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

2. Engineering enthusiasm: World War I and the origins of the metal airplane,   pp. [22]-43

Page 39

combat. After the war, however, German metal airplanes attracted attention
completely out of proportion to their technical achievements. Among the
former Allies, enthusiasm for metal aircraft blossomed in the early 1920s
in direct response to the German designs. In France, Britain, and especially
the United States, metal construction became one of the hottest topics in
At the end of World War I, all the belligerents drastically slashed orders
for military aircraft.39 Despite these reductions, technical change in aviation
continued at a fast pace in the immediate postwar years, propelled by the
momentum of wartime research. During the war, all major powers had es-
tablished military air arms and aeronautical research facilities, and these did
not disappear at the end of the war. The war created real aircraft industries
out of prewar workshops, complete with well-equipped factories, test facili-
ties, and experienced designers. Faced with a superabundance of technical
expertise as well as excess capacity, the aircraft industries in Germany,
France, Britain, and the United States turned enthusiastically toward com-
mercial aviation, hoping to exploit the substantial experience gained with
wartime aircraft. These efforts went largely unrewarded, since air transport
remained unprofitable without substantial government subsidies, and sur-
plus military equipment satisfied the needs of most sports flyers.40
Information on German metal airplanes emerged slowly after the Armi-
stice. During the war, Allied military authorities obtained some data from
German airplanes that landed or crashed in Allied territory, but this infor-
mation remained sketchy During the revolution and counterrevolution in
Germany following the Armistice, little additional information became
available. The Germans did their best not to cooperate with Allied authori-
ties in implementing the Armistice agreement.41 Details about the German
designs only became available after the Versailles treaty went into effect in
January 1920.
Even before 1920, however, confidential military reports revealed a grow-
ing excitement about German metal airplanes among the officers who had
a chance to inspect them. In early 1919, the Paris office of the American
Expeditionary Force reported on a Junkers single-seat monoplane fighter
abandoned in Belgium. The report praised the Junkers as "in some respects
the most remarkable of all the Airplanes built by the Germans." According
to the report, the all-metal construction made the Junkers "absolutely
weather-proof, and also less liable to destruction by fire."42 As later events
would tragically demonstrate, aluminum construction in fact offered little
protection against airplane fires. In July the British Air Ministry produced a
detailed, printed report on the same Junkers model. This report found the
structural design to be of "great importance," and claimed that Junkers had
"separated himself completely from the influence due to the use of the wood
spars and ribs that are almost universally employed in a non-metal wing."
The British report also argued that the all-metal Junkers resisted the effects

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