The Most Pro­duced

Icons in Big Num­bers

Flight Journal - - CONTENTS - by Budd Davis­son

To­day, the world is pop­u­lated by ap­prox­i­mately 7.5 bil­lion peo­ple of all races, colors, cul­tures, shapes, and sizes. In 1939, just as the cur­tains were go­ing up on World War II, the pop­u­la­tion was right at 2.3 bil­lion. It was less than a third the size it is to­day, yet the six-year pe­riod fol­low­ing 1939 saw prob­a­bly the largest in­dus­trial growth of any pe­riod be­fore or since. Dur­ing WW II, the amount of “stuff” of all kinds that was built (and much of it de­stroyed) stag­gers the imag­i­na­tion. Nowhere is this more no­tice­able than in the ex­plo­sive growth (and sub­se­quent death) of the world’s air­plane pop­u­la­tion.

Air­planes by the Thou­sands

In round num­bers, it is es­ti­mated that to­day there are ap­prox­i­mately 450,000 air­planes of all kinds worldwide. This is in­ter­est­ing, when one con­sid­ers that the to­tal worldwide pro­duc­tion of air­craft dur­ing WW II is es­ti­mated at 786,553, which is 75 per­cent more than ex­ist to­day, 75 years later! The United States alone pro­duced 300,557—more than 150 per­cent of the out­put of all the Axis na­tions com­bined. The United King­dom cranked out another 131,000, so the other side re­ally didn’t have a chance. Or did it?

The fore­go­ing leaves the im­pres­sion that the United States led the world in com­bat air­craft pro­duc­tion. If that’s true, why were only three of the 10 most pro­duced air­planes of WW II Amer­i­can-made? Why is the high­est U.S. score, the B-24, only the fifth most pro­duced? In other words, the coun­try known for pop­ping out good­ies like Sher­man tanks barely made the most pro­duced list.

Also, it is of­ten as­sumed that the in­tense bomb­ing of so many en­emy pro­duc­tion cen­ters crip­pled their assem­bly pro­cesses so much that they couldn’t build enough fighters to de­fend them­selves. If that’s the case, as the bomb­ing cam­paigns in­creased in num­ber and fe­roc­ity in 1944, why did Ger­many’s pro­duc­tion of Bf 109s dou­ble from a year ear­lier, hit­ting more than 1,000 a month? And if Adolf Hitler’s in­dus­try was so crip­pled, how did Ger­many build another 2,800 109s in 1945, which, if an­nu­al­ized, would have been 8,400 air­planes ris­ing from the ru­ins? A sim­i­lar pro­duc­tion curve was re­flected in FW 190 num­bers.

By the same to­ken, given these num­bers and what they say about the ef­fec­tive­ness of our strate­gic bomb­ing cam­paigns, why did iconic air­planes like the Mit­subishi Zero, at 11,000 to­tal, not make the list? This is where air­craft de­sign raises its quirky head, giv­ing Ger­many an edge in pro­duc­tion. The Zero was de­signed with­out a cen­ter sec­tion. The fuse­lage was part of the wing, so al­though it made for a very light­weight fighter, the Mit­subishi couldn’t be built in small, eas­ily pro­tected, dis­persed con­struc­tion cen­ters. Ger­man fighters were mod­u­lar, which al­lowed spread-out con­struc­tion of smaller as­sem­blies, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for in­di­vid­ual bomb­ing raids to in­ter­rupt pro­duc­tion.

The Ten Most Pro­duced Air­planes

So what were the 10 most pro­duced air­planes of WW II, and why were they built more than oth­ers? Keep in mind, no mat­ter how much re­search we do at this end of his­tory, there is zero chance that the num­bers we present here are wholly ac­cu­rate; 75-year-old records tend to have holes in them, so to­tals are some­times a best es­ti­mate.

Amer­ica’s most pro­duced air­plane was the B-24. Go­ing into pro­duc­tion in 1941, it ben­e­fited from Ford’s assem­bly-line ex­pe­ri­ence, which pro­duced one bomber ev­ery 63 min­utes. (Photo cour­tesy of Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

Ger­many’s skill in plan­ning and ex­e­cu­tion showed in that they had the se­cond, fourth, and ninth most pro­duced air­planes of the war. (Photo cour­tesy of EN-Archive)

While the Cur­tiss P-40 didn’t make the top 10, the pro­duc­tion of 13,700+ de­serves at least an hon­or­able men­tion. (Photo cour­tesy of Stan Piet)

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