The War Years: 1939-1945

McDonnell Aircraft Corp. ... Preparing for the Phantom

Our objective is to be of maximum service possible to the United States government in the design and manufacturer of airplanes. ... We are going to operate as a constructive influence in this industry.
-- James S. McDonnell, 1939

As World War II began, business expanded at the McDonnell Aircraft Corp. By 1941, McDonnell had 400 employees and during peak wartime production, the company's payroll reached 5,212.

During the war, McDonnell Aircraft manufactured 7 million pounds of aircraft parts, including tails and engine cowlings for Boeing bombers and Douglas transports. It also built a few Fairchild AT-21 trainers.

The single USAAF contract for an original aircraft was for the XP-67, a twin-engine interceptor known as the "Bat" because of its shape. It was the only propeller-powered fighter program undertaken by McDonnell and first flew Jan. 6, 1944. Only the prototype was built.

However, while the company worked on the XP-67, it was given a contract to build the first jet-propelled Navy fighter, the XFD-1, which made its first flight on Jan. 26, 1945. World War II ended before that particular version could go into production but it evolved into the fabulous FH-1 Phantom fighter that started a long line of successful McDonnell jet fighters.

James McDonnell began to investigate the potential of rotorcraft when, in 1942, he invested in the Platt-LePage Aircraft Co., building the XR-1, the first helicopter ordered by the U.S. Army Air Corps. In 1943, McDonnell started building the Navy XHJH-1 Whirlaway. Its single prototype had two main rotors mounted on short wings. When it was completed in 1946, the Whirlaway was the largest helicopter flown up to that time.

Previous narrative | Next narrative