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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 38

Despite its technical limitations, the Staaken helped define an ideal type
for the modern airplane. This ideal type contained two key elements: all-
metal construction and fully cantilevered (unbraced) monoplane wings.
Both elements had strong abstract appeal, metal as a symbol of modernity
and the unbraced monoplane as an approximation of the flying wing, which
theoretically eliminated most parasitic drag. In 1924, C. W Erich Meyer,
editor of the Deutsche Motor-Zeitschrift, made this ideal type explicit in an
article on recent German airplanes. Meyer termed the new design trend the
neue Stil or neue Schule (new style or school), in contrast to the alte Stil (old
style) represented by wood-and-fabric biplanes. As examples of the new and
old styles, Meyer juxtaposed photographs of two airplanes. Representing
the alte Stil was an Italian Caproni triplane flying boat, a massive, cumber-
some assemblage of wood and cloth criss-crossed with steel wires. For the
neue Stil, Mayer presented the three-engine Junkers G23, an all-metal un-
braced monoplane. The boxy Junkers with its corrugated covering was
poorly streamlined even compared to the metal airliners of the mid-1930s,
but next to the Caproni it seemed a striking exemplar of sleek modernism.
But perhaps more striking was the nature of Mayer's argument, which in
essence made an aesthetic claim about the style appropriate for a modern
Not all proponents of metal adhered to the neue Stil. More often than not,
however, support for metal went hand in hand with advocacy of the inter-
nally braced monoplane. Proponents of this ideal type rarely clarified the
necessity of the connection between metal and the monoplane but saw both
as necessary elements for efficient air transport. The evocative power of the
neue Stil in part explains the enthusiastic reception of the German postwar
airplanes in the United States.
The German metal airplanes revealed many aspects of the future of metal
construction. All-metal airplanes raised difficult design problems, which
could only be solved with considerable support from the military. All-metal
structures tended to weigh more than comparable wood-and-fabric air-
planes, and they proved difficult to manufacture. Despite the engineering
ingenuity of these designs, the best type of airplane structure had yet to be
decided. But most importantly, the German metal airplanes revealed the
tremendous enthusiasm that metal construction inspired, an enthusiasm
that soon infected Germany's former enemies.
Enthusiasm Triumphant: Postwar Response to
German Metal Aircraft
Although the Allies knew of German metal airplanes during the war, these
airplanes generated little concern among military authorities, probably be-
cause metal airplanes did not afford the Germans any clear advantage in

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