Aviation's War Communique No 14

The Commander-in-Chief tells the world how America has given the United Nations full air superiority. New Aircraft Production Board set up to control and coordinate production. Latest reports on performance of our aircraft on the world's fighting fronts.

This fourteenth communique finds your Commander-in-Chief himself reporting the greatest aviation news in history.

In his annual message to Congress on the state of the Union, the President said that the United. States, the British, and the Russians will hit the enemy heavily and relentlessly from the air. Day after day, he said, we shall heap tons upon tons of explosives on their war factories, utilities, and seaports.

Japanese strength in ships and planes is going down and down, he stated, and American strength in ships and planes is going up and up. That will become evident to the Japanese people themselves when we strike at their own home islands and bomb them constantly from the air. In support of his words, the President revealed that even today we are flying as much lend-lease material into China as ever traversed the Burma Road, sometimes flying on instruments over 17,000-ft mountains.

These Victory-auguring promises delivered by the head of this country, with its unmeasured war resources, stirred deep misgivings in the hearts of enemy rulers, lest their people begin to realize the true forces that are being brought against them. The Germans made a frantic attempt to jam all the United Nations radio stations which beamed the President's speech in every direction, in every language.

Mr Roosevelt said that few Americans realize the amazing growth of our air strength, though he said he felt sure the enemy does. Day in and day out our air forces are bombing the enemy and meeting him in combat on many different fronts all over the world.

And for those who question the quality of American warplanes and the ability of our fliers, the President pointed to the fact that in Africa we are currently shooting down two enemy planes to every one we lose, and in the Pacific and Southwest we are knocking them down four to one.

He referred to the enormity of Hitler's and Mussolini's miscalculations in assuming they would always have the air superiority they enjoyed when they bombed Warsaw, Rotterdam, London and Coventry. That superiority is gone forever, he said.

Our 1942 airplane and tank production fell short only a bit numerically, and Mr Roosevelt emphasized that last word. We have every reason to acclaim our incredible production in 1942. We turned out just short of 50,000 military planes — more than the airplane production of Germany, Italy, and Japan put together. In December, we produced 5,500 military planes, he said, and the rate is rapidly rising. As each month passes, the averages of our types of planes weigh more, take more man-hours to make, and have vastly more striking power.

Meanwhile, reorganization of the War Production Board's authority over aircraft production, begun several weeks ago, is nearly completed at this writing. As front line experience demonstrated that aviation ranks alongside of ships as a major weapon, the administration determined to clear all channels for airplane production. This determination resulted in the appointment of Charles Z Wilson to head a new "Little WPB" for airplanes, titled officially the Aircraft Production Board. Certain of the personnel still remained to be appointed, but the main framework of the organization is revealed in the chart accompanying this article.

Actually, Mr. Wilson did not wait for completion of his set-up before going to work. For weeks he has been smoothing the flow of materials to the airplane manufacturers, some of whom had been slowed as much as 25 percent because their supplies did not come in. It was mainly the materials delay, months ago, that caused the long plateau in the production curve.

All who had correct information knew that the curve would start up as soon as this materials problem was solved. Incidentally, some of the materials that went to speed airplane output were taken away from other equipment which in combat had proved to have less strategic value. Of course many factors other than an even flow of metals are boosting airplane production. One of them is the additional productive capacity effected through construction of new plants plus expansions of existing facilities. This will continue.

But no sooner is one problem solved than a new one pops up. Requirements of war, like the fortunes of war, are unpredictable. To the materials problem, which will persist in 1943, will be added a real showdown on manpower. T P Wright, Aircraft Resources Control director, says that in 1941, the aircraft industry's problem was getting tools, in 1942 it was getting materials and in 1943 it will be the combined problem of obtaining materials plus manpower. Airplane producers will have to rake and scrape for metals, for men, and for women this year, but everybody knows they will get them, because aviation is recognized as a most vital weapon, even ahead of tanks.

Yes, the problems will be solved. Army, Navy, and WPB made a joint New Year statement in which they estimate that about twice the number and about four times the total weight of planes built in 1942 will be built in 1943, with emphasis continued on bombers designed to carry the maximum of destruction to enemy fighting forces and enemy industrial centers. Says the statement: "Great importance in the strategic plans for this year is placed on aircraft, merchant shipping, and naval escort and combat vessels." There you have the big three — and note that airplanes come first.

