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The Jet Makers

The Aerospace Industry from 1945 to 1972

• Title
• Introduction
• Preface
• Acknowledgements

• I: World War II: Aviation Comes of Age
• II: The Aerospace Industry since World War II: A Brief History
• III: The National Military Strategy: Background for the Government Markets
• IV: The Principal Government Market: The United States Air Force
• V: The Other Government Markets: The Aerospace Navy, the Air Army, and NASA
• VI: Fashions in Government Procurement
• VII: The Heartbreak Market: Airliners
• VIII: Design or Die: The Supreme Technological Industry
• IX: Production: The Payoff
• X: Diversification: The Hedge for Survival
• XI: Costs: Into the Stratosphere
• XII: Finance and Management
• XIII: Entry into the Aerospace Industry
• XIV: Exit from the Aerospace Industry
• XV: The Influence of the Jet Engine on the Industry

• Notes
• Acronyms
• Annotated Bibliography



In 1945 a few jet fighters flew among thousands of piston-engined aircraft in the world's air forces and airlines. In 1972 fleets of jets were in the air around the world. At both periods American-built aircraft outnumbered those from any other country.

American leadership was not foreordained. Although the United States had long been the largest industrial country, it had not been preeminent in every major field of production. In shipbuilding, for example, after leading in the age of sail, the United States lagged behind despite government encouragement. One reason was the failure of American shipbuilders to convert early to the new technology of steam. A similar failure was possible in the American aircraft industry, for although foremost in the older technology of piston aircraft production in 1945, the United States was far behind in the development of the new jet technology.

There are some basic similarities between piston and jet engines, but the latter are simpler and more efficient. The piston engine's disadvantages are fourfold. First, it is “reciprocating”: its pistons are accelerated in one direction, then braked to a stop, then accelerated again in the opposite direction, many times a second. By contrast, the jet engine's continuous rotary turbine operates with a far more efficient motion. The second disadvantage of the piston engine is its circuitous routing of the air used to generate power. This air must be turned as it flows through a supercharger, a carburetor, and a minor labyrinth called an intake manifold, then halted until a valve opens, accelerated along a nonlinear path into the combustion chamber, compressed again, burned, and finally exhausted through another valve and labyrinthine exhaust manifold. Large masses of air must also be routed to control engine temperatures. A centrifugal-compressor jet engine also turns masses of air around corners, and this is one reason it, too, is a limited use engine. The axial-flow type, on the other hand, moves its air almost perfectly straight from intake through compressor, burner chamber, and turbine to exhaust.

A third disadvantage is that the piston engine cannot stand being run for long periods at over about 60 percent of its maximum available power, while the turbine can be used continuously at about 90 percent of maximum power. The fourth disadvantage of the piston engine is its use of a propeller, whose tips reach the speed of sound at relatively few revolutions per minute, causing grave efficiency problems. The jet engine can also drive a propeller (it is then called the propjet or turboprop), or it can get all its thrust from the exhaust gases.

Even in its early stages the jet was competitive with the piston. Each of the two Junkers Jumo 004B's used in the twin-engine Messerschmitt Me 262A, the first jet fighter, developed 1,980 pounds of thrust. At 540 miles per hour this was equivalent to about 2,800 horsepower. The American Republic P-47D, a contemporary fighter, had a 2,300 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine. Furthermore, the efficiency of the jet is underscored by comparing engine weights, a factor of importance in aircraft performance: the Jumo weighed only 1,850 pounds, and the Pratt & Whitney 2,350 pounds, so the Jumo produced about 50 percent more horsepower per pound.

In 1945 the jet engine was a new technology in design and manufacture. The German and British developments had taken years. Although the British helped the United States get established in jets during the war, and German equipment and information were seized, it was no small task for the Americans to catch up. Great Britain, a first-class nation in aviation design since the beginning of flight, hoped to translate its already lengthy and early jet engine lead into competitive advantage in both fighter and airliner production. The formidable nature of the British effort is shown by their achievements in the production of jet engines and turbine transports. In the fifties Britain was the leading producer; by 1960 Rolls Royce had supplied 60 percent of the turbines for airliners built or building in the West; by 1962 over 500 British turbine transports were in service in the world's airlines, and the Royal Air Force and other free-world air forces were using British jets. The Russians, too, were producing superb, if not superior, jet fighters, and they had a fleet of turbine bombers and airliners (about 400 of the latter by 1962). Over 130 turbine airliners of British, French, and Dutch design or manufacture were in use on American airlines in 1962. Yet in spite of these able competitors, America's leadership was restored beyond doubt during the early sixties.

American success in the new technology was not a result of default by the competition. Other explanations have been ventured. One Englishman attributes American airliner leadership to adaptation of military designs, but asserts the same lineage held back the British. He also credits American dominance in modern piston transports to the Americans' having been the first to build them, and the American preeminence in jets to their having been second and thereby having learned from the British.1 Since one usually cannot have things both ways, it seems likely that American success with jet technology is a result of other causes.

Americans are not only tinkerers, they like the biggest and the best.

The race for home and foreign markets was important to the United States and fit the American character, but more important was the concern for survival in military terms. Throughout the period of jet engine development Americans believed their security in the cold war rested upon a balanced mixture of technological and quantitative superiority over the Soviet Union in nuclear weapons and the associated delivery systems. The major share of this technological challenge fell upon the aircraft, or aerospace, industry. How did the United States, which was behind in the race in the forties, leap to the fore by the early sixties? It is to answer this question that this book has been written.

The approach has been to analyze the part of the American aerospace industry that manufactures the final product. For the purpose of this book the giants of the aerospace industry were chosen for analysis, those on the frontiers of technology who manufactured fixed-wing aircraft of their own design. This is the group that bore the brunt of adaptation to the jet age: Boeing, Curtiss-Wright, Douglas, Fairchild, General Dynamics, Grumman, Lockheed, Martin, McDonnell, North American, Northrop, and Republic. When appropriate, General Dynamics will be referred to by the name of its predecessor company, Convair, which is a contraction of Consolidated Vultee Aircraft. Martin is also known as Martin Marietta, and North American by its earlier name, North American Aviation, or its later, North American Rockwell (today it is part of Rockwell International). One giant, Vought, has been excluded because of the years in which it was a subsidiary of United, whose main concern was engines. Curtiss-Wright, although it was once United's main engine competitor, produced many aircraft types and was one of the larger manufacturers in the industry; therefore it has been included. Companies that have been short-lived or peripheral, such as Chase and Ryan, are excluded.

Because of the breadth of this work and the large number of sources, footnotes have been limited to special situations: quotations, and material and ideas of a remote nature.