National Geographic : 1944 Aug
Gliders-Silent Weapons of the Sky So American industrialists came to the rescue. Using the Waco design, the Gibson Elec tric Refrigerator Corporation of Greenville, Michigan; the newly formed Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation, Minneapolis, Min nesota; Pratt, Read & Co., Inc., Deep River, Connecticut, furniture manufacturers; and a few other similar concerns went into the glider business. Other firms became subcontractors, such as Anheuser-Busch, Inc., St. Louis brewers, and the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co., Chicago billiard-table makers, which turned parts of their plants over to making steel glider frames. The H. J. Heinz Company, Pitts burgh; Grand Rapids Industries, Inc., Michi gan furniture group; and Steinway & Sons, New York, piano firm, began to make glider wings. Later, when the Army's demand for gliders doubled and tripled, the Ford Motor Com pany converted its big station-wagon plant at Iron Mountain, Michigan, into a glider factory. Today it is the biggest producer in the country. Typical example of the ingenuity and drive which enabled American business to meet the Army's glider needs is revealed in the his tory of the Northwestern Aeronautical Cor poration. First Contract for 30 Gliders This infant company, which grew out of a small aircraft factory in Kansas, was organ ized by John E. Parker, New York and Wash ington banker with much experience in air craft financing. The Kansas factory had made small planes for civilian pilot training. Its work in that field,, because of the war, was drawing to a close. Early in 1942, Northwestern received an Army contract for 30 gliders, to be delivered during the year. On the surface this sounded reasonable enough. But the contract stipulated that no workers were to be hired from airplane fac tories and that least critical materials were to be used. In March the contract was increased to 84 gliders and a short time later to 300, all for 1942 delivery. To complicate matters further, machine tool firms, caught in the wartime jam, were unable to deliver manufacturing equipment to Northwestern. Today the firm has built 900 CG-4A gliders and supplied spare parts equivalent to 100 more. It has retooled and, together with the Ford Motor Company, has gone into produc tion on the big CG-13A glider. From a handful of employees the company payroll has grown to more than 2,500, with an additional 2,500 working for Northwestern's two principal subcontractors, a lumber com pany which makes wings, and a machine shop which makes steel frames. Workers Recruited from All Walks of Life To solve the labor problem, Northwestern hired anyone who wanted to work. People from all walks of life applied, and nearly everyone made good. One of the company's top wing inspectors formerly was a hotel waiter. Two orchestra leaders, a chiropractor, a violin maker, a bond salesman, a music teacher, a minister, a school teacher, several cabinetmakers, a former bank president, a civil engineer, and a palm reader took jobs and stuck with them. The efficient shipping clerk is an ex bartender. The solemn director of purchases, who now buys two million dollars' worth of materials each month, formerly was a Minne apolis undertaker. All employees started from scratch with out knowledge of the business in which they are now engaged, except Robert Whittingham, production manager. How he got his job is a story in itself. Almost as soon as Parker got settled in Minneapolis, he had to rush to Washington on company business. He returned late one night and hurried to the lumber company's planing mill, transformed into a glider ply wood-wing plant. Wings for the company's first glider were due at Northwestern's as sembly plant the next morning. When Parker got to the plant, he found men struggling to get one of the big wings from the second story to a waiting truck in the street. Today such a procedure is ridicu lously easy. To complete the first wing and then get it out of the building was a definite engineering problem. As Parker stood watch ing, an employee approached him. "You'd better send Bob home," he said, pointing to a man near by. "He's been at work for 60 hours now and I'm afraid he'll crack up." Parker went over to Bob, who turned out to be a wing supervisor named Robert Whit tingham. "You'd better go home," Parker told him. "I said I'd stay till this wing got to North western, and I mean to," Bob replied in such tones of finality that the conversation ended. Five hours later the pair of wings had been loaded at last, despite a last-minute holdup caused by a hailstorm. Bob started to board one of the trucks.