The PT-1, produced by the Air Service in 1925, established the basic design for primary trainers into the World War II period.
The Consolidated NY trainer could land on both water and land.
The Commodore flying boat could carry 20 passengers.
The 1932 Fleetster incorporated the NACA cowling.
The OA-10 is the Army Air Forces version of the PBY series of seaplanes and amphibians flown extensively by the Navy during World War II.
The B-24 bomber offered tricycle landing gear for the first time. It first flew in late December 1939.
The B-32 "Dominator" was flown in the last days of World War II.
The Vultee BT-13B "Valiant" was the basic trainer most widely used by the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.
The Vultee A-31 "Vengeance" was the U.S. Air Corps designation for the V-72 delivered to France and Britain under Lend Lease.
France and Britain used the Vultee V-72 "Vengeance" as a dive bomber during World War II.
B-36 H in flight. Note the dual radomes on the tail turret, a characteristic of the -H and -J model's improved fire control radar system.
Takeoff of a B-36J. This was the last production B-36.
Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation
Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation was formed in March 1943 with the merger of Consolidated Aircraft and Vultee Aircraft corporations. Both companies had been operating independently for more than a year under the umbrella of the Aviation Corporation (AVCO). Soon the merged company would be known as Convair.
Consolidated Aircraft was formed on May 29, 1923, by Major Reuben Fleet. It was one of the first aircraft firms to be formed by acquiring assets of existing firms. Fleet took over Gallaudet Aircraft's business and acquired the rights to Dayton-Wright Company designs from General Motors, which had left the aviation business.
Fleet had served as a pilot in the U.S. Army and had organized the Army airmail service in 1918. He was an excellent salesman and used his Army Air Service contacts to get business. The Army and Navy, as well as overseas militaries, ordered his PT-1 and NY trainers. More than 200 of various models were built, which remained popular into the mid 1930s.
In 1927, the U.S. Congress targeted Consolidated for earning "excess profits" of $300,000 on trainer production. But, resourcefully, rather than refund the money, Consolidated supplied an additional 50 trainers to the Army for one dollar each. This pleased the Army because it got the planes while any refund would have gone into the Treasury.
Consolidated went public in early 1929, and Fleet organized Fleet Aircraft, Inc., a subsidiary of Consolidated, to manufacture the Fleet biplane trainer for the civilian market. Fleet acquired Thomas-Morse in August 1929. Another successful plane was the Consolidated XPY-1 Commodore, a large monoplane flying boat. It could carry 20 passengers in three spacious cabins for a distance of about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers). Consolidated also built the Fleetster, an eight-seat all-metal transport with a NACA cowling, one of the most popular light civil aircraft, in 1932.
In late 1935, because of problems testing the flying boats in frigid Buffalo, New York, weather, Fleet moved to San Diego, California, and continued to develop flying boats for the Navy and the P-30 pursuit plane for the Army. Chief engineer I.M. Laddon directed the development of the XP3Y-1, the predecessor to the famous wartime PBY Catalina, which flew later that year. In 1937, the Navy ordered 60 P3Y-1s, later the PBY-1, for $22 million, the largest single military aircraft order since World War I. The larger XPB2Y-1 Coronado flying boat, first flown in December 1937, saw limited service in the war.
As the country geared up for war, the Air Corps approached Fleet in 1939 about becoming a second manufacturer for the Boeing B-17 bomber. Fleet instead proposed to develop the B-24, a new, more advanced bomber. In March 1939, Consolidated received a contract for a prototype B-24. The B-24, while similar to the B-17 in overall dimensions and power, was quite different. It had a high-aspect-ratio cantilevered wing, a fuselage with a large bomb-carrying capacity, and for the first time on a large aircraft, tricycle landing gear. Consolidated developed the B-24 in nine months and it first flew in late December 1939. It became Consolidated's major product and would prove to be one of the outstanding aircraft of World War II.
In late 1941, under increasing pressure to sell his interest in Consolidated and retire, Fleet sold his 34 percent stock holding to Vultee Aircraft, an AVCO company, for $10 million, ending the independent Consolidated Aircraft Corp.
The second predecessor to Consolidated Vultee was Vultee Aircraft, Inc. Gerard "Jerry" Vultee and Vince Breese had started Airplane Development Corporation in early 1932 after American Airlines showed great interest in their six-passenger V-1 design. Soon after, Erret Cord bought all 500 shares of stock in the company and Airplane Development Corporation became a Cord subsidiary. AVCO then established the Aviation Manufacturing Corporation (AMC) in 1934 through the acquisition of Cord's holdings including Vultee's Airplane Development Corporation. AMC was liquidated on January 1, 1936 and Vultee Aircraft Division was formed as an autonomous subsidiary of AVCO. Vultee acquired the assets of the defunct AMC, including Lycoming and Stinson. Vultee Aircraft, Inc. was created in November 1939, when Vultee Aircraft Division of AVCO was reorganized as an independent company.
Meanwhile, Vultee and Breese had redesigned the V-1 to meet American Airlines' needs and created the eight-passenger V-1A. American purchased 11 V-1As, but the plane ultimately failed due to safety concerns about a single-engine plane and the advent of the twin-engine Douglas DC-2s and DC-3s. Vultee redesigned the V-1 into the V-11 attack aircraft for the Air Corps, but it too received few orders.
