American aviation today surpasses any business in history. That statement stands without a single "if" or "but" qualification, penned into the record with three '43 exclamation points 86,000 planes, 645 million pounds in airframes, 15 billion dollars in value.
At its very best, the front-running peacetime auto industry climbed to the four billion dollar rung. But our manufacturers had already shaded that remarkable effort a year ago. Point is that they didn't pause to hang up their "Miracle of 1942" citation. Instead they pushed the throttle farther in 1943 and doubled the miracle.
What this is meaning in terms of victory can't be overemphasized, for airpower is proving the determining weapon in this war. Our AAF, now numbering 2,300,000 men more than all the US branches put overseas in World War I has been called primary in the blows against the Axis. Along with the Navy and Marine flyers, AAF-men strategically or tactically are keying the fighting of our soldiers on some 56 specific fronts, besides carrying on continual assaults on the enemy homeland.
It certainly bears repeating that these Axis-staggering uppercuts are being delivered direct from the factory. For the roots of this formidable force are the aircraft production lines, the 100-odd prime plants, backed by better than 26,000 suppliers, not to mention the numerous foundries and mills. As is well known, the 86,000 planes they produced is still short of the peak, since a 100,000 yearly rate was surpassed throughout the last quarter of 1943. By way of perspective, each month's production in the last half of the year bettered the total 1939 output. As it was, the 86,000 beat estimated enemy production by a broad 2-to-l, and it bulked up the United Nations' '43 total to close on the 150,000 mark. Over the year, the Germans and Japs could hardly have fabricated a third of that number.
Hitler had counted on seeing it otherwise. Depending on being right where the Kaiser was wrong, he constructed a powerful military machine and clocked it to have the jump on any such American production performance as that which rang down the curtain on the Hohenzollerns. But his 1918 gage proved rusty.
Der Fuehrer's imagination had failed to encompass the tremendous potentialities of the American aircraft industry.
Stalin, recipient of more than 7,000 of the 26,900 planes we exported between Mar '41 and Oct '43, had the true phrase for it at Teheran: "Without American production, the United Nations could never have won the war." Note that Stalin a most realistic man put extra meaning into his recognition by using the words "have won."
Portrayal of our industry's 1943 production in a tri-part picture of units, pounds, and dollars is our intention in the following columns. But first full credit to the researchers, designers, engineers, managers, executives, and army of workers whose combined brain work and hand work made '43's achievements possible. Their contributions can't be measured in cold figures. On them depended the union of materials into the finished products, giving new quality in design, structure, performance, engine power. The new efficiencies they developed would take a volume to relate. So would the story of their collating, handling, and transporting victories which licked the bottlenecks.
The striking accomplishments of those in the engine industry stands by itself, as do those of the propeller makers. Then, too, there was the work of the airline men, the modification center men, and the many field men. A single maintenance figure tells a graphic story: Only 4 percent of our planes overseas stood idle for lack of spare parts. And special recognition must go to the NACA scientists who provided that "force behind our air supremacy."
"Smooth sailing" certainly would be an inept description in '43's production story. The men "up front" continually battled with troubles often heartbreaking of manpower, material shortages, design changes, modifications, absenteeism, worker relations, renegotiation, taxes, and whatnot.
But let us here accent the results rather than those frequently tortuous methods of their achievement, which is the concern at all other times. The fact remains that troubles solved in '43 were more numerous than those that weren't.
The year ended with manpower matters better, the incentive plan (for instance) being termed helpful. CMP had worked well to overcome shortages of primary materials. The Navy made a particular point of stating, in December, that it found no critical bottlenecks.
For that matter, even the mid-year "level-off" was not a "disease" of the whole industry. Rather it was a lag of but two or three plants. And even then, part of the trouble, at least, may be foot-noted as design-change expediencies.
And now to units-pounds-dollars
|1943 Monthly Aircraft Production|
By Units and Weight
of Lb a
per Plane, Lb a
As shown in our month-by-month addition (left hand column in Fig 1), the precise 1943 total of powered craft was 85,946 (or 85,919 in the WPB-Army reckoning, which does not include a parcel of 27 target planes in the total of operative aircraft). It is worth remarking that the climb of 3,789 planes in monthly production rate from 5,013 in January to 8,802 in December was itself virtually equal to entire 1937 output. Incidentally, the presentation of this monthly break-down is noteworthy, since such figures were not released for '42. They were afforded in '43 in line with Donald Nelson's declaration that "Our production position is now so strong that information concerning it will be of no aid to the enemy." Even the 85,946 is not the whole picture, for gliders were not included in the total.
Perspective of '43's huge number production in contrast with '42's, which it virtually doubled, and '41's, which it almost quadrupled is offered in the top portion of Fig 3, along with a projected output for '44.
