Posts Tagged ‘Clay Bedford’

Henry J. Kaiser’s dream of personal aircraft

posted on January 10, 2017

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

 

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Artwork from draft “Fly with Fleetwings: Kaiser-Craft” promotional brochure (never produced), circa 1950.

“Flying is a pleasure, even if it is for business!” For a man whose professional passions blurred with enjoying the fruits of one’s labor, this was Henry J. Kaiser’s dream of transportation in America as we entered peacetime after World War II.

During the war, Henry J. Kaiser was involved in a several military aviation manufacturing projects, and was briefly put in charge of the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation. Most of those projects went well, with the notable exception of the infamous “Spruce Goose.”

Aerial photo of Spruce Goose (H-4, Hercules Flying Boat), Long Beach, 1947.

Aerial photo of Spruce Goose (H-4, Hercules Flying Boat), Long Beach, 1947. Note shadow of dirigible from which photo was taken.

As early as 1942, Henry J. Kaiser proposed a massive fleet of giant cargo planes, figuring that they could have a better survival record than the Atlantic ship convoys were experiencing. Kaiser began a partnership with Howard Hughes and snagged a government contract. However, by early 1944 Kaiser withdrew from the project when nothing viable had been produced. Kaiser and Hughes parted ways, but Hughes doggedly persisted with his “Spruce Goose” monster airplane (it was actually made of birch plywood because of wartime restrictions on aluminum). It flew only once, on November 2, 1947, but was seen by the U.S. Senate as a boondoggle.

Henry J. Kaiser purchased a controlling interest in the aircraft manufacturer Fleetwings of Bristol, Penn., on March 29, 1943, as a division of Kaiser Cargo, Inc. During World War II, they developed the Model 23 Tandem and Model 33 trainers. They also designed the limited edition XBTK-1 torpedo bomber as a technical response to the need for smaller aircraft that could work well on compact aircraft carriers such as Kaiser’s CVE escort carriers.

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Hiller-copter in Modern Mechanix, December 1944

Fleetwings also produced a prototype XH-10 “Twirleybird” helicopter in 1945. Kaiser’s attraction to helicopters had been sparked earlier when he heard of Berkeley boy genius Stanley Hiller’s easy-to-fly gyrocopter; after Kaiser saw the young Hiller’s demonstrations, Hiller Aircraft became the Hiller-copter Division of Kaiser Cargo in 1944.  However, the next year Hiller and Kaiser’s partnership collapsed, at least partly because Kaiser refused to increase the Hiller-copter Division’s funding to levels required for full scale production.

But soon it was postwar civil, not military, aviation that fermented in Kaiser’s brain, and Henry J. Kaiser had grand plans.

An opening salvo came from an article titled “Still pioneering” in the Kaiser Richmond shipyard newspaper Fore ‘n’ Aft August 10, 1945, five days before the war’s end:

As concerns air travel, people who supposedly know say we are still in the pioneering stage. They agree it may be some time before every manjack of us has his own private plane, but ‘”the age of the air,” as Kaiser says, “has already begun…”  Kaiser foresees mass production of airplanes – and most of it in the west – with sales running up to 100,000 a year.

Clay Bedford [Kaiser Richmond shipyard manager] declared in 1944: “Think of a string of airports dotting the state every 15 miles in two great networks, connecting with air highways across the nation—each field equipped with inns and motels, restaurants, service and repair stations, hangars and clubrooms.

“Fantastic? Henry Kaiser doesn’t think so. He’s proposed to build a nation-wide network of 5,000 air terminals.”

Henry J. Kaiser at first test flight of experimental pusher "family" plane; designer Dean B. Hammond on left, H.V. Lindbergh on right, likely Oakland airport, 1946-02.

Henry J. Kaiser at first test flight of experimental pusher “family” plane; designer Dean B. Hammond on left, H.V. Lindbergh on right, likely at Oakland airport, February, 1946.

No long afterwards, the Associated Press wrote a story on February 7, 1946:

Henry Kaiser disclosed today he is well on the way to becoming an airplane manufacturer. He saw his first model plane given its test flight at the Oakland airport. The plane, tentatively called the Kaiser-Hammond, is a twin-tail, pusher type, single-engine craft, with a 40-foot wingspread. It will carry 1200 pounds.

The plane had been originally designed and developed by Emeryville, Calif., aeronautical engineer Dean Hammond in the mid-1930s. In 1936, Hammond partnered with noted aircraft designer Lloyd Stearman and formed the Stearman-Hammond Aircraft Corporation to build the Stearman-Hammond Y-1. High costs hampered sales, and production was interrupted by World War II. One design oddity was that the aircraft had no rudder; the tailplane fins were adjustable but not during flight. Turning was achieved by differential operation of the aileron and elevator.

