Some companies like Boeing survived WW2 but Focke-Wulf did not. Here's why
World War II, like many other wars in history, was a time when a lot of new technology was made quickly. The war started with piston aircraft and ended with fighter planes, rockets, and nuclear weapons.
Aircraft are possibly the most emblematic of all the technology developed during this period. But of all the small and large companies involved in making planes for the war effort on all sides of the conflict, only a handful remained in business after the war's end. But why?
Let's find out.
Which aircraft companies survived World War II?
But, before we get into that, it is probably a good idea to find out which companies we are talking about first. The following is a selection of the many companies that made aircraft leading up to and during the war, so it should not be considered exhaustive.
It is also in alphabetical order.
1. Aero Vodochody
Post-war fate: survived World War II, merged with Boeing in 1998, and became private again in 2006.
2. Aichi Kokuki KK
Post-war fate: survived World War II and made cars until the 1960s. The company was later absorbed into Nissan.
Post-war fate: survived World War II and later absorbed into de Havilland and BAE.
4. SAI Ambrosini
Post-war fate: survived World War II and later changed direction to make sailboats and oil rigs until going out of business in 1992.
5. Arado Flugzeugwerke (Arado)
Post-war fate: The company was liquidated in 1945.
6. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft
Post-war fate: it survived World War II and continued making aircraft until 1961 when it merged with Hawker Siddeley and, ultimately BAE.
7. Avia motors s.r.o
Post-war fate: Avia survived WWII and manufactured aircraft until the 1960s. They now produce trucks and aircraft engines.
Post-war fate: Survived WW2 and continued making aircraft until the 1960s until merged with Hawker Siddeley.
Post-war fate: The company survived World War II and was later bought by Raytheon in the 1980s. Now it is a brand of Textron Aviation.
10. Bell Aircraft Corporation
Post-war fate: survived World War II and developed the first supersonic aircraft, the Bell X01. Textron later purchased it in the 1960s, and today, it is a division of Textron.
11. Blackburn Aircraft
Post-war fate: Survived WW2 but was later acquired by Hawker Siddeley in the 1960s.
Post-war fate: Boeing refocused its efforts on commercial aircraft and helicopters. During the 1960s and 1970s, the company expanded into many fields, such as space travel, ships, farming, energy production, and public transportation. Today, it is one of the most influential aircraft manufacturers in the world.
13. Boulton Paul Aircraft
Post-war fate: Survived World War II and continued building aircraft until Dowty Group acquired it in 1961.
14. Consolidated Aircraft Corporation
Post-war fate: The company, despite making some of America's most iconic aircraft, like the Catalina and Liberator, never survived the war as an independent company. In 1943, it merged with Vultree Aircraft to eventually be named Convair. Later, it was bought by General Dynamics and then by McDonnell Douglas. In 1996, the division was shut down by McDonnell Douglas.
Post-war fate: survived World War II and thrived for a time afterward. The company made essential planes after the war, like the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. They made wing controls for Boeing for a while before the company stopped making planes in 1984. It merged with Dornier in 1996 before being acquired by Elbit Systems.
16. Fairey Aviation Company
Post-war fate: After World War II, the company diversified into mechanical engineering and boatbuilding. The aircraft manufacturing arm was taken over by Westland Aircraft in 1960. Today, it is owned by WFEL Limited and Spectris.
17. Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG (Focke-Wulf)
Post-war fate: Many of Focke-Wulf's staff relocated to South America, where they worked until the mid-1950s. Later, the company joined Weserflug and Hamburger Flugzeugbau to form the Entwicklungsring Nord (ERNO), which made rockets. The companies merged to form the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company N.V. (EADS). EADS was later reorganized as Airbus.
18. Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation
Post-war fate: Grumman designed and built jet aircraft following the war, and in the 1960s, it caught a second wind, winning contracts for its famed A-6 Intruder, E-2 Hawkeye, EA-6B Prowler, and, of course, the F-14 Tomcat. At around the same time, it made headway in the space industry, playing a vital role in the Apollo Program. The company changed its name in 1969 to Grumman Aerospace Corporation and eventually merged with Northrop to form Northrop Grumman.
