Frederick O. Detweiler

ON JANUARY 10, 1974




While I was at Sikorsky, we began to hear rumors that the Vought division was about to move to Texas, and we didn’t know what to make of this. There was some speculation on the part of the community, and speculation in the governor’s office – governor Raymond Baldwin checked on it rather mildly – it seemed to me from time to time. Then eventually, Jack Horner asked me to take on the assignment of assistant general manager of the Vought division, and the news broke out that Vought was indeed going to move to Texas.  The question, of course, was why in the world should a well-established long-time industrial citizen of Connecticut move to Texas. The answer was that Vought was in the high-performance aircraft business. Fighter aircraft are generally pretty hot.  I won’t say that they are difficult to control, but they demand more room, principally because of their speed.  The small airport facility at Bridgeport was even marginal for the corsair.  It was something like a 4500-foot runway, and it was in a traffic lane between New York and Boston.  It was certainly not the place to test an advanced fighter aircraft. The navy, of course, would take it down to Patuxent River to do its testing there, a much better facility. But still, why to Texas?   You could find another place to do your flight testing, but I think the reason is that the Navy had a vacant plant at Texas, or at least the defense department did. It was formerly used by North American to produce the B25 and the P51, and I think one of the wartime trainers. It was vacant after the war, and a small engineering company had leased part of the

Plant, but most of the plant was vacant, and the Navy was interested in really accomplishing three things with one move. They wanted to get Vought, an important supplier of fighter aircraft, between the mountain ranges. In those days of  bombing by propeller aircraft, there was some protection in this. They wanted to find an occupant for a fairly good, fairly modern facility, and they wanted to put Vought in a better location for testing its aircraft. Moving Vought to Dallas, Texas where the former North American plant was situated apparently could accommodate these three things. Everything came to pass about the way the Navy expected except one thing and that is the runway was somewhat less than desired. It was supposed to have the capability of expansion to ten thousand feet, but I don’t believe it’s been able to move up to more than 8500-9000. Nevertheless, it was a big step ahead of the Bridgeport airport.

When I reported to Vought, they were closing out production on the F5U, which was a flying wing, an aircraft with its entire body incorporated in the wing, and the wing section didn’t provide for accommodating a seated pilot.  The pilot had to operate at the prone position.  The airplane had a lot of fancy tricks.  It was supposed to be able to hover, and also travel to forward speed up to about 500 miles an hour, which was awfully fast for a propeller airplane.  Because the jets were coming along with high performance as far as speed and climb were concerned, the F5U was abandoned by the navy and never did reach production.  Vought was also in the throes of producing thirty F6U’s, a single-engine single jet fighter powered, I think, by a Westinghouse J34.  They were developing to the point of first flight, the XF7U, which was the twin jet single-seated fighter, a very big and heavy airplane – the heaviest fighter candidate the navy had in development. The plan was to move the engineering, production and administrative facilities gradually over a period of a year from Bridgeport to Dallas, Texas, as production at Stratford phased out.  It was a good plan, but it really didn’t work very well, and one of the reasons it didn’t was that production never seemed to phase out. The poor people in Bridgeport who weren’t being moved to Texas knew that when they finished their stint for Vought, they’d be looking for a job, and it was almost impossible to fully complete the production task assigned to the Bridgeport plant on the f6u. We finally solved it by picking up everything in nearly finished condition and shipping it down to Dallas, and then having it completed ultimately at Dallas.  The move was monumental in scope. I believe it still holds a record for sheer size in industrial moves.  I remember one statistic, which is that there were 1,040 freight cars used.  By an agreement with the railroad association for special freight rates regardless of car loading and regardless of types of material shipped, it was necessary to make some shipments, which utilized all the members of the association.  This meant mighty weird routings. There didn’t seem to be any real reason to send a car of steel, say, by way of the northern peninsula of Michigan or Maine, or Pocatello, Idaho, but we did it in order to qualify for the special rate. We ultimately used each of the member railroads. That was quite a traffic problem, and obviously, we had to schedule the cars for the long ride, but had plenty of time, and we weren’t in a hurry for them.  We moved ultimately 1,400 employees – engineering, production, and administration.  By far most of the employees were either supervisory or such craftsmen and specialists that couldn’t be found in Texas. These 1,400 employees had families, and we estimate that the total number of people in the move was about 4,200.  This was a rather major wrench for most families, many of who had never been west of the Hudson River, who suddenly found them south westerners. The city of Dallas made special preparations to receive them and house them, and it was a happy experience for most everybody. Now it wasn’t possible for simply anybody to apply to go to Texas and be accepted.  There were two qualifications: there either had to be a job need for it, and it was assumed that most non-supervisory jobs would be filled with people who had experience making north American planes in Texas; the other reason was that the management of Vought had decided that it would be a smart thing to use psychological testing to determine whether or not each person could, in fact, make the transition to a new environment and operate successfully in Texas. I frankly think this was ill advised.  It was poorly received by the employees. They made fun of the idea, and they got the wrong impression of management’s motivation, which I think was more trouble than it was worth. But, at one time a screening was needed to qualify to go to Texas, and so it wasn’t possible just to say, “Hey, I want to go to Texas”, and be selected.

