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JohnT

Why didn't the UK licence Spitfire production in the USA?

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I saw Black Knights USAAC Hurricane 1 What If today and that got me wondering.  The UK bought Curtis P-40's from the US together with Airacobra and sundry other types most of which were sub par for the European theatre.  I had a quick squint at performance figures for the P-40, Hurricane and Spitfire marks that were roughly contemporary.  It got me thinking why didn't the UK Government get Vickers Supermarine to do a licencing agreement in the US to mass produce Spitfires for them rather than buy Tomahawks and stuff that was handed on to the USSR?

 

Maybe resistance by the UK manufacturers?  Or US ones? Maybe the Spitfire didn't lend itself to US production methods or maybe no one thought to ask???  I know that North American did the P-51 rather than manufacture the P-40 on licence from Curtiss but was there other capacity in the USA before Pearl Harbor to use US production facilities?  I confess I don't know the answer :shrug:

 

Any thoughts or ideas out there.?

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The Spitfire was not an easy aircraft to build.

afair it took Castle Bromwich about 3 years to get to the point of building in decent quantities

CCF never managed to build a great many Hurricanes

also the US makers have a rather parochial vision - 'if we didn't design we ain't building it.' They never liked building the DH4 in WW1 and kept changing it (in small ways) to make it more 'American'. 

By the time the US fully entered war and the factories were building in quantity I think there was little extra capacity for building a new factory, setting up tooling et al for yet another short range fighter

At the time the P40 and early P51 were bought the UK was, or thought they were, desperate for more fighters for defence. A low grade fighter now is more use than a better one in six months time.

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None of the US aircraft companies wanted it, the USAAC didn't want to get foreign manufacturers any kind of "in".  It just wasn't going to happen.

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5 minutes ago, Graham Boak said:

None of the US aircraft companies wanted it, the USAAC didn't want to get foreign manufacturers any kind of "in".  It just wasn't going to happen.

Yes Graham.  That idea had crossed my mind as a likely cause too.  One suspects the Canberra and Harrier only made it into the US  because there was nothing really that comparable/decent on offer at the time.  ( I was reading that the US pumped quite a lot of development cash into the Harrier and the Pegasus engine - didn't know that - apologies for thread drift there)

 

 

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10 minutes ago, Black Knight said:

 

also the US makers have a rather parochial vision - 'if we didn't design we ain't building it.'

I wondered.  Mind you Packard pumped out a fair few merlin engines.  Different product and more open manufacturer perhaps???

 

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Also remember the Spitfire wasn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread as far as the air ministry were concerned, at least before BoB.  Supermarine were supposed to build the contracted Spits and then become a contractor building others designs (Beaufighter?).  
Had Mitchell lived he may have looked to a new improved fighter and the Spitfire not developed much further - like Camm whose Hurricane was left more or less as is whilst Hawker moved on to the Tornado, Typhoon, Tempest and Fury.

As for the US, their fighters seemed more than adequate to meet the brief they were designed for; until others combat experience showed that fighting would happen at higher altitudes and/or that manoeuvrability could be a trump card after 7 Dec 1941.

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Perhaps, but Packard had closer links to Rolls Royce. 

They had already been building versions of RR car engines for US Rolls Royce Cars

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There's quite a long history of US companies producing arms for European powers in wartime, and in most cases it was not a simple experience for customers and manufacturers. And we're talking simple stuff like rifles, not complicated stuff like aircraft...

Setting up a production line for something takes time and having that something made to the required standard takes even more time. This assuming that any company would have been interested in building Spitfires for the UK and that the US government would have allowed it.

The P-40 may have been inferior to the Spitfire but it was immediately available, it was just a matter of ordering the desired quantity and wait for production to be completed, with no need to setup a new production line for a novel type with the inevitable delays. By buying an existing type it was also possible to ask the US for the diversion of existing orders to make delivery even faster, something that would have been impossible with a license built type.

In any case the P-40 did its job as allowed the RAF to build up numbers in less critical theatres without having to move Spitfires from Britain when they were most needed. Something that in the end worked pretty well

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Another reason might be that the Spitfire was designed for point defence in the UK, a small island. Consider the hugeness of the USA.  The Spitfire simply didn't have the range that I suspect the USAAC wanted & needed.  There is the matter of 'Not Invented Here' too.  I seem to remember reading that Ford declined to build Merlins because of some anti-empire views held by Henry (I might be wrong here)/

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2 minutes ago, Jonny said:

Another reason might be that the Spitfire was designed for point defence in the UK, a small island.

 

Very good point. The Spitfire was designed specifically to be a short range interceptor, and it was this that constrained its development and how it was utilised later in the war.

