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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 40

40                                                       CHAPTER TWO
of weather better than wood-and-fabric construction, despite evidence that
the duralumin covering had become brittle.43 This brittleness provided a
hint of the severe corrosion problems that would become apparent a few
years later.
As information on German metal airplanes became more widely avail-
able, it generated tremendous enthusiasm among the French and British.
The designs of the Junkers and Zeppelin organizations particularly im-
pressed the French. In a January 1921 report on German aeronautics, the
French undersecretary of state for aviation concluded that the Junkers F13
was "the craft of the future." The report of the Inter-Allied Aeronautical
Control Commission, a French-dominated agency charged with enforcing
the Versailles treaty, waxed poetic about German metal airplanes, and de-
scribed Hugo Junkers in almost mythic terms. With encouragement from
the French Air Ministry, French designers quickly produced a variety of
duralumin aircraft as early as 1920. A 1923 American report on French
aviation noted that "all-metal construction is the fashion of the hour and the
constructors follow the leader like so many fashionable dressmakers."44
Like the French, the British also promoted metal aircraft in the postwar
period, but they preferred high-strength steels to duralumin, due in part to
the absence of domestic supplies of bauxite. By 1924 the British Air Ministry
had gained enough confidence in metal construction to require that all
"vital parts" of new military aircraft be built of metal.45
American interest in German metal aircraft remained muted until early
1920, in part because of the paucity of information available to the public.46
In the spring of 1920, the British Air Ministry released descriptions of cap-
tured Junkers and Dornier models, descriptions that were widely repro-
duced in the American technical press.47 But such technical data failed to
generate much interest in the American aviation community American en-
thusiasm for metal construction was finally stimulated not by technical data
but rather by the demonstration of an actual all-metal airplane in the United
States, the Junkers F13 transport.
The F13 owed its presence in the United States to the promotional efforts
of John M. Larsen. Before he took up aviation, the Danish-born Larsen had
worked in the dairy industry, introducing Danish butter-making techniques
to the United States and selling his own brand of industrial ice-making ma-
chinery.48 In late 1919, Larsen went to Europe to look for financial opportu-
nities in postwar aviation. He later claimed that he had intended to sell
American airplanes in Europe but was so impressed by the Junkers that he
immediately obtained a license to build them in the United States. How-
ever, it appears more likely that he had heard of German metal airplane
work and sought to profit from its introduction into the United States, as he
had previously done with Danish dairy technology. Larsen obtained a li-
cense from Junkers to build the F13 in the United States. He also bought

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