Sunday, October 27, 2013

An Arsenal of Democracy

As I said in the last post, they were offering a tour of the Willow Run Production facilities.  Here are the pictures from that.
 This is Hangar 1 and I think offices for the running of the plant were located here.  The plant itself was designed by Albert Kahn and this building has the earmarks of one of his factories. 
 A shot of the front of the building.  If you look near the top of the building, there is a rail that was used for the blackout curtains (not that they were really needed as neither the Germans or Japanese had planes capable of reaching this area).
 A shot just to give you an idea of the size of this facility.  At one time, it was the largest industrial facility on the planet (or at least the United States).  The idea started in October 1941 when Ford was granted permission by the Consolidated Company to produce B-24's.  The first Liberator rolled off the line in September of 1942.  By the end of the war, Ford would produce almost 9,000 bombers.  This number would beat the number of heavy bombers of the Axis combined.
 The tour started inside the hangar.  This is where the Yankee Air Force houses its flyable aircraft.  During the war, this building was the final step before the planes would be flown to wherever they were staged for use in the war.  This is the tail of the Yankee Lady.
 The nose of the Yankee Lady (not that I haven't taken pictures of this before).  She really is a cool looking aircraft.
 Another angle of the Yankee Lady.
 Before the tour, there was a little speech by the members of the Yankee Air Force talking about the fundraising activities and various funds they had secured.  One of the funds was a pledge of 1 million dollars from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in order to help with the cleanup costs.  They also announced that they would have an extension until May 1st to raise the 8 million dollars for purchase of their part of the plant.  If you are interested in donating, go here.
 I can't help but taking pictures of the B-17.  Sorry.
 Different squadron symbols and the symbol of the Mighty 8th Air Force.
 The factory tour itself wasn't too much.  They just had a small portion of it open but still it was pretty cool to actually see inside of one of the places that contributed so much to our efforts to win World War II.  This is what it would have looked like when it was closed in 2008.  Much of the machinery was moved to other GM facilities.  However, there was still the strong smell of machine oil.
 During the war, there wouldn't have been this piping.  I'm not sure how tall the ceiling was, but it was pretty impressive.
 A piece of equipment left by GM.  This is the section of the factory that the Yankee Air Museum would use if they are able to buy it.  This would allow them to put all of their planes in one location.  If this happens, they will also get a B-24 that was actually built here.
 Looking down the length of the factory.  It was roughly one mile long.  The planes would start in 8 lines and then neck down into 4 lines and would come out of the end we just saw two at a time.  By the time production was fully ramped up, B-24's were coming off the lines at a rate of 1 per hour.
 One of the more interesting features (that I wish I could have seen) was a turntable that was installed near the end of the factory.  If you look at this picture and move your eyes just to the right, that is Wayne County.  Had the factory continued straight, parts of the planes would have been built in Wayne County and they would have wanted a taste of that action through taxes.  Rather than doing this, Ford had them build a turntable so that production would stay in Washtenaw County.
 This just gives you an idea of the scale of this plant.
 Another picture to show you scale.  Imagine seeing a B-24 in here.  For that matter, imagine seeing B-24's as far as you can see.
 One of  the planes being reworked.
 Like any large scale industrial operation, the start of this project was plagued with problems.  Worker retention was a serious issue because of the plant's location.  As a result, many bomber plant homes sprung up in the area.  Because of the problems with retaining the workforce, there were a number of quality issues.

Some of those issues had to do with the fact that Ford wanted this run like an auto plant.  For the most part, that would work but there are different issues in building planes.   These issues were worked out and by 1943, the plant was running smoothly.
 With the war in Europe winding down and there not really being a need for Liberators in the Pacific (it didn't have the range), Ford's contract was ended in May of 1945.  At it's peak, 650 Liberators were rolling off this line per month.  In total, 6,972 full planes were built here and another 1,893 knock down parts were built for other companies.
 A couple more planes being worked on.
 The Yankee Air Force's C-47 Cargo Plane.  This picture could almost be a throwback to the 1940's.
 A shot from the front.
 The control tower for the factory.  The planes would undergo some final assembly in these hangars and then would be taxied over to the runways to be flown to wherever they were needed.
 Another shot of the C-47.
 A closer shot.
 The cockpit and stuff.
 There are a couple groups that use this area for resoration of airplanes.  I'm not sure what variety of business jet this is.
 Some of the planes being worked on in the hangar.  I believe this is the civillian model of the P-3 Orion.
 The cockpit of that plant.
 A shot of a business jet from the front.
 The Yankee Air Force's B-25.
 Another shot of that plane.
 And because I couldn't resist.
 Looking down the building one more time.
 Immediately after the War, the Factory was sold to Kaiser Automobile Company where they built similar cars to this one.   This lasted until 1947.
 During the Korean War, Kaiser built C-119 Flying Boxcar planes here.
In 1953, the plant was taken over by GM and was used to build transmissions.  This ended in 2010 as a result of GM's bankruptcy.
One more shot of the Kaiser.

I thought it was pretty cool to see a chunk of both Aviation and Automotive History and I hope that the Yankee Air Force is successful in securing this building.  I think that would make it unique amongst the aviation groups out there in that they would have a part of the place where planes were produced.

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