19. Hamburger Flugzeugbau (HFB) aka Blohm and Voss
Post-war fate: After World War II, operations ceased but were revived before merging with Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm. Today, it is part of Airbus.
20. Hawker Siddeley Aircraft
Post-war fate: Probably one of the most famous British aircraft manufacturers of the war, Hawker continued to operate for several years post-war. However, in the 1960s, the brand name Hawker was dropped. The company eventually became Hawker Siddeley Aviation, but it stopped making aircraft in 1977 before being acquired by British Aerospace (BAE).
21. Heinkel Flugzeugwerke (Heinkel)
Post-war fate: After the war, Heinkel couldn't make planes anymore, so they made bicycles, motor scooters, and the Heinkel microcar instead. In the middle of the 1950s, the company finally got back into the aviation business by building F-104 Starfighters under license for the West German Luftwaffe. The business was taken over in 1965 by Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke (VFW), which was then taken over in 1980 by Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm and later joined Airbus.
Post-war fate: The Germans confiscated the company in 1941, and its main plant was damaged by Allied bombing in 1944. Post-war, it was re-nationalized and shifted gears to producing buses in 1954. It then traded in Serbia under the name Ikarbus a.d.
Post-war fate: Ilyushin continued to design and build more planes, like jet fighters and commercial jets, after the war. The Russian government merged Ilyushin, Mikoyan, Irkut, Sukhoi, Tupolev, and Yakovlev in 2006 to create a new company called United Aircraft Corporation.
Ilyushin and Myasishchev merged internally in 2014 to create the United Aircraft Corporation business unit Transport Aircraft. Ilyushin's headquarters are currently located in the Aeroport District of Moscow's Northern Administrative Okrug.
24. Industria Aeronautică Română (IAR)
Post-war fate: IAR survived World War II and branched out into involvement in the Eurocopter project. Today, it specializes in the upgrade and overhaul of helicopters.
25. Industrie Meccaniche e Aeronautiche Meridionali (IMAM)
Post-war fate: IMAM (Industrie Meccaniche e Aeronautiche Meridionali) was an Italian aircraft manufacturer founded in 1923. In 1950, it became part of IRI Finmeccanica under the name Aerfer.
26. Junkers Flugzeug- und Motorenwerke AG (Junkers)
Post-war fate:: After the Second World War and the creation of East Germany, the Junkers corporation was reorganized as the Junkers GmbH, and it eventually joined the MBB consortium (through the 1958 joint venture between Heinkel and Messerschmitt called Flugzeug-Union-Süd). By taking over JFM AG and incorporating it into Messerschmitt in 1967, Messerschmitt put an end to the joint venture that had been started in 1965. In 1969, MBB absorbed Junkers GmbH, and the Junkers name was no longer used.
Post-war fate: After making some domestic and German aircraft throughout the war, Letov made Soviet MiGs for a time post-war. After the collapse of the communist government in Czechoslovakia in 1989, Letov found it very difficult to operate successfully on the international market. The French Groupe Latécoère bought the company in 2000. The company now manufactures parts for large passenger aircraft.
28. Lockheed Corporation
Post-war fate: Lockheed, like others on this list, was one of the winners of the war. Its post-war business flourished, with the company building some of the United States' most iconic post-war aircraft like the Hercules and SR-71. It would later work on the F-22 Raptor in the 1990s and eventually merge with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin in 1995.
Post-war fate: After WWII, the company couldn't make planes for ten years. As an alternative, engineer Fritz Fend created the three-wheeled Bubblecar, or Kabinenroller (cabin scooter) KR175/KR200.
Messerschmitt also produced prefabricated homes made of alloy frames as self-build kits. Messerschmitt-Bölkow was formed on June 6, 1968, when Bölkow and Messerschmitt AG merged. In May, the company bought HFB. Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm was renamed. In 1989, DASA bought MBB, which became EADS Germany, now Airbus.
30. Miles Aircraft
Post-war fate: The company, named for its principal engineer and co-founder Frederick George Miles, made some specialized aircraft before and during the war. Post-war, in 1947, the company entered receivership following its declaration of bankruptcy.
31. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
Post-war fate: While famed for aircraft like the Zero, these were built under one of the company's subsidiaries, Mitsubishi Aircraft Company. This company was later dissolved in the 1930s to rejoin the parent company. After the war, the company had to spend some time getting back on track because many of its factories in Japan had been destroyed. Mitsubishi was divided into three companies in the 1950s, which merged again into Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in 1964. Since then, the company has become a world leader in manufacturing many products in areas such as electronics and air conditioning.
32. Nakajima Aircraft Company
Post-war fate: The Nakajima Aircraft Company was a prominent Japanese aircraft manufacturer and engine manufacturer throughout World War II. After the war, the Allies forced it to stop making planes, and it later changed its name to Fuji Heavy Industries and manufactured scooters and Subaru automobiles, among others. It returned to aircraft production in the mid-1950s and, in 2017, rebranded as Subaru Corporation, which is still in business today as a car and aircraft manufacturer.
33. Nippon Kokusai Koku Kogyo K.K
Post-war fate: The company produced a series of aircraft for Japan throughout World War 2. Post-war, it changed its name to Nikkoku Industries and started producing automobiles. Nissan purchased a majority stake in the company in 1951 and continues to manufacture automobiles as a Nissan subsidiary.
34. North American Aviation (NAA)
Post-war fate: Post-war, NAA suffered a dramatic fall in staff numbers after the company saw a severe downturn in orders for its products. The company turned to nuclear, aeronautics, and rocketry instead. In 1955, the rocket engine operations were spun off as Rocketdyne, which produced engines for missions such as Redstone, Atlas, and Saturn launch vehicles. The fatal Apollo 1 fire, in January 1967 was partly blamed on the company, and shortly after that, it merged with Rockwell-Standard and became known as North American Rockwell, which built the Command and Service modules for all eleven Apollo missions. Rockwell's defense and space divisions (including the former North American Aviation divisions Autonetics and Rocketdyne) were sold to Boeing in 1996.
35. Percival Aircraft Company
Post-war fate: Percival Aircraft Co. (later Hunting Aircraft) made light training aircraft before and during the war. Later, it also created the BAC 1-11 jet airliner prototype. The company was founded in 1933 as Percival Aircraft Co. and became part of the Hunting Group in 1944, changing its name to Hunting Percival Aircraft in 1954 and Hunting Aircraft in 1957. In 1960 the company was taken over by the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), which had formed that year. BAC later became part of British Aerospace, now BAE Systems
36. Polikarpov Design Bureau
Post-war fate: Founded by Nikolai Nikolaevich Polikarpov, the company made aircraft for the USSR during the war.
After Polikarpov passed away on July 30, 1944, at age 52, the company was integrated into Lavochkin. Still, some of its engineers were transferred to Mikoyan-Gurevich, and its manufacturing facilities were transferred to Sukhoi. The Polikarpov OKB's long-standing headquarters were housed in the purpose-built structure that still stands at Moscow's Aircraft Plant #1.
Post-war fate: Founded as Aéroplanes Henry Potez, the company was nationalized in 1936 and merged with several other French airplane manufacturers to form the Société Nationale des constructions aéronautiques du Sud-Est (SNCASE) in February 1937.
After World War II, Potez was re-established as Société des Avions et Moteurs Henry Potez but failed to succeed. The company struggled for several years before being forced to close. Sud-Aviation purchased the remaining assets in 1967.
39. Société nationale des constructions aéronautiques du Sud-Ouest (SNCASO)
Post-war fate: Survived World War II and developed some essential early French aircraft. It was later merged into Sud Aviation in 1957.
Post-war fate: Supermarine didn't make it to the war as an independent company. Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft) Ltd. acquired Supermarine in 1928, although the Supermarine division continued making planes throughout the war.
After the war, the Supermarine division built the Attacker for the Royal Navy. It was a modified version of the last type of Spitfire. Both RNVR squadrons used it on land and first-line squadrons on aircraft carriers. The Swift, a more advanced fighter and photo-reconnaissance aircraft, came after the Attacker. The Scimitar was the last of the Supermarine aircraft.