Unfortunately, before he could see Vultee become an independent company, Jerry Vultee and his wife died in a plane crash in the California mountains. Richard Millar succeeded Vultee, and Vultee Aircraft, Inc. began to develop advanced military designs. Its major production programs, however, were the BT-13 Valiant trainer and V-72 Vengeance, serving as the A-31 and A-35.
On March 17,1943, Consolidated and Vultee officially merged, creating Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, popularly known as Convair. The Vultee management resigned, and Victor Emanuel of AVCO, who controlled the company, hired Tom Girdler as chairman, Harry Woodhead as president, and I.M. Laddon as executive vice president and general manager.
In 1944, the Navy began developing a surface-to-air missile (SAM), known as Project Bumblebee. Convair was one of the companies selected to produce the SAMs and in 1953, began producing the first all-rocket SAMthe Terrier. In the future, Convair would continue producing SAMs such as the Terrier, Tartar, and the famous Atlas.
Throughout the war, Convair had an outstanding production record, delivering more than 28,000 completed aircraft between Pearl Harbor and V-J Day. Production of the B-24 alone totaled 10,708 planes. Convair produced a total of 2,140 PBY planes, more than any other flying boat or amphibian, and was famous for its rescues of aviators in the Pacific.
After the war, Convair had a development contract for the first, big new bomber after the war, the B-36. The first intercontinental bomber, it could carry up to 72,000 pounds (32,659 kilograms) of bombs and 16 crewmembers, had two pressurized compartments, and could fly 12,000-mile (19,312-kilometer) missions. The first flight of the B-36A was on August 28, 1947. It was ordered into production in 1948 at the Fort Worth, Texas, plant, and through 1954, a total of 285 B-36s were built.
However, it soon became clear that Convair was having problems. Its CV-240 airliner, developed from the Model 110, began service in June 1948 but experienced problems. Further, production of the B-36 was not proceeding smoothly and while the B-46 four-engine bomber appeared to be a successful design, the military ordered the North American B-45 instead.
On April 12, 1946, Reuben Fleet resigned from Convair, ending his involvement with the company he built. Victor Emanuel eventually brought stability to Convair, but by that time he was ready to dispose of the company and leave the industry. Convair interested Floyd B. Odlum, a multimillionaire aviation investor, and in 1946 through his Atlas Corporation, Odlum began buying Avco Manufacturing Corporation (the renamed Aviation Corporation) stock. On September 4, 1947, after negotiating with Emanuel, Odlum swapped all of his Avco stock for all of Convair's aviation operations in San Diego, Fort Worth, and Detroit. Odlum's Atlas Corporation took control of Convair in November 1947.
Odlum replaced Harry Woodhead, in 1948 with La Motte T. Cohu. Odlum returned Convair to profitability in 1949, benefiting from a buildup in military orders.
Under Odlum, Convair established leadership in delta-wing design. In September 1948, the XF-92A delta design first flew. It was intended as an Air Force interceptor but was used only for research. However, because of its design, in 1950 Convair received a contract for the advanced supersonic F-102 Delta Dagger. Another delta wing development was the XF2Y-1 Sea Dart for the Navy. First flown in April 1953, it was an experimental amphibious fighter with retractable "hydro-skis" that extended for takeoff and landing.
Convair used the CV-240 as a basis for the T-29 trainer and it enjoyed a nice production run. The redesigned civilian CV-340 first flew in October 1951 and became a bestseller.
Even with its success, Odlum wanted to merge Convair or sell it completely. He met with numerous people including the eventual acquirer, John Jay Hopkins of Electric Boat. Discussions in 1951 led to their 1953 agreement. The two firms officially merged on April 29, 1954, with the renamed Electric Boat, General Dynamics, creating its Convair Division. As well as its aircraft manufacturing, the Convair Division would be a major participant to the American space program.
References and Further Reading:
Ambrose, Stephen E. The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Bilstein, Roger E. The American Aerospace Industry: From Workshop to Global Enterprise. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.
_____________. Flight In America: From the Wrights to the Astronauts, Revised Edition. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
Franklin, Roger. The Defender: The Story of General Dynamics New York: Harper 7 Row Publishers, 1986.
Pattillo, Donald M. Pushing the Envelope: The American Aircraft Industry. Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 1998.
"General Dynamics – Aviation and Aerospace Milestones." 2001. General Dynamics. http://www.generaldynamics.com/overview/history/aviation/aviation_as.htm
"History of General Dynamics" 2001. General Dynamics. http://www.generaldynamics.com/overview/history/Default.htm
"Thomas K. Finletter." 2001. United States Air Force. http://www.af.mil/news/biographies/finletter_te.html
"Aviation Heritage Golden Age Short Stories." 2001. Aviation-Heritage. http://www.aviation-heritage.com/eZine/Col04.htm
"Project Bumblebee." http://www.xsouth.freeserve.co.uk/project_bumblebee.htm
"The Bumblebee Project." 1998. Evan D. Nau. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~buzznau/bmblbee.html
"Vultee ‘Lady Peace'" 2001. Aerofiles. http://www.aerofiles.com/ladypeace.html.