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Excerpts from
AAHS Journal, Vol. 54, No. 3 - Fall 2009
Table of Contents 

Wisconsin’s Flying Trees: The Plywood Industry’s 
Contribution to World War II

     Few people might realize it, but World War II was won in part by Wisconsin plywood. The Wisconsin plywood industry’s contribution to WWII had its extraordinary beginning in central Wisconsin. Ultimately, it had an international impact on the outcome of the war. More that 25,000 gliders and aircraft made of wood and plywood, Wisconsin‘s "Flying Trees," were manufactured during the war. These included the de Havilland Mosquito – nicknamed the "Wooden Wonder" – which was considered one of the most effective bombers available to the Allied forces. The U.S. Army Air Corps’ wooden gliders were a key component in battles across Europe, Africa and Burma, including the D-Day invasion. Howard Hughes, an aviation legend of the 1940s, along with Henry J. Kaiser, known as the "father of shipbuilding," used Wisconsin plywood products for manufacturing ships and planes, most notably the "Spruce Goose." The central Wisconsin communities of Marshfield, Stevens Point, and Wisconsin Rapids provided a range of wood products made from the forests of northern Wisconsin. Most of the aviation plywood used in the war was manufactured in Marshfield at the Roddis Lumber and Veneer Co. The logs for the plywood and veneer came from northern Wisconsin including Rusk, Price, Ashland, Iron and Vilas counties and their communities such as Park Falls, Butternut and Phillips.
     The Roddis Lumber and Veneer Co. had experience in wartime and plywood manufacturing from WWI, making plywood for the United States government as well as the French and Italian aircraft manufacturers. During WWII, 90 percent of their operation in the Marshfield plant was dedicated to the war effort. Many other hardworking people in Wisconsin‘s forest products industry collaborated to develop this wartime industry: the creative and ingenious scientists at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., who invented revolutionary products; the innovative and visionary business leaders who built state-of-the-art production plants; and the dedicated men and women who worked in the plants to produce these unique products were all vital contributors . .  .

Women played an important role in the manufacture of WWII gliders.

LaVerne "Brownie" Browne 

      His official name was LaVerne Browne. But you had better not try using the LaVerne if you knew what was good for you. He was "Brownie" to the world, at least to the flying world. In fact, there was only one person I knew of, Johnny Martin, Chief Test Pilot of the Douglas Aircraft Company, who used a shortened version, Verne, and got away with it. 
      I first met Brownie during a job interview for a Production Test Pilot‘s job. Brownie was the Director of Flight Test at the Douglas Aircraft Company‘s Naval Aircraft Factory at El Segundo, Calif. The company at the time (1952) was producing AD series for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. 
      I had no idea who Brownie was when I was sent to him by Johnny Martin in Santa Monica where I first applied. "Brownie could use another pilot over there," he said. "The damned Navy and Marines are using up all the ADs we can send them."  These were the sweetest words I‘d heard in a long time.
     The dispatcher at El Segundo sent me into Brownie‘s office where, behind an immaculate desk, sat this handsome, tall individual dressed to the nines in a tan, camel-hair sport coat, dark tan matching slacks with spit-shinned brown loafers. There was something vaguely familiar about this Director of Flight Test as he flashed a yard-wide smile showing perfectly aligned pure-white teeth. "What do they call you, Mister Dixon?" 
      "I go by, Dix, Sir," I answered and then it hit me, Good Lord, I think I am talking to Tail-Spin Tommy, who I used to watch during Saturday afternoon matinees at our local movie house. I wasn‘t sure so I asked, "Sir, are you, or were you the Tail-Spin Tommy of the movies?"
      He grinned again. "Yep, I‘m the one who used to chase the bad guys in their UPFs and Wacos. It was a pretty good job until politics, sex and long working hours moved in. And when talkies came in I was finished with my growling voice. Didn‘t go over worth a damn. Anyway, this is supposed to be an interview for a job."
      We talked for maybe 15 or 20 minutes and that was that.  He found out that I was an ex-P-51 driver and that seemed to do it. "C‘mon in tomorrow and we‘ll show you around, get you outfitted and checked out in the AD, if that‘s okay?" 
     And this was the boss. You would think I was doing him a favor instead of the other way around. When I met the other few pilots, they thought the same. Brownie had a touch of something I‘d never seen in any other flying boss. He believed in his pilots. The next day after I‘d gone through my introduction and got outfitted, Brownie called me into his office. "Dix, I‘ve got a working rule around here that we all adhere to including myself. You‘re on your own here at Douglas. I don‘t care if I ever see you hanging around. But, when your name‘s on the board to fly, you damned well better be here and ready to go. There is no second chance. And that means your physical and mental condition - hangovers . . .

