The War Years: 1939-1945

The Boeing Airplane Co. ... Superfortress Goes to War

B-17s crossing the road from factory to Boeing Field in Seattle

Companies around the country coordinated their war efforts. B-17s were built at Boeing, Douglas Aircraft and Lockheed Aircraft factories. As American men went to war, women built airplanes. Thousands of women, symbolized by "Rosie the Riveter," took up the slack in the workforce, both at Boeing and at the Douglas Aircraft Co. At Boeing, they helped boost production from 60 planes per month in 1942 to an astounding 362 planes per month by March 1944 -- at one point the Seattle plant rolled out 16 planes in 24 hours. A total of 12,731 B-17s were produced around the country; of these Boeing built 6,981.

The new Boeing B-29 Superfortress entered combat less than two years after its first flight in 1942. It was the largest bomber to go into production during the war and had the longest range. In February 1942, the Army Air Forces ordered the B-29 built at factories around the country, including Bell Aircraft Co. at Marietta, Ga., North American Aviation at its Kansas City, Kan., plant, and the Glenn Martin Co. in Omaha, Neb. This ordering of a pre-production airplane industrywide was unprecedented in aviation history.

Wartime strategy in 1942 changed in favor of land-based bombers. The Boeing Renton plant near Seattle, built for production of the XPBB-1 long-range patrol bomber for the Navy, was traded to the Army for B-29 production. Boeing also produced the B-29 in Wichita, Kan., where farmhands, housewives and shopkeepers built Superfortresses on 10-hour-shifts, day and night. During March and April 1944, the intensive effort to get the first B-29s ready for overseas service became known as the "Battle of Kansas."

By the time production terminated in 1946, 3,970 B-29s were built, 2,766 at Boeing facilities.

In addition, between 1936 and 1944, Boeing built 240 Douglas DB-7B attack bombers, 750 Waco-designed cargo and troop gliders and 8,585 Kaydet trainers, first introduced at the Stearman Aircraft Co. in Wichita in 1933. In 1944 and 1945, Boeing also built three prototype XF8B-1 fighter-bombers.

Boeing Aircraft of Canada built 362 PBY flying boats and amphibians designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, Calif., and 16 British-designed Blackburn Shark torpedo aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

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