 

The US wanted US aircrew flying US aircraft as well. Early in the US involvement in the war this was almost certainly a morale thing for people back in the States and also to increase mobilisation of the aircraft manufacturing industry. The Yanks in Yank planes things was the reason why the AAF was so terribly keen on getting the 4th FG out of Spitfires and on P-47Cs. It was a PR thing and was the reason why people like Blakeslee were not entirely initially happy with the idea.

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3 minutes ago, Jonny said:

Another reason might be that the Spitfire was designed for point defence in the UK, a small island. Consider the hugeness of the USA.  It simply didn't have the range that I suspect the USAAC wanted & needed.  There is the matte of 'Not Invented Here' too.  I seem to remember reading that Ford declined to build Merlins because of some anti-empire views he;ld by Henry (I might be wrong here)/

Jonny

i agree about the range issue though was thinking more of production to meet RAF needs rather than those of the USAAC. I can’t imagine the USAAC using British aircraft other than where there was little or no option. Photo recon Spits, Mossies and night fighter Beaufighters come to mind. 
 

I tend to think that “not invented here” might have played a part assuming that the UK had ever asked in the first place  I suspect they didn’t but if they had then it might have been a stumbling block. 
 

Henry Ford had some very odd and unpalatable ideas. 
 

On reflection I think the main reason is most likely the urgent demand for something, anything and now rather than wait several months while production lines were set up. 
 

 

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3 hours ago, Black Knight said:

CCF never managed to build a great many Hurricanes

 

CC&F built 1451 Hurricanes between 1940 and 1942. Not too shabby for a factory that hadn't built that many aircraft before.

 

 

 

Chris

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1 hour ago, JohnT said:

. . . i agree about the range issue though was thinking more of production to meet RAF needs rather than those of the USAAC. I can’t imagine the USAAC using British aircraft other than where there was little or no option. Photo recon Spits, Mossies and night fighter Beaufighters come to mind. . . . 

What about the early Mk.I the USAAC got for testing?

USAAC%20Spitfire%20Mk.1%2C%2014s-M.jpg

:hmmm::lol:

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18 minutes ago, Black Knight said:

What about the early Mk.I the USAAC got for testing?

USAAC%20Spitfire%20Mk.1%2C%2014s-M.jpg

:hmmm::lol:

:D:clap2:

nice. Funny but the Hurricane looks more “right” in those colours than the Spit and both look years ahead of any “real” aircraft I’ve seen in those colours. 
what next? Defiant?:whistle:

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Maybe, but they also tried out a Messerschmitt 109 D(a)

USAAC%20109%2C%2011s-S.jpg

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1 hour ago, Black Knight said:

Maybe, but they also tried out a Messerschmitt 109 D(a)

USAAC%20109%2C%2011s-S.jpg

:yikes:  

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There was a fly-off between a Spitfire I and an XP-40, in May, 1940, at RCAF Station Uplands. Two RCAF pilots flew the XP-40 and two USAAC pilots flew the Spit.

 

 

 

Chris

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The P-40 had to operate from desert, temperate, tropical and Arctic locations with little or no modification, and it needed the range and ruggedness to operate in the Pacific. It did all these things. This made it cruder and heavier than a Spitfire, but met the USAAF requirements, where the Spitfire did not. The Spitfire is the finer machine no doubt, but it would not have done well in the Aleutians.

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There is another point that could have proven more important, had things ever reached so far.   Spitfire was designed to British construction standards, which allowed a lower maximum load factor than the US standards.  This is why the Mustang was later redesigned to British standards - see XP-51F and G, and even the H?  It was perhaps another reason why the British generally found US aircraft to be surprisingly heavy and poor climbers.

 

However, the Spitfire did operate in all climes (I'd back the Russian Arctic against the Aleutians) and even off carriers, if less ideally.  So a wider range of demonstrated operational capability than the P-40, if anything.   Although Allison made much of the value of their downdraught carburettor in dusty/sandy conditions, as opposed to the Merlin's updraft, from RAF experience in the Western Desert this did not provide anything like the benefit claimed, and a Spitfire with a filter still outperformed the P-40, which was after all the key need.

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Interesting stuff and much learned by me at least.  Having said that the thrust of the topic was not so much as "why didn't they US make Spitfires for themselves?" and more "Why didn't the UK Government go to the USA and ask "Can anyone mass build Spitfires in various marks as they develop in their thousands for us please?"  I think the posters above have explained why this didn't happen.

