This article appeared in the Journal Herald on December 12, 1943
SKYLINES OVER DAYTON
by Charles Starrett Jr.
Orville and Wilbur Wright did not intend the airplane to be an instrument of war, but fortune has tossed the “flying machine” into the very thick of the present world struggle. The airplane, therefore, has played possibly the most important part in modern warfare. Still more and startling achievements of airplanes are yet to come if countless refinements and improvements disclosed recently are any indication.
During the early stages of the war, the biggest problem was immediate production of large numbers of planes—any planes. Now, with production stabilized, the emphasis is changing more and more to improvements on present planes and introduction of new types.
Probably the most publicized announcement was that of Gen. Henry H. Arnold, chief of the Army Air Forces, recently that the B-29 superbomber soon will be put into combat. The plane arrived at Wright Field only last week, an indication of the advanced stage of its development.
Then this week, Robert A. Lovett, assistant secretary of war for air, disclosed two new vastly superior Army fighter planes are in production and soon will “take their places beside the P-38 Lightning and the P-47 Thunderbolt.” He said the planes will replace “familiar old names” among present models, presumably referring to the P-40 and P-39 Airacobra. His statement corroborated that made recently by Lt. Gen. Oliver P. Echols.
Then, almost within 24 hours, the Eighth Air Force in England revealed the P-47 Thunderbolt, modified with special gear, now can be rated the world’s fastest dive bomber. First used in combat a week ago, the plane can scream to earth at better than 500 miles an hour.
Glder Makes Debut
Almost unnoticed by the press except in Dayton and Minneapolis, Minn., where it was tested, army officers first flew the Air Forces new glider, the YCG-13, which officials disclosed has the cargo capacity of the DC-3, the two-engined plane most used by commercial airlines.
Only Friday, a day after the other announcements, came the disclosure the offensive and defensive power of Flying Fortresses and Liberator bombers has been increased. External racks have further stepped-up the bomb load of the Fortress. A few weeks ago, installation of a front “chin” turret on the Fortress made possible 12 instead of 10 guns on the ship. A new front turret and a retractable ball turret have increased effectiveness of the Liberator.
Wright Field figured in another development just announced. For the first time, a 75 mm cannon, similar to the French gun of the First World War, has been installed on Billy Mitchell B-25’s and have proved effective in combat. It is the heaviest gun ever carried on a warplane.
Returning to the subject of complete planes, a totally new light bomber is in the stage just proceeding production. Described as “three or four years ahead” of the A-26 Havoc, heretofore the principal light army bomber, the new ship will be an all-purpose plane equipped with powerful cannon.
Another new modification is that of the North American P-51 which now is in production with a highly supercharged, Packard-built, Rolls-Royce Merlin engine—of the type used in the newest British spitfires. The new engine gives the planes the highest ceiling and the highest speed of “any fighter in existence”—well over 400 miles an hour.
There have been hundreds of improvements in various pieces of equipment on American warplanes in the last six months and many have come in recent weeks. One of the more interesting and one which undoubtedly will play an important part in postwar commercial flying is the development of a new aircraft heater of revolutionary design. A new-type gasoline heater which lights and burns automatically at a prescribed altitude, the new heater is used to defog, de-ice, and anti-ice windshields, gunners’ side windows and turrets—to prevent ice from forming on the wings and empennage surfaces, to keep bombsights clear and to keep instruments, gun breeches and other equipment operative.
Other Devices Developed
Another development is that of the new six-bladed contra-rotation propeller announced as being manufactured by the Frigidaire division of General Motors corporation here for the new B-29. The propeller will be able to harness huge, new aircraft engines with the highest horsepower ever generated.
The public hears and pays little attention to another type of aviation development. To aid engineers in conceiving the new planes, armament and equipment, other men have constructed uncounted never-foreseen testing equipment. Wright Field has been the site of many developments of this type. The field’s armament laboratory has a new high-altitude chamber for testing turrets and guns at conditions simulating those over 500,000 feet. The aeromedical laboratory just placed in use a new “hot or cold” room capable of duplicating many varied conditions which AAF personnel might meet in different parts of the world.
These are only a few of the many “new wrinkles” aiding present-day aviation. Because of its importance in our all-out warfare, everything related to aviation is of interest to us, and the enemy. This is the reason many developments are destined to remain secrets from the general public, and we hope from our enemies, for some time to come. In the offing, however, are disclosures about military aviation which will make even the better-versed aviation enthusiasts gasp in surprise and pleasure. These must and will eclipse anything we ever dreamed of—in 1903 or in 1943.