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Airlift - Early Developements


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ATTT
HK-1 / H-4
The early evolution of fighter and bomber combat aircraft was very different from that of transport aircraft. Almost from the earliet months of the Great War, the distinction between fighters, intended to attack other aicraft, and bombers, intended to attack ground targets, became clear. It was also clear that for both types, designers aimed for aircraft that were faster and more heavily armed, with more maneuverable fighter and longer range bombers.

The evolution of transport aircraft was very different. The category "transport" or "cargo plane" scarcely existed during the Great War, and remained hazy for the following two decades, until the eve of the Second World War. The requirements and capabilities to transport bombs and other cargoes were seen as so similar as to be performed by the same aircraft, or modest modifications thereof.

By the end of World War II it had become apparent that bombers and transport aircraft were different birds. Bombers needed high speed and high altitude, which transports did not. Bombers needed speed and altitude to penetrate hostile airspace, while transports required a permissive environment in which friendly air superiority had been achieved. Transports required a large fuselage to accomodate low density cargoes, while iron bombs needed much smaller bomb bays. Bombers could simply drop bombs through a door in the bottom of the fuselage, while transports require more elegant means of de-planing their cargoes.

Modern combat aircraft, including supersonic and stealth aircraft, are logical extensions of the aircraft of a century past. The capabilities of modern transport aircraft - outsized cargo, rear loading door, short field landing, carrying both combat vehicles and paratroopers - respond to requirements that only emerged after World War II.

New Secretary of War Harry Woodring said in August 1937 that he saw no rationale "for buying any transports due to their high price." He directed that only 36 be purchased in 1938 and none in 1939. The money saved was to be used to buy new bombers ; transport requirements would be met by converting old bombers.

Woodring's bomber conversion concept was unworkable as illustrated by the Materiel Division's attempt to convert a damaged B-18 to test the idea. General Robins' test report was devastating. There was no emergency exit from the aircraft ; costs per airplane were $50,000 to $75,000 (more than the cost of a new cargo plane) ; weight and balance were out of kilter; and the structural integrity of the airplane was in question. General Robins concluded that "the efficient movement of supplies in time of emergency will demand an airplane designed for this purpose and the regular procurement of transport airplanes . . . is strongly recommended."

However, the impending war caused a turnabout. Urged on by the Army chief of infantry, the War Department organized an airborne force, the 501st Parachute Company, at Fort Benning, Georgia, in July 1940. Expansion of the unit to a battalion soon followed. The original concept used B-18s as the drop platform for the parachute forces, but Brig Gen F. L. Martin, commander of the Third Wing of the HQ Air Force, objected that bombers were not designed for such a mission and that transports should be used instead. His argument that commercial transports would be available in wartime was not right on the mark, but several of his ideas closely resembled what later became doctrine.

Responding to the contention that bombers could "get through" but that transports could not, Martin pointed out that parachute operations would necessarily require air superiority. Either nighttime darkness or adverse weather could be used to protect transports and preserve the likelihood of surprise, he thought. Plans Division bought his argument in principle but noted that neither transport airplanes nor B-18 bombers would be available.

In the summer of 1941, the Air Corps Ferrying Command (ACFC) opened the "Arnold Line"" service between Washington, DC, and Scotland via Montreal and Newfoundland. Flying six round-trips a month until forced to close the route due to bad weather, the ACFC carried diplomatic mail and VIPs in the bomb bays of modified B-24s. at the beginning of the war, the War Department had scarcely any long-range transports available : 4 Boeing Clippers, 5 Stratoliners (on contract), and 11 converted B-24s.

On 28 January 1942 the first formal American transport unit was formed under the Fifth Air- Force and ordered to use all US transport airplanes then in Australia and all combat airplanes flyable but unfit for combat. Officially this translated into three B- 18s, three B-24s, one C-39, one B-17-C, five C-53s, and three Beechcrafts. Once troops were in place and engaging the enemy, or at least advancing on its locations, they could only be supplied by air, and by mid-November 1942 the troop carrier units were airlanding or airdropping 100 tons of supplies daily. Just about any airplane would do, and the B-26 became a favorite, especially after the carriers learned the proper altitudes for dropping bundles. They were largely supplied by airdrop - often with only the most fragile items being parachuted . Most supplies were just wrapped in blankets and baling wire and shoved out the airplane door.

The next major operation that the troop carriers participated in was the capture of the Hollandia area in Netherlands New Guinea. Allied forces launched an amphibious landing on 22 April 1944. The area was swampy and the few existing roads were muddy tracks. They had to rely on airborne resupply for food and ammunition, using B-24s and B-23s to drop rations at the Hollandia drome.

By late 1944 General Montgomery wanted an airborne operation to seize a crossing point on the Rhine along with other water crossings at Eindhoven and Nijmegen (Market). Market was the largest airborne effort the Allies had mounted and they executed it in daylight. Market was also the initial proving ground for resupply by air of an isolated and very large force. On D plus l, 252 B-24s of the 2d Bombardment Division took off from England to drop resupplies to the 82d and 101st. Each plane carried about two tons of material in bomb racks, waist compartments, and bomb bays. Ball turrets were removed for pushing out bundles, with a trained dropmaster from the 2d Quartermaster Battalion assigned to each plane as a pusher.

The end of the War saw an end to using bombers as transport aircraft. Air Transport Command went from 3,088 aircraft in September of 1945 to 511 in July of 1946. With these dwindling forces, ATC was to maintain certain national interests lines of communication, support of occupational forces, and show of the flag when called upon. Its current strength of approximately 20,000 military personnel and slightly under 200 C-54 aircraft is intended to remain constant.

The Troop Carrier Command and Air Transport Command would be equipped basically with tactical type transport aircraft, modified as required to fit the particular role but stressing flexibility of employment. Army Air Force development of transport aircraft would be limited to tactical types. Air Transport Command requirements for high-performance long-range personnel carriers would be filled by military modification of commercial aircraft developments only when suitable tactical transport types are not available. The doctrine of strategic airlift in early 1947, at least in AAF headquarters, was a strange mixture: perform a strategic airlift mission with tactical and converted civilian airlift aircraft, and plan for war by performing a peacetime-oriented mission.



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Page last modified: 17-05-2019 17:22:10 ZULU