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Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II.

Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II. By John Fredrickson, Minneapolis MN: Zenith Press, 2015. Diagrams. Illustrations. Photographs. Tables. Notes. Appendices. Index. Pp. 224. $40.00 ISBN 978-0-7603-4816

This book was written by a retired senior manager at Boeing (the successor company to North American Aviation--NAA). It contains very good illustrations and well-reproduced photographs (many in color).

The narrative starts with the Fokker and Berliner Joyce beginnings of NAA and its transition from a holding company to a manufacturing enterprise. It then follows the company through World War II and into the postwar era. It might have been better if the book had stopped at the end of the war.

Fredrickson structured the narrative with many excellent sidebars, some of which range in size up to a full page. They are nearly always informative and interesting. However, early on the book shows its uneven quality. The aircraft photo in one full-page sidebar is not a Ford Trimotor but a Fokker trimotor. The man in front of it is correctly identified as Anthony Fokker--not likely to be posing in front of a Ford!

The discussion of the early years of NAA and its predecessors is very informative, though the digression into William Boeing's harassment in a congressional hearing that led to the Air Mail Act of 1934 is a little farfetched. Otherwise the discussion of the people who actually created NAA--Kindleberger, Atwood, et al.--and their relations with other early aviation industry personalities is very interesting. There are excellent descriptions of the innovative manufacturing methods that allowed NAA to expand its output tremendously to meet the massively increased war need. The book shows how NAA selected and trained previously unskilled workers that had to be used. Much to Fredrickson's credit, he does not sidestep or ignore the effects of racial and gender prejudice in the workplace. The description of other factors that large industries had to address at that time was fascinating (e.g., providing child care so that women were available to work, and organizing car pools).

The photos of manufacturing processes are interesting. They show an utter absence of protective equipment other than gloves. One realizes what an unpleasant job installing aircraft tires on rims day after day must have been! The strike in June 1941 and subsequent seizure of the Inglewood plant by the Federal government are well covered. Fredrickson covers and well illustrates development of the B-25 Mitchell. Some of the stories were particularly interesting: development of the "B-25 on steroids" and its demise, the importance of the XB--28 Dragon to development of the B-29, and modification of a B-25 to serve as Eisenhower's personal transport.

The chapter on development of the Mustang is unfortunately something of a botch. Some statements about the NA-35 trainer are simply wrong (basic technical engine and airfoil errors). There are incorrect identifications of various models of the Mustang. In one place, Fredrickson says: "Given the magnitude of the damage visible in the photographs, NA--73X was repaired surprisingly quickly. The engine was ready for a test run on December 31, 1940, and the aircraft next flew on January 11, 1941. Test flights of 7.5 hour duration were undertaken in California before the Mustang was consigned to European bomber-escort combat operations."

The last two statements are both true but have nothing to do with each other. The former applies to the Allison engined NA-73X and the latter to Packard-engined P-5 IBs and beyond. For a good story of Mustang development, readers would be far better served by O'Leary's Building the P-51 Mustang.

Overall, this is a curious book: The discussion of NAA as a growing, and later shrinking, industrial concern is very good. How NAA and Kindleberger dealt with the end of the war is particularly interesting. But discussions of engineering issues and military history are not to be trusted. Nevertheless, the book is useful for the industrial history of NAA up to and through World War II and for its photographs.

Leslie C. Taylor, Docent, NASM's Udvar-Hazy Center
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Author:Taylor, Leslie C.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2016
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