As both Churchill and Roosevelt have said, the enemy's airpower is weakening. Most authorities contend that Japan's and Germany's resources are so depleted now that they cannot materially increase their airplane production. Our present rate, plus that of our allies, is probably enough to heat the enemy. But nobody is betting on that. It is now said in Washington that our 1943 goal is a set number of planes somewhat greater than 100,000 Mr Wilson predicts that our rate will reach double the present production, giving us 11,000 per month. To build 100,000 planes, it can readily be figured that we will have to average 8,333 per month.

But, after all, it doesn't matter so much — as many authorities have already said — how many planes an air force builds as it does what kind. If you were to go to Wright Field and see some of the airplanes our Air Forces laboratory has in the works, you would be strongly impressed that this is true. Some mere models of the "shape" of things to come, may actually arrive quicker than we expect … Some are test planes in the air … some are ready for the front, like the successor to the Boeing Flying Fortress recently mentioned by Maj Gen Oliver P Echols, head of the AAF Materiel Command. Just as we have more metal and more capacity to outbuild the Axis, so we have more technological manpower to out-design the enemy. We are ahead and we will stay ahead in design.

Granted the race is far more spectacular at the front than it is in the laboratory of the National Advisory Committee, the Army, the Navy, the many schools and universities working on aerodynamics, and of the manufacturers themselves. Judging from late press reports, the P-38 Lightning is stealing the show as often as any warcraft. Its ceiling is over 40,000 feet, some say its speed is not exceeded in any air force, and its turning ability is really a revelation to the experts — torque being eliminated by running the engines in opposite directions. The manufacturer reports that the P-38 is doing virtually every,job — fighting, bombing, photography, and what not.

It is known, too, that the Martin B-26 medium bomber has been doing beautiful work, though it hasn't been lucky in hitting the headlines. Now comes news from Africa that eleven Marauders, as they are named, were recently attacked by five Nazi Me-109s at 4,000 feet, whereupon two of the enemy were shot down and one limped off. There was only minor damage to one B-26.

A nice word has,just been said by Adm J R McCain, chief of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics for Grumman's Navy Wildcat shipboard fighter and its Navy Avenger torpedo plane. "There are no finer all-around aircraft of their class in service today," he says. Even better, he credits them with saving Australia from Jap invasion.

Equally spectacular, with anything anywhere, is Britain's new Spitfire with the Rolls Merlin 61 engine, said to give high performance at nearly 40,000. These new editions of the warcraft that stopped the Nazi 1940 blitz are beginning to appear in numbers.

Moving to the Orient, we find two new Jap fighting planes have come up. One is the 97-2, similar in appearance to the Messerschmitt 109 except that it is aircooled. Observation indicates that it has a speed of about 330 mph, 20 mi faster than the over-famous Zero. At some favorable levels, the 97-2 can muster perhaps 50 mph in addition to its indicated 330.

The other plane is the I-45, a twin- motored craft that was used for reconnaissance last June but which now appears as a fighter. It is like the Me-110 except the engines are aircooled. Neither plane is strictly new other than in the sense of replacing older planes.

Incidentally, officers from the Eastern front have been sizing up the Zero as a Nipponese mistake. The Japs designed it, thinking this war would stress dog-fights like World War I. Thus they emphasized rapid climb for getting on top and the quick turn for getting away or cutting in. They now realize their mistake too late. There is no Jap plane in the air that constitutes any serious threat to British and American equipment.

Getting back to our own Air Force, our P-40s, P-39s, and P-51s continue to "do their stuff" as in times past. The two heavy bombers, B-17 and B-24, are maintaining their devastating reputations, although the enemy, as one might expect, has now found ways of hurting them more than they did at first. Communiques have said little or nothing, so far, about the two new 2,000-hp fighters: Navy's Vought-Sikorsky F4U and Army's Republic P-47. You will have to wait for responsible officials to release news and comments on these two planes.

This article was originally published in the February, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 2, pp 110-111, 400, 403, 405.
The original article includes an organizational chart of the Aircraft Production Board, with thumbnail portraits of five of its senior officials.