North American Aviation ... Its Beginnings
We started with an obvious disadvantage.... It couldn't have been much worse.
-- Dutch Kindelberger, 1934
During the prosperous 1920s, companies dedicated to airplane manufacturing and support industries sprouted across the country. By 1926, Douglas was building 120 airplanes a year and, in 1928, with 800 employees, Boeing was one of the biggest airplane manufacturers in the industry.
Among holding companies for new ventures in aviation was North American Aviation Inc. (NAA), incorporated in Delaware on Dec. 6, 1928. NAA had interests in a number of leading airlines and aircraft manufacturing companies, including the Douglas Aircraft Co. It also owned the General Aviation Manufacturing Corp., located at the Curtiss-Caproni plant at Dundalk, Md.
In 1934, the same New Deal legislation enacted during the Depression that caused the breakup of the diverse Boeing-owned holding company, also required North American Aviation to relinquish its interest in Douglas and several airlines. It stopped operating as a holding company and took over the aircraft manufacturing operation at Dundalk.
The new manufacturing company was run by Dutch Kindelberger, 39, formerly chief of engineering operations with the Douglas Aircraft Co. He was helped by Lee Atwood and J.S. "Stan" Smithson, two key designers, also from Douglas. Almost 30 years later, Atwood would take over from Kindelberger as leader of North American Aviation.
However, in 1934, they were starting from scratch. The Dundalk aircraft manufacturing operation had never sold a single airplane. It had done some modification work on the obsolete Berliner-Joyce P-16, and the only plane on the factory floor was an unmarketable low-wing, single-engine 10-passenger commercial transport, the GA-43 Pilgrim.
The company's first government contract was not for airplanes at all -- but for 161 sets of pontoons for observation planes in service with the U.S. Navy. North American designers hit the drawing boards and came up with the company's first trainer, the NA-16, and the XO-47 three-place observation plane.
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