For many years the site in Stratford had been used by Sikorsky and later Vought.  An important part of the Bridgeport community was built up around the Vought family. I’d say in 1948 the Vought family was about 8,000 employees, which easily represented 25,000 people. It certainly had an impact on Bridgeport when Vought moved.

Ultimately, a tenant was found for the plant.  It was a maker of a radial engine – I don’t know if they are still there, but they did spend a good 15 years there.  Haravey Lippincott tells me Avco was still there in 1974.  The question obviously arises as to why Sikorsky didn’t move into the plant and the answer to that is that the plant wasn’t owned by united aircraft in the main part.  It was owned by DCP, and it would have required either a purchase of Sikorsky or a lease, which Sikorsky wasn’t strong enough to support. They were surviving the best they could in the rather unsatisfactory facilities they had, and I think would have to stay there until production orders justified a change.

The move to Texas was an adventure for the division in many ways because of the stage in which the division found itself, engineering wise and sales wise. The F4U-5 production was closed out in Bridgeport. A new production line was started for the F4U-5N, a night-fighter with a rather low volume production.  The F4U sub-assemblies were cleaned up as I indicated and delivered from Dallas and an experimental contract for the XF7U was in flight status.

The X aircraft nos. 1 and 2 were built in Bridgeport and the x no. 3 was built in Dallas.  Nos. 1 and 2 flew to Patuxent, Maryland where one of them was lost, and one of them flew eventually to Texas.  The f6u was flown in Bridgeport – not any more than was necessary. Most of the work was done either in Patuxent or somewhere in the west – I don’t know where.  All of the final assembly was moved to Texas, and from then on, all of the flight test was done in Texas.

I’m not sure that I mentioned that the general manager of Vought division of united aircraft was Rex Beisel, who was an engineer by profession and had been in the Vought family for a long time. I think he was also a vice president of United Aircraft Corporation.  I worked with Rex for approximately a year. His job was to come with the vanguard from Bridgeport to Texas to set up operations, receive materials that were shipped; my job was to stay at Bridgeport and put stuff on the freight cars, send people on their way and close the plant ultimately.

I finally reached Dallas in May of 1949. Nineteen forty-nine and nineteen fifty were not very good business years for the aerospace industry and especially not for Vought or for Sikorsky.  I remember very well that in fiscal year 1950 the navy, which was our procurement agency, did not invest one dollar in Vought in production or engineering contracts. Now we had some spare parts, and we had some service contracts; but we got no new business whatsoever in that entire fiscal year. That’s a little hard to phase into your production line.

Vought’s history early in its stay in Texas was dominated by the fortunes of both the f6u and the F7U.  The F6U was frankly not much of an airplane.  It had not much of an engine. The J34, if I remember the designation properly, was the Westinghouse axial-flow jet, which simply was not very highly developed. It did not meet its curves, fuel consumption, power or weight; it was a disappointment.  The F7U was scheduled to receive the J46, a brand new modern design of Westinghouse, another axial jet, which just fell flat on its face.  It is fair to say that it never ever made its promised performance. It was one continual disappointment both in standpoint of time of delivery and performance.