Brownie with Douglas A4D

Operation Chowhound 

Editor‘s note: This article originally appeared in /font>Fortress for Freedom, the newsletter of the 388th Bombardment Group (H) Association, and is reprinted here with their permission.

Between April 29 and May 8, 1945, one of the greatest humanitarian endeavors of the 20th century occurred and, just as quickly, became largely overlooked in the annals of WWII. Dubbed "Chowhound" by the Americans and "Manna" by the British, this series of food drops over western Holland saved the lives of countless thousands of Dutch people, who were literally starving to death.
      And although they were not given combat credit for the food drops, the men of the 388th BG who participated in five Chowhound missions received so much more "¦ the opportunity to bring salvation rather than destruction – and the undying gratitude of the Dutch people for generations to come.

Operation Chowhound

      Ever since its occupation had begun in May 1940, The Netherlands and its peoples had been a constant thorn in the side of Nazi Germany. With Queen Wilhelmina and her government safe in England, the country refused to accept a Vichy-like government (such as that established in France), forcing the Nazis to impose their own regime under Reichskommissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart.
      This greatly disappointed Adolf Hitler, who saw the Dutch as part of the Aryan "Herrenvolk" (master race), and believed that they could be absorbed into his greater Germanic nation.
      Despite the "Gleichschaltung" (enforced conformity), the Dutch people listened on hidden radios to the voice of their true government via broadcasts from the BBC and Radio Orange, and answered its calls for resistance.
      A nationwide workers’ strike occurred in February 1941 following the first deportation of Jews. Though quickly suppressed, it still showed the Nazis just what kind of people they were up against. Although deportations were to continue throughout the war, people began hiding Jews at great personal risk.
      The tightening of the screws began. The "Arbeitseinsatz" (drafting of civilians for forced labor) soon began. With all men between ages 18 and 45 forced to work in German factories, thousands went into hiding rather than comply.
      Nazi control over the Dutch populace moved to the next level "¦ rationing. By issuing ration cards, the Germans could ensure that anyone who violated the law would forfeit his weekly food ration. Those now in hiding from the "Arbeitseinsatz" were among these. Small-scale resistance groups forged  . . . . 

Chowhound drop over Schiphol Airport

The Douglas DC-8 Skybus

      By mid-1945, WWII was in its final months. Aircraft production was slowing down and military contracts were being cancelled. Research and development engineers at Douglas, Santa Monica, were busy designing the aircraft that would serve the airlines in the coming postwar expansion years. They reasoned that three basic models with growth potential would be required for the short, medium, and long-haul route systems.
      The DC-3, carrying 21-24 passengers, was a 10-year-old design and out of production after more than 10,000 had been built. It was deemed too small for airline operations and too expensive to operate. A replacement was needed. The DC-4, adopted by the military at the start of WWII as the C-54, was still in production with over 1,000 in service. Carrying 44 passengers, it would see wide airline usage into the 1960s. The DC-6, carrying 52-68 passengers, was a larger and more powerful version of the DC-4. The DC-7, as originally offered to the airlines, was a civil version of the C-74 Globemaster designed to carry 125 troops and a crew of 13. When finally produced, however, the DC-7 was a stretched version of the DC-6. The C-74 made its first flight from the Long Beach airport on September 5, 1945. By then, Pan Am had cancelled its order for 26 placed earlier that year, and no other airlines expressed any interest.
      The DC-8 Skybus, Douglas Model 1004, was a radically new design intended to replace the DC-3 on short-to-medium range routes. It would carry twice the passengers at half the seat-mile cost of the DC-3.
      Using design and performance data gained from the XB-42, which first flew on May 6, 1944, Douglas designers originated a new concept in transport aircraft: a twin-engine, low-wing monoplane incorporating the basic principle of "centerline thrust," an outstanding development in the design of multi-engined aircraft. Experimental flight tests with the XB-42 indicated superior characteristics relative to high rate of climb, high load-carrying ability, elimination . . . . 