In the late 1950s, the Supermarine division moved into non-aviation-related work, including film equipment and hovercraft. In 1960, Vickers-Armstrongs became a part of BAC, and the individual manufacturing heritage names were lost.
Post-war fate: Since its founding, Tupolev has created more than 100 different models of both military and commercial aircraft and built more than 18,000 of them for Russia, the Soviet Union, and the Eastern Bloc. Tupolev worked in many areas of aerospace and defense, such as making military and commercial aircraft, weapons systems, missiles, and technology for naval aviation. This includes some of the Soviet Union's most famous long-range bombers.
By order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Tupolev merged with Mikoyan, Ilyushin, Irkut, Sukhoi, and Yakovlev in 2006 to form a branch of the United Aircraft Corporation.
Post-war fate: Post-war, the company survived and thrived for a time. But, in 1960, the aircraft interests were merged with those of Bristol, English Electric, and Hunting Aircraft to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). In the 1970s, the company was nationalized to become part of British Aerospace.
After the war, Vought made it through World War II and started making jet planes, like the famous F-8 Crusader. In the 1960s, the company was acquired by James Ling, formed part of Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV), and shifted gears into the missile and space industries under the umbrella of LTV Aerospace. In 1992, the division containing Vought was purchased 50-50 by Northrup and the Carlyle Group, and both these interests were purchased in 1994 by Northrup Grumman.
Today, after several more sales, Vought operates as a division of Triumph Group under the name Triumph Aerostructures - Vought Aircraft Division.
44. Yakovlev Design Bureau
Post-war fate: During World War II, the company designed and manufactured a famous line of fighter planes. Irkut purchased Yakovlev in April 2004. In February 2006, the holding company was combined with Mikoyan, Ilyushin, Irkut, Sukhoi, and Tupolev to form the United Aircraft Building Corporation.
Why did aircraft companies survive WW2 and others didn't?
As we can see from the abbreviated list above, quite a few aircraft manufacturers managed to survive the post-war period, at least for a time. However, the vasmostt majority of those didn't make it to today as independent companies.
This is for various reasons, but one of the main ones is that they either went bankrupt or were subject to acquisitions and mergers throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This indicates, for the most part, that these companies were outcompeted by their competitors in some shape or form.
For companies operating in countries on the "losing" side in the war, like Japan and Germany, most were either devastated by bombing or were restricted from making aircraft by the Allies. In that light, any post-war failures of these firms are entirely understandable.
But what about the many companies that backed the Allies' war effort? Why did so few of them make it to the modern day? The answer will vary depending on each company, but let's look at one of the most famous, Boeing.
Boeing is currently the largest manufacturer of both commercial and military aircraft worldwide. In addition, it is a top supplier of aeronautical services, launchers, missiles, and rotorcraft.
Boeing is one of the most well-known companies in the world. It has an order backlog of about $500 billion and has been a top United States exporter for over a decade. But how and why did Boeing become such an aviation powerhouse?
Other aviation pioneers shared Bill Boeing's passion and inventiveness in the early days of the industry, including Donald Douglas, Howard Hughes, Glenn Martin, James McDonnell, and Jack Northrop. Still, as we've seen above, most of these enterprises were eventually acquired by or merged with other corporations.
And this is, first of all, why Boeing would outlast most. It acquired them over time! But Boeing must have had something special to survive some of the most turbulent periods of the 20th century. This included the world wars, of course, but also the Great Depression, the decline in demand that followed the Allies' victory in World War Two, and the end of the Cold War.
One analyst believes that Boeing has specific characteristics that distinguish it from its rivals. Among these are, but are not limited to, its engineering know-how, financial discipline, and ability to save money by doing more with less.
1. Geography played a huge role
Perhaps one of the most significant reasons for the success of companies like Boeing was its location. Since it was mainly based in the United States, it had the good fortune of not being ravaged by war. Most of the manufacturing areas of Europe and Japan were devastated during this terrible conflict.
The impacts of this on post-war economies cannot be understated. With a lot of cash investment needed to get back up and running, it was simply not feasible for many European economies to get all of the independent aviation industries back on their feet again quickly. Many of these businesses also lost all of their orders following the cessation of conflict. However, despite this, some aircraft manufacturers managed to bounce back after the war, while others turned to manufacturing non-war goods, like automobiles.
