US Congress Appropriates $640,000,000 for Manufacture of Airplanes

The nation voiced its enthusiastic approval when, on July 14, 1917, the Congress voted an appropriation of $640,000,000 for the manufacture of 22,000 airplanes and the training and equipment of 100,000 aviators.

There was a natural expectation that America would soon achieve the supremacy in the air, and it was predicted that we should send 25,000 airplanes to Europe within six months. A Bureau of Aircraft Production was created, charged with the design, purchase and inspection of all materials special to the air service. In the production of airplanes, the chief limiting factor was the possibility of engine production; the second in the supply of accessories.

The special raw materials required for airplane manufacture involved vast individual operations. It fell to the United States to supply the spruce for the entire program of the Allies and the United States. In October, 1917, these requirements were 5,000,000 square feet each month, with only 2,000,000 square feet actually produced. These operations required the constant services of a force of 30,000 lumbermen in the North Woods. Cotton fabrics for airplane use were also developed in this country.

The Liberty Motor

Airplane engine requirements fell into three classes—types of engines suitable for elementary training, advanced training and combat planes. For elementary training there were available the Curtis 0X5 and the Hall-Scott A7A. For advanced training there was the Gnome, the Le Rhone and Hispano Suiza. For combat engines, the only one deemed available for our manufacturing purposes was the Liberty motor, designed by E. J. Hall and J. G. Vincent, in late May, 1917.

The first contract for Liberty motors was placed in August, 1917. Three hundred of the Liberty 12-cylinder engines had been produced when the Air Board was advised by the military authorities in France that higher horse power would be required. By various motor readjustments, the engineers stepped up the horse power to 375, but even then certain of the parts could not stand the strain, and it was decided to stop the production and strengthen these parts. In due time, this was accomplished, but after 500 of the remodeled Liberty engines had been completed, the Air Board was again notified that, for the summer of 1918, engines of 400 horse power would be needed. This decision resulted in another delay in production. However, in despite of all difficulties, on May 29, 1918, 1,100 Liberty 12-cylinder engines had been delivered into the service. The assembling and framing of wings proceeded uniformly so that equipment would be ready for service simultaneously with the engines.

America's 100,000 Birdmen

Meanwhile, an army of aviators was in training at Aviation Camps in this country, numbering at the close of 1917, 82,120 men and 3,900 officers. In addition, hundreds of American aviators were already in France undergoing intensive training behind the battle fronts. Several of these American birdmen in France were organized by William Thaw of Yale into a special squadron which became famous under the name of the Lafayette Esquadrille. They were supplied chiefly with French machines.

$1,138,000,000 Asked for Airplanes

With the arrival in France, late in 1917, of a group of American aviators supplied with American built airships, the Administration proposed that the United States should build airplanes in such numbers as to give the Allies absolute supremacy of the air. Accordingly, Congress was asked to appropriate $1,138,000,000 to be expended on aviation during 1918 and 1919. Of this vast sum, $553,219,120 was to be expended on extra engines and spare parts, $235,866,000 for airplanes and hydro-airplanes, $77,475,000 for machine guns, $8,050,000 for schools for military aeronautics, and the remainder for instructors, inspectors, mechanics, engineers, accountants, etc.