Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

The Mexican border trouble emphasized our lack of airplanes and the utter inefficiency and unserviceableness of those we had (5, 557, 558). The Secretary of War communicated with the aircraft manufacturers of the United States and found that none of them could promise early deliveries of the inefficient airplanes then in vogue (557, 558, 39, 3596). These machines had 90-horsepower engines (7).

By the act of August 29, 1916, $13,281,666 was made available for the purchase and manufacture of machines and the maintenance of the Aviation Section. Fifty thousand dollars was appropriated for the development of an aviation motor and $500 for special technical instruction for aviation officers (276).

The act of February 14, 1917, appropriated $3,600,000 for aircraft requirements in connection with seacoast defenses (276).

Shortly after becoming Secretary, Mr. Baker gave orders to our factories for planes of types then obtainable in this country. Only a part of these had been delivered within the year following the orders. It took practically one year for the American factories to make deliveries in substantial numbers on orders for these simple planes in the peace time preceding war (39, 557, 558).

At the beginning of the war with Germany, the United States had less than 300 planes, all of inferior types (11). During 1916 the Army ordered 366 airplanes, only 83 of which were received during that year. The total number of planes delivered to the United States prior to the war with Germany was 224, of which 82 were delivered in the preceding three months, and 83 during the preceding calendar year (509, 518).

Prior to the time we entered the war, American factories had not produced any modern fighting airplane. We had no armed machines (3595, 558). American production had been devoted to training planes. In order to produce American-made planes for war service purposes, the industry had to be developed from the ground up. We had only a handful of practical airplane engineers, none of whom had manufactured service planes (3553, 3554, 3563, 387, 3451). Our factories had meager facilities. Service planes had to be designed, factories had to be constructed, jigs, and dies, and tools designed and manufactured. Equipment involving many machines of delicate mechanism (3596, 3597), and even the clothing equipment for pilots were requirements absolutely necessary but practically unknown to the American industry (558, 559).

At the time of our entry into the war, we had a total of 52 officers, about 1,100 enlisted men, and about 200 civilian employees, including mechanics (3554), in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. At the beginning of the war the Army had trained 139 men to fly, of whom about 26 were really qualified pilots, so far as such flyers could be developed by elementary training machine experience (2910–V).

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

EARLY WAR PERIOD

[ocr errors]

After the European war began, but before the United States became a party to it, our Army had a more or less limited opportunity of observation thereof (348). Lieut. Col. Logan was at the head of the observation work of the United States (3590). Maj. Gen. George 0. Squier, then lieutenant colonel (3589), during two years of that

139173–37—27

h US

time was military attaché to Great Britain and had opportunities of observation of British war operations. He was permitted to go to the front in the early part of the war by special arrangements. He reported to the United States on all branches of the Army and made a special study of aviation, of which subject he had been a scientific student for many years (3591-3593).

There was a total of five observation officers from the Air Service in Europe immediately preceding and during the early days of the war (3310, 2910–VII, 347, 348). Gen. Mitchell, who was then a major (3589), went to Europe in March preceding the war and had a splendid opportunity for observation at the French front shortly after we entered the war (2612). Shortly in advance of the war three flying officers were sent to France for training and instruction in the French flying schools (347). With probably the one exception in the case of Squier, prior to about February 1917, when the entry of America into the war on the side of the Allies became probable, the belligerents had refused to permit American aviation officers observation privileges (348).

Helpful reports from the officers sent to the French flying fields did not begin to arrive until the summer of 1917 (2910-VII).

A few days after the declaration of war France, England, and Italy were urged by the United States military authorities to send experienced and trained flyers and aeronautical engineers and designers to assist the United States in its preparatory work. A number of such men were forth with sent to the United States and placed on the working staff of the Chief Signal Officer at Washington (3554). Subsequently, at different times, men having the latest European experience came to America to replace those originally sent. The limited number of aeronautical engineers in America devoted themselves to the planning, designing, experimental and constructive work that the creation of a military aircraft industry involved (3554).

At an early date investigations were made of the training system, ground schools, and training fields of Canada, and the American plans in these matters were founded on the Canadian experience. Provision was made by which cadets from this country could be trained in Canada, France, and Italy. A winter training p located in Texas was provided for the Royal Flying Corps of Canada, in return for which 10 flying squadrons of the Air Service were to be trained by the British Government and equipped with machines for service (3554).

