American aircraft production now is really rolling along, as nearly in balance with reference to its supply of materials, components, and parts as it will ever be. Allied air commanders know that the enemy can be beaten with existing types of planes and with existing production schedules. Our rate of production will be leveled off at about 10,000 craft per month around the first of the year. We could build more planes than that if we wanted to switch additional manpower, materials, and plant to aviation. But we probably won't.
Experimental departments in the industry and in the Services meanwhile are going right ahead with development of new types, though they know we can win without them. Time and materials spent on new super bombers at least three are on the way will be well invested, even if they never hit the Axis; these developments will all accrue to the improvement of transport safety and efficiency.
Recent aircraft production conferences in Washington (at which some tempers snapped) were mainly concerned with the urgent need for more planes right now. Though our contribution to the long range air war is assured and well organized, our battlefronts still lack enough planes, especially heavy bombers, to deliver the blows our military believe ought to be struck now. The enemy is reeling, and if. he could be socked hard enough this summer he might not be able to stand up and fight at all next spring. Whether or not he does makes a world of difference in money, property, life, and time the stuff the living want to conserve, as much as possible, for peace.
It was the great demand for airplanes, from front line dispersion camps clear back through the Army and WPB to the factory manager's office, that brought on the conferences and collations between the Aircraft Production Board and the manufacturers calling upon each to do this and that, or else. But on neither side was there wavering from the firm determination to roll out the airplanes. Appointment of the control and planning committee, for the purpose of balancing up the flow of parts, components, and materials, did not solve all problems, of which aluminum extrusions was most serious. It is safe to guess, however, that the meeting took the aircraft program over its last jolty road to organization. Nothing can give the air commanders all the planes they want this summer. They can only try to deliver the knockdown with the goodly number they get.
While this drive is on for more planes now, some types are being cut back, along with machine tools, anti-aircraft guns, ammunition, and other weapons. One of the fighter plane builders actually got going so good that he worked himself part way out of a job so far as that specific plane is concerned. Some orders for accessories have been slowed down, and plants have been converted to something else. Engines are plentiful now, and so are propellers; some time, soon or late, these programs will be cut back. The time will come when cut-back plants will simply be stopped, because there will be no other war requirement to which they can be converted.
In some cases it will be the more efficient industries or organizations that get the stop orders first. And in some eases, those who get the stop orders will be first to get going on their postwar programs. But whether the materials and the manpower will be available for postwar work at the same time the plants become available is something which cannot be predicted. You can make your own forecast by considering the war build-up in reverse. The first thing we had to have was machine tools. These have already been cut back quite deeply, and it is a question whether there will be ordnance items for some of them to convert to.
It takes only a little imagination to realize what an avalanche of war material will be free for direction against Japan when Hitler takes the count. Japan, with a steel production rate of only 7,000,000 tons when the war started (as compared with the US rate of 89,000,000 tons annually) will be up against American and British production at the very apex of their power. If Russian manpower and equipment is thrown in it will be so much velvet. The American and British Navies will combine against the Nippons, and so will their air forces.
Considering the number of planes that will be available to fight the Japs, it is fair to conclude that production of planes might be cut back about that time. In fact, the Allied preponderance of power will be so impressive that some of the nationals of the United Nations may have to be prodded into maintaining interest in the war and not running off to their own devices. Just how the war is to be won cannot be told. Mr Churchill's remark that the attempt to knock out the Nazis by air attack certainly was worth trying, created much speculation. What did he mean? If he meant to let down on some other forms of war-making and transfer the effort to air, that's one thing. If he meant merely to keep on hitting from the air as hard as possible, meanwhile keeping all sea and ground efforts going full blast, that's another.
Obviously, ground forces will continue to get personnel and supplies, and so will the sea forces. Therefore, the "pure air power" advocates will never know, from the records of this war, whether their plan (to end the war by destroying its sources the factories), would have worked or not. As this was written, many people were beginning to think that the United Nations surrounding Germany had decided to feint invasion and hold their lines for a while, letting their airpower have a try at putting the Nazi war supply plants and transportation out of business. It looked as if the Russians might have agreed to it. These suppositions are put down with full knowledge that events may prove them wrong.
Despite how the air power is used, when the war does end the vast supply of equipment, usable in peacetime, must be disposed of. There will be hundreds of thousands of cars, jeeps, trucks, boats, ships, tools, and most pertinent to our interests a great fleet of airplanes.
Specific conversion of the latter to commercial purposes opens a broad. discussion. Naturally interested in the building and selling of new, more advanced commercial designs, the manufacturers will emphasize the greater economies and operational efficiencies of their newly developed craft as compared with converted war models. On the other hand, the airlines may be eyeing original costs. They may believe the conversions expected to be obtained cheaply quite suitable during the initial "shake-down" period of peace. Perhaps Congress and the public will be advocates of the use of the conversions.
No less difficult a question is that of what to do with the factories that made all this equipment. Several war plant and equipment liquidation bills are already before Congress. None of them is in settled form. There will be more, and there will be bills calculated to take care of the aviation equipment and plant exclusively, on the grounds that they constitute a special problem. What is done about these things may mean the difference between going big and going bust after the war, for big and little businesses alike. Everyone should keep his eye on Washington should let his congressmen have constructive ideas. Gripes will be so plentiful that any thoughtful contributions will be welcome.
The postwar international airway situation, which sounded quite difficult some time back, is beginning to lose its haze. The airlines have stated emphatically that they don't want government control or membership in any international corporations, and presumably their opinions will be considered. The head man of Pan American Airways has said he believes we should sell transport planes to foreign airlines so they can get started. And the interdepartmental air committee experts, working on a postwar policy, are indicating that they agree against government ownership and against monopoly of US flag foreign services by one company. It looks as if they will propose that the nations agree that anybody can land anywhere on non-military trips, for fuel and repairs. Probably there will be no such thing as "freedom of the air" in the establishment of scheduled air routes and terminals. All that may continue on some sort of trading basis.
The British Joint Air Transport Committee, just formed with support of three powerful English organizations (the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of British Industries, and the London Chamber of Commerce), proposes that some sort of parity yardstick be set up as a basis on which British and American international air services may be allocated. Each country would retain the right to operate between territories under its own flag as it sees fit. Russia, China, and the other United Nations (no mention of the Axis powers) would be invited to join in the parity plan. But the governments of the United States and of Britain, as such, have so far said nothing about these matters. Their decisions are yet to come.
This article was originally published in the July, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 7, pp 108-109, 329-330, 333.
The original article includes of a West Point graduation, B-17s over Lorient, and A-29s over Pantelleria.
Photos are not credited, but are probably AAF.