Highlight in the unit production story was the "up" in heavy bombers. From time to time during the year, word came through of boosts in the "heavy" category, and pieced together they now give a striking picture of the growing flow. The industry's output of "big stuff" was hitting in the 200s at the first of the year, by March the 500 figure was passed, by August the 700 figure. Then in November more than 1,000 came off the lines. And the record went far over that in December.
Accent to '43's doubled miracle came in the latter part of '43 when the troubles behind the mid-year "level-off" had been accounted for. November and December saw a plane turned out every five minutes more than 280 every day. The schedules were constantly ranged ahead, yet in those months deliveries were but a notch or two short of a perfect 100 percent. Best monthly rises were March (up 811 planes) and October (up 764).
Including the December production, it was calculated that a sky-clouding mass of no less than 157,000 airplanes had been fabricated by American plants since July 1940. It was significant, in looking back, that the 100,000th craft came from the lines on Memorial Day a prophetic prememorial for the Axis "supermen."
A few more facts are worth remarking: As of the fiscal year ending July 1, the Army had accepted more planes than in the preceding 33 yr. It was noted on that date that the Army had received 73,132 craft in the foregoing 18 months bringing the "take" to 4,500 planes every 30 days.
As for the Navy, combat plane deliveries ran into four figures by April. And calculating the full year its force of planes rose 280 percent, roughly from 5,800 to 10,000.
Vivid though all these unit figures are, however, it was poundage which stood revealed in 1943 as the truer gage of production. This fact is readily apparent in Fig 2, where monthly airframe weight lines and monthly unit production lines are graphed on one chart. Had the same-weight planes been scheduled in December as in January, the weight line for the year would have gone right along with the unit line. But, as seen, the weight line immediately rose over units, kept climbing, and by December had demarked a very wide gap. The spur to weight was the highly augmented production of "heavies" indeed nearly all craft were giving a greater pull on the scales.
Thus, '43 showed distinctly that poundage that is, "amount of aircraft" gives the more precise record of production performance, since unit figures fail to mirror such amounts. By this more logical criterion, production soared steeply throughout '43.
True enough, the public can more readily comprehend numbers of planes, all of which is understandable, but the unit gage was 'way off in more than one instance in the year. Note the May-June and August-September "level-offs" on the unit line in Fig 2 then lift the eye and observe the coincident rising weight lines for those periods. Actually, there were recorded neat 3,100,000-lb and 5,300,000-1b "ups" in "amount of aircraft" in those months.
The airframe-weight figures are given in the second column of Fig 1, and the average weights showing a 3- to 4-ton rise over the year appear in the last column. The total airframe poundage, estimated at 747 percent over that of '41, does not include engines, propellers, and numerous other items.
With the spares added, the weight figure would be high in the 700 million range. Airframe weight records through the years are depicted in the mid-portion of Fig 3.
One more word on poundage vs units: Early in 1943, a production of 100,000-plus planes was foreseen for '43 by some figurers. And consequently certain of the unknowing would now have it that the year's production didn't jell so well. However, this concept is shown to be quite faulty in the light of weight. For the fact was that, in the different schedule changes, units were translated into poundage. That is, units were revised downward and poundage was revised upward as the heavy bomber program got well underway. If the questioners wish to mentally translate the heavies back into smaller-plane units, they'll then realize that 1943 gave them their 100,000 planes and more to spare in that manner of speaking.
Between January and December, air-frame poundage more than doubled, the month-to-month rise averaging 3,600,000 lb December's peak production of the year was figured by the statisticians as 2,374,193 lb per day or 1,648 lb per minute.
The human terms of such remarkable production should be given attention. Output per employee gained some 110 percent in '43, and the WPB figured average monthly airframe weight produced per employee at 60 lb in 1943. Contrast this with the average of 28 lb in '41. Employees in the industry totaled 1,600,000-plus in 1943, comparing with 48,000 in '38, and the year saw more than twice as many women employed in aviation as in 1942. It is further stated that 1943's outstanding production was accomplished with only a 50 percent increase in plant area and only a 45 percent rise in employees.
By their very nature, the value figures of aircraft production defy such precision as may be attained in reckoning units and pounds. However, the WPB's computations may be considered pertinent, since they offer logical breakdowns for the last two years. According to this source (see Fig 3), 1943 dollar value totaled $14,900,000,000 a summing up of 7.2 billions of dollars in airframes, 4.2 in engines and propellers, and 3.5 in spare parts. This was better than double the comparable figure for '42, when the total was judged to be $6,300,000,000 (airframes 3.0 billions of dollars, engines and propellers 1.2, and spare parts 1.1). Production in '41 was rated at $1,750,000,000, with no adequate breakdown available.
