Cargo Planes


By E. A. LOCKE, JR., Assistant to the Chairman, War Production Board

Delivered before the Maryland Academy of Sciences, Baltimore, Md., August 5, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 683-687.

BEFORE discussing the possibilities of cargo delivery by air and some of the problems which must be solved, if our hopes in that field are to be realized, I would like to touch briefly on the overall production program, for I feel that only against such a background can the cargo plane be properly evaluated.

In the eight months since Pearl Harbor we have seen our economy—the greatest peacetime economy in the world's history—swiftly and drastically converted to a wartime basis. In that period we have gone a long way toward keeping our pledge that we would be the Arsenal of Democracy. In that period our munitions production has increased to such an extent that in July it was almost exactly three times what it was in November. What is more, this increase will continue steadily until we reach the peak of our war production.

Appropriations for war purposes, actual and proposed, now total some 225 billion dollars, of which some 40 billions have already been disbursed. In July alone expenditures for military purposes totaled about $4 1/2 billion. I mention these figures, however, not so much with the intention of showing you how much has been done, but rather to indicate the enormity of the job which remains to be done. Our warproduction effort is a staggering undertaking, huge and complex. Its accomplishment on time—and more important, in time—is the greatest challenge which America has ever faced.

But to be successful, our war supply program must operate according to two basic principles. First of all, the program must have balance. Air force equipment must be properly proportioned to the equipment of the ground forces and of the Navy, and there must be enough merchant ships to transport all this equipment together with the necessary manpower to the fighting fronts. Within each one of these groups, moreover, there must also be balance so that the production of ammunition is synchronized with that of guns, and so that airplanes do not come out of the factories lacking engines or propellers. In addition, there must be throughout the economy a balanced, steady flow of materials and components, which dovetails completely with the scheduled output of the finished tanks, guns, airplanes, and ships. We must also balance with equal precision the needs of the military against those of the civilian economy, on the soundness of which our whole war effort is dependent. Our transportation and communication systems must be maintained. The workers in our war industries must be housed. Our farmers musthave farm machinery. We must all have clothes and food. All of these civilian essentials are being rapidly cut to the absolute minimum, in order that the maximum of our resources can be devoted to direct war purposes. But since most of them require the same scarce materials, facilities, and manpower as the military program, the task of maintaining a balance among them all becomes increasingly important as the months go by.

The first basic principle, then, is to maintain balance in our program. The second principle is that each item of war supply must be constantly tested against the criterion of how soon and how hard it can strike the enemy or directly contribute to striking him. Measured in this way, a heavy truck would not rank very high. Since it cannot deliver itself, it consumes a great deal of valuable shipping space and often takes two or three months to reach its destination. Even then it has no direct striking power of its own, although of course it is of considerable importance in the movement of supplies within restricted areas. A four-engine bomber, on the other hand, is one of the most important weapons we are producing today. It can get to any one of the fighting fronts within one to four days and can immediately be employed at any hour of the day or night to drop many tons of bombs against strategic enemy targets.

The problem of delivering munitions, food and supplies to our allies and to our own troops abroad, and of importing the strategic materials necessary to produce these essentials, is becoming more and more difficult. The enemy has already closed certain of our vital sea lanes, and it is possible that he may close still more, before we can gather the strength to force him back and attack him in his own lair. In other sea lanes, particularly those of the Atlantic and the Caribbean, submarines are prowling in large numbers, and as our ships leave port, we know that many of them are destined for the ocean bottom, together with their cargoes and, all too often, with their crews as well. We have become accustomed to thinking of ourselves as blockading the enemy, but now he has gotten to the point where he is partially blockading us instead.

I have seen published estimates that in recent weeks the shipping losses of the United Nations have been at the rate of 1,200,000 deadweight tons per month. If we assume this figure to be accurate, then each month we are losing forever these ships and the 400,000 tons of scarce materials of which they are composed, as well as the 6,700,000 tons of war goods which they are carrying. The exact amount of war goods lost varies of course according to the number of ships which are on their return voyages and thus often have only partial cargoes or none at all. Moreover, these losses are being imposed on us by the enemy with a very small expenditure of materials and effort on his part. They are not even losses suffered on the field of battle, where a high price could be exacted in return.

