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Trenchard Lectures: Mass Production Methods and the Aircraft Engine

30 April 2019

The lecture will be held at the Royal Aeronautical Society, London
 
Edward Young, currently undertaking a PhD at Kings College London in collaboration the Royal Air Force Museum, will discuss the mass production methods of aircraft engine in the Second World War.

Engine fitters working on a radial engine, at a Technical Training School, c.1940.

TALK OUTLINE

Air power made a vital contribution to Allied victory in World War II. What is missing from so many of the narratives on Allied air power, however, is much substantive discussion, or even mention, of the production of the most vital component of all aircraft, the aircraft engine. While there are many studies of British and American war production in the Second World War, most do not go beyond celebrating what is often referred to as ‘the miracle of mass production”.

The UK and USA built aircraft in prodigious numbers. Between 1939 and 1945, the UK produced 131,549 aircraft while the USA built 324,750 aircraft for the American military services and Allied nations. This production record has become, especially in America, part of the story of the fabled ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ that turned the tide in World War II. Yet if the production of aircraft engines had not been equally successful, this air armada would have amounted to little more than a mass of useless aluminium.

production line in final assembly shop at Johnsville plant - Brewster Buccaneer, USA, n.d.

As Paul Kennedy has noted, the implementation of grand strategy is often taken for granted. ‘We rarely inquire deeply’, Kennedy says, ‘into the mechanics and dynamics of strategic success and failure, yet it is a very important realm of inquiry, though still rather neglected.’

The standard narrative of wartime production is that the mobilisation of British and American industry was straightforward, a matter of applying more money, more labour, and mass production methods to convert what were essentially civilian industries and civilian technologies to the production of war material. In fact, the manufacture of aircraft engines was far from a straightforward case of mass production.

The production of aircraft engines was not readily adaptable to automotive methods of mass production and required a mode of production incorporating greater flexibility to allow for the complexity of aircraft engine construction, continuous improvements in existing designs and the development of new engine models. Critical to the success in achieving quantity production of aircraft engines was the careful adaptation of mass production methods to aircraft engine production, specifically the introduction and adaptation of flow production methods, the effective use of general and specialised machine tools to replace skilled labour and the simplification of the production process to allow the progressive de-skilling of the work force.

The record of Allied aircraft engine production in World War II was remarkably successful, but it required more hard work and coordinated effort than most realise.

LOCATION AND TIME

The lecture will be held at the Royal Aeronautical Society at 6.30pm on Tuesday 30 April 2019. The lecture will be proceeded by a short ceremony to celebrate the winners of the Royal Air Force Museum Centenary Academic Awards

TICKETS

This lecture is free of charge however we do ask that you pre-book a free ticket as seats are limited. Booking is quick and easy:

ABOUT Edward Young

Edward Young graduated from Harvard University with a BA in Political Science in 1971 and received an MA in Political Science from the University of Washington in 1976. After university he served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. He spent eight years as a commercial banker with assignments in New York and Hong Kong before joining Moody’s Investor’s Service, a leading bond rating agency. He spent twenty years with Moody’s as a financial analyst and managing director, with assignments in New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong before retiring in 2004. In 2015 Young completed an MA in the History of Warfare (with distinction) at King’s College London. He is currently working on a PhD in the History of Technology at King’s College. Young is the author of fifteen books and monographs on aviation and military history.

ABOUT THE RAF MUSEUM RESEARCH PROGRAMME

The Trenchard Lectures in Air Power Studies form a part of the RAF Museum’s Research Programme for 2018. This programme consists of the First World War in the Air Lunchtime Lectures at our London site, the Cold War Lunchtime lectures at our Cosford site and other events such as conferences. For further details about the Research Programme please contact: research@rafmuseum.org
The Trenchard Lectures in Air Power Studies are held in conjunction with the Royal Aeronautical Society and the War Studies Department at the University of Wolverhampton.


Please note that lectures may be subject to change.

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