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

5. Metal and commercial aviation i: Henry Ford takes flight,   pp. [96]-113

Page 108

108                                                    CHAPTER FIVE
airplane. Under an agreement negotiated by Mayo in July, Ford also paid
Stout more than $500,000 for his interest in the company On July 31, 1925,
the Stout Metal Airplane Company became a division of the Ford Motor
Company Ford retained most of Stout's staff, but in practice Mayo ran the
company, and Henry Ford retained ultimate control. Stout remained on as
a vice-president with an annual salary of $20,000.33
The public viewed Ford as a shrewd businessman as well as a brilliant
engineer. Despite this reputation, Ford's entry into airplane manufacturing
owed more to a hubristic belief in the universality of his mass production
methods than to actual knowledge of the requirements of air transport. Ford
too believed in the unsuitability of wood for mass production, so his com-
mitment to mass production led directly to his enthusiasm for metal air-
planes. In the spring of 1925, just before Ford bought Stout's company,
Henry and Edsel held discussions with Clement M. Keys, owner of the Cur-
tiss Aeroplane and Motor Company Keys was organizing an air transport
company to fly between New York and Chicago, and he sought the Fords'
participation in the venture. According to Keys, the Fords were "all 'hipped'
on metal ships," although they admitted their lack of knowledge and ap-
peared willing to take advice. The Fords declined to participate in Keys' new
venture but continued to discuss possible cooperation with Curtiss. Months
later, after Ford had completed the purchase of Stout's company, Keys still
found Ford quite naive about aviation, proceeding "in about the same frame
of mind that Curtiss was in when he built his first motor or first airplane."
Subsequent events would demonstrate the validity of Keys's assessment.34
With the sale of Stout's company complete, Mayo directed Stout to begin
work on a three-engine version of the Air Pullman. Trimotors, as such
planes were called, became popular for passenger aircraft after 1925 due to
their ability to keep flying if one engine failed. Both Junkers and Fokker
developed trimotor versions of their monoplane transports in the first half
of 1925. Mayo became convinced of the need to produce a trimotor Air
Pullman after a July meeting with Post Office officials, who were worried
about the safety of single-engine airplanes for the Air Mail's night-flying
operations. Stout immediately set to work designing the new trimotor. Un-
fortunately, Stout was soon deprived of his most skilled engineer, George
Prudden, who was fired in early September for talking to the press at the
crash site of the Shenandoah, where he had been sent to prepare a first-hand
report for Henry Ford. Without Prudden's help, Stout designed a monstros-
ity Two air-cooled engines were bolted directly to the front wing spar, with
a section of the leading edge removed from each wing to make space (fig-
ure 5.3). The engines created turbulent flow across the wings, destroying lift
for the portion of the wing behind the engines.35
When the new airplane first flew in November 1925, its performance
proved abominable. The test pilots were furious at Stout. The airplane

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