A fascinating story I heard from Mary Feik, born in 1924, the daughter of a blacksmith, who worked in aircraft engineering and maintenance from WWII onward. She was one of those who got into aviation after seeing a barnstormer in a Jenny. I got to hear her talk at the Vintage Aero Flying Museum’s 2009 fly-in. I liked her attitude as someone who worked with men and appreciated them, rather than getting offended at them all the time. I would call her a real lady.
She told of a designer, George Seabrook Wing, who found a way to make a high-shear rivet that only weighed half what other rivets did. There are so many rivets on the P-51 that this one little change saved enough weight to put an extra fuel tank on the planes, which meant they could fly all the way to Germany, guarding the big bombers. So a change in a rivet changed the course of the war.
With intercontinental flight being normal now, it is interesting to remember how short the reach of air power was in WWII. At the beginning of the war, stripped-down aircraft could be flown from the US to Britain, but it was only towards the end of the war that a bomber with useful payload could get from the US to Germany. And though you could get across Europe with bombs anytime during the war, the bomber was extremely vulnerable until fighters were able to use drop tanks to fly far enough to escort them.
In WWI, of course, air bases couldn’t be far from battle lines, as flights were measured in minutes, not hours.
Ewan tells a story of Hermann Goering with his aide, pointing out a bomber contrail, and saying that as long as it was alone, things were fine. If there came a day when one could see a fighter contrail weaving in and out of the bomber contrail, then the war would be lost.
A short time later, Goering saw a fighter contrail along with a bomber contrail, and exclaimed, “The war is lost.”