At about the same time, Douglas was assembling an aircraft, which received essentially the same engine and they were smarter than Vought, and perhaps they could afford to be, for Vought was terribly hungry at the time. They packed the engines up and shipped them back without installing them; and they were right.  It wasn’t proper to install them because it downgraded the performance of the aircraft so that the aircraft suffered along with the engine. The navy selected the engine – it was government-furnished equipment.  The navy was disappointed. They knew they weren’t making their performance on the engine.  They felt though – “let’s use it”.  The result was that the F7U was never able to realize its potential. In order to flight test the aircraft, the aircraft was flown in limited quantity – I don’t remember its number – 20 aircraft perhaps, with J35-ed Allison engines.  I don’t remember its designation. It was just a so-so performing lash-up. It didn’t do anything for the airplane.  It wasn’t a design engine, of course. It just simply fit the engine cavity, and that’s just about all. But it did permit some flight-testing.

Now the F7U was a radical aircraft design. It was heavy.  It was the largest navy fighter.  It was an extremely high angle of attack aircraft with a nose gear that looked to be about 50 feet high – it wasn’t of course, but it was well over a man’s head.  It had several innovations including a control system with automatic feel.  It required a tremendous amount of flight testing to perfect that.  The aircraft looked as though it would never land on a carrier. I think it was the most awkward plane I have ever seen on the ground, and yet it was beautiful in the air.  I think it discouraged a lot of people just by its clumsy appearance on the ground.  Eventually, with a substitute power plant, it did carrier-qualify and enter limited production.  The navy kept meeting the problems of engine delays and under-performance by cutting back the number of aircraft ordered and our production load just kept dissipating something awful. During this period, we were finding other sources of production like subcontracting.

The question comes up as to whose concept the F7U was, and I would say, collectively, Vought engineering.  I’m sure Vought proposed it to the navy.  Who in engineering?  I can’t say.  I mentioned that Beisel was an engineer, and a good one.  Paul baker was chief of engineering.  He had with him Russ Clark, Jim Schumaker, and Fred Dickerman as principal engineers. Since the design was solidified before I joined the team, I haven’t really any idea what individuals get most of the credit for it. I think it was an airplane that would have succeeded if it had had a better break on its power plant and had time to work out some of the innovations.  It didn’t succeed.  It flew.  The Navy flew the aircraft that was delivered, and I would say something like 30 or 40 were delivered ultimately, but they were given offbeat missions.  They never formed a fighter squadron, for example.

In this lean period, Vought produced tail sections for several dash numbers of the P2V Lockheed aircraft; likewise nose sections for the B47 and parts for the B52, and a few other subcontractor chores. Meanwhile, we were developing a pilotless aircraft – a missile, if you will – called the Regulus, which was powered by a turbojet. It simply was a nice single-engine fighter without a pilot. When you say that, you say quite a bit for those days because it meant developing completely an autopilot control system, some real experimentation and development in telemetry and instrumentation, and then, of all things, adaptability to the submarine. It was the forerunner of submarine-launched surface-to-surface missiles. Regulus I performed brilliantly. It was well-regarded by the Navy department and the submariners especially; it generated a lot of enthusiasm, even so that the post-master of Oxnard, California commissioned it to fly airmail on one flight. One time I had an airmail envelope which was stamped “first u.s. mail by guided missile”.  I wish I had it now.  I don’t know where it is.

Regulus I was followed by Regulus II, a supersonic much higher performance pilotless airplane.  Regulus II had a pretty good career, which was cut short by the ballistic missile. Ultimately its best application was not carried out by Vought, but by North American, in its hound dog (air to ground) missile.   Regulus II also started life as a submarine-based missile and was a real sweet flying airplane, although it was never used in operations. Its life was curtailed before reaching production quantity.

In 1953 Vought won a navy fighter competition with its entry called the xf8u; the 8u used the J57 Pratt & Whitney engine, the first time that Vought and Pratt & Whitney were able to get back together since the F4U’s.  And I believe it was the first navy fighter application for the J57, which was a very successful program. The F8U and its descendants are still flying with the navy 20 years later, and a sort of nephew of the F8U is Vought’s A7 airplane, an attack airplane with the same general plan form and the general features of the F8U.

