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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 41

ENGINEERING ENTHUSIASM                                                41
eight F13s directly from Junkers, followed by fifteen more before the end of
the year.49
In May and June, Larsen launched a widespread effort to promote the
F13, which he marketed in the United States as the JL-6 (for "Junkers-
Larsen"). The all-metal Junkers generated tremendous excitement in the
military and among manufacturers. Larsen took special pains to interest the
army, demonstrating the airplane to influential officers in the Army Air Ser-
vice, including Maj. William C. Ocker. After a brief flight in the JL-6, Ocker
sent a report on the JL-6 to Gen. Charles T. Menoher, chief of the Air Ser-
vice. In this report, Ocker praised theJL-6 as "the airplane of the future" and
recommended its purchase for further study Such endorsements convinced
Menoher, himself not a flyer, to embrace the metal airplane. In early June,
Menoher wrote Larsen that "there can be no question that the all-metal
plane is here and it behooves the rest of us to get busy in the near future if
we hope not to be left entirely behind in the race." Larsen continued his
promotional efforts in June, staging a number of flights to publicize the
passenger-carrying capability of the F13. On June 12, two army officers
raced a pair of JL-6 airplanes from Washington to Long Island with full
passenger loads at an average speed of 102 mph for the faster plane. Col.
W K. Wilson, who piloted the winning plane, heralded the JL-6 as intro-
ducing "a new era in aviation."5
Such hyperbole typified the reception of the JL-6, as demonstrated by
reporting in the New York Times:
Aircraft design and construction will have to be completely revolutionized as the
result of the success of an all-metal aircraft, the product of German genius, in the
opinion of prominent American aircraft manufacturers and Army Air Service offi-
cials.... It was said on good authority that one American company was going out
of business, realizing the futility of continuing to manufacture planes along the
present lines of construction.51
This favorable publicity paid off for Larsen, who sold eight of the Junkers to
the U.S. Air Mail at $25,000 each, quite a high price for the time, and six
more to the army and navy.52
The JL-6 drove no American company out of business and did not revolu-
tionize American aviation. However, the excitement generated by the JL-6
directly inspired a movement to develop metal airplanes in the United
States. This movement first found programmatic expression in the 1920
annual report of the NACA.
At the end of World War I, the NACA still had not found a clear role
within the federal government. During the war, the army, the navy and the
Bureau of Standards established centers for aviation research, but the NACA
did not gain its own research facilities until the opening of the Langley
laboratory in 1920. In the mid-1920s, the NACA would become the leading

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