities over a long period of peaceful years would result in wasteful obsolescence. Therefore, the aircraft industry, working with the air forces, has continued to develop the performance qualities of aircraft year by year and has met all numerical requirements for maintaining the nucleus of a first-class air power.
Now that we are at war, it is part of the well-organized plan for the allied industries to contribute to the quantity production of the high-performance equipment which the aircraft industry has developed. Col John H Jouett.
JUST how the United States proposes to go about overwhelming the Axis in the air is an open war secret, thanks to an amazingly frank official report on the aviation industry and on the task before the nation's plane builders.
The outline of the blueprint for victory was given by President Roosevelt in his call for an output of 185,000 planes in two years. The detail is filled in by the Government's Once for Emergency Management. In contrast with his foes, Uncle Sam is going to war with a minimum of secrecy. Here is the master plan for world air domination:
Production this year of 60,000 planes, three-fourths of them combat craft. Next year 125,000, with all but a fifth warplanes.
Concentration at the outset on some four types of fighters for the Army Air Forces, on two heavy and two medium bombers, and a single type of dive bomber, meanwhile bringing new planes out of the design stage.
Speeding the expansion of the AAF from 54 to 84 groups and beyond as required, reinforcing the Navy's aerial arm as rapidly as possible, all the while keeping planes flying and moving by ship to the other United Nations. Then, as our power mounts, "we shall carry the attack against the enemy we shall hit him and hit him again wherever and whenever we can reach him," in the words of the commander-in-chief.
The OEM is the top war production directing agency and its summarizing statement complementing the President's "state of the nation" address to Congress warrants close study for the picture of the point reached by the expanding aircraft industry as well as what it has been called on to do. Nothing as frank has come from any other belligerent, and men who have a hand in shaping American air war policies advise that nothing as revealing is likely to be forthcoming again for the war's duration. Supremely confident of ultimate triumph, Uncle Sam has telegraphed his hardest punch to dismay the foe and hearten the home front, but does not intend to keep on doing so.
The most important current trends in the urgent transformation of aircraft production to a full war basis are thus listed by the OEM:
For what this step promises for the future, the Government was entirely logical in topping the list of trends with this industrial transformation. But of more immediate interest to the air-minded is the present picture of trends three and four. With the observation that freezing of certain types of fighter planes will greatly speed production, the OEM predicted that some companies making their own models would convert their facilities to production of other types deemed of more use in the war effort.
Freezing of models of the chosen few will not mean that improvements will be halted or that there will be no new planes. Research and experimentation are to continue at an even faster rate.
What fighter types have been selected for mass production is the business of the Army and Navy, so that the OEM speaks on this point by indirection:
"It is the considered opinion of our military experts that the planes rolling off production lines of American aircraft factories are the finest of their type in the world. From the viewpoint of quality the Army has the best Air Forces in existence today and the air arm of the Navy is second to none. It is the real job of American industry to produce so many of these high quality planes that our Air Forces will outstrip the Axis aerial power in numbers as well.
"The fastest military airplane in the world with speed well in excess of 400 mph is the Army's P-38, the Lockheed Lightning. This low-wing monoplane with tricycle landing gear and two 12-cylinder supercharged engines rated at 1,150 hp, weighs about 13,500 pounds, is armed with 37-mm cannon and .50-caliber machine guns.
"Also heavily armed with 37-mm cannon, .50- and .30-caliber machine guns, is the Bell Airacobra, P-39, a single-place, single-engined pursuit plane that weighs about 6,000 pounds. As a middle-altitude fighter, as well as for attack on ground targets, this plane has no equal.
"Nearly ready to be put into quantity production, the Republic P-47 is the fastest single-engined airplane in the world. Heavily armored and bristling with both large and small caliber guns, this plane has done 680 mph in a power dive test and more than 400 mph in level flight. It is powered by a 2,000 hp engine and has a four-bladed propeller with a diameter of more than 12 feet. Comparable in weight with the 13,500-pound P-38, the P-47 is slightly smaller in dimensions. Its length is 32 ft 8 in, its height, 13 feet and its wing span, 41 feet.
"Later models of the Curtiss P-40 series have higher horsepower and much greater firepower than the predecessors that have done such meritorious work for the British in the Middle East."
The RAF version, it is noted, is called the Tomahawk, and now in production is the sixth improved model, known, like some of its immediate predecessors, as the Kittyhawk. The later model, says the report, has particularly fine performance records at altitudes where bomber interceptions are taking place. Equipment includes leak-proof tanks and fuel system, armor plate, bullet-proof glass, belly tank for extra fuel, full pilot protection and camouflage, some of which were lacking on early models.
These were the fighters picked out significantly for detailed mention. But the Army is beginning to make use of some later models of American-built fighters used by Britain and other friendly nations. The export types include the Vultee Vanguard, the North American Mustang and the Brewster Buffalo. The Air Corps took over a North American pursuit plane produced for Thailand, for use as a special advanced trainer.
The Navy planes also used by the British attest further achievement by the American aircraft industry. The manner in which a Consolidated Catalina patrol bomber trailed the German battleship Bismarck is a familiar story. Britain also has been getting American-made dive bombers, the Brewster Bermuda, the Vought-Sikorsky Chesapeake and the Vultee Vengeance.