Douglas DC-8 Skybus

Sentimental Journey; 
The Air Fields of the Sixth Air Force, Howard Field

     This is the third in a series of short histories of the air fields of America’s "Forgotten Air Force," the Sixth Air Force, which commenced in the Summer 2003 (Vol. 48, No. 2) issue of the Journal describing France Field, Canal Zone, followed by that for Albrook Field, Canal Zone, in the Spring 2005 (Vol. 50, No. 1) issue. These have been prepared with materials collected for the author‘s definitive history of Army aviation in defense of the Panama Canal and the Caribbean, ‘ALAE SUPRA CANALEM: The Sixth Air Force and Antilles Air Command‘ (Turner Publishing Co., Paducah, Ky.), which were too extensive to be included in that title, and thus they are presented here as a memorial to the men and women who served in that far-off land where there was truly "No Ground to Give." There is no memorial, no marker, no surviving symbol to commemorate their service in the former Canal Zone and the Caribbean.

      In the era when large coastal defense guns still dominated military planning for the protection of the then new Panama Canal, it had been recognized almost from the start that the guns at Fort Amador and Fort Grant on the Pacific approaches to the Canal entrance were utterly unable to bring their guns to bear on the waters behind the 1,000 foot height of Taboga Island, leaving what amounted to a dead space in the defense planning that any potential aggressor would be unlikely to neglect.

The Early Years

      Measures were initiated in September 1925 to correct that gap when Maj. Gen. William Lassiter, then Commander of the Panama Canal Department, informed the Governor that the Army wished to install coastal defense guns near Bruja Point, on the west bank of the Canal’s Pacific entrance.
      That area was selected for its command of nearly all of the Bay of Panama. Although a small beach defense position had been established in that vicinity as early as 1918, the Bruja Point area was still very much a quagmire, extremely unhealthy, and infestedwith malarial mosquitoes. Despite opposition from the Governor, due to a large coconut plantation at Venado Beach in the same general area, first construction on what was then termed the Bruja Point Military Reservation commenced in 1925, with the installation of a 16-inch gun battery. By 1929, the fortifications, which still exist today, were completed, with four 16-inch naval-type rifles on barbettes (fixed mounts) in place.  These consisted of the west battery, consisting of guns one and two, and named Battery Murray, in honor of Maj. Gen. Arthur Murray. The east battery, guns three and four, was named . . . . . 

Howard Field circa 1942

    Barrel-Nosed Cigars; The Lockheed Air Express 

     Editor‘s note: This article originally appeared in the AAHS Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring 1964.

     Though most of the airplanes that have poured from the factory doors of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation have carried the names of stars and heavenly bodies on their winged insignia, there were exceptions. A notable one being a handful of parasol-wing, single-engined, open-cockpit airplanes built between 1928 and 1931. They were called the Lockheed Air Express.
      As Lockheed’s second model to go into production, the Air Express was developed late in 1927. Company officers felt there could be a market for a fast, open-cockpit mailplane, and they set about to build one. The prototype was begun in Lockheed‘s original factory in downtown Hollywood and completed after the California firm moved across the hills to Burbank in March 1928.
      The plane‘s unique, wooden monocoque fuselage was identical with that of the already famous Lockheed Vega of which five were built before the first Air Express was completed. The patented process to fashion this fuselage had been devised a decade earlier, the joint invention of Malcolm and Allan Loughead, Anthony Stadlman and young John K. Northrop. Like the Vega, design and development of the Air Express was 100 percent the responsibility of Lockheed Chief Engineer, Jack Northrop, and his ability and vision are reflected in the clean lines of the airplane.
      Western Air Express, flying the U.S. Mail on C.A.M. No. 4 between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, was definitely in mind as the first customer. Pilots of the company were accustomed to flying from an open, rear cockpit and used a radiator cap or a rocker arm up ahead to determine longitudinal attitude. They objected strongly to flying from a position in the extreme front end, such as offered in the Lockheed Vega.
      To please the pilots, Northrop placed the thick, unbraced, full-cantilever parasol wing a foot and a half above the fuselage on cabane struts of streamlined tubing, gaining better forward visibility and four feet more of lifting area. In addition to the pilot seated aft, there was room for four passengers in the cabin, located in the fuselage under the wing, or a good load of mail bags and cargo. Jack Northrop superintended the building . . .