In the early months of the war the Joint Army and Navy Technical Board undertook the determination of an aircraft program based upon what would be needed and what was necessary to carry it into effect, including personnel (355, 356). This program was worked out in the form of estimates for funds made to Congress. The chairman of this committee (357) candidly and commendedly admits that in undertaking this work they had to rely upon "a very vivid imagination” and “no experience outside of a little in Mexico." Two officers from the French Army, members of Marshal Joffre's Mission (357) gave their assistance. The program adopted was at first based on the supposition of an Army of over 2,000,000.

It must be understood that the initial aircraft program proposed was for the purpose of presenting a foundation for requests for appropriations. The program of production followed investigations of

war.

the Bolling Commission and was changed from time to time as suggested by the Army advisers in Europe and as modified by American conditions of production.

The program used as a basis for appropriations was intended to meet the cablegram from the French premier, M. Ribot, under date of May 24, 1917, requesting that we prepare a flying corps of 4,500 ariplanes, personnel and matériel included, to be sent to the French front during the campaign of 1918, including 5,000 pilots and 50,000 mechanics (358, 2910 VII-VIII). The French request called for 16,500 service planes in the first six months of 1918 and 30,000 service engines. Additional planes and engines would be required for training purposes. The performance of this program, it is alleged, would "allow the Allies to win the supremacy of the air.” The cost of the 22,625 airplanes and 45,250 engines under the program was estimated at $365,120,000 (361). Items involving other essentials to the carrying out of this program made the aggregate estimated amount $707,541,452 (359-363). To meet this expense, in addition to sums already available for such purposes, Congress, by the act of July 24, 1917, appropriated $640,000,000 (363).

The program of sending 4,500 airplanes to the front included a total airplane production of 22,625 and 45,250 engines. This program required

a greater plane production by the United States in 12 months than England produced during her first 40 months of the

It required an engine production within 12 months approximately equal to the total engine production of England during the entire 51 months of the war (361, 561-a).

Looking at the situation from the subsequent experience of ourselves and our Allies, there was never the practical possibility of fulfilling the program adopted in May 1917. We were absolutely without the engineering experience, the airplane and aeronautical mechanics, and the manufacturing resources to meet such a program within the time specified. The men who could design and make airplanes and engines in such numbers had yet to acquire their skill. Jigs and dies, the tools, the engines, the planes, and the factories in which they were to be made had yet to be designed and accomodated to quantity production (3595–3597).

Only inexperienced men would have promised performance of this program, but their inexperience was not reprehensible; it was the inexperience of their country, where none, perhaps, were of greater skill or experience than those who assisted in planning and recommending the program (2910-X-XI, XVI).

In October 1917, the French, after having been in the war three years, planned to extend their planes on the front from 2,665 to 4,022 by April 1918. At the time of the armistice, six months later, they had only 3,300 planes at the front, or 700 short of the program provided for April (2910-LI).

The big mistake in the aircraft-production program has been not so much that those in charge did not fulfill it, but rather than they made the mistake of creating a public expectation that they could

Out of their optimism came claims creating false hopes (3534, 3535). When the inevitable failure to meet the program came, public opinion accepted it as a failure of service instead of the failure of an impossible program. Inexperience and the excusable incompetence of inexperience, and that fault distributed among those

in authority as well as designers, manufacturers, and mechanics, must be held responsible for a large part of the disappointing results of engine and plane production. But a still larger amount of the disappointment the country experienced from the failure of production to meet expectations must be assigned to causes that were inevitable and for which no just condemnation will lie (3539, 3540).

BOLLING COMMISSION

After war was declared Brig. Gen. Squier suggested that experts in aeronautical matters be sent overseas to gain the benefit of the European experience in engine and airplane matters. This led to the appointment of the Bolling Commission, of which Col. R. C. Bolling was the head, which left the United States on the 17th of June 1917 (2910-XXVIII-XXIX, 210), and arrived in England on the 26th of June. The commission was made up of naval and Army members and civilian experts, including 93 American mechanics (2910-XXX). These mechanics were placed in European factories for the purpose of obtaining intimate, practical knowledge of the construction of service airplanes and engines, and with a view of accommodating European construction to American methods of manufacture and returning to supervise and direct American factories (214).