Recently it has been suggested—and the suggestion has struck a responsive chord in the imagination of our people— that we abandon the age-old means of transportation, the ship which travels on the sea, and develop to the full a ship which will fly over the sea. The successful flights here in Baltimore of the great Mars flying boat have in themselves done much to create a great faith and a great hope in this new means of ocean transport and a demand that its advantages be exploited to the limit. Every additional American ship sunk has made this demand more insistent.

Let us look back over the last 12 to 14 years and follow the history here in the United States of the transport plane. It is a story of great technical advance in design and in the development of those designs. But it is also a story of our failure as a nation, rich in resources of men, material, and skill, to grasp the opportunity offered by these technicalachievements. It was an opportunity to develop an air transportation system which would lead the world, but instead we put our newly developed plans into production for only limited periods and in small numbers.

There was, for example, the old Ford Tri-motor, which was put into production in 1928 in a new and model factory at Dearborn, which was completely equipped with tools, jigs and fixtures to turn out those planes on a mass production basis. The plane itself was powered with three 400-horsepower engines and could carry a gross load of 6,000 pounds, including crew and fuel. Although its range and carrying capacity were not large compared to later models, it still could carry 3,200 pounds of pay-load some 500 miles. A hundred or so of these planes were completed, before production was stopped in 1931. There are still well over a score of them in service today, mostly in Central and South America and in China, where they are performing yeoman service in the transportation of cargoes and personnel.

Then there was the Fokker airplane, also a tri-motor ship, which was developed at about the same time as the Ford and was approximately equivalent to it, although a trifle faster. Only 70 to 80 of these were made, and as far as I know, none of them are in use today. In addition there was the Curtiss Condor, a twin-engine biplane, which would today be particularly useful in South America where at least 10 are still in service.

Next, in 1934 and 1935, came the first of that class of big four-engine flying boats called the Clippers, the Martin 152 and the Sikorsky S-42. The Martin was much the larger of the two and capable of carrying about 16,000 pounds of pay-load for a thousand miles at 130 miles per hour. Only three were ever built, the last of which was destroyed a few months ago by the Japanese in the Pacific. The Sikorsky flying boat, being smaller, could haul a pay-load of only 7,000 pounds over the same distance of a thousand miles and at a slightly slower speed. Between 1934 and 1937, when production of this model ceased entirely, less than a dozen of the planes had been produced. Most of them are still in service today, principally in the Caribbean. One was captured in Manila by the Japs.

Lastly there were the two large Boeing four-engine planes, the Stratoliner, which is a land plane, and the 314, which is a sea-plane and the largest and best in the world today. Production of both these models has been abruptly stopped within the last year, after only 18 of the Stratoliners had been turned out and about 10 of the seaplanes, almost all of which are rendering extremely valuable assistance today in the service of the United Nations.

Here, then, were six aircraft of good size and cargo carrying capacity that were never left in production long enough for any important quantities of them to be accumulated, A few hundred, particularly of the latter three types, would be a priceless possession today and could be used to tremendous advantage in maintaining our distant outposts and our long supply lines.

It should be pointed out, however, that during this period the Army was really giving serious consideration to carrying cargoes by air domestically. It then maintained three big depots for spare parts, engines and other supplies—one at Middletown, Pennsylvania, another at San Antonio, Texas, and still a third at Sacramento, California—and with considerable initiative and energy developed an extensive system of cargo plane connections between them. The result was that by 1940 these Army planes were actually hauling more freight by air within this country than all of our domestic airlines combined.

We were also building a domestic air transportation system that was, in respect to carrying passengers and air mail, the finest in the world. Our domestic airlines, stimulated byintense competition among themselves and by the eager American acceptance of air travel, built up amazingly well-coordinated and efficient organizations, employing thousands of highly trained pilots, navigators and mechanics. When we entered the war, our domestic and foreign airlines had upwards of 500 airplanes, which, although they were being used principally for passenger transport, were suitable in varying degrees for cargo hauling. Considerable numbers of them have in recent months been taken over by the armed services and are proving of inestimable value.

