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U.S. AIRCRAFT PRODUCTION—WWII

A MOTIVATED workforce, techniques of mass production—and even some topographical deception—played important roles in U.S. aircraft production during World War II.

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Picture History of World War II American Aircraft Production, by Joshua Stoff, Dover Publications, 1993. The book is listed at both www.abebooks.com and www.amazon.com.

In Picture History of World War II American Aircraft Production, Joshua Stoff calls this effort “one of the greatest industrial feats of all time.” Even before the U.S. entered WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt challenged the American aircraft industry in 1940 to produce at least 50,000 planes a year. By the war’s end in 1945, millions of workers had produced more than 300,000 military aircraft.

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P-38 Lightnings at Lockheed’s Burbank, California, facility are readied for delivery to the Army Air Corps in 1942. This and other images from Picture History of World War II American Aircraft Production.

Training a workforce to fabricate something as complex as an aircraft was no mean feat. Stoff notes that the wingtip alone of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning contained hundreds of rivets, 277 nuts and bolts and 14 components of tubing, ribs and sheet skin.

Mass production replaced what had hitherto been small job-shops. Subcontractors and subassemblies still existed, though components were brought together sooner in a highly integrated process. The book details these in richly illustrated chapters on Fuselage Construction, Tail Assemblies, Mating Wings, Engine Installation, Armament, Painting, Final Assembly and Rollouts.

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Final assembly of B-24 Liberators at Consolidated’s Fort Worth, Texas, plant. Note the assembly-line track at bottom center, one of two parallel lines in the facility.

Consolidated’s Fort Worth, Texas, plant was the world’s largest such facility, air-conditioned and 4000 ft. in length. Its B-24 Liberators moved along two parallel lines. Stockrooms were eliminated by delivering parts and components to their points of assembly—“just in time,” long before this term became fashionable.

Techniques of mass production were enhanced throughout the war. As an example at Republic Aviation’s Long Island facility, the workforce commitment to produce a P-47 fighter dropped from 22,925 man-hours for the initial batch to 6290 man-hours for the 10,000th aircraft.

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A P-47D Thunderbolt is towed to the flight line for final testing at Republic’s Long Island facility in 1944.

Though not addressed directly in Stoff’s book, aircraft plant security became a real concern, especially confronted with Japanese threats to the U.S. West Coast. One of the tales concerns camouflaging these facilities—and Hollywood’s role in this topographical deception.

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Lockheed’s Burbank, California, facility, before and after Hollywood displayed its special-effects magic. This and the following images from www.barnstormers.com; see http://goo.gl/rbOpZ.

Lockheed’s entire Burbank, California, facility was covered in camouflage netting that transformed it into a rural subdivision from the air. Atop the netting, which was strong enough to walk on, were fake houses, barns, cars and trees.

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Life went on beneath the netting: above, a workers’ parking lot; below, what appears to be a Lockheed C-69 Constellation and, to its right, a P-38 Lightning.

Constellation

Today, Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport—sans camouflage—is near the WWII Lockheed facility. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013

2 comments on “U.S. AIRCRAFT PRODUCTION—WWII

  1. Bob DuBois
    November 7, 2013

    As a young boy(10-yr. old), I remember being driven under these nettings while visiting relatives in L.A. Very spooky!!

    • simanaitissays
      November 7, 2013

      Hi, Bob, A neat memory. Thanks for your Reply. Dennis

      Sent from my iPhone

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