The Wars Years: 1939-1945

The Boeing Airplane Co. ... Bombers and Camouflage

To an airman the Pacific Northwest is the home of the long-range heavy bomber, which has changed the character of war and the meaning of peace.
-- General Carl Spaatz, Commanding General, U.S. Air Force, 1947

The United States entered World War II only 16 months after Boeing introduced the Stratoliner. Sales of commercial transports came to a halt. Suddenly, the country needed warplanes, produced quickly, collectively and in quantity. Cooperation between airplane manufacturers, rather than competition, made the best use of the country's resources.

On June 20, 1941, the U.S. Army Air Corps became the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF). To serve the USAAF during World War II, Boeing produced the country's most important heavy bombers, the B-17 and the B-29; Douglas produced the C-47 and several other crucial military transports and medium bombers. North American built the country's most universally used trainers, the important B-25 Mitchell medium bomber and the amazing P-51 Mustang fighter.

Camouflage rooftop on Plant 2, Seattle
Camouflage on Plant 2 rooftop in Seattle

To help the U.S. war effort, Phil Johnson returned from Canada and took over as Boeing Airplane Co. president, in charge of wartime production at Boeing, as well as the countrywide, multicompany, mass-production of bombers. Johnson died of a stroke Sept. 14, 1944, while overseeing operations at the Boeing Wichita plant.

In 1940, the Army Air Corps ordered 80 heavily armed versions of the B-17 Flying Fortress. Twenty were delivered to the British Royal Air Force in the fall of 1940. These were the first Flying Fortresses to enter combat.

By 1941 Boeing workers were building B-17s at a rapidly increasing rate. Burlap houses and chicken-wire lawns camouflaged the rooftops of Boeing Plant 2 in Seattle so that, from the air, the bomber manufacturing center looked like a quiet suburb.

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