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Schatzberg, Eric, 1956- / Wings of wood, wings of metal : culture and technical choice in American airplane materials, 1914-1945

9. Neglected alternative ii: synthetic resin adhesives,   pp. [175]-191

Page [175]

Neglected Alternative II:
Synthetic Resin Adhesives
FOLLOWING KNUTE ROCKNE'S DEATH in the crash of a wooden-winged Fokker
trimotor in 1931, the fortunes of wood reached their nadir. The army and
navy finally began ordering all-metal combat airplanes in quantity and soon
eliminated all vestiges of wood in new combat models. The largest air-
lines committed themselves to buying all-metal, multi-engine airliners,
and manufacturers got busy creating the airplanes to fit the bill. Wood re-
mained dominant in the wings of "puddle jumpers," sport planes, and small
transports carrying less than five passengers, but these structures remained
simple and the technology static. Even the manufacturers of these small
airplanes began developing all-metal types. Federal research in wooden air-
craft ceased completely Although George Trayer of the Forest Products
Laboratory (FPL) remained a member of the NACAs Subcommittee on Mis-
cellaneous Materials, wood disappeared from the subcommittee's agenda,
and the FPIs research in aircraft woods quickly evaporated due to lack of
The progress ideology of metal relied on an image of metal as a dynamic
material, capable of improvement, while wood was seen as static, fixed by
nature. But in fact no material is fixed by nature; all are capable of improve-
ment through human intervention.1 In the aircraft industry, demands for
improved materials provided a major incentive for the development of new
alloys, while also stimulating advances in basic metallurgy. These demands
did not have a comparable effect on the technology of wood, because wood
research was discouraged by expectations of the shift to metal. Nevertheless,
the application of human ingenuity to wood technology could produce
major advances, as developments in the 1930s demonstrated. Plastic resins
provided the key to these improvements. These resins were suitable for
more than just radio cabinets; they also made excellent wood adhesives,
eliminating the worst problems of traditional glues. Synthetic resin adhe-
sives served as a link between wood and plastics, connecting some of the
oldest materials of human culture with some of the newest, both physically
and symbolically

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