In the early 50’s Vought was enjoying a real “low” in its level of customer relations.   The navy did not look with favor on the Vought organization nor its products.  I'm sure there were many reasons for this.  One, of course, was the F5U, the ultimate result of the f6u, the lack of apparent progress in the XF7U program, despite the fact that there were reasons for some of these things.  Vought was undergoing quite a strain in making a move of this magnitude, for example. But also, there were some personalities. I think Beisel had very poor relations, personally, with the bureau of aeronautics personnel at the time – admiral pride, chief- buyer, especially, and admiral Savy Harrison, the deputy, as well. Unfortunately, the same customer relations condition applied, to some degree, to Pratt & Whitney for quite different reasons.  I think there were a few people in the bureau that felt that they had more or less had to deal with Pratt & Whitney because the market didn’t afford much choice.  Now, that was a childish outlook, it’s true, but may be a natural one; nevertheless, it was real.  I remember Savy Harrison explaining to be (since I was not in Pratt & Whitney) his view of why they supported Westinghouse and didn’t really care sometimes what happened to Pratt & Whitney, and it so seemed kind of childish to me, but it was a very sincere and genuine point of view. He simply said that the air force had made out pretty well by getting an industrial giant in their camp, general electric, and before it was too late, he was going to sew up the other industrial giant, Westinghouse, for the navy.  He did. Westinghouse had not been a factor at all in aviation; but it seemed very straightforward and simple for rear admiral Savy Harrison and the industrial planning department of bureau of aeronautics at the time to make a jet engine design-development-production organization out of Westinghouse.  There were several built-in headwinds, one of which was the Westinghouse organization, a big well-founded organization to which this navy was relatively unimportant compared to some of their other scrambles to get into the post-war markets and they had a hard time affording the people that were needed to make a success of this new aviation venture.

The aviation turbine project went through quite a list of Westinghouse management people in succession, none of which did well. Westinghouse just didn’t make the grade. It seemed to be a matter of terrible irony that Westinghouse was put in the Pratt & Whitney Kansas City plant as a production facility. The entire program never had a happy ending for anybody, including the navy and Westinghouse, I’m sure.  I remember visiting the Westinghouse operation during the Korean War, and they were tooling up for one of their models. For some reason our former bureau of aeronautics representative from Kansas City, Captain Ed Smith, USNR, was the Bureau of Aeronautics representative for Westinghouse and he told me that it made him literally ill to see Westinghouse receive a new turret lathe, for example, and go first to look at the manufacturer of the motors and, if the motors were GE motors, they’d keep the machines on the dock until they could replace it with Westinghouse motors – a very small thing, but a completely different orientation that Westinghouse brought to the job.

Vought meanwhile eventually turned out a very good development airplane in the XF8U-1.  The fighter was based on the J57. It was all a design competition that the industry at large participated in.  Vought was very proud to be the winner, and as a matter of fact, there was a survival element. I believe that we started the experimental project in 1953.  We first flew the aircraft in 1955, and the aircraft became operational in 1957. It met all its promise, and I believe that one of the fundamental reasons was that the engine also met its promise.

