Most of us know that the United States was the “Arsenal of Democracy” in World War II. We outproduced all of the combatants in all areas, including aircraft production. American aircraft production exploded during the war. This explosion is captured in Bill Yenne’s The American Aircraft Factory in World War II.
Yenne chronicles the growth of the American aircraft industry prior to and during World War II. In the late 1930s, the industry was tiny compared to other countries and aircraft were built by craftsman. Once war was declared in Europe, the industrial output began to change. Companies were hesitant to follow the auto industry’s example of mass production for various reasons. However, leaders in the industry were able to figure out ways to adapt mass production to the aircraft industry. Aircraft production went from a few thousand in 1941 (total of combat and support aircraft) to more than 96,000 in 1944 (peak production year).
Yenne tries his best to dress up hard numbers from the industry – you can only do so much with numbers of fighters, bombers, and transports that were produced each year. The subject matter may be a little dry, but the information is worth the read. For instance, it is interesting to learn how the companies subcontracted with each other in order to fill military requests for aircraft – it was a time when competitors put aside their competitiveness for the war effort.
It also is interesting to learn about how some of our major military aircraft corporations came into being. Yenne describes how many of them were created by the same people who moved from creating one company and moving onto creating another one.
This book shows one of the reasons (aircraft production) why the United States was the greatest industrial power coming out of World War II.