The membership of the Bolling Commission was selected from what was believed to be men best qualified to judge and profit by European experience in various phases of European production (214, 210, 2910–XXIX-XXX).

The commission visited England, France, and Italy. In each country they immediately got in contact with the head of aircraft matters, investigated the aircraft and engine factories, selected the designs of engines, planes, and equipment they thought best adapted to American use and production, and made arrangements for the shipment of samples thereof to the United States. Their investigation also included visits to the western and Italian fronts. Questions concerning the right to the use of foreign inventions somewhat delayed the use of these foreign machines and equipment by the United States. The English samples of engines, planes, and equipment were shipped on the 4th of July,

1917. The machines and material were promised to be shipped by France (2910-XXXIX) on the first boat following the 6th of July, 1917. Shipment was delayed, however, principally on account of the contention of the holders of inventions for compensation, and shipments were not made until August. The Spad machine which had been promised was not shipped until the 28th of August and did not arrive in the United States until the 18th of September, 1917 (2910-XL). Negotiations for the adjustment of the royalties with the French Government were finally dropped and later adjustment was made with the owners of the patents (2910– XLI).

Italy gave the Bolling Commission a particularly friendly and helpful reception and promised, and promptly shipped, all the samples of engines, planes, and equipment desired (2910-XL-XLI).

The shipments of these samples were made for the information of the American mechanics and as models for such thereof as might subsequently be determined upon for quantity production.

The efforts of Col. Bolling led to the establishment of an Interallied Aircraft Convention which met at Paris at least once a month. As a result, closer contact and cooperation was established between the Allies in aircraft matters and the judgment of this convention largely determined the aircraft programs of the different allied countries subsequent to that time (213). The American representatives urged that all the allied countries exchange manufacturing rights during the war. England accepted that principle except for the Rolls-Royce engine, over which the Government did not have control (2910_XXXIII, XL, XLI),

After the Bolling Commission investigated conditions in Europe and became more familiar with the production experiences of the belligerents in the war, it was found, and agreed with the allied advisers and confirmed by allied nations, that as far as aircraft production was concerned, America's efforts outside of training planes should be devoted to the manufacture of the heavier types of airplanes and engines, which meant observation planes such as DH-4 and bombing planes such as the Handley-Page, leaving the production of pursuit planes, such as the Spad, to Europe, which pursuit production would supply the needs of the United States.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PRODUCTION

The program finally recommended to the United States by the Bolling Commission represented the unanimous judgment of the Bolling Commission, the allied advisers, and Pershing's staff (211, 2910-XLI-XLII). However, aircraft programs among any of the Allies never reached a stabilized stage during the war. The French changed their aircraft program 18 times during the first 3 years of the war (2910-LI). The evolution of the service plane, as well as the inexperience of the designers, and producers for America, led to frequent changes more or less expensive and confusing, and causing delay. The history of the war, however, perhaps justifies the observation that the experiences of the United States in that regard were not particularly distinguishable from the experience of our allies, particularly as the United States entered the war the least prepared in aireraft matters of all the principal belligerents.

Subsequent conditions convinced the commission that some of its recommendations were erroneous, particularly as to the Spad Monosoupape or rotary engine and the Caproni triplane, the use of which proved to be impracticable (2910–XLII-XLIII, LI-III, 215).

The production of the other Spad with a fixed engine was recommended and was subsequently canceled under circumstances hereinafter explained.

The final recommendation was for the Handley-Page or the Caproni biplane as a heavy bombing machine instead of the Caproni triplane (215). The Bristol Fighter, with 200-horsepower Hispano engine, was recommended for a two-place pursuit machine. The American effort to manufacture it proved a failure. The DH-4 was recommended to be manufactured as a stop-gap machine until the DH-9 in course of development by the English demonstrated its success (211). While the Bólling Commission was in France, that Government endeavored to secure a contract with the United States for the manufacture of 20,000 airplanes and 30,000 engines (2910– XXXIX). Subsequently a contract was made for 5,000 airplanes

« PreviousContinue »