Schatzberg, Eric, 1956- / Wings of wood, wings of metal : culture and technical choice in American airplane materials, 1914-1945
1. Materials, symbols, and ideologies of progress, pp. -21
MATERIALS, SYMBOLS, AND IDEOLOGIES 7 end of World War I to the end of World War I, metal almost completely replaced wood. During World War I, the major combatants built approx- imately 170,000 airplanes, almost all using wooden construction.9 Dur- ing World War II, the major powers produced roughly 750,000 airplanes, the vast majority with metal structures.' A comparable shift to metal oc- curred in commercial aircraft. Only in small, private airplanes and military trainers did wood retain its place as a structural material through World War II. Wood remained unchallenged as the dominant material for airplane structures until late in World War I. In the typical airplane of the war, wood comprised all major structural elements, with metal used only for fittings and tension wires (figure 1.2). The wings consisted of two spruce spars running the length of the wing, with wooden ribs placed crosswise to give the wing its shape. Strong steel wire braced the resulting grid of spars and ribs, creating a framework to support the linen cloth that formed the wing surface. A similar rectangular frame of wooden struts, also wire braced, formed the fuselage. Even the landing gear was likely to be of wood." Despite the dominance of wood, early airplane designers had not ignored metal. Even before the Kitty Hawk flights, airplane pioneers Maxim and Langley had experimented with metal structures. The French airplane builder Breguet began using steel in 1910, and other designers experi- mented with the metal monocoque fuselage as early as 1912.12 Nevertheless, on the eve of World War I no airplane in production had a metal structure. Like many developments in aviation, the metal* airplane was a child of World War I. Chapter two recounts these wartime origins, and the postwar enthusiasm that ensued. Germany was the first nation to make widespread use of metal in aircraft structures. Over a thousand German warplanes used the welded steel-tube fuselage developed by Anthony Fokker. But a much more potent symbol was the all-metal airplane of Hugo Junkers. Junkers' first airplane used sheet iron, but in later models he switched to duralumin, a high-strength alloy developed shortly before the war. By the end of the war, Junkers and other German manufacturers had developed numerous metal designs, and a few metal airplanes even made it into combat. The U.S. Army also experimented with metal aircraft during the war, though with less success than the Germans. * In discussing the use of metal in aircraft, one needs to distinguish between all-metal construction and the partial use of metal. The aeronautical community did not apply a consis- tent terminology. "All-metal" generally referred to airplanes that used metal almost exclusively for both the internal structure and the external covering, while the term "metal airplane" also included aircraft with internal metal structures but fabric or wood covering. I follow this usage in the book when referring to "all-metal" and "metal airplanes." Many airplanes, however, used both wood and metal structures, for example a metal fuselage and wood wings. Such airplanes were sometimes referred to as metal, at other times as wood, and sometimes as "composite." In this book, "wooden airplane" or "wooden construction" refers to any airplane in which a major part of the structure was made of wood.
Copyright Eric Schatzberg| For information on re-use, see: http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/Copyright