In another article on the Kaiser-Hammond, Henry J. Kaiser was quoted as saying: “This is an automobile. Not a plane – it steers like a car and rides like one.”

But in the mid-to late 1940s, Henry J. Kaiser was heavily involved in many other projects, including his Kaiser-Frazer automobile company. His aviation ventures began to lose altitude, but he wasn’t quite done yet.

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Artwork from draft “Fly with Fleetwings: Kaiser-Craft”

A Fleetwings 51 airplane proposed around 1950 was his last stab at populating the skies. The all-metal plane would be powered by a 200-horsepower General Motors Model GM-250 radial engine.

By 1948, Fleetwings had been renamed Kaiser Metal Products, manufacturing a range of consumer products, including cabinets and dishwashers. However, Kaiser had kept the Fleetwings brand name alive for his civil aircraft projects.

A prototype brochure, “Fly with Fleetwings in a Kaiser-Craft,” sold the basic concept:

A preview or your personal plane, the Fleetwings 51… designed and built to serve your requirements for speed, comfort, safety, and economy, plus an entirely new concept in aviation–four passengers side-by-side.

Artwork from draft “Fly with Fleetwings: Kaiser-Craft”

Artwork from draft “Fly with Fleetwings: Kaiser-Craft”

Flying no longer requires the superman that it took to pilot the tricky craft of a few years ago. Aerodynamic advances have brought it within the reach of the average person. The Fleetwings 51 is a plane that any physically and mentally normal person can learn to fly.

In classic 1950s advertising prose that would humble Don Draper, the section “Flying is a pleasure, even if it is for business!” sold the dream:

Your personal plane will take you to the seashore or the mountains for weekends, quickly, without using up most of the time going and coming; pleasantly, without tiring hours of stopping and going, weaving in and out of traffic in a haze of exhaust smoke.

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Artwork from draft “Fly with Fleetwings: Kaiser-Craft”

It will take you to the far-away places where the best fishing and hunting a replaces too far away to reach often by other means in the time most people have available. Equipped with pontoons, it will take you to Canadian lakes seldom or never fished before. It will take you over more of the United States than you have ever been able to tour. It will enable you to visit friends and relatives so far away that you would otherwise never see them.

It will enable you to enjoy a summer change of scene when you can’t get away from the office, by providing quick commutation.

Alas, the Fleetwings 51 never took off, and there’s no evidence that Kaiser sought to further develop civil aviation. During that period Henry J. Kaiser’s beloved wife Bess was suffering from poor health, and she passed away March 14, 1951. Henry soon married Bess’ nurse Alyce, and Henry became much more involved in the operations of the rapidly-expanding Kaiser Permanente health care program.

 

Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2igBriQ

 

 

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Kaiser’s first labor attorney in the thick of union battles

posted on January 23, 2014

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Second in a series

In 1941, before the United States entered World War II, Henry J. Kaiser was already building cargo ships for the British war effort. Early on, labor jurisdiction issues loomed large, and Kaiser’s labor man Harry F. Morton had his hands full.

Before the shipyards opened, Kaiser representatives signed a closed-shop agreement with American Federation of Labor-affiliated unions and hired a handful of workers; when the yards began full operation, the thousands of new workers were required to join the AFL.

Because many of them were already members of Congress of Industrial Organizations-affiliated unions, they were subsequently discharged. The CIO filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board.

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Aerial photo, Todd-California Shipyard in Richmond, CA (later Permanente Metals shipyard #1), circa 1941

In a letter dated Dec. 6, 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor, Morton reported to Kaiser’s shipyard managers, Edgar Kaiser in Portland and Clay Bedford in Richmond, on this issue.

The “industry” side proposed a formal proportional allocation among the unions for journeyman jobs for welders, but this did not sit well with the nine AFL unions whose members included welders.

Eventually a compromise was reached in which welders in the shipyards would not be required to maintain membership in more than one union and that employment would not require purchase of a permit fee.[i]

Morton aligns with the AFL in closed shop fight

When the jurisdiction wars erupted again in 1943, Morton fought alongside the shipyard craft unions and received a landmark favorable ruling.

The U.S. government had charged that the Kaiser shipyards in Portland had acted unfairly in favoring the American Federation of Labor over the emerging, competitive, and radical CIO.

