Last week we explored the building located at the Jamestown airport that was built during World War II for the assembling of wooden airplanes. This time we will look at the planes that were assembled there.
The planes were made of wood with some steel components for the structure. Much of it was plywood. Jamestown was chosen for the site of this assembly plant mainly because of the expertise in Jamestown on the use of wood. The wood furniture industry in Jamestown provided the expertise and the craftsmanship for making many of the wooden parts that would be used in the plane. The plane was developed for the U.S. Navy and was a top-secret operation. Although it was top-secret, the fact that wooden planes were being made in Jamestown was not a secret. Just what the plane was, was the secret.
It was a pilotless plane, or drone, guided remotely. It used a television camera in the nose of the plane so the person at the remote controls could see the target and guide the plane to the target. It carried bombs that would detonate on impact. The landing gear used for takeoff could be jettisoned before impact.
The plane had no place for a pilot except for the test flights. When it was used as with a pilot, there was a canopy for the pilot. It was removed for the pilotless flight with a covering over the hole. The plane was expendable therefore the plane was mostly wood saving other materials for the war effort.
Most of the information about this plane, designated the TDR-1, that can be found on the Internet credits the plane to the Interstate Aircraft Company. But we know that it was developed and tested and assembled in Jamestown, or at least some of them were. Warren B. Skelton was the test pilot here in Jamestown. To camouflage the plane against the sky and the sea, it was painted navy blue on the top and a light blue on the bottom.
Looking through some issues of Sky-Gest, the employee magazine for the American Aviation Corporation here in Jamestown, we see that a number of the officials had connections to other aircraft companies. The local furniture companies were involved as subcontractors, making the many parts for the plane. This was a U.S. Navy project which brought some of their officers to Jamestown on occasion.
The early press releases estimated that as many as 400 employees per shift would be working at the assembly plant with additional jobs at the various furniture plants in town. How many employees were actually involved has not been found yet.
The planes were used in the South Pacific in the Solomon Islands in 1944. They were relatively successful but the U. S. Navy canceled the project in the fall of 1944. This ended the assembly plant at the Jamestown airport. More details are available in an article in the Post-Journal by Mark Genovese in October 1985. Many of those details had come from recently declassified documents from World War II. Jamestown had a hand in developing the first operational U.S. Navy drone which was successfully used in combat in 1944.
There is one surviving TDR-1 located at the National Museum of Naval Aviation I Pensacola, Florida. The Fenton History Center has a few documents relating to the American Aviation Corporation, as well as, the issues of the Sky-Gest magazine. If anyone in the area has American Aviation Corporation information or photographs that they could share with the Fenton History Center, please contact the staff at 664-6256.
Pictured: The XTDR-1 sitting on the runway by the American Aviation Corporation assembly plant in Jamestown, New York. This was taken in 1944 surreptitiously by a worker at the plant. It still had a canopy for the test pilot that could be removed when there was no pilot. The paint colors were navy blue and light blue to camouflage it against the sky and the ocean.