There was another event of considerable significance in the development of cargo planes in the United States which should not be overlooked. In November 1937—almost five years ago—the United States Maritime Commission attempted to obtain authority to purchase flying boats. If that proposal had been accepted, Maritime Commission contemplated the expenditure of up to $50,000,000 for this purpose, but instead it was obliged to limit itself to surface craft, so many of which lie now on the bottom of the sea. At that time, Boeing was the only one of the five American manufacturers of the Clipper type of plane who had any orders, although they were all actually seeking customers. It is likely that, if the Maritime Commission's plan had been favorably acted upon, we would have entered the war with from 100 to 200 Clippers instead of an all-too-inadequate handful.

Let us look, by way of comparison, at what Germany was doing during this same period. The well-known Junkers 52, which is a contemporary of the Ford Tri-motor and roughly equivalent to it, was getting into full production in 1930 and '31, just when the Ford plant was being closed down. So far as we have been able to learn, production of the Junkers 52 is still continuing in Germany and is so standardized that apprentice mechanics are very probably used in the shops and on the assembly lines. This is the plane which was used to such advantage in Norway, Crete and Libya. In spite of the considerable losses sustained in those operations as well as in Russia, the Germans probably still have some 2,000 or 3,000 at their disposal. At the same time, moreover, the Nazis have not been backward in developing larger and longer-range cargo craft and providing them in considerable numbers.

In this country many voices were raised through these years to warn us of the potentialities of the air-child we were neglecting, but we did not listen, or listening, did not heed. Although we were proud of a promising infant, we showed little interest in helping him mature. Today, nevertheless, we have a great asset in the experience, which the past has given us, and a rich storehouse of technical knowledge now lying ready for immediate use in our hour of national peril. I know that this time we will not fail to grasp to the fullest our opportunity.

This spring, as the shipping losses of the United Nations increased to most serious proportions, it became urgently necessary to reconsider the balance of our war production program, as it related to ocean transport. Several courses of action suggested themselves. We could provide still more escort ships. We could provide still more planes and blimps to patrol the sea lanes. We could produce still more merchant vessels. Or we could consider an expansion of the cargo plane program as promising from the over-all point of view the most effective answer to this problem. Keenly aware of the possibilities of the latter alternative, the Chairman of the War Production Board, Mr. Nelson, established back in May a Committee on Cargo Planes. He appointed as its members some of the greatest experts in this country and directed them to make an exhaustive study of the need for cargo planes and of the possibility of solving our ocean transport difficulties by this means.

That committee set immediately to work and in the remarkably short period of six weeks they were able to present to Mr. Nelson an extensive report on this subject. The report opens with a review of the cargo capacity of the United States air cargo fleet. It points out that by the end of 1943 a total of some thousands of cargo planes will have been delivered to the Army and the Navy, and goes into the details as to the exact amount and types of cargoes which this fleet could transport. It critically examines cargo plane types now available or scheduled for production in the near future and compares their load-carrying abilities. These data are then studied in terms of distances of 1, 2, and 3 thousand miles. The fuel required for these distances is given in each case, as well as the net cargo which can be carried.

Figures are then arrived at showing the ton-miles per hour and the pounds of gas per ton-mile, these being excellent gauges of the fuel economy and the efficiency of the various types of planes. Another item which is considered and is of great importance purely from the production standpoint, is the amount of tons of critical material needed in these planes per ton of cargo delivered. This latter figure enables us to judge from which plane we would derive the greatest value in the use of our aluminum and other scarce materials. As a final comparison, there are given the ton-miles of cargo that can be delivered per year per plane, when each is flown at the rate of a set number of hours per year.

There are some interesting conclusions to be drawn from a study of these data, most of which to my regret I cannot disclose, because they involve matters of military secrecy. Suffice it to say, however, that the Curtiss C-46, more recently known as the Curtiss Commando, is one of the most efficient cargo-carrying planes in our entire fleet, unless and until one goes up into the larger class as represented by the Mars flying boat. In the latter case the figures clearly indicate that cargo-carrying planes become more efficient with increasing size up to a limit which we do not yet know precisely, but which is certainly considerably larger than any aircraft which have yet been built.

