Refusing to recognize an impossible assignment they pitched in and did it.
That's the real story behind the success, the growth, the almost miraculous production of Goodyear Aircraft, Akron, which overflowed the once deserted airship dock into four other swiftly erected buildings covering acres of Ohio farmland adjoining the Akron airport. It expanded to plants at Litchfield Park, Arizona, to the Wingfoot Lake airship base near Akron, to a nearby plant of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, and to three branch plants in other Ohio towns.
In a nutshell, here's what was done:
Goodyear Aircrafters produced some 150 airships for the Navy.
They turned out more than 4,000 Corsair fighter planes built to Chance-Vought design for the Navy, Marines and the Air Arm of the British Royal Navy.
They produced more than 100,000 sets of surfaces for many of the nation's great military aircraft.
They manufactured wheels and brakes for most of the military planes produced by the nation's aircraft industry.
They designed and built their own fighter, the F2G, which they claim is the fastest low-altitude fighter plane in the world with a rate of climb half again as fast as that of the latest jet propulsion jobs.
The name Goodyear has always been an outstanding one in the rubber industry. Goodyear has also enjoyed a world-wide reputation in the airship field. In the airplane branch of aeronautics, however, it was another story. They knew little or nothing.
But Goodyear did have a group of men, about 40, who were experts in sheet metal work, men who were in the forefront in the development of forming, heat treating and riveting of light metals; men with an invaluable background in fabricating structural aluminum and overcoming problems in stress, strain and. fatigue resistance. Rigid airship builders by tradition, they became the nucleus for an organization which finally embraced some 35,000 persons in Akron, and 8,000 in Arizona, Moreover, the far-flung world organization of the parent company, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, supplied top management which shaped nearly 50,000 men and women into an aviation force whose efficiency more than matched its numerical strength.
P W Litchfield, for many years president of the parent company, had stepped away from these duties to become operating chairman of the board of directors, looking forward to the time when he could retire from business. His plans were forestalled by the war and he became active president of the aircraft subsidiary. Long a believer in air power, Mr Litchfield lost little time in forming an aggressive staff.
As a spark plug for his new organization, Litchfield named Harry E Blythe, dynamic sales manager of Goodyear's tire department, as vice president and general manager. Blythe, who had worked his way up from the rubber pits to become superintendent of the Los Angeles plant and later assistant to the president, by his own admission was "dumb" about aircraft.
Aircraft executives with whom Blythe did business learned he was "dumb, like a fox" because he was soon recognized as one of the nation's most capable aircraft executives, Although in his 50's he even learned to fly, to round out his education on his job.
Dr. Karl Arnstein, world famous airship designer who conceived the Los Angeles, Akron and Macon after joining Goodyear in 1924, was installed as vice president in charge of engineering.
Vice president in charge of production was Russ DeYoung, youthful, hard hitting Goodyearite with experience in the rubber shops of Akron and the plantations of Java.
Thomas A Knowles, another youngster with a wealth of engineering and sales experience with the parent company, was named vice president in charge of sales.
F C Carter, with service in Akron and with the Goodyear operations in South America, took charge of the personnel department with its vast hiring and training programs.
George Sherry, an engineer with some 25 years' service with the company, took over the gigantic tooling job, a far cry from such previous experiences as managing a 37,000 acre cotton plantation in Arizona, and retail merchandising.
On the team, too, were Zeno Wicks, gruff but good-natured ex-Navy officer and airship builder, H L Belknap from the Java operation, and V L Follo of Goodyear's operations in Sweden, who took over the superintendent's duties in the various Goodyear-Akron plants. C H Zimmerman, with years of experience as a development engineer, directed wheel and brake production.
Hugh Allen, with some 25 years' experience in the Goodyear public relations program and recognized as an authority on lighter-than-air operations, was moved to the aircraft plant in charge of the public relations program there.
