Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fairborn as Industrial Suburb II: Fairfield Air Depot

We’ve already seen how the military came to Fairfield/Osborn in WWI, with a bit of emphasis on the WWI flying school. If it was just this the place would have been just another military post town next to a base with a large training activity, like Radcliff, next to Fort Knox, Kentucky.

What made Fairborn an industrial suburb was the Fairfield Air Depot, also known as FAD.

Understanding Depot Maintenance

During the 1920s and early/mid 1930s Fairfield was one of four Army Air Corps air depots. None of these survive today.

An air depot is akin to an army arsenal or a navy shipyard, probably more like a shipyard. Aircraft fly in, are moved to a disassembly/reassembly line, disassembled, components replaced or remanufactured, and then reassembled. The aircraft then flies out to its assigned station. There is also a supply or logistics function that supports the maintenance activity.

Depot Maintenance at FAD

The Fairfield depot was set up as an industrial and supply district. Supplies held inthe warehouse areas closer to the railroads. The warehouses supplied the industrial side. Disassembly/reassembly activity occurred in two large hangars Component re-manufacuturing and repair occurred in adjacent machine shops (later there were electrical and hydraulics shops and probably sheet metal shops).

An aeriel view of the 1930s depot, showing some of the components of the industrial complex. In the distance on can see one of the new plats added to Fairfield.

And a ground level view of one of the dis-asssembly hangars and a glimpse at the machine shop.

The type of aircraft maintained here where probably similar to these two, which show the evolution of aircraft design and size. This technological and size evolution would eventually lead to the end of the depot. The first was not that different from WWI-era planes; a bi-plane with a box frame fuselage. The second (a Boeing B-9) starts to look like the planes we are familiar with from WWII; mono-plane wings and monococque fuselage construction. This bomber still retains the open cockpits for the pilots and gunners, which would go away in the 1930s.

(incidentally, the Boeing has insignia marking for FAD, indicating some connection with the depot)

To give an idea of what went inside, two pix from the WWII era, when some of the facilities had been enlarged, showing the dis-assembly line and the large machine shop.

FAD was a true multi-building industrial complex, akin to NCR or the Ford River Rouge plant, but at a smaller scale.

The depot required a skilled workforce of assemblers, machinists, electricians, and so forth, as well as clerical and warehouse employees, both civilian and military. Though this workforce could commute in from Dayton, Fairfield and Osborn would provide some of the housing, expanding via a series of plats into an industrial suburb.

In 1939 Fairfield, Osborn and FAD already had 20 years of development. 1939 would also be at the very start of the WWII boom, which actually began prior to US entry into the war. Fairborn as home front boomtown will be discussed in the next post.

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