One of the most interesting sections of the report is that which deals with the demand for air cargo movements. In regard to exports they can generally be divided into two groups: first, the non-military, such as special machine tools, chemicals, electrical equipment, surgical and medical supplies, foodstuffs, and repair parts for production machines; and secondly, the direct military, consisting principally of such items as tanks, trucks, and equipment and supplies of various sorts, and soldiers. The committee concludes that, although a sizable proportion of the non-military exports are suitable as air cargo, the percentage of military shipments would be much higher, particularly when consideration is given both to the character of the shipments and the element of the urgency of their delivery.

Then there is the matter of imports, and I do not think I need emphasize to you that the effective prosecution of the war by the United Nations depends to a large extent on the ability of the United States, as the most potent producer of war goods, to import from abroad large enough volumes of necessary strategic materials, so that our production program can succeed. Certain of these materials, particularly those coming from China, India and points in the Middle and Near East, are not now easily available for water transport because, in many instances, the country of origin is completely blockaded by the enemy. In other instances, the water trip is so long and so vulnerable to enemy action that the scarce materials involved should not be subjected to the risk of loss. This is of particular importance today, because shipping losses of strategic materials in the last three months have been extremely serious. If sufficient cargo planes wereavailable to move these materials into the United States, these losses could be averted. In addition, the versatility of the airplane gives it a great advantage over shipping, because it does not have to wait for a large accumulation of materials.

The report concludes with a discussion of the various possibilities of increasing cargo plane production and recommends an increase of at least 100 per cent in the present program. One of the misconceptions which the public is prone to have in this connection is that we do not have any cargo plane program today. Most of you here tonight, I am sure, know that that is not the case. The facts are that some hundreds of cargo planes have already been delivered to the Army and Navy and present schedules call for an increasing number from here on.

It seems to me, however, that the really basic question involved in the whole cargo plane problem can best be summarized in terms of the two principles mentioned at the beginning of this address. First, are cargo planes in balance with other parts of the aircraft program and is that program in balance with the tank and gun and ship programs? Secondly, will the cargo plane help to provide us with greater and more immediate striking power against the enemy than other items of war production? These matters obviously involve decisions of high strategy, and they are at present under active consideration by the topmost officials of the Government.

In that regard, statements have been made that the essential reason why the entire aircraft program cannot be further expanded and more cargo planes thus produced without sacrificing other parts of the aircraft program is that we are up against a bottleneck in engines. It has been further stated that the reason for the engine bottleneck is a short-age of alloy steels and machine tools. I agree with both these statements. I agree that engines are short and that alloysteels and machine tools are very scarce. But I do notagree with the inference that therefore our only choice is necessarily between cargo planes and four-engine bombers.

Alloy steels and machine tools are short and will probably always be short in wartime, because they are used in the production of guns, trucks, tanks, merchant vessels, naval ships, etc., as well as in the production of airplanes. The real problem, therefore, is whether that steel and those tools are being used to best advantage at present or whether their distribution should be altered by directing more of them into the production of airplanes and less into the production of guns and trucks and tanks and ships. That is of course a matter of strategic determination. It is perhaps presumptuous on my part to express an opinion on such a situation, but personally I would be reluctant even to contemplate a reduction of four-engine bomber production, until we had first considered cutting almost every other item in our war supply program.

It is exciting to contemplate the things we could do, if we had an adequate fleet of long-range large-size cargo planes today—or even a year or two years from today.

Russia, China, the Middle East, the Pacific area and the British Isles—all widely separated, all desperately in need of the munitions we are producing—would be hours and days instead of weeks and months away from us. Similarly, many of the scarce materials we must have for our industrial machine are scattered in almost every section of the world.

Our cargo planes, traveling high above the submarine, would thus operate a two-way service. They would bring to us scarce materials and take from us munitions for the fighting fronts with a speed greater than the wind. Much of the scarce materials required to build a fleet of these planes would be returned to us with interest in the form of materials saved from the bottom of the sea. Further, many fighting ships, now on convoy duty, could be released foroffensive action against the enemy or be used to provide greater protection for existing merchant ships.

One of the most important advantages obtainable from such an airplane fleet would be in the ability it would give us to strike heavy blows against the enemy without tying up ships, men and materials in months of preparation—and without, incidentally, tipping our hand to the enemy. We would also be able to throw heavy reinforcements into any battle within a few days. One of the greatest advantages of the Axis has been that it has had a wide choice of fronts, comparatively close to sources of supply, while the United Nations on almost all fronts have been separated by thousands of miles of sea from their most important arsenals. A big fleet of cargo planes in our hands would shrink the world in our favor.

