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Wings - The Postwar Years



At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.87 List the two causes of the major advances in aeronautics immediately following World War II.
5.88 Explain the creation of the U.S. Air Force.
5.89 Discuss the Berlin airlift's cause and outcome.

The years immediately following World War II were years of great growth in aviation, particularly in the United States. When the war ended, the aviation industry in the United States was the largest manufacturing industry in the world. In the 62-month period between July 1940 and August 1945, nearly 300,000 aircraft were produced. Never before in history had an industry developed so rapidly.

The need for new and better aircraft for the military and larger and more modern aircraft for the commercial airlines resulted in tremendous advances in aeronautics. In the late 1940s, the military began converting to Jet fighters such as the F-80 and F-84. The B-29 was being replaced by the B-36. In the commercial field, the first four-engine transports (the DC-4, DC-6, and the Lockheed Constellation), developed during World War II for the military, now became available for the airlines. These aircraft could fly faster, had a range of over 3,000 miles, and inaugurated transatlantic and nonstop transcontinental flights. Research was being conducted by the military and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to develop better engines and faster and higher-performance aircraft. In October 1947, flying a Bell X-1, Capt. Charles Yeager broke the sound barrier flying at 760 mph.

The postwar years also saw general aviation grow to become a valuable asset. Thousands of former military pilots, and many other former servicemen who had seen the airplane perform during World War II, became the market for new light aircraft. The GI Bill of Rights allowed veterans to take flight training at government expense. This not only resulted in thousands of veterans becoming pilots but also in hundreds of flying schools being opened. The general aviation manufacturers, still led by Piper, Cessna, and Beech, built aircraft for flight training and for private ownership. The growth in general aviation also included new airports that had to be built; the training of mechanics and technicians needed to service the aircraft; the development, production, and storage of fuel required for these airplanes; and countless other socioeconomic factors which were directly related to this growth.

Despite the advances in civil aviation, the military situation dominated the field of aviation. The military services were reorganized in 1947, and the Army Air Corps became a separate service—the United States Air Force. The first priority given to the Air Force was that of nuclear deterrence. This mission was given to the Strategic Air Command (SAC). A revolutionary development in military aviation also occurred in 1947—the first night of the XB-47 Stratojet bomber. This was the first strictly operational jet bomber, and by 1951, it began to replace the B-36s.

Although the world was at peace, it was a very uneasy peace. In June 1948, the Soviet Union initiated the Berlin blockade, preventing any surface transportation into or out of the city. The peace treaty ending World War II divided the city of Berlin into four sectors, each controlled by one of the Allied nations (America, Britain, France, and Russia). In addition, the nation of Germany was divided into two parts—West Germany (controlled by Britain, France, and the United States) and East Germany (controlled by Russia). It so happened that Berlin was located inside East Germany, and all supplies for the sectors of Berlin which were controlled by Britain, France, and the United States had to be shipped through East Germany. The Berlin blockade was an attempt by Russia to take all of Berlin, and unless the blockade could be broken, the strategy would succeed. The answer to the blockade was the Berlin airlift.

While the Soviet Union dominated the land surrounding Berlin, it did not dominate the airways, and for 13 months, all of the supplies for the city were carried by the Air Forces of the United States and Britain. In all, 1,750,000 tons of supplies were carried in the world's greatest demonstration of carrying cargo by air. In May 1949, the Russians conceded that they could not Isolate Berlin, and they lifted the blockade.



At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.90 Describe the use of air power In the Korean War.
5.91 Describe the conditions placed on American aircraft by limited war in Korea.

On June 25, 1950, Communist North Korea invaded South Korea. This act of aggression would be the first test of the United Nations (U.N.) which was formed after World War II to ensure world peace. On June 27, the U.N. resolved that Its members would provide assistance to South Korea. However, it fell to the United States to do most of the fighting.

The initial advance of the North Korean Army was hafted by U.N. ground troops, supported by aircraft from the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. Fighting under cover of close air support, the U.N. forces pushed the North Koreans to the border of China by October of 1950. It appeared the war was over.

However, the Korean War now entered a new phase. Chinese Communist troops poured over the border and joined the North Koreans. At this point, the Chinese also committed their air force. The backbone of the Chinese Air Force was the Russian-built MIG-15 jet fighter. These jets proved superior to America's F-80 and F-84 jet fighters, and it was not until the arrival of the F-86 that the United States regained control of the air. The Chinese pilots operated with one tremendous advantage during the war—their airfields were located north of the Korean border in Manchuria. American planes were prohibited from bombing targets north of the Yalu River which marked the Korean-Manchurian border. This meant that the Communists could take off from their secure airfields, engage In combat over Korea, and then retreat safely back across the border. This restriction, along with many others, brought on a new term in aerial combat—limited war. Despite this advantage, American pilots proved superior. Nine MIGs were shot down for every U.N. aircraft lost during the war.

Once U.N. aircraft had regained control of the air over Korea, the aircraft used to provide close air-support and interdiction missions could operate almost at will. Close air support developed into a very precise art. Thousands of enemy troops were killed, and air power hampered the Communists' ability to move troops and supplies.

On July 27, 1953, an armistice was signed. The Korean War taught the United States a valuable lesson—its atomic arsenal alone was not enough to prevent the country's involvement in war. The United States learned that there were different levels of warfare and that the military had to have the strength and flexibility to participate in any and all of them.



At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.92 Discuss commercial jet aircraft development.

After Korea, commercial aviation boomed. New equipment like the DC-7 and the Lockheed Electra propjet allowed passengers to travel in more comfort and faster than ever before. However, the real revolution in commercial flight came about with the introduction of the commercial jet.

The British built the first commercial jet— the DeHavilland Comet and put it into service in 1952. In 1954, disaster struck two Comets; they disintegrated in flight as a result of metal fatigue. The problem was corrected, but the public fear of this aircraft lingered. Therefore, it was of no competition to American jets when they entered airline service.

Using knowledge gained in building the B-47 and B-52 jet bombers, the Boeing Company introduced the first American commercial jet—the 707—in 1958. The following year, the Douglas DC-8 went into service. Both aircraft were safer and carried twice as many passengers as propeller-driven airplanes. The major advantage which appealed to most passengers was the speed of the jets. For the first time, passengers could fly at 600 mph and at an altitude of 30,000 feet which was higher than where most adverse weather takes place and therefore be more comfortable.

The jets were an instant success, and in the 1960s, additional smaller jets like the Boeing 727 and 737 and the Douglas DC-9, were built to serve the shorter-range market
. These aircraft were not only a success in the United States but everywhere in the world. Soon airlines from other countries began ordering them. The American jets became the backbone of the commercial airlines of every nation in the free world.



At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

5.93 Explain aviation developments resulting from the post-Korean War Arms Race.

Immediately after the Korean War, the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union began. In 1949, the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb, and in 1953, they set off their first hydrogen bomb. This meant the United States had lost its monopoly on nuclear weapons. In order for America's policy of nuclear deterrence to work, the country had to stay ahead of the Soviet Union in developing methods of delivering these weapons to their targets. At the same time, the United States had to develop methods of preventing the Soviets from delivering their warheads on America. The result was the development of new bombers like the B-52 and B-58 as well as new fighters to counter the Soviet buildup in bombers. Also, the distant early warning (DEW) line of radars was built across Northern Canada. These radars would spot any incoming Soviet bombers and provide the United States with warning of their attack.


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Updated: 12 March, 2004