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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 111

Figure 5.4. Ford 4-AT. This successful trimotor has been wrongly attributed to Wil-
liam Stout. National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution (SI neg.
no. A-46899H).
the new V-8 auto engine demanded his undivided attention. Ford had no
time for the aircraft division, which sold only three trimotors in 1932. That
July, Henry Ford laid off all but a skeleton staff at the aircraft division. He
ceased all operations the following year.39
Ford's involvement in airplane manufacturing was never profitable, even
when sales reached their peak. Despite the Ford company's vast skill in
production engineering, metal airplanes did not prove cheaper to build than
composite wood-and-metal types. The Ford trimotors competed directly
with the Fokkers, which had plywood-covered wood wings and fabric-
covered, welded steel-tube fuselages. The Ford 5-AT and the Fokker F-10A
used the same Pratt & Whitney engines and had almost identical weights,
performance figures, and sale prices, and they sold in similar quantities. In
1927 Fokker claimed that the Ford company provided a subsidy of $40,000
to $50,000 per plane due to the high costs of all-metal construction. Fokker
had good reasons to exaggerate, but his estimate was not too far off the
mark. Ford's accounting practices make it almost impossible to disaggregate
costs, but total losses from Ford's aviation activities were staggering. Be-
tween 1925 and 1931, Ford sold just over $11.1 million in airplanes and

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