The Wings That Carried Them to Victory
America’s WWII Warbirds
B-17 Flying Fortress
Aircraft Manufacturing During WWII
America produced some 294,000 aircraft for WWII. Of that number, 21,583 (7.34% were lost in the United States in test flights, ferrying, training accidents, etc. Another 43,581 were lost en-route to the war and in overseas operations.
“The expansion of the aircraft industry during WWII was the most dramatic development of the period. Large shipbuilding operations were not new; and mass production of ordnance items was well established; but the manufacture of airplanes in production quantities had never been attempted in the United States.” - S.A. Zimmerman, historian
The Fate of WWII Warbirds
By 1944 the U.S. Foreign Economic Administration began a program to scrap certain obsolete, damaged and surplus military aircraft overseas.
Following the war, estimates of the number of excess surplus airplanes ran as high as 150,000. Consideration was given to storing a substantial number of these.
Beginning in 1944, domestic aircraft declared surplus were turned over to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The RFC established depots around the country to store and sell surplus aircraft. By the summer of 1945, at least 30 sales-storage depots and 23 sales centers were in operation. In November 1945, it was estimated a total of 117,210 aircraft would be transferred as surplus.
Between 1945 and June 1947, the RFC, War Assets Corporation and the War Assets Administration (disposal function of the RFC was transferred to WAC on January 15, 1946, and to the WAA in March of 1946) processed approximately 61,600 WWII aircraft, of which 34,700 were sold for flyable purposes and 26,900, primarily combat types, were sold for scrapping.
Most of the transports and trainers could be used in the civilian fleet, and trainers were sold for $875 to $2,400. The fighters and bombers were of little peacetime use, although some were sold. Typical prices for surplus aircraft were:
|Type ||Price $$|
|B-17 or B-24||13,750 |
Many aircraft were transferred to schools for educational purposes, and to communities for memorial use for a minimal fee. One source reported a Boy Scout Troop bought a B-17 for $350.
A Walnut Ridge hometown institution, Southern Baptist College, purchased two of the aircraft stored at Walnut Ridge, a C-47 and a C-46. The exact purchase price for these is unknown, but is believed to have been around $600 to $800 each.
The WWII Aircraft Boneyards
In 1945 the RFC established five large storage, sales and scrapping centers for Army Air Forces aircraft. These were located at: Albuquerque, NM; Altus, OK; Kingman, AZ; Ontario, CA; and Walnut Ridge, AR. A sixth facility for storing, selling and scrapping Navy and Marine aircraft was located at Clinton, OK.
General sales were conducted from these centers; however, the idea for long term storage, considering the approximate cost of $20 per month per aircraft, was soon discarded, and in June, 1946, the remaining aircraft, except those at Altus, were put up for scrap bid.
It is estimated that approximately 10,000 warbirds were flown to Walnut Ridge in 1945 and 1946 for storage and sale. Some sources report the number to be over 11,000. It is reported that at least 67 of the 118 B-32 Heavy Bombers built were flown to Walnut Ridge, many straight from the assembly line. Of the remaining B-32’s, at least 37, perhaps more, were flown to Kingman.
Four thousand, eight hundred and seventy-one (4,871) of the aircraft stored at Walnut Ridge, primarily fighters and bombers, were sold to Texas Railway Equipment Company in September 1946, to be scrapped. The bid price was $1,838,798.19. On the southwest corner of the ramp, two giant smelters were constructed to melt the scrap aluminum, which was formed into huge ingots for shipping.
The aircraft at Altus were put up for scrap bid in 1947, and sold on May 12, 1947, to Esperado Mining Company of Walnut Ridge. (Probably owned in whole or part by Texas Railway Equipment Company, the company that scrapped the warbirds at Walnut Ridge.)
By late 1947 scrapping had been completed at Clinton and the big five scrapping facilities, except Altus, which finished by mid 1948.
The tens of thousands of proud warbirds that had survived the enemy fighter planes and fierce anti-aircraft fire could not escape the smelters at Albuquerque, Altus, Kingman, Ontario, Walnut Ridge and Clinton.
At Walnut Ridge, the two smelters used to turn the proud Warbirds into aluminum ingots were torn down about 1951. In 1952 the City of Walnut Ridge used the firebricks from the smelters to construct an administration/terminal building on the site of the WWII Base Operations building.