The J57 ultimately did a very good job, and it was a happy marriage. It was a happy solution for Vought – for the health of Vought as a division.  Vought then seemed to be assured of a production load, which would earn its way for some time to come and with the Regulus development project, the prospects for Vought began to look quite good. Partly for this reason, the management of united aircraft came to the decision to spin Vought off; in other words, to eliminate its status as a division and to give it the status of a corporation no longer owned by united aircraft, but owned by the shareholders of united as the shares of Vought would be distributed pro-rata to United’s shareholders. I know there has been some speculation about the reasons for the spin-off. They seemed to be pretty straightforward to me, and they were given to me by jack Horner as being these three reasons.  The first reason is that Vought was an embarrassment to United; it was quite awkward for Pratt & Whitney and Hamilton to sell its designs and products to customers who at the same time were competing with Vought.  I believe at the time of the XF8U competition, there literally was a complaint by North American that the Pratt & Whitney sales engineers disclosed to Vought the plans of North American. To my knowledge, this is absolutely untrue, but nevertheless, it doesn’t have to be true. If one of your customers believes that, it has the same effect as being true.  Pratt & Whitney, which was the dominant factor in United’s future, then was suffering some by having a sister division which handicapped its relations with its customers, or potential customers.  So, it made sense to remove that relationship.  The second reason, which I believe to be also a secondary reason, was that the distance of administration was a problem. It was indeed a far piece from Hartford to Dallas, but this was not a serious problem. It was a chore – a duty – rather than a problem of principle. Another reason Horner gave me, which I think, was true, was that Vought now seemed to be in a position to be able to survive.  It had pretty good production prospects; it had some good designs coming along.  It had gained a great deal of its lost happy relationship with the navy as a customer.  It seemed to be able to survive.  So, as of January 1, 1954, a corporation was called chance Vought Aircraft Corporation. I was made president of the new corporation; Jack Horner was chairman.  I don’t remember the initial board of the corporation, but it probably was the united board, or at least included some of them.  The spin-off date was established as the 12th of May, 1954, to be “as of July 1, 1954”, and on the 12th of May shareholders of united received shares of Chance Vought Aircraft X Corporation stock to the tune of one Vought share to each three shares held of United.   July 1st, when Vought officially was independent, we left the umbrella and family of united aircraft. We were on our own. There were indeed mixed feelings on the part of some of the Vought personnel – those Vought personnel who had been part of united for many years, some of whom had a 25-year pin earned within the united family. On the other hand, there was a feeling that here was a chance to rethink some of our policies and take advantage of our new status, and perhaps develop some more effective plans as an independent enterprise. We at least approached the job that way.  Some things seemed to go pretty well at the beginning.  The f8u was a very happy project.  The navy was overdue for a good super-sonic fighter and they got one.  They could hold up their head along with U.S.A.F.’s F-100, F-101, F-102 and the F-105. They felt just a whole lot better about being in naval aviation when they had a successful airplane, which could be supersonic, and could do a good job at altitudes, and could do a good job of carrier performance, and could do a good job of carrying armaments, and perform as a fighter.  It was what the navy needed, and certainly was what Vought needed.

I have already mentioned the enthusiasm of the sub-mariners for Regulus – so Vought did enjoy some very good and profitable years through 1958. In 1958, however, we got the news that we had lost in another fighter competition in which Vought had entered – the F8U-3, again a single-engine high-performance fighter aircraft mach 2 and better for the navy, based on the J57 Pratt & Whitney engine.  The winner, of course, was the F4H phantom, which had a crew of two and had two engines. This was really a very serious blow to Vought since it also coincided with the coming forward of the ballistic missile and the demise of the Regulus concept. Vought did its best to maintain a variety of small engineering investigations and projects, kept production on the F8U which was paying the bills and continued to keep subcontracting and manufacturing to help hold a sizeable aircraft manufacturing organization together.  It did this pretty successfully.  I don’t think its employment went below 12,000 in these years, and operations were profitable.

Vought, being a brand new corporation – its management knew quite a bit about running Vought as a division, but not a great deal about running Vought as a corporation.  We didn’t look on it as a very important matter.  The important thing we thought was to design and produce superior products and sell them. Eventually, we learned that this was the wrong orientation because Vought became attractive to a corporation looking for a mate.  Ling-Temco approached Vought – if you can call it an approach—with an idea of merger. I used a sarcastic term then because really, their approach was a raid.  They started buying Vought stock without our knowledge, and by the time we caught up with it, they actually had acquired something like 10% of Vought, and by the time we realized how far along they were, they had acquired something like 25%, and ultimately about 35%, which was more than enough to dominate any show of strength during a stockholder meeting.  At that time it didn’t seem very attractive to me to relax and enjoy that kind of marriage, and so I handed in my resignation and I left the company, I believe, the 1st of May 1961.  It survived as chance Vought corporation, I believe, until about September of 1961 when it did, in fact, become merged with Ling-Temco to form a new corporation, Ling-Temco-Vought, and I haven’t had any relation with the company since I left it in may 1961; so I can’t make any comment on its subsequent history.

Charlie McCarthy came to Vought in 1954 as chairman of the board of chance Vought Aircraft Corporation by my invitation.  I was the chief executive officer and I thought it would be good for the old-timers in the company to have an old-timer of aviation here to help with navy relationships, which I’m sure it did. Charlie was a nice adjunct.

We stayed on board until his regular retirement age of 65, which was about a year before the merger with ling-Temco.  I might mention some of the other people in the Vought organization starting with the newer people first.  One of the newer people was Admiral H.B. “Slat” Sallada, who was a distinguished naval aviator who came aboard as executive vice president in the year 1952.  He was a priceless addition to the Vought organization.  He brought a splendid link with the navy.  He brought a magnificent organization concept and administrative concept.  He wasn’t entirely accepted with open arms because inside Vought he was suspect as being not a manufacturing man, but a navy guy. However, he did a first-class job, was very modest, very capable, a very sound person and a real addition to the Vought organization. He too reached retirement age and retired before the merger.