True, different dollar figures for 1943 have been publicized. Most common is the reference to the current industry as a $20,000,000,000 business, and it is likely that this makes sense if every single item over and above planes, power plants, propellers, and spares were added, in dollar terms, to our 14.9 billions. For instance, a single aircraft field-maintenance unit often costs $75,000 and more. But in accord with our related portrayal of units, pounds, and dollars, the 14.9 becomes more satisfactory. The latter figure represents a 751 percent rise over '41, and how far we have come since the prewar days is emphasized with the mention of the 1939 total $200,000,000.
A comparison over the years of the dollar figures with the airframe weight calculations bears out the trend of more poundage of aircraft per dollar, readily understandable in view of the many new efficiencies, shortcuts, and increased labor productivity.
Many factors make calculations of the immediate future's production difficult. For one thing, our military leaders see Germany folding in 1944, and with the weight of our arms then thrown against Japan, various changes in planes would be called for to meet the differing conditions on Far East battlefronts. Moreover, some planes would be discontinued, and certain new types would be projected. All this would have a definite influence on 1944 units and pounds performance.
And in judgments of 1944 dollar values, the $2,000,000,000 cut "by modification and possible deferment of a portion of the airplane program" must be primarily figured, along with such considerations as renegotiation of contracts and termination factors. New economies of production will, moreover, bear their greatest fruit in 1944.
Even so, our Fig 3 includes rough 1944 estimates in the three categories. The 110,000 planes (forecast by T P Wright, of the Aircraft Resources Control Office) would be turned out with a monthly production of but 9,166 craft only 364 more than December production. This may raise the eyebrows of those who see the industry charging ahead to a 12,000 monthly output. But again, big bombers, especially such craft as the Boeing B-29s, supply the answer, Once more it's the translation from units to pounds.
Accordingly, the 1944 airframe figure has been judged by Wright at 1,009,000,000 lb. And our own dollar figure is $23,000,000,000, a value achieved through relation with the '44 estimated airframe weight in Fig 3. We repeat, however, that these various projections may quickly go awry due to potential developments of this new year which can hardly be pre-gaged.
Speaking again of units, Gen Arnold stated on Jan 1 that 145,000 planes were scheduled in the next 15 mo, and this program would divide out to a figure not much above our 1944 estimate.
Further notes: Airframe production in 1944 is expected to be four times that of 1942, and an average airframe weight surpassing 9,000 lb is seen, a 638-lb rise over the December figure. Counting spare parts, a 10,000 lb average weight is forecast.
Superbombers are to reach big output, as are also long-range fighters and cargo craft, and the total combat plane production will come pretty close to covering 75 percent of the total '44 output, as training craft turn-out becomes for the most part a matter of replacements.
Turning now to the fine records made by individual companies and groups of companies, let us first laud the many goals won through the programs of the AWPC East Coast, AWPC West Coast, and their new national body. A huge total of 24,566 planes was the record of the East Coast Council members in '43, scaling an airframe weight of 180 million pounds, and computed at a dollar-value total of approximately $2,225,000,000. In the last four-and-a-half months of 1943 they constructed more craft than in the full twelve months of the previous year. The members: Aviation Corp, Bell, Brewster, Curtiss-Wright, Eastern Aircraft of GM, Fairchild Engine & Airplane, Martin, and Republic.
Record of the West Coast Council members was 26,636 warplanes, an increase of more than 50 percent over '42, while the airframe-weight "up" was put at more than 72 percent, this higher figure representing the boost in bomber production. Reporting new manpower utilization efficiencies, AWPC West stated that whereas the equivalent of 70 employees working one year was required to produce a four-engine bomber at the time of Pearl Harbor, today the same plane would be constructed in one year by but 17 workers.
Meanwhile, a production expediting committee was announced as the newest AWPC West unit. This committee, composed of top aircraft men, now acts as a "task force" to help iron out production problems of the member companies Boeing, Consolidated Vultee, Douglas, Lockheed, Northrop, North American, and Ryan. West Coast plants were particularly plagued by manpower shortages, and their outstanding successes in the face of these difficulties is worthy of especial praise.
At the end of the year, new high outputs of eight types of planes were particularly noted by the WPB. The planes and producing companies were: B-17 Flying Fortress, Boeing, Douglas, Lockheed (Vega); P-38 Lightning, Lockheed; B-24 Liberator, Consolidated Vultee, Douglas, North American, and Ford; F6F Hellcat, Grumman; SB2C-1 Helldiver, Curtiss-Wright; P-51 Mustang, North American; TBF Avenger, Grumman, and Eastern Aircraft of GM; and C-46 Commando, Curtiss-Wright.