Goodyear Aircraft received its first heavier-than-air work in December, 1939, when the Glenn L Martin Company ordered Akron-built ailerons, fins and stabilizers. With trained aircraft personnel almost impossible to obtain, long established aircraft companies were holding their trained employees and looking for more.
So Goodyear started from scratch, reducing all jobs to their simplest operations and training employees for specific tasks. As the draft made more and more inroads on the male personnel additional women were hired for the production lines until 60% of the production workers were females probably the highest ratio in the country. In some cases, job breakdowns were necessarily revised so that housewives could do the work without undue hardship or fatigue.
Any aircraft manufacturer will admit that just about the most difficult part of a plane to build is the tail with its various component parts. A newcomer to the business, Goodyear Aircraft learned the hard way by taking more and more orders for tail surfaces. From Curtiss, Martin, Northrop, Lockheed, Boeing, Consolidated, from Nash Kelvinator, just to name a few, the orders rolled in.
Meanwhile, the ancient airship dock, converted to manufacture, was contributing to the Navy's greatly expanded airship program and complete Corsair fighter planes under Chance-Vought design were rolling off the lines in a new plant adjacent to the huge block air dock. Goodyear's airplane wheel and brake department, getting a good share of the work for civilian and commercial planes before the war, was head over heels in orders, and clamoring for help.
To get the work done, and done on schedule, Goodyear had to draw many men from fields alien to aviation. They got tooling experts from the automotive industry; engineers from a variety of fields, mechanical, mining, civil, automotive and industrial.
Machinists became tool and die makers, women were trained to run drill presses, lathes, punch presses, rivet guns and welding machines. Mutes, midgets and the blind found places where they could work. High school boys were employed part-time.
As an example, the engineering department alone grew from 17 men in 1939 to a peak of 1,300 in 1944. This expansion was made possible largely through inauguration of special engineering courses at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Akron, training young women in certain phases of engineering and drafting which they could handle as part of the overall engineering work.
Recruiting supervisory talent was a matter of scanning personnel records of the parent rubber plant. Seasoned men were placed in top managerial positions. They came from sales, export, tire development, and from the Flying Squadron, a training organization which had been training promising young men since the early days of the tire company. When the draft made inroads on this group, a women's squadron was formed to carry on.
The breakdown of airplane construction into simple operations for thousands of untried employees was made more complicated because of the many contracts being worked on simultaneously. At one time Goodyear had 31 different training schools in operation, 23 for production workers and eight for specialized skills.
In its hectic war production career Goodyear Aircraft, in addition to airships and Corsairs, turned out surfaces for the Boeing B-29, the Northrop P-61, Lockheed's P-38 and Ventura, Grumman's TBF Avenger, Hellcat and Tigercat, Martin's B-26 Marauder and PBM Mariner, Consolidated's B-24 Liberator and PB2Y Coronado, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, the Sikorsky Helicopter. All were produced on or ahead of schedule with the pound output per employee increasing 328% from the first three months of 1943 to the second quarter of 1945.
All this from a company which knew "little" about airplanes. All this, too, from a group of men whose hearts and souls were wrapped up in the future of lighter-than-air; men who almost alone had kept the airship cause alive in America, believing airships had a rightful place in the aeronautical future of the nation.
Looking to that future, they have plans on their drawing boards for airships of 10,000,000 cubic foot capacity, capable of flying over the seven seas, carrying passengers and cargo at bargain basement rates as complements to surface ships and other types of aircraft.
They firmly believe that day is here.
When one considers that our country controls all of the world's helium, it is apparent that no country can challenge us in lighter-than-air circles. More important, the airship is faster than the steamship, somewhat cheaper to operate than airplanes. Thousands of travelers would benefit from the combination of long distance speed combined with low fares.
This article was originally published in the December, 1945, issue of Air News with Air Tech magazine, vol 9, no 6, p 77-79.
The original article includes thumbnail portraits of 10 corporate officials and 6 photos.
Photos credited to Goodyear.