However, this would have given larger and more diversified companies like Boeing an early lead.
2. Boeing had, and still has, passionate engineers
Another significant characteristic is the talent behind the brand.
Boeing has long benefited from a large stable of engineers who were prepared to do whatever they needed to keep ahead of the technology their rivals were presenting. This attitude dominates Boeing's culture. When the Army asked for a "multi-engine" bomber in the 1930s, they were the only ones who could make the famous B-17, a plane with four engines instead of two.
In the 1960s, when other companies tried to copy the success of Boeing's 707 aircraft, Boeing made the first wide-body airplane, the 747. Even though Boeing took a lot of risks, it was committed to staying at the top of its industry and had a better understanding of engineering than many of its competitors.
3. Boeing was not a one-person band
The Boeing Company, as it is now officially called, started by creating a culture that valued excellence and went beyond its founder. Bill Boeing was a visionary, but he left the company 18 years after it was founded in 1934.
Other businesses started by aviation pioneers who were active for extended periods failed to pass on the founders' magic to their successors. As a result, they began to lose height after the founders passed away. Early on, Boeing created a culture that did not rely solely on a single visionary for leadership.
This would prove critical to the company's early and enduring success over extended periods.
4. Boeing was a master of reinvention (of themselves)
Rather than focusing on a small number of distinctive goods, Boeing adjusted as the market changed. Boeing went from manufacturing light aircraft to large ones when the War Department needed heavy bombers during World War Two. After the war, the civil aviation industry proliferated. Expertise in making big military planes was now used to make commercial airliners.
And Boeing was heavily involved in rocket manufacture as well. Making the Minuteman ICBM became necessary as concerns about a bomber gap with the USSR gave way to anxieties about a missile gap. No matter how the market changed, Boeing was always open to using its expertise in novel ways.
5. Boeing was not afraid to take risks
In the past, there have been moments when Boeing's survival appeared in doubt. For example, after betting a lot on the 747 jumbo jets in the 1960s—the plant it built is still the largest enclosed area in the world—the company's commercial-airplane unit saw employment drop from 83,700 in 1968 to 20,700 in 1971 because of a recession.
But Boeing gained knowledge from that close call, just as it will from its failure to win the bids to build the B-21 bomber and the Joint Strike Fighter. With its current size and reach, it can sustain practically any setback.
Despite all the pressures and setbacks of operating in a highly competitive sector, Boeing starts its second century in excellent form.
The 787 Dreamliner and the 777X, which will use the same technology but have a larger airframe, are the only commercial aircraft that can match their appeal. The capabilities of the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor and the Apache helicopter are unmatched by any military competitor. The business is booming in both space and services.
The lessons Boeing learned earlier in its history have given it a bright future.
6. Boeing never put all its eggs in one basket
Early in its existence, Boeing discovered the benefits of selling to private clients and the government. Although the B-17 and B-29 are regarded as two of the most famous bombers from World War Two, both were also converted into commercial airplanes following the war.
The hundreds of KC-135 tankers Boeing constructed for the Air Force were based on the same Dash-80 architecture as the first-generation 707 aircraft. Today's KC-46 tanker and the P-8 patrol plane are military versions of Boeing commercial planes. Boeing could negotiate the diverse demand cycles in both market areas by using its broad range of skills.
6. Boeing proved to be very nimble
Boeing implemented targeted diversification to boost its adaptability and deal with demand cycle ups and downs. It did not acquire businesses with little to do with aerospace, but starting in 1960 with the purchase of the Vertol helicopter, it created the world's widest variety of aerospace products.
By doing this, it avoided the same fate as McDonnell Douglas, the dominant fighter house for two decades but lacked the versatility to deal with setbacks in its core business. Boeing overcame setbacks in any one segment by becoming the market leader in almost every area of the aerospace industry.
And that's your lot for today.
So, what "secret sauce" did the companies that survived and thrived after WW2 have? A mixture of good management, excellent strategy, vision, the ability to roll with the punches, and, of course, a little luck all played their part.
But, so too, did being on the winning side!
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