Not only would cargo planes tremendously reduce the time element of transportation; they would enable us to reduce linear distance also. We would be able to go as the crow flies, through the air, instead of the long way around on the surface of the sea.

To evaluate adequately the possibilities of cargo delivery by air we must abandon the old conceptions of distances and directions given by Mercator maps of the earth, which show the earth as a rectangle with the Western Hemisphere in the center, and constantly bear in mind that the earth is a sphere.

As the great Artic authority, Mr. Stefansson, pointed out in a recent magazine article, this war is being fought largely on the northern half of the temperate zone, which lies around the Arctic Ocean. With the exception of Chungking, the capitals of all the principal warring nations are nearer the Arctic Circle than the Equator. North America, Europe and Asia grouped around the Arctic Ocean in much the same way that Africa, Asia and Europe are grouped around the Mediterranean Sea.

Thus, the most direct routes to our enemies and to our allies are not, as one would imagine from study of a Mercator map, in an easterly or westerly direction, but in a northerly direction. The shortest distances are not around the rim of the earth but over the top of the earth, in some cases directly over the North Pole.

To fly from New York to Tokyo, for example, one would not fly west to Seattle and then on west across the Pacific, but rather north across the southern tip of Hudson Bay, on over the northern edge of Alaska, over a corner of Russia, and on to Japan and Tokyo, a total distance, by the way, of about 5,900 miles, only a little further than the distance from San Francisco to Tokyo around the rim of the earth.

In addition to offering routes much shorter than those our ships must follow in their tortuous journeys to deliver munitions to our allies, this region to the north is controlled by Canada, England, Russia and the United States. Flying conditions along these northern routes are not, as most people imagine, unfavorable but on the contrary generally good the year around.

I realize as well as anyone the tremendous obstacles, the stubborn problems, that must be solved before we can make our dreams of a vast cargo fleet come true. There are material bottlenecks, facilities bottlenecks, labor bottlenecks. There is also the problem, in itself a staggering one, of establishing bases in far places of the world, of getting high octane gasoline in sufficient quantities to those bases, and of maintaining crews of service men and repair shops.

But we have a realistic appreciation of these obstacles, and one of the things which stimulates us most in seeking to overcome them is a brief look into the future. If, two or three years from now, we should possess a fleet of 500 cargo seaplanes, each having a gross weight of 200 tons and a pay-load capacity of about 100 tons, here's what we could do with that fleet. We could operate it all the year round between Norfolk, Virginia, and Great Britain and, in addition to carrying enough gasoline for its complete round trip, that fleet would also carry this cargo: bombs, ammunitions, spare parts, gasoline, as well as food for some 50,000 pilots and mechanics, all sufficient to maintain an air invasion fleet over Germany of one thousand planes every day in the year.

In conclusion, let me say that the proposal which Mr. Henry Kaiser has made to the effect that we build a fleet of cargo planes of the Mars type is receiving our most careful, active, and sympathetic consideration. The country has been deeply stirred by this plan, because somewhere in the back of its mind it has always had the feeling that America would win this war in the air. Mr. Kaiser has suggested the solution to a problem which is probably the most acute that we face today, the problems of getting the fruits of our enormous productive machine to the fighting fronts. His is a new and daring approach. We in the War ProductionBoard are determined that this proposal shall get every possible consideration and that it shall get it quickly.

We realize that a delay now of one month on an airplane which may take a year to get into production means that we will get that production just one month later than if we started on the job at once. We are trying to think in a young way on this—vigorously, freshly, without prejudice, and with a full willingness to take considered risks. What we are not willing to do any longer, and I am sure every one of you will agree with me on this, is to wait until the Nazis have tried and proven something new before we too take it up. From here on we are determined to provide the leadership in this war and to be the first with all that is new and better. Then let the Hun follow after.

Mr. Kaiser said the other day, "Half of America is doing things it never did before and the other half is waiting to do them."

My answer to Mr. Kaiser is this: "We will not keep the other half waiting long."