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A MOTIVATED workforce, techniques of mass production—and even some topographical deception—played important roles in U.S. aircraft production during World War II.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today, Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport—sans camouflage—is near the WWII Lockheed facility. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013