War Plane Production Overview (04:04)
A surprise attack by Japanese bombers drew the U.S. into World War II. The war effort would require unprecedented manufacturing output. American workers built hundreds of thousands of bombers, fighters, and cargo planes; meet their engineers.
Bill Boeing (02:34)
Before the war, aviation manufacturers struggled to find a market. The timber baron invested in a U.S. Air Mail route in 1925 and developed the Boeing 247—the first modern airliner.
Donald Douglas (03:35)
TWA approached a Los Angeles designer to create a model competitive with the Boeing 247. The DC-3 introduced wing flaps, greater engine power, and more passengers. This model dominated the market; learn about its adaptations for military use as the C-47.
Focusing on military planes, Boeing created a bomber dubbed the "flying fortress" and built mostly by female workers. Bette Murphy describes her experiences as a riveter. Employees ranged from housewives to prostitutes.
Bombing Campaigns (02:05)
B-17s were used in air strikes in Europe. Gunners also shot down enemy fighters; a veteran recalls an air fight with Germans over Berlin. Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed built 12,000 B-17s during the war effort.
Willow Run Plant (03:52)
The Pentagon recruited Henry Ford to increase production using automotive standards. Charles Sorensen oversaw construction of a mile long assembly line, but progress was slow. In 1943, it finally came online; learn about its diverse work force.
B-24 Liberator (02:19)
The Willow Run plant produced a faster and longer range model than the B-17. Veteran pilots recall flying challenges. American factories built 18,000 B-24s, more than any other airplane produced during the war.
P-51 Mustang (02:56)
The Allies had to cripple German factories, to defeat Hitler. Americans waged daytime air raids; anti-aircraft artillery brought down many bombers. In 1940, North American Aviation built a new fighter model for Britain.
Best Fighter in Europe (02:34)
As the P-51 prototype took shape, Hitler launched an air assault on Britain; Royal Air Force pilots struggled to defend their homeland. Despite delays by striking North American Aviation workers, the Mustang could outfly German planes.
P-51 Performance (02:16)
Auxiliary fuel tanks enabled the Mustang to reach German targets. Tuskegee Airmen veteran William Melton compares it to a Rolls Royce. It was used for escorting bombers, shooting down enemy aircraft, and dive bombing ground targets.
Roy Grumman (03:10)
Both the U.S. and Japan debuted aircraft carriers in the Pacific Theater. A former Navy pilot developed the F-4F Wildcat fighter. Hear how he used an eraser and a paperclip to design foldable wings that saved deck space.
F-4F Wildcat (01:53)
After Pearl Harbor, U.S. shipyards built new aircraft carriers; Grumman expanded production but struggled to keep up with demand. Pilot Butch O'Hare demonstrated the Wildcat's abilities when he singlehandedly shot down six Japanese bombers.
Grumman Hellcat (04:07)
In dogfights, the Japanese Zero outperformed the Wildcat. The Iron Works improved the design; the new fighter proved superior to the Zero. Grumman implemented labor practices to improve morale. Hellcats were also safer; Whitey Feightner describes landing his disabled plane.
Postwar Aviation (03:01)
Military contracts were canceled after World War II; manufacturers halted production and laid off workers. During the Cold War and the Space Race, government sub-contracts created opportunities for collaborative research and development. Technological innovations included jet fighters and stealth planes.
Credits: War Planes of World War II (00:58)
Credits: War Planes of World War II
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