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Design & Engineering: Building a Plane an Hour!

B-24 Assembly Line (image courtesy of

B-24 Assembly Line (image courtesy of

As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, we pause to take a look at one of the engineering achievements of World War II.  In early 1941, the federal government sought to build a manufacturing plant for one of its newest planes – the B-24 Liberator.  The Ford Motor company joined the program and built to Willow Run Bomber Plant near Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The proportions of the factory were staggering.  It had more than 3,500,000 square feet of production space and an aircraft assembly line over a mile long.

At peak production, the factory turned out 650 B-24′s per month (or an average of about one plane per hour!) and a total of 6,972 B-24 Liberators were produced at Willow Run.  A total of 18,482 Liberators were built by 5 different manufacturers.  The overwhelming number of planes in the US Army Air Force helped turn the tide in World War II.

Today, there are fewer than 20 B-24s remaining in various states – only 2 of which are considered airworthy.  Most of the planes were destroyed or parked in aircraft boneyards after World War II as the US decreased its airborne capabilities after the War nearly as quickly as the ramp-up during the War.

70 years later as we remember the importance of D-Day, we also reflect on the amazing manufacturing capabilities and the ability of US engineers and manufacturers to meet the needs of a world at war.

As a side note, the Yankee Air Museum is looking to relocate to the site of the Willow Run plant.  Check out their website here.

To learn more about the history of the B-24 program, check out The Arsenal of Democracy by A.J. Baime.

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