United States aircraft production during World War II

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Assembling B-25 bombers at North American Aviation, Kansas City, October 1942.

America's manufacturers in World War II were engaged in the greatest industrial effort in history. Aircraft companies went from building a handful of planes at a time to building them by the thousands on assembly lines. Aircraft manufacturing went from a distant 41st place among American industries to first place in less than five years.[1][2][3]

In 1939, total aircraft production for the US military was less than 3,000 planes. By the end of the war, America produced 300,000 planes. No war was more industrialized than World War II. It was a war won as much by machine shops as by machine guns.[4]

Manufacturer for manufacturer, factory for factory, worker for worker, America outproduced its enemies. By 1944, each American worker produced more than twice his/her German counterpart, and four times the output of a Japanese worker. The profit motive proved to be a greater spur to production than were the edicts from the generals running the totalitarian societies. As Donald Douglas[5] observed, "Here's proof that free men can out-produce slaves."[6]


In January 1939, Roosevelt appealed to Congress for $300,000,000 to be spent on procuring aircraft for the Army Air Corps. At the time the Corps had approximately 1,700 aircraft in total. Congress responded and authorized the procurement of 3,251 aircraft.

The American aircraft industry was given impetus at the early part of the war by the demand from the British and French for aircraft to supplement their own domestic production. The 1939 Neutrality Act permitted belligerents to acquire armaments from US manufacturers provided they paid in cash and used their own transportation. The British Purchasing Commission had been set up prior to the war to arrange purchase of aircraft and the British and French dealt directly with manufacturers paying from their financial reserves. After France fell to Germany, many of the orders for aircraft were taken over by the British. By 1940, the British had ordered $1,200,000,000 worth of aircraft.[7] This led to some aircraft, such as the P-51 Mustang, being produced to meet European requirements and then being adopted by the US. In their need for aircraft the Anglo-French commission also ordered designs from manufacturers that had failed to win US Army contracts - eg the Martin Model 167.


The American aircraft industry was able to adapt to the demands of war. In 1939 contracts assumed single-shift production, but as the number of trained workers increased, the factories moved to first two- and then a three-shift schedules. The government aided development of capacity and skills by placing "Educational orders" were placed with manufacturers, and new government-built plants for the private firms to use.[8]

Aircraft companies built other manufacturer's designs; the B-17 was built by Boeing (the designer), Lockheed Vega, and Douglas Aircraft. Automotive companies joined schemes to produce aircraft components and also complete aircraft. Ford setup the Willow Run production facility and built complete Consolidated B-24 Liberators as well as sections to be assembled at other plants.

Total production[edit]

Type of aircraft Total 1940¹ 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
Grand total 295,959 3,611 18,466 46,907 84,853 96,270 45,852
Combat aircraft 200,443 1,771 8,395 24,669 53,183 74,564 37,861
Very heavy bomber 3,740 - - 4 91 1,147 2,498
Heavy bomber 31,685 46 282 2,513 9,574 15,057 4,213
Medium bomber 21,461 52 762 4,040 7,256 6,732 2,619
Light bomber 39,986 453 2,617 5,954 11,848 12,376 6,738
Fighter 99,465 1,157 4,036 10,721 23,621 38,848 21,082
Reconnaissance 4,106 63 698 1,437 793 404 711
Support aircraft 95,516 1,840 10,071 22,238 31,670 21,706 7,991
Transport 23,900 164 525 1,887 6,913 9,925 4,486
Trainer 58,085 1,676 9,294 17,237 20,950 7,936 1,352
Communication 13,531 - 252 3,114 4,167 3,845 2,153

¹July-December ²January-August

Recipients of U.S. aircraft production[edit]

Type of airplane Total Army Air Forces US Navy-US Marines Other U.S. British Empire Soviet Union Other nations
Grand total 295,959 158,880 73,711 3,714 38,811 14,717 6,126
Combat aircraft 200,443 99,487 56,695 8 27,152 13,929 3,172
Very heavy bombers 3,740 3,740 - - - - -
Heavy bombers 31,685 27,867 1,683 - 2,135 - -
Medium bombers 21,461 11,835 4,693 8 3,247 1,010 638
Light bombers 39,986 7,779 20,703 - 8,003 3,021 480
Fighters 99,465 47,050 27,163 - 13,417 9,868 1,967
Reconnaissance 4,106 1,216 2,453 - 350 30 57
Support aircraft 95,516 59,939 17,016 3,706 11,659 788 2,954
Transports 23,900 15,769 2,702 267 3,789 703 670
Trainers 58,085 34,469 13,859 3 7,640 85 2,029
Communications 13,531 9,155 455 3,436 230 - 255

Analysis[edit]

William S. Knudsen, an automotive industry executive who was made Chairman of the Office of Production Management and member of the National Defense Advisory Commission by the Roosevelt administration to organize war production, said "We won because we smothered the enemy in an avalanche of production, the like of which he had never seen, nor dreamed possible."[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Herman, Arthur. Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, pp. 202-3, Random House, New York, NY, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  2. ^ Parker, Dana T. Building Victory: Aircraft Manufacturing in the Los Angeles Area in World War II, pp. 7-10, Cypress, CA, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9897906-0-4.
  3. ^ Borth, Christy. Masters of Mass Production, p. 237, Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis, IN, 1945.
  4. ^ Parker, Dana T. Building Victory: Aircraft Manufacturing in the Los Angeles Area in World War II, pp. 5, 7-10, 13, 59, 131-2., Cypress, CA, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9897906-0-4.
  5. ^ President of Douglas Aircraft Company
  6. ^ Parker, Dana T. Building Victory: Aircraft Manufacturing in the Los Angeles Area in World War II, p. 8, Cypress, CA, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9897906-0-4.
  7. ^ Engel, Leonard (5 December 1940), "Half Of Everything: An American's Survey of Orders Placed in the United States", Flight: 472 
  8. ^ "Chapter 4: The Air Corps Prepares for War, 1939-41", The Army Air Forces In World War II, Vol. I: Prewar Plans and Preparations: 106–107 
  9. ^ Parker, Dana T. Building Victory: Aircraft Manufacturing in the Los Angeles Area in World War II, p. 5, Cypress, CA, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9897906-0-4.

Source[edit]