Garden City, NY August 12, 2020 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and The Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center, with one of the most extensive collections of World War II aircraft and artifacts, is taking a look back at the aircraft and the people that made a difference in ending the war, including the “Yes We Can” Rosie the Riveters, who continue to inspire a generation of careers for women in STEM.
Long Island-built aircraft helped America win victory in World War II (1941-1945). American fighter operations were clearly dominated by Long Island-built airplanes. By 1945, over 100,000 people worked in the aviation industry on Long Island. Due to greatly increased production needs and a shortage of men for civilian jobs, thousands of women and minorities were integrated into the workforce for the first time working at Grumman, Republic, Brewster, and Sperry for the duration of the war, almost half of airplane builders were women. These aircraft, produced in huge numbers for the Army, Navy, and foreign governments, were of superior quality and had a major impact on the course of the war. From December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor), to August 14, 1945 (the end of the war), Long Island employees built over 32,000 aircraft. The war also had an impact on Long Island in terms of a large military presence, civilian defense, and the conditions the war imposed at home.
“ WWII created what we now call “the Greatest Generation”, and it’s the men and women of that generation that we celebrate at the Cradle through our exhibits and aircraft that we have on display. They serve as a tribute to the sacrifices made to help preserve the freedoms we cherish today.” – Andrew Parton, President, Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center
Through the museum’s exhibits and web site, visitors can learn the stories and the details about the planes, companies, and people involved in the war effort.
Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
Republic’s P-47 Thunderbolt was one of America’s greatest fighters of World War II. The aircraft was designed around the huge new R-2800 engine equipped with a turbo-supercharger to greatly increase high-altitude performance. Armed with eight .50 caliber machine guns, the P-47 carried more firepower than any other World War Two fighter and it was the largest and heaviest American single-seat fighter to see combat. The leading American aces in Europe flew P-47’s exclusively. In addition to establishing an impressive record as a high-altitude escort fighter, the P-47 gained recognition as a low-level fighter-bomber because of its ability to carry a heavy load of bombs and rockets and to absorb battle damage and keep flying. Over 15,500 planes were produced by a workforce predominantly women, at Republic Aircraft in Farmingdale. Republic turned out 28 P-47s per day. The plane on display was the last P-47 built, it was built as an “N” model and designed for long range use in the Pacific.
Built in 1941 Bethpage, NY as the TBF. On December 7, 1942, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the plane was renamed the “Avenger”, capable of carrying torpedoes, mines, bombs, and depth charges. The wings could fold for storage on aircraft carriers. Avenger helped destroy the Japanese Navy, ending an era of battleship warfare. Avengers were for the most part built by Grumman, consisting of 2,293 units. General Motors built 2,292 TBMs. An additional 4,664 were built as TBM-3 totaling 9,839. The TBM on exhibit was used as a fire-fighter water bomber in Oregon and flown to Bethpage, NY. It was refurbished by the museum’s restoration group over a six year period.
Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat
Built by Grumman on Long Island, the F4F-3 Wildcat, was a fixed wing fighter for the Navy and Marines. Grumman, the primary builder of the F4F-3, turned over production to General Motors to permit Grumman room to build Hellcats. The Wildcat was thus the only Navy fighter in production throughout the entire war. A total of 7898 were built. The F4F-3 Wildcat, on display in the museum, crashed in Lake Michigan during a carrier training exercise in 1944. The pilot had to abort an intended landing two feet above the flight deck not realizing after going full throttle that the tail hook caught an arresting wire breaking off the tail section and hurling the plane over the side. The pilot was rescued and the plane sunk. Recovered in 1990 by a salvage company the Wildcat was restored by the Grumman Retiree Group to its original condition taking eight years to complete.
Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat
The Navy’s best carrier based fighter during WWII, built by Grumman. The Hellcat was armed with six. 50cal machine guns as well as rockets. The wings folded flat against the fuselage to make maximum use of space aboard an aircraft carrier. Grumman began production in 1942 turning out one Hellcat per hour – 644 per month with a workforce of mostly women. The grand total of Hellcats built by Grumman through November 1945 was 12,275 all built at the Bethpage facility on Long Island. The Hellcat on display at the museum was delivered to the Navy in June 1945 just before Japan surrendered. The plane on display was based in San Diego, CA, Pensacola, FL, Norfolk, VA and Floyd Bennett Field, NY until 1948.
ROSIE THE RIVETERS
In five years, Americans built more than 300,000 aircraft for WWII. Long Islanders built 45,000 of them, a major contribution to Allied victory. It was one of the greatest industrial feats of our time. For the first time, manufacturing used assembly line techniques to build planes. Most of the workers, half of them women, worked tirelessly in hot noisy, cavernous factories producing much needed fighters and bombers. Without computers and robots, these aircrafts were cut and assembled by hand.
“I had a terrible time learning how to buck rivets. You start holding the bucking bar, which is a piece of metal, against the skin of the airplane. Your partner is shooting the rivets from the other side. Annie would shoot the gun and my bar would bounce all over the place.” Josephine Rachiele, LI Defense worker (Josephine just passed away in May 2020)
THE WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots)
1942 – Dec. 1944, The first group of American women to fly for the military were given the unique opportunity to fly the latest combat aircraft and they proved that women could fly as well as men could. These dedicated young women ferried fighters and bombers from factories to airfields where combat crews picked them up. They also test flew repaired aircraft and towed gunnery targets. More than 25,000 women applied to become WASPS. 1,830 were accepted for training but only 1,074 won their wings, several of whom were from Long Island. They were the last women to fly for the military for nearly forty years. Long Islanders include WASP Marjorie Gray, Betty Gillies, Kathryn “Sis” Fine, and Margaret Gilman.
CIVIL AIR PATROL
Many Long Islanders wanting to do their part during the war joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). Shocked at the sight of German submarine operation at will off the east coast, the office of Civil Defense established the CAP. CAP Squadrons were established at Westhampton Beach, Floyd Bennett Field and Roosevelt Field in 1942. These groups flew daily patrols searching for enemy submarines as well as survivors from torpedoed ships. Willa Brown was the first African American pilot of the CAP in 1942.
The Cradle of Aviation Museum & Education Center is home to over 75 planes and spacecraft representing over 100 years of aviation history and Long Island’s only Giant Screen Dome Theater. The museum recently reopened to the public in July. The health of its community and staff is its top priority. The museum’s safety preparedness plan can be found at www.cradleofaviation.org. The museum is located on Museum Row, Charles Lindbergh Blvd., in Garden City. Call (516) 572-4111 or visit www.cradleofaviation.org
Photos of Planes, People and Museum Exhibits available for download in Google Shared Drive . Please contact me with any issue in accessing Drive.
All photos are owned by the Cradle of Aviation Museum. Photo Credit to Cradle of Aviation Museum. Media has permission from Cradle of Aviation Museum for use in all forms across all platforms.
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