Yank Modification Center Rises in England

By Myles V Cave
Aviation's British Correspondent

First story on operation of wartime "Little America" where changes dictated by latest battle experience are made on AAF warplanes by Lockheed Aircraft subsidiary.

Located in an isolated part of the British Isles is a new monument to the constantly growing American war effort. This project, started less than a year ago on an open site by a subsidiary of Lockheed Aircraft Corp, now flourishes as the virile, far-reaching organization of Lockheed Overseas Corp, one of the largest aircraft modification centers outside the continental United States.

With direct Army contracts, Lockheed Overseas has developed a large base, part of which is shared by Army Air Forces units, and in this short period has built a large airport, complete with a network of runways, vast hangars, machine and repair shops, and enormous spare parts storage facilities to handle work on practically every type of aircraft. Here, changes are swiftly made on American fighters, bombers, and transports to conform to latest operational experience needs.

An idea of the extent of the project and the amount of equipment handled can be gained from the wide variety of types seen on the field — Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, Consolidated B-24 Liberators, Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, A-29 Hudsons, B-34 Venturas, Douglas A-20 Bostons, C-47 Skytrains, Beechcraft personnel carriers, and the ubiquitous Fairchild trainer.

On behalf of the Army, Lockheed Overseas handles any modifications and alterations the Air Forces may require, from an increase in ammunition capacity to extra long range gas tanks for special missions. In addition, a well equipped research department is constantly at work to improve performance, fire power, and bomb capacity of warplanes. During a recent visit to the base the writer saw, for example, one of America's outstanding long range fighters getting increased fire power and performance called for following pertinent experience gained in the North African campaign.

Gen Mgr Henry Ogden divides his time between actual supervision at the base and close liaison with Air Forces headquarters, the latter job helping to keep him abreast of latest Army requirements, enabling him to plan ahead and keep output at the base ahead of schedule. During a three day stay at the base, the writer was given an opportunity to see every department and learn the functional set-up of the organization as well as to examine all the equipment. Except for labor, which is partly local, the base is staffed by hundreds of Lockheed technicians, most of whom have come direct from the home plant in the United States. Much of the time during the visit to the base was spent covering miles on fine concrete roads connecting the various units of which it is comprised — but there was also some time spent in thick gumbo mud.

Presence of the mud does not imply slow progress. Rather it indicates the rapid development, for the speed of building outpaces road-making capacity. This, despite the fact that latest-model American road building equipment is in use.

When the road building program catches up, this base will be the biggest "Little America" in Europe and, without doubt, one of the war's most original American enterprises. The writer spent some 24 hr attempting to spot even a small item of equipment that did not come from the United States. As for non-American aircraft, curiously enough he saw only one — a British Oxford used for transportation.

The superintendent of engineering, James Boyce, and his staff handle each problem individually, from design drafting to the final workout of the scheme in flight. Mr. Boyce — being as short staffed as almost everyone else in the aircraft industry — has no time for specialists and technicians as such; his men must be able to handle everything on a plane. The department does, however, have some of the "comforts of home," operating in a large, well-lighted room with sufficient space for records and an information section where statistics on all projects are filed.

The vast production branch handles repairs and normal overhauls, as well as making modifications to Wright, Pratt & Whitney, and Allison engines, together with propellers and instruments. It is equipped with large machine and assembly shops, and it was noted that the production charts proved that the Army servicing program was on schedule.

The production branch has a self-contained planning section operating in accordance with the latest factory ideas, and here colored wall charts give plentiful indication of progress. Each make of motor and components is segregated, and each component carries its own large stores accommodation. The raw materials stores are separate from this section, occupying nearly 17,000 sq ft of floor space.

Glenn D Waring, factory representative, told of the company's planning for staff welfare — a tough job. The base itself is located approximately 20 miles from the nearest town, and with the consequent transportation difficulties, elaborate arrangements have been necessary for staff relaxation and amusement. The base has its own theater, with a seating capacity of 500, where the latest films are shown and, twice a month, stage shows are presented. Outdoor sport facilities include, of course, baseball diamonds with their own "National" and "American" leagues now getting into spring training. Facilities have also been provided whereby staff members may study almost any subject, ranging from aeronautics to violin playing.

At dinner the last day — a typically good meal of fine American food — the Stars and Stripes over the table served as a reminder that the whole project typified the United States' part in the war — swift to meet change and always growing in power.

This article was originally published in the May, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 5, pp 255, 410.
The PDF of this article includes a photo of a Ventura seen from 12 o'clock low.
Photo is not credited.