Saturday, February 6, 2016


                                                      Charles de Gaulle

      When the Kansas aircraft industry was getting its real start, and the clouds of war were looming over the world, there was a definite reason for locating aviation here.  Since aircraft innovation and advancement were already a major part of life in the state it would be natural for it to be here.  The location in the center of the country for security was another.  The conditions for flight in the Midwest was another.  But one major reason was the workforce.
      It was considered that the potential workforce that consisted of farmers, who had a knack for problem solving, and young people would be ideal to train.  The bad habits or idiosyncrasies of traditional manufacturing areas was thought to be harder to break in the need of innovation and work customs.
     The history of Kansas is full of farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters, and craftsmen that dreamed big dreams and solved problems.  And as the manufacturing of aircraft and many other things developed here, this proved to be sound thinking.  Even if the owner of Boeing was not thrilled with the scenery of Kansas over Seattle.
     It has been common knowledge that during NASA's hay day, when innovation was the order of the day, that comments were made to "send that problem up to Wichita and let those farmers figure it out".  They were not wrong. 
     There were times that the Wichita aircraft plants would arrange for vacations or time off to be taken during wheat harvest.  Many plant employees were farmers that worked the city job and went home to farm.  Aircraft employees were known to drive from as far as Blackwell OK and Anthony Kansas and further for the regular wages and benefits.
      As is well known, at least locally, there have always been ups and downs in the aircraft industry.  One innovator was Beech Craft, and during the foreseen end of World War Two, they could see that the seeming unlimited orders from the government were going to end.  So they were looking for things to fill the gap between war and peace.
      Beech was working on two Dodge reconnaissance vehicles for the Army that were gas/electric hybrids.  Sounds familiar?  They were an all wheel drive unit powered by a small air cooled aircraft engine powering an electric generator.  Each wheel was powered by electric motors.  This eliminated the transmission, drive shaft, differentials, and weight.  The units could operate easily on a 45 degree angle.
      With VE day the engineering department was instructed to take this technology and apply it to a civilian automobile.  Just imagine the automotive industry today with the big names GM, Ford, Dodge, Beech Craft.
      The prototype became the Plainsman.  It featured a lot of aircraft design,  including all aluminum frame and body.  Spacious interior for six adults, great visibility, and top speed of 160 MPH, 25 MPG, and 30 MPG in town.  Although the projected price put it in the $4000, to 5,000 dollar range (the range of the Rolls Royce) there would have been a definite market niche for it.  And besides when the farmers got done putting it into production the cost would have come down.
     Many of the features makes me wonder why a lot of this 1946 technology is not being used today in cars?  But then if farmers ran the auto industry it would have a different face on it today.
     Think of how Washington would be if farmers were called in to fix things there?

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