President Roosevelt stunned millions of listeners when he announced during a May 26, 1940, fireside chat that government must “harness the efficient machinery of America’s manufacturers” to produce 50,000 combat aircraft over the next 12 months to confront the “approaching storm” of global war. FDR’s goal exceeded the total of all planes built in the U.S. since the Wright brothers’ 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk, NC, and he challenged the aviation industry to match that number in succeeding years. As he spoke, the country had fewer than 3,000 warplanes in its arsenal, most obsolete.
The president and his advisers were convinced that long-range, high-altitude heavy bombers would be the decisive weapon in a war dominated by air power and industrial muscle. Their shopping list included 12,000 of these aerial battleships to attack Germany’s heartland, hammering military installations, bridges, factories, rail yards, fuel storage tanks and communications centers. The “heavies” of choice were the B-17 Flying Fortress from Boeing Airplane Co. and the B-24 Liberator from Consolidated Aircraft.