The initial organization of Vought people included graham reed in charge of purchasing, which left the organization about a year after we got to Dallas. Bert Taliaferro was factory manager, and Bert retired we’ll say in 1958, or thereabouts. Bert was a General Motors man. I think Vought picked him up in World War II – a fine old boy.   The chief engineer was Paul Baker, who had a long career with Vought and with United Aircraft.  He left I think about 1956 – maybe a little earlier – and the reason for this leaving was distinctly customer relations. The navy had taken a great dislike for him, and he wasn’t quite the guy they wanted to do business with. Fred Dickerman succeeded him as engineering manager, and I don’t think he was a heck of a lot better as far as his navy relations were concerned though.  He had to encounter quite a bit of skepticism with the navy, but he did all right.  Russ Clark followed Dickerman, and he was well-accepted by the navy, and I think we have to look at the F8U project as a turning point for Vought in those days, and Russ Clark was project engineer, and more than any one man, was able to keep the project on the track as a successful competitive entry.

I’d like to stop for a minute and give Jack Horner and Luke Hobbs a tremendous amount of credit for their insistence that this project be right and that no second choice solutions be accepted whatsoever.  Luke and jack worried about this project.  They came down and visited us several times and wrung it out with our engineers as much as they could. They really provided some inspiration and some incentive and valuable supervision of the project. They, of course, were conscious of experience with the F7U and, furthermore, it had a Pratt & Whitney engine in it and it had to succeed as far as they were concerned, and as far as the J57 was concerned.

Believe me, it was a pleasure for all of us at Vought to get back with Pratt & Whitney. I have thought many, many times of the definition of the ideal engine manufacturer would be one who promised what weight would promise, treat you as nicely as Allison would treat you, and be as dependable as Pratt & Whitney, which is not a bad summary of the ideal.

It is safe to say that the F8U was definitely a united aircraft product and concept. There is no question about it, and I presume if we had not gotten the f8u there would not have been a spin-off until we had something that was successful.  I don’t think united had any appetite for dumping Vought as an unhappy solution just as an expedient. I really think that one of the reasons I cherish my association with united aircraft is that the people up there had some principles.  In fact, I’ve always felt that one of the really fine things in my life has been association with some sterling people.  I’ve learned a tremendous amount.

I started with a great deal of respect for my superiors. Ultimately, I thought that Fred Rentschler belonged on mount Olympus, and that there is nobody in the world quite like Jack Horner.  I think I have learned a terrific amount from jack and from Len Mallet, and from Fred Burtham and J. F. McCarthy, and my contemporary associates – they were good folks working for Pratt & Whitney and for United Aircraft – all through my association with them.  I had a great sentimental problem when I think of the time I had leaving united aircraft.  As a matter of fact, I think I did it because Jack Horner wanted me to, and it was more an act of loyalty to Jack than anything else was. It was not a choice that I wanted to make myself.

Well, thanks Harvey. This is fine.  I have talked much more than I should, and perhaps the only compensation is that nobody will listen to it.

We have a tape with one or two items of discussion that I want to look back at.  It seems to me that in studying United Aircraft management at the time that Rentschler was in charge there was a very definite executive training program so that when one guy laid down the tools there was always somebody trained to step in.  Was this true?  It seems nowadays that we have to go outside, and I wonder if this practice has been broken down.

I think I’d use a different way of describing it.  I’m sure there was a succession in mind, and people were given an opportunity for executive experiences. On the other hand, I would hesitate to call it a formal training because I have heard so much over the last 20 years of management development programs which did a lot of objective training.  I don’t think that there was quite that degree of training in united, but there was a consciousness that management was responsible for perpetuating itself and that people were given opportunities to make some mistakes in various jobs before they were called upon to take a higher responsibility.

It seemed that there were certain men in charge, and united always seemed to be much more of a team effort than certain companies, namely, with Guy Vaughn of  Wright, which was pretty much a one-man show and Glen Martin of Martin – for when they passed out, the whole place almost collapsed.

Fredrich O. Detweiler  - “Aviation and Me”