 

It occurred to me that good old money gets in the way too.  I reckon the US would have been happy to lend lease their own home designed products but not licence built stuff.  There was a posh on by 1939-40 to expand the home market and manufacturing/design in the US and building a foreign aircraft on licence would not move that forwards as much as say an indigenous design.  

 

I always figured that the P-40 was perhaps the US equivalent of the Hurricane.  ie useful aircraft but just lacking that wee bit as the design concept was not quite there as state of the art by 1940-41

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I suspect it was down to nobody even considering the possibility.

 

In any case, when the British Purchasing Commission went to the US with their cheque book they needed delivery yesterday, so it was a case of what have you got now, and we'll take up all those French contracts while we're at it.

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4 hours ago, Graham Boak said:

There is another point that could have proven more important, had things ever reached so far.   Spitfire was designed to British construction standards, which allowed a lower maximum load factor than the US standards.  This is why the Mustang was later redesigned to British standards - see XP-51F and G, and even the H?  It was perhaps another reason why the British generally found US aircraft to be surprisingly heavy and poor climbers.

Yes, this is exactly it - the USAAF required much more robust aircraft, which led to poorer flight performance, but allowed aircraft to be stationed anywhere at any time.

 

4 hours ago, Graham Boak said:

However, the Spitfire did operate in all climes (I'd back the Russian Arctic against the Aleutians) and even off carriers, if less ideally.  So a wider range of demonstrated operational capability than the P-40, if anything.

Yes, but the Spitfire required modification to do so - even the landing gear had to be modified for concrete flight strips. The conditions in the Aleutians were much harsher than the Russian Arctic, no fixed fields and worse (although slightly warmer) weather - just more wind, storms and fog and much greater distances between airfields. The Spitfire would not have been operable. The Russian Arctic where the Spitfire operated is more the equivalent of Fairbanks, but with much more infrastructure.

 

Eric Bergerud in Fire in the Sky, quotes Gen Ben Kelsey, chief of the USAAF Fighter Project:

 

"Sequential planes coming from a factory might be assigned to Alaska, or Panama, Florida or Arizona...The planes automatically included provisions for operating in any or all of these surroundings. That versatility was unique in this country...I had occasion to take a Spitfire Mark V from Wright Filed to Los Angeles and back. Because of its limited range, it was necessary to land at a...number of..fields. The cooling on the ground at some fields was inadequate to permit taxiing from landing to the service area...Long runways on high altitude desert fields involved crosswind taxiing where the breaks faded away and required readjusting. The marginal stability that added so much to the superb maneuvering of the plane for combat and short flights became tiring and uncomfortable on long flights in rough air. The plane that was superior in all aspects in its own country would not have met our standards or been accepted unless modified...The other side of the picture has been revealed too. Our planes were not considered desirable when evaluated abroad where adaptability bred into them had no real significance."

 

The Spitfire is one of the greatest fighter designs of all time, and it did serve successfully in a multitude of roles (carrier fighter and dive bomber[!] among them) and it is probably my all time favorite aircraft (my stash can be divided into Spitfire and non-Spitfire). It did not, however meet USAAF requirements at the time. It is interesting to note, that the 'Spitfire philosophy' has been adopted by the USAF over the decades: the teen series and F-22 are more in line with the Spitfire than the P-40 (although the F-35 may be more P-40!) - delicate but powerful with no compromise to performance.

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There is also a very basic problem to be overcome. Which screw thread to use? US and British screw threads were different at that time. Do all the plans need redrawn to take this into account or is US industry persuaded to source and use British threads for this one contract? Either way it adds to the cost and adds time in getting production up and running. Being in a hole in WW2 we took what we could get but it did complicate the maintenance side of things.

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From Random Thoughts, IPMS Canada's quarterly magazine.

 

49914096227_a4a264b3ce_b.jpg

 

49914096262_7de4531023_b.jpg

 

 

 

 

Chris

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8 hours ago, EwenS said:

There is also a very basic problem to be overcome. Which screw thread to use? US and British screw threads were different at that time. Do all the plans need redrawn to take this into account or is US industry persuaded to source and use British threads for this one contract? Either way it adds to the cost and adds time in getting production up and running. Being in a hole in WW2 we took what we could get but it did complicate the maintenance side of things.

Packard used the standard US threads on their version of the Merlin.

Thus a RR Merlin Lancaster is a B.I and a Packard Merlin Lanc is a B.III, to inform maintenance crews that a different set of tools is need for each

When American Austin started building and selling Austin 7s in the US they fitted UK Austin engines but then had to swop them for US built engines with US sized bolts so the dealership mechanics could  service the engines, It nearly busted American Austin and it took some time to tool up to build the engines.

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