US aircraft engine manufacturers production numbers dropped 37% during the first five years of the Great Depression. The bottom was reached in 1934 and they began their climb back to their pre-depression production levels. Two manufacturers stood out in the 1930s Curtiss-Wright and Pratt and Whitney. They dominated the field in terms of numbers produced, dollar volume, and units of horsepower delivered. Although Aviation Manufacturing Corporation’s Lycoming Division had a significant share of the engines for aircraft trainers.
Prewar Production Environment
Through all the 1920s and most of the 1930s aircraft engine manufacturers were subservient to the automotive engine industry. By war’s eve aircraft engine manufacturers developed a large enough market and profitability to gained autonomy allowing them to go their own way. Since aircraft engine manufacturing processes and procedures were developed under an automotive culture, they were more aligned with automotive manufacturing than aircraft manufacturing. This helped them meet the growing demand for more product due to assembly line processes and to achieve greater part interchangeability needed for field maintenance.
Supplier and subcontractor relationships developed during these early years also facilitated their expanding efforts. In this rapid pace environment prior relationships could cut through bureaucracy and facilitate understanding in a highly technical atmosphere. Every industry and every company withing that industry develop their own jargon and sub-jargons. Communications across company lines was critical to maintaining schedules. This was especially true as products were constantly evolving. Feedback from the armed forces in the field was constant. Sometimes the product just didn’t perform up to specifications or other times an enemy threw something new at them that they had to counter.
Aircraft engines were designed, manufactured, tested and delivered to procurement specifications just as were other War Department procurements. However, no matter what the specification stated and how the engine met those specifications the demands from the airmen in the field and the procuring agency were that the engines needed to be more fuel efficient, lighter weight, more powerful, easier to maintain, cheaper, higher reliability, and so on. Overall, the aircraft engine manufacturers met these specifications as well as changes resulting from feedback of the airmen.
In total over 800,000 engines were produced from 1940-45. From a low of 22,667 in 1940 to a high of 256,911 in 1944 an eleven-fold increase in four years. Engines were produced to equip every new plane and provide replacements. Spare parts also were produced in high quantities. Spare parts and replacement engines gave the Allied nations greater flexibility in the field by maintaining higher aircraft availability numbers over the Axis nations.
Finally, the aircraft engine manufacturers took advantage of the mechanical culture of the US population. Young men grew up in an environment of tractors, trucks, and cars. They knew how these engines operated and they knew how to repair them. Many of them could figure out how to modify them to obtain better performance. Engineers could take this into account for their designs knowing that operating parameters and maintenance requirements would be understood.
US Prewar Production of Aircraft Engines Data
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|2||Pratt and Whitney||2,010||859||1,300|
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 7, 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
Other Prewar Production Data
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