What happened to WWII aircraft manufacturers?
- Tens of thousands of aircraft were built before and during the Second World War.
- The vast majority of these were produced by a handful of companies worldwide.
- But what happened to these companies once the war was over?
The Second World War was unprecedented in the production scale and its death toll. Millions of people lost their lives, and many more were mobilized to support and supply fighting forces on land, sea, and air in many theatres around the globe.
Aircraft production was one of the most prolific areas, with some of the world's most iconic aircraft being developed throughout this period. So, you may wonder, what happened to those companies that supplied the various fighting aircraft of the Allies and Axis forces?
Let's find out, shall we?
Who produced the most aircraft in WW2?
The following is a list of the most commonly produced aircraft of World War 2, ranging from the 1930s to the end of the war in 1945. While older aircraft also participated in the war, notably the British Fairey Swordfish biplane, we must cut the start date off somewhere.
The following figures are from various sources but may be slightly erroneous as such figures are often tricky to validate without access to official records. However, they should be within the right ballpark. The list is also ranked by the companies that made the most aircraft (combined figures from the top 30 aircraft produced) from 1930 to 1945.
We have also excluded companies like Piper, who rank high in the number of aircraft produced during this period but produced craft like gliders, trainer aircraft, or other logistical or support aircraft rather than fighting aircraft. To this end, we have tried to focus on combat fighters and bombers. We have also limited the list to the top 11 (we had to cut it off somewhere).
1. North American Aviation made some of the most iconