Reporting Tom Jordan
(video: Paul Pytlowany/CBS 62)
BELLVILLE (WWJ) - Willow Run, near Ypsilanti, Mich. was a manufacturing complex built for one purpose — to win the war.
Randy Hotton is a former navy captain – and former executive director of the Yankee Air Museum adjacent to Willow Run. “When the world was going to heck in a handbasket and the Germans had invaded the lowlands — the US was totally unprepared and Congress didn’t know what to do, but the President turned to Detroit,” he told WWJ’s Tom Jordan.
Hotton says — up until the war and the increasing domination of Germany — it took weeks to build a single airplane. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew that would have to change fast. He and the nation and possibly the world were counting on it.
“Roosevelt had elected that massive air power was the quickest way to end the war with the minimum loss of US lives,” Hotton continued.
So the president turned to Detroit and Ford Motor Company. Hotton said, ”Ford was given the B-24 bomber. Ford said I’m not going to build parts. I’m going to build whole airplanes.”
Keep in mind, Ford was not in the airplane building business — they were car manufacturers, building v-8 engines, not huge airplane engines. But it was their manufacturing experience that was so impressive to President Roosevelt. It was a risky proposition. A proposition that couldn’t fail.
Stressing the significance of this site Hotton explained, “This bomber plant is the manifestation of the miracle of American productivity. That when the chips were down — when they turned to Detroit to save the world.”
What many believed could not be done, was in fact completed at a remarkable pace. Ford’s assembly-line production methodically produced a B-24 bomber every hour. A total of 8,685. About half the entire fleet needed to fight and eventually win the war.
The historical significance of Willow Run is matched only by the enormity of the structures and the aircraft inside. And the facility is in danger of being torn down. It’s going to take a major effort and a lot of money to save it.
The original Willow Run plant was later over-taken by General Motors to build cars. Now, it’s scheduled to be demolished as part of the 2009 GM bankruptcy restructuring.
The Yankee Air Museum wants at least part of it saved. Mike Montgomery, Fundraising Consultant, Michigan Aerospace Foundation details the plan to do just that. ”We have a specific location and a specific amount. What we’re trying to preserve is both bays, the two big hangar doors where the bombers came out onto the airfield and about 250 feet of space behind each of those doors,” said Montgomery.
The Yankee Air Museum Foundation has raised less than half of the money needed to save the plant. And time is running out. Montgomery added, ”We need to raise $4.8 million more than what we have done already. At this point what it looks like will happen is that the portion of the plant we’re interested in will share the fate of the rest. There really is not a major museum focused on what we call the arsenal of Democracy story and this plant is itself an important part of that story and an artifact that warrants preservation.”
1941 is when Willow Run was first constructed. It’s been sitting there for 72 years and now there’s a deadline, August 1, 2013, to raise enough money to save this plant.
Learn more about how to help and where to make a donation to the cause.