In time before the US became a belligerent there was a good deal of criticism of the quality of America's warplanes. Not necessarily fit-and-finish quality, but suitability of design and performance characteristics for combat conditions. The early B-17s that flew for Britain were under-gunned, under-armored and did not have self-sealing fuel tanks. Plus, they had been designed without any exposure to actual combat conditions. So, many of the criticisms were justifiable. They often played to the "Europe is old, established, experienced, and therefore good; America isn't" cultural attitude held by many Americans in that time.
To top it off the Truman Committee had uncovered widespread practices that made it look like the defense industries were systematically milking the Government without having to deliver on their contracts. Truman had said that we weren't producing the best planes, that designs should be frozen so that the manufacturers could improve efficiency, and that planes were being delivered that did not meet design requirements. Elements of the press took these issues and ran with them, stirring up anti-business sentiment and incidentally spreading an attitude that we were sending our young men off to die in inferior equipment.
Truman himself authored a synopsis of his committee report, which was published as "We Must Freeze Our Airplane Designs!" [ PDF, 6.2 MiB ] , [ HTML ]in the April, 1942, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine.
The government, the military and the aircraft manufacturers all felt the need to counter these depictions. Some of them are, shall we say, overly optimistic, especially in light of what we have come to know since the end of the war. They are nonetheless valuable in providing a view of the culture in which the events of the war and the accomplishments of the planes, their operators and the manufacturers took place.
"New Eagles for the Army" [ PDF, 12.2 MiB ] , [ HTML ] isn't so much a justification as a statement of abilities of all the new types of warplanes being introduced just before the beginning of US active involvement.
"Air Policy and Defense"[ PDF, 3.4 MiB ] , [ HTML ] is condensed from a talk given by Edward Warner (former editor of Aviation and technical assistant to the special envoy to Europe) to the Foreign Policy Association Forum on October 25, 1941. In it Mr Warren addresses domestic concerns about the quality of our warplanes and goes into some detail as to the tradeoffs that have been made and how they work out in battle.
"Our Warplanes are Best"[ PDF, 10.8 MiB ] , [ HTML ] is by (then Brigadier) General George C Kenney, who went on to command MacArthur's air arm. He is most concerned with the "too-hot-to-handle" reputation of some of the new planes, and he focuses on the B-26, but there is some discussion of the B-17, mostly centered around the .50-caliber armament and the exceptionally high ceiling.
"Initial skepticism turns to unstinted praise and constructive comment as Yankee warplanes prove themselves in the RAF" reads the header of "American Airplanes On the European Battlefronts" [ PDF, 6.5 MiB ] , [ HTML ]. The article documents the change in attitude of British flyers and policy makers toward American warplanes, especially as later models with modifications suggested by battle experience started being delivered.
"Our Planes Can Fight!"[ PDF, 9.5 MiB ] , [ HTML ], by Congressman D W Harter, member of the House Military Affairs Committee, develops the theme. His primary example is the P-40, but he includes some description of B-17 actions in the Southwest Pacific.
"American Aircraft in the RAF" [ HTML ], by an editor of Flight magazine, tells of how feedback from the field had improved American aircraft being delivered to Britain.
A good deal of the early combat experience that provided the feedback to allow us to make our planes more battleworthy came with the Royal Air Force. There were minor differences between models supplied to the RAF and those delivered to the USAAF, but the airframes, and usually the engines, were pretty much the same. "American Aircraft in the RAF"[ PDF, 2.7 MiB ] , [ HTML ] details accomplishments of American aircraft in British service through the first couple of years of the war.
Mr Neville's (editor of Aviation) editorial "To the Critics of American Airplanes"[ HTML ] addresses the problem, and the reasons for the aggressive responses, head-on.
"The Truth About Our Bombers"[ PDF, 10.2 MiB ] , [ HTML ]compares the American B-17 and B-24 with the British Lancaster. The author then points out that there is no comparison for the A-20, B-25 and B-26.
"Look At The Record!"[ PDF, 3.2 MiB ] , [ HTML ] relates combat stories to prove the point that US warplanes are competent. The locales for the B-17 accounts are Buna, Tulagi and Rabaul. There is also a short account of "Shorty" Wheless' exploits, transplanted either by mistake or misdirection to Burma and upping the ante to 23 Zeros and 2 hours of combat, though the account does lower the kills claim to 4.
I don't have a copy of Peter Masefield's original "best planes" list, but it certainly sparked a response: "The World's Best Warplanes" [ PDF, 11.1 MiB ] , [ HTML ] went into considerable detail as to why American planes belonged on that list, especially in the heavy bomber class.
The May, 1943, "London Survey" column [ PDF, 2.9 MiB ] , [ HTML ] in Flying magazine, by Peter Masefield, who had been responsible for some of the articles comparing US planes unfavorably against the British planes, goes on to heap considerable praise on the B-17, possibly to tone down some of the reaction in the American press, then goes on to focus on the weight of fire that various planes can bring to bear on an enemy. He also describes a variety of other types in the course of the article.
In his "At Deadline" column [ PDF, 440 KiB ] , [ HTML ] for September, 1943, Max Karant mentions, and dismisses, the ongoing tendency to discount aircraft that have been in production for some time.
Peter Masefield appears again in "The World's Best Aircraft" [ PDF, 17 MiB ] , [ HTML ] with a list that features a good selection of American planes, though the B-17 comes in second in category. By this stage of the war, there is less back-biting, less cheer-leading and more thoughtful analysis. Still, the article fits the theme well enough to be included here.