Further a special Navy release praised seven companies for being either on, or ahead of, schedules Chance Vought of United, Douglas, Grumman, Consolidated Vultee, Martin, Lockheed (Vega), and Eastern Aircraft of GM.
At press time, the full sheaf of individual company reports on '43 production was not yet available. However, enough statements had been received to offer an exemplary cross-section, and these are briefed in the following paragraphs:
BEECH AIRCRAFT CORP.: While facilities were not substantially increased during fiscal year ended Sept 30, value of deliveries doubled over previous year and were 15 times those of fiscal 1941. After negotiated refunds and provision for additional refunds for fiscal year 1943, totaling $29,534,438, sales amounted to $97,043,946.
BOEING AIRCRAFT CO: Fortress production was 146 percent ahead of 1942. December output was highest in company history 92 percent ahead of the previous January, and ten times that of Nov 1941. B-17s are being completed in one-third the man-hours required when the war broke out. Since then costs to the government per plane has been halved despite design changes, and wage rates have increased 27 percent since Pearl Harbor.
CONSOLIDATED VULTEE AIRCRAFT CORP: "In 1942," reports Chairman Tom M Girdler, we "delivered around 53,000,000 lb of airplanes, including spares. In 1943, we multiplied this almost two-and-a-half times; we made a total of well over 126,000,000 lb of planes The WPB compiles comparisons for all aircraft plants in terms of pounds of planes produced per man per day. It reported a national daily average of 4.8 lb of plane per man, for the three months ending October, in all plants producing heavy bombers. The figure for Consolidated Vultee's San Diego plant was almost twice as high; the WPB report put it at 8.3 lb We are now producing 14 Liberators for the same direct labor that built only one three years ago." Vultee Field Div of Girdler's company at the end of the year completed its 10,000th Valiant basic trainer.
CURTISS-WRIGHT CORP: Eleven months' report on airframe production showed an increase to 40,353,352 lb 56 percent over the corresponding 1942 period. November airframe weight alone was 5,000,000 lb above all of 1939 Propeller Div, cited by AAF for quantity manufacture of hollow steel blades, developed automatic engine speed synchronizer and began perfection of thrust meter to measure horsepower. Several conveyor systems were installed in propeller plants The 10,000th P-40 was completed.
DOUGLAS AIRCRAFT CO: Deliveries of combat planes reached 96,446,000 lb, valued at $1,000,000,000 Unit costs to government were reduced 22 percent and man-hours on Fortresses 71 percent Output was 204 percent ahead of 1942, but maximum is not expected to be reached till summer, when two Oklahoma plants and $33,000,000 Chicago factory "come in." Then employment will reach 200,000.
EASTERN AIRCRAFT DIV (General Motors Corp.): 1,000 Avengers came off line, and there was a prediction that second thousand will arrive in two-thirds less time.
HAMILTON STANDARD PROPELLERS (Div, United Aircraft): Made millionth blade from production of first controllable-pitch propeller in 1932. With added output of licensees Nash-Kelvinator, Frigidaire, Remington Rand, and Canadian Propellers, second million is expected in little over a year. Rate of these companies is now more than one single blade a minute.
REPUBLIC AVIATION: Reported P-47 production schedule easily met.
WRIGHT AERONAUTICAL CORP: Eleven month's report showed monthly rate of production 8,000 percent over volume of Sept.1939. This 1943 output is expected. to be doubled this year. Mass- manufacture began on 2,200 hp model, raising power of average engine from 1,385 hp in December, 1941, to a current 1,655.
BUICK DIV (General Motors Corp.): Since Jan 1942, shipments of Pratt & Whitney twin-row Wasps have aggregated 33,027 engines, or approximately 40,000,000 hp. Units produced were 8,401 in 1942 and 24,626 in 1943.
CHRYSLER CORP: Dodge Div completed biggest factory with a main building covering 82 acres on a 500 acre tract near Chicago. Here more than 25,000 workers are making Wright 2,200-hp engines. . . Plymouth Div rate on landing gear assemblies for Corsairs multiplied 18 times during the year.
NASH-KELVINATOR CORP: Production of 2,000 hp P & Ws went higher, Hamilton Standard propellers were turned out at a rate ten times that called for in the initial contract, and facilities were made ready for mass construction of R-6 Sikorsky helicopters for AAF.
PACKARD MOTOR CAR CO: Value of Rolls Royce engines for aircraft and PT boats was $355,000,000, one and a half times highest figure of automobiles for any peace year.
This article was originally published in the February, 1944, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 43, no 2, pp 112-114, 251, 253-255, 257.
A PDF of this article is available.