Lockheed Air Express c/n EX-2

Building a Lockheed Super Constellation 

      In order to generate interest and excitement build-up to delivery with the airlines, Lockheed occasionally created a progress report following a specific aircraft‘s construction. These reports were photo essays compiled into an updatable binder. Updates were then sent on a regular basis to the airline. Not many of these books were created and even fewer still survive. The AAHS has an example in its collection for Compania Cubana de Aviacion, S.A. (Cubana Airlines) Lockheed contract LX-121, ship construction number 4557, an L-1049E Super Constellation.
      In order to follow the progress, Lockheed included an assembly flow chart that helps not only illustrate the construction stages associated with building a "Super Connie," but also provides insight into the complexity of building what was then a modern airliner. In the intervening 60 plus years, the fundamentals have not changed all that much in the process, but the complexity has expanded greatly. This increase in complexity stems from technological advances and the outsourcing of major subassemblies to third-party contractors. The result is a constant juggling of activities to keep the process flowing smoothly.
      The Progress Report for Ship 4557 is divided into sections. The first is an introduction into the design, engineering, construction and testing required in developing and certifying the Constellation. It consists of 18 images documenting all phases. Included in this set is a copy of the Aircraft Type Certificate No. 763 which covers models L-049, L-649 and L-749. It is supposed that these photos along with two of visiting airline officials comprised the initial components of the book. As the ship proceeded through the assembly process, the additional photos were added to complete the book. In total, this Progress Report consists of a total of 57 images and one drawing.
       The following images are exerts from the book. The annotations on the figures are the descriptions provided by Lockheed to document the process and stage. The captions refer to stage numbers that can be found on the chart, providing insight into the build progress. [Editor‘s note: The complete book can be found on the AAHS Web site]

C/n 4557 will operated by Irish International Airlines (Aerlinte Eireann)

Remember When . . . Skylark Skycraft

      For those of us who recall the period, a boom in general aviation was to take place following World War II. It was anticipated that returning airmen would trade their wartime aircraft, flown in hostile skies, for light planes flown over peaceful American terrain. The return of many veteran pilots, aviators and airmen was to be the catalyst behind the figurative statement "an airplane in every garage," and it gave impetus to artists‘ conceptions of smiling families flying to vacation destinations in futuristic light planes. Aviation magazines of the day reinforced this vision by depicting modern-day housing developments with a runway and individual taxiways leading up to each new home.
     Aircraft companies and subcontractors shared this optimism as they converted their wartime facilities into the manufacturing of general-aviation aircraft. Soon their drawing boards were busy as they transitioned from the manufacturing of bomber and pursuit aircraft of war to the postwar pursuit of building light planes. In some cases, and for expediency, their aircraft were prewar or updated designs. Other companies, however, capitalized on wartime knowledge and transferred newly developed technology into modern and innovative aircraft designs.
     New light-plane designs and prototypes from major aircraft manufacturers, including Douglas, Grumman, Lockheed, North American and Republic, entered into development. Additionally, new light planes from many other aircraft companies entered the developmental stage at the end of the war (see listing of aircraft). Concurrently, production was resumed on prewar aircraft, including the ERCo Ercoupe, Globe Swift, and the Luscombe Silvaire.
     However, the aviation boom was not to be. Many war-weary pilots turned their vision from the sky to earthbound goals, including home, automobile, family and peacetime employment. Also, the exigencies and economic conditions at the time helped to fuel the death knell of the aviation boom. 

Front cover to Skycraft