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

8. Metal and commercial aviation II: the triumph of the all-metal airliner,   pp. [155]-174

Page [155]

Metal and Commercial Aviation II:
The Triumph of the All-metal Airliner
THE SUCCESS of metal airplanes in the early 1930s was not limited to the
military Wood structures also disappeared from the most highly developed
type of commercial airplane, the multimotor passenger transport, or air-
liner. These airplanes carried most of the passengers in the booming air
travel market of the interwar years, and much of the mail as well. Beginning
in the late 1920s, a handful of manufacturers followed Ford's lead and de-
veloped metal airplanes for the passenger market. These new metal airliners
benefited from military research and borrowed freely from military designs.
After 1929 manufacturers of transport airplanes followed the military trend
to stressed-skin construction, adopting a smooth exterior covering instead
of the corrugated sheet favored by Ford and Junkers. Despite the trend to-
ward metal, wooden-winged Fokkers retained a large share of the market
for multimotor airliners. But after the 1931 crash of a Fokker trimotor
that killed Knute Rockne, the airlines turned decisively in favor of all-metal,
stressed-skin construction. With the introduction of the Boeing 247 in 1933
and the Douglas DC-2 in 1934, the all-metal airliner assumed its mod-
ern structural form, a form that remained basically unchanged for half a
Metal Transport Airplanes of the Late 1920s
For two years Ford stood as the only significant builder of metal commercial
airplanes in the United States, but starting in 1927 other manufacturers
entered the field. Some followed the maximalist path, producing all-metal
planes similar to the Ford trimotor, while others pursued the gradualist
strategy, developing fabric-covered metal structures patterned after military
designs. The maximalists were all new entrants into airplane construction.
Established firms, on the other hand, chose the gradualist strategy These
firms typically had close ties to the military and were able to borrow metal
wing structures directly from their military models.
Within a few years of Ford's decision to build metal airplanes, three
smaller companies introduced all-metal transports patterned after the Ford
designs, although none of these models sold well. The first of the new

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