The OEM prediction of greater emphasis on bombers in the year ahead was hardly needed in the light of the President's promise to carry the attack to the enemy. It is a military secret now just how many it is hoped to turn out in a given time, but the report stated the program now in effect calls for an increased rate of production for four-engined heavy bombers. Weighing nearly seven times as much as some single-engined fighters, they require far more man-hours, more raw materials, more engines and more plant space, so that "it is necessary to assign the efforts of a large section of the aircraft industry in order to reach the goal."
As for specific planes,
"it is generally agreed among military observers that in the heavy bomber class, the enemy has nothing to compare with our Flying Fortress B-17 or our Consolidated B-24. The British have been using both of these four-engined bombers for some time and have renamed the latter the Liberator. When long-distance bombing raids are undertaken, it can safely be assumed that among the RAF planes sent on the mission are a sizable number of these American-built aircraft.
"In the medium bomber class, the American Army has two different planes, whose range, speed and bomb carrying ability is greater than any similar bomber in any other air force. The Martin B-26 two-engined bomber is the fastest medium bomber in the world. The British, who are using a slightly different model of this plane, call it the Marauder. The B-26 has a slightly higher top speed than the B-25, made by North American. However, the latter bomber has speed nearly as great as famous foreign fighter planes.
"The twin-engined light attack bomber, Douglas A-20A, is so fast that the British use an earlier version named by them the Havoc as a night fighter. There have been reports that our bombers, in the four-engined as well as two-engined class, can complete their mission and outrun certain highly vaunted foreign fighter planes that have attacked them.
"The Army and Navy use the same Douglas dive bomber, called the A-24 by the former and the Dauntless by the latter service. Aviation experts in this country mince no words about this dive bomber. They call it 'the finest in existence.' "
These were specified as the best known of those being turned out for use in American and allied air forces. Meanwhile newer bombers are coming out of the blueprint stage "faster, larger" and with "greater load ability and more range than the ones already the 'finest in the world.'"
It has been months since actual production totals were released, but the OEM reassures us that the output of military planes already has greatly increased and is increasing monthly.
The need is urgent. Aside from the demand from the other United Nations, the AAF was in the process of expanding from 54 to 84 combat groups, looking to a force of at least 400,000 officers and men even before the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor spread the war to the Pacific. Now the AAF official objective has been raised to 1,000,000 men by the end of 1942, and double this total eventually. The Navy had seven carriers in commission when war came, but 11 more were being built and along with their complement of planes are required mounting numbers of huge shore-based patrol bombers.
To revert to the first trends specified, the OEM marshaled impressive data to picture the transformation of the automobile industry, which already has turned out approximately $1,000,000,000 worth of military equipment, including airplane parts. Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and the independents are producing engines, equipment and parts which make it possible for the aircraft industry to step up its daily output.
In nearly every month of this year "plants will begin production of planes with parts and sub-assemblies supplied by industrial pools. One example is the joint program of Boeing and others to make the Army's B-17 Flying Fortress. Originally the B-17 was made only in the home plant of Boeing. Within a few months the latest model of this 40,000-pound bomber will be made not only at Boeing, but also at several other plants."
There are several other notable examples. The middle western bomber assembly program launched more than a year ago will draw upon the resources of each of the largest automobile companies to supply parts and assemblies for several types of bombers. In making the huge Consolidated B-24, comparable in size to the Flying Fortress, one large motor car maker will supply parts for its own assembly plant now being built and other new plants now going up. This pool is to be in operation by summer.
Also in the middle west program is the production of North American B-25 and Martin B-26 two-engined bombers. The latter involves creation of sub-assemblies by firms which never before made plane parts, to be sent for final assembly under direction of Martin experts.
As for engines, the similar aviation-motor car pooling arrangements are due to be increased greatly. Cites the OEM:
"More than one-third of the total hp capacity existing and planned under the aircraft program is represented in engine plants to be operated by the automobile industry. Each month adds to the participation by such companies as Packard, Ford, Studebaker, Chevrolet and Buick."
Production started in the late fall on the 1,350 hp Rolls-Royce engine in Packard-managed plants. Ford was due to begin quantity output of 2,000 hp Pratt & Whitney engines early this year, after having turned out a limited number. Studebaker's plant for 1,200 hp Wright engines had been completed at the start of the year with most of the tools in place. Conversion of a Chevrolet plant to make engines is in progress. Buick is preparing to operate its huge new engine plant in a few months.
Government and manufacturers are keenly alive to the peril of possible enemy bomb damage, the OEM reassures. Plants within bomber range of the coast are making extensive blackout preparations and those in the interior have devised safeguards against sabotage.
"But such precautions are not the only ones being made. Now being studied are plans to transfer to other similar plants the operations that may be stopped by bomb damage or sabotage. The over-all purposes of the plan is to coordinate the entire aircraft industry so that damage to individual plants will not stop the steady flow of parts and planes to the fighting forces. When new plants are built, they will be located in the area between the mountain ranges."
This article was originally published in the May, 1942, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 30. no 5, pp 33-34, 90.
The PDF of this article includes a photo of Col Jouett and a photo of a B-17 production line.
Photos are not credited.