The draftee's debacle day of induction and examination is minor compared to the rigid tests Uncle Sam's warbirds receive before flying into battle. Officially, the sky warriors are put in fighting trim at Modification Centers, but in the lingo, it's called an induction center or warbird clinic. (A-1 but no limited service planes approved.) The AAF Materiel Command demand perfection plus and they're right! Civilian technicians, comparable to doctors, use special laboratories and instruments, testing, adding, or subtracting parts to beat Axis air competition. These warbird clinics obviate the need for re-tooling machines every time new improvements are developed.
TWA's giant clinic in Kansas City prepares North American B-25 Mitchell bombers for combat.
Seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, sleek sky fighters appear at the clinic to undergo their physical examination. Forty per cent of the Modification Center's employees are women. There are former beauty shop operators toiling as "stinger manicurists," cleaning, checking guns and bomb releases. It's the same title but a different brand of beauty treatment and they're not sorry to have deserted feminine roles for the duration. When a new plane is taxied into the hangar, it becomes a recruit, skilled hands strip the fighter down to the skin, just like the Army doctor looking for obscure diseases.
This recruit doesn't have to take the nearest subway or bus to his induction center. Flown to the clinic by a Ferry pilot, an army aircraft mechanic trained with the ships on the production line accompanies the "draftee." His job is to see that the modification task is done efficiently, accompany the ship to its final destination overseas, watch the health of the plane as long as it flies.
The physical going-over leaves nothing to the imagination. Every piece of radio equipment is removed, put through a laboratory, then, re-installed. Engines are tested; guns cleaned and mechanisms checked; bomb release racks are given a thorough inspection: there's not a square inch from fin to prop that goes unobserved.
Soldiers traveling north wear the proper wind-breakers, fur hats, and wool mittens. Ships destined for Arctic operations must wear winterizing equipment. Propeller de-icer boots are added; special parts for preventing wing freezing are essential. Perhaps the ship is to be converted into a torpedo bomber. Alteration of the bomb bay to accommodate the giant tin fish also calls for a different type of machine gun protection. Increasing a plane's range means more fuel tanks.
No angle, plate, or rivet is left untested, for jobs cover virtually every maintenance and inspection phase. Finally, when the craft measures up to clinical health standards, it receives the final hangar "OK," there's one more all-important test. The magnetic compass is checked, and accuracy may mean life or death. To obtain a correct magnetic reading on the navigational compass, compensation must be made for the steel in the plane. In "swinging a compass," the inspector sights a certain landmark while the plane is towed by a tractor, merry-go-round fashion. From the sighted landmark, he makes the necessary change in the compass reading. The recruit is now ready to try her "wings." Veteran TWA pilots climb aloft for a 45-minute shakedown flight, checking engine operation, flying characteristics, radio equipment and instruments. If the recruit doesn't measure up, that means a return to the hangar.
The final test completed, a Ferry Command pilot takes the cockpit, accompanied by the Army crew chief, and the plane soars towards a secret destination. Reaching the unnamed field, the ferry pilot has completed his work, but the Army crew chief flies right on to the combat zone, always in charge of his ship. His one order is "Keep her flying."
This article was originally published in the September, 1943, issue of Air News magazine, vol 5, no 3, pp 24-25.
The original article includes 8 captioned photos showing various operations in refurbishing a B-25 plus a photo of a hangar full of B-17s.
The original was printed on 9½ by 12¾ inches. Images in the PDF have been reduced to print on letter-size paper.
Photos credited to Douglas.