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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 109

Figure 5.3. William Stout's disastrous first trimotor, 1925. National Air and Space
Museum, Smithsonian Institution (SI neg. no. A-42247).
landed at a dangerously high speed and proved extremely difficult to con-
trol. An enraged Henry Ford relieved Stout of design duties and placed
Harold Hicks in charge of airplane design. According to Hicks, Ford in-
structed him "to keep Stout out of the design room. He said that for the first
time in his life, he had bought a lemon and he didn't want the world to
know about it." Ford also told Hicks that Stout would continue to receive
credit for all the design work performed by Hicks and his staff."b
The failure of Stout's trimotor ended his influence on the technical devel-
opment of American aviation. However, the fact that he had any influence
at all dramatically illustrates the role of the progress ideology of metal in
aviation history Ample evidence attests to Stout's incompetence as an air-
plane designer. Other prominent designers have had their technical ability
questioned, for example Glenn Martin and Anthony Fokker, but at least
these men knew how to employ competent subordinates and could distin-
guish between sound ideas and poppycock. These men also had many suc-
cessful airplanes to their credit, unlike Stout, who could claim at most one
success out of the six major airplane projects he had supervised. Despite
his repeated failures, Stout coaxed investments and contracts worth hun-
dreds of thousands of dollars from the army, the navy, and Detroit business-
men. If one includes Ford's payment to Stout for the metal airplane com-
pany, Stout received more than $1 million for his metal airplane work.
Stout's "success" was not based on technical accomplishments but rather on

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