The United States Army procured 231,099 aircraft from 1940 through 1945. The graph below only includes those airplanes procured by the United State Army Air Force (USAAF) and these numbers do not include gliders. The three largest aircraft types procured were bombers of all types making up 69,082 or 29.9%, fighters 68,712 or 29.7%, and trainers 55,712 or 24.1%. Like almost all United States war production from 1940-45 the first year’s procurement number was low at 5,054 units for all aircraft types. By 1943 the procurement number was 68,600 which was barely topped in 1944 at 69,956 units. Additional aircraft were procured by the United States Navy but most of the Lend-Lease procurements were by the USAAF.
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Surprisingly the single most produced aircraft model was a bomber, the B-24, Liberator. The B-17, Flying Fortress, was procured in similar numbers as the Liberator until 1944 when the Liberator procurements jumped from 5,214 units in 1943 to 9,519 units in 1944. The same time period saw the Flying Fortress procurements go from 4,179 units in 1943 to 5,352 units in 1944. The USAAF was procuring many aircraft and they were not limited to the smaller and less complex types that often inflate production number stories.
During this time period all aircraft types were undergoing constant upgrades responding to discovered design weaknesses or improvements demanded from the frontline pilots and mechanics. The P-51, Mustang, is the classic example of evolution. A lackluster performer until it was married up to the British Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Combined with drop tanks the Mustang became a long-range escort vehicle that shook the German high command when it first appeared deep in German territory.
Procurements Trainers Early on Transitioning to Fighters and Bombers
The early war aircraft procurements focused on trainers from 1940 to 1942 with percent of procured aircraft being 45.9%, 50.7% and 41.3% respectively during that timeframe. This reflected the need to quickly train the legion of pilots and navigators that would be required in the upcoming years. Also, the complexity of trainers was much less than that of fighters and bombers allowing them to be developed and produced at a quicker pace.
Bombers versus Fighter Production
Prewar Boeing, Martin, and Douglas emphasized larger civil aircraft and they transitioned to bomber production. Douglas also manufactured the single most produced US transport aircraft the C-47, Skytrain. Consolidated, Curtiss, Grumman, Lockheed, and North American Aviation became the fighter and trainer manufacturers.
Number of Airplanes Procured by USAAF Jan 1940 – Dec 1945 Data
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Source: Holley , Irving Brinton, Jr. “United States Army In World War II Special Studies Buying Aircraft: Materiel Procurement For The Army Air Forces.” 1964, Page 550-551, Center of Military History United States Army, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 64-60000, https://history.army.mil/html/books/011/11-2/index.html, Data accessed on July 12, 2022
Compiled from Army Air Forces Statistical Digest, 1946,p. 100, published Jun 47 by Director, Statistical Services, Comptroller, Hq, U.S. Air Force. Procurement data represent factory acceptances or receipt of legal title by resident factory representative of procuring agency. Includes all airplanes procured by the AAF regardless of subsequent distribution to Army, Navy, recipients of lend-lease, or others. Also includes United States-financed Canadian and experimental models.
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