This time Congress’ help was called upon and passed what is known as the “Frey amendment” (named for head of the AFL Metal Trades Department, John P. Frey). The CIO lost on a technicality.

This ruling was crucial because it meant Henry J. Kaiser could run a closed shop in his shipyards, and production of ships for the war would not be jeopardized by struggles over workforce representation.

Morton read his victory telegram at a Metal Trades conference and declared: “And thus endeth another chapter in the history of the attempt of the National Labor Relations Board to break the union shop.”[ii]

Labor man tapped for aircraft plant

Corsairs in production line at Brewster Aviation.

Corsairs in production line at Brewster Aeronautical, circa 1943.

In late 1943 Morton moved back East as vice president of Industrial Relations for the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation. Brewster was manufacturing F3A-1 Corsair[iii] fighters, but had been ineptly run.

As a favor to the Navy Secretary, Kaiser agreed to try and turn the company around. Despite cost-cutting and improved output, Kaiser was delighted to turn the plant back over to Navy officials in May 1944.

While at Brewster, Morton continued to advise Kaiser on labor.  After reviewing a report by Industrial Relations Counselors[iv] on the then-new steel mill in Fontana, Calif., Morton sent a telegram to Kaiser executive Eugene Trefethen Jr.:

“I did not advocate a closed shop provision for the Fontana contract, but I did object to IRC’s recommendation that “. . . the company resist any demands of the union for a closed shop or union shop contract.”

“This is so foreign to all of Mr. Kaiser’s fundamental beliefs and public utterances that I could not let it go unchallenged . . . I violently disagree with the fundamental approach of IRC to labor problems.

“It is the approach of AT&T, Bethlehem, DuPont, G.E., General Motors, Standard [Oil] of New Jersey, U.S. Rubber and U.S. Steel, but not of Kaiser.

“It is my conviction that a large part of Brewster’s trouble is the result of IRC thinking and approach, and I am confident that what is needed is less IRC and more Kaiser thinking and approach in labor relations.[v]

Morton active after war ends

In early 1945, Morton briefed Kaiser on a meeting he’d had with Charles MacGowan, president of the Boilermakers union, a group that was influential (and controversial) in Kaiser’s wartime shipyards.

The subject was the merger of the American Federal of Labor with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. MacGowan opposed the merger. Morton advised Kaiser:

“I pass these suggestions on to you for what they may be worth. Personally, I don’t believe they are worth much, as [Philip] Murray and [William] Green had agreed to this once before and the agreement was later repudiated.[vi]

Green (AF of L) and Murray (CIO) both died in 1952; it would not be until 1955 that the two labor organizations would merge under the leadership of George Meany. The AFL-CIO Murray-Green award received by Henry J. Kaiser in 1965 was named for them.

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Carl Brown (left), president of the Independent Foremen’s Association of America, confers with Harry F. Morton while representing Kaiser-Frazer. UPI newspaper photo, 2/19/1949.

The last known records of Morton’s career reflect his negotiation with employees at the Kaiser-Frazer automobile plant. One of the provisions of the recently enacted landmark Taft-Hartley Act removed any legal obligation to bargain with foremen; Morton felt that they should keep faith with the foremen, and the Ford Motor Company managers felt they should not.

Harry F. Morton’s full story remains to be told. We lose sight of him in our research after the early 1950s. However, he now is recognized as a significant factor in shaping the climate of positive labor relations that characterizes Henry J. Kaiser’s legacy.

<http://www.ircounselors.org/about.html>

Short link to this story: http://bit.ly/19R0OiK


[i] Harry F. Morton correspondence to Edgar F. Kaiser and Clay Bedford, December 6, 1941; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 9, folder 12.

[ii] Speech by Harry F. Morton, in Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, September 27, 1943.

[iii] The Brewster F3A was an F4U “Corsair” built by Brewster for the U.S Navy; Chance-Vought created and built the Corsair, which also was built under contract by Goodyear.

[iv] In the wake of the horrific Ludlow Massacre in the Colorado minefields of 1917, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., created a labor-management think tank that today is known as Industrial Relations Counselors, Inc. <http://www.ircounselors.org/about.html>

[v] Telegram from Harry F. Morton to Eugene Trefethen Jr., about IRC report on Fontana, October 1, 1943; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 19, folder 25.

[vi] Interoffice memo, Fleetwings Division of Kaiser Cargo [aviation manufacturing, Bristol, PA], from Harry F. Morton to Henry J. Kaiser in New York, January 22, 1945; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 151, folder 12.

 

 

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