“To fill the skies of France with fighting aircraft–that was America’s tremendous task. What we did and what we have accomplished of that task is here fully revealed for the first time” reads an intertitle slate from the film Our Wings of Victory which highlights the production of American-made aircraft during World War I.
World War I was the first major conflict to involve aircraft on a large scale. Images of Germany’s reconnaissance Zeppelins, tethered observation balloons, and biplanes being flown by the likes of Manfred von Richthofen – the Red Baron are iconic images of WWI aircraft.
Films like Manufacture of Military Aeroplanes, 1917-1918, also titled, Our Wings of Victory, created by the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, highlight the airplane production process, from raw lumber to final product.
The silent film employs intertitles rather than narration to explain the production process. All captions provided are taken from the film’s intertitles like the one shown here.
Up first, raw lumber
“Only flawless wood becomes part of an airplane.”
“Selected spruce, millions of feet, culled at the great sawmills of our forests, has been delivered to America’s airplane factories.”
Next stop: Airplane factories in Elizabeth, N.J., Buffalo, Detroit and Dayton, O.H.
Once the raw lumber was cut to size and seasoned in humidity and temperature controlled kilns, it was shipped by train to airplane factories on the east coast.
“In great offices, expert corps of engineers and builders work out the delicate problems and minute details of aircraft construction.”
“The Liberty Motor, heart of the American Eagle, which develops one horsepower for every two pounds of weight, making it the most powerful motor in the world.”
Male and female laborers were employed in the production process and can be seen working side by side throughout the film.
Much like the women of Rosie the Riveter fame, World War I female production workers played an essential role in the war effort.
“In the fashioning of the many small metal parts, women have proved very skillful and are doing much of the work.”
“The wing-coverings are of fine Irish linen and 150 yards are used for each plane. … Stitching the ribs. An airplane is supported by suction, not by pressure, and were it not for the stitches, the covering would be torn from the wings.”
The final product, airplanes
“The U.S. Hydroplane – The H-S-I-L … Handley-Page bombing machine, the Made-In-America flying giant, which carries destruction by the ton … The Made-In-america Caproni, another giant of the air… The De Haviland-4 battle plane, mainstay of our fighting fleet, whose Liberty Motor pulls it 130 miles and hour.”
Two pilots and their mascot after flying an airplane on its trial flight.
The production files for this film can be accessed electronically on the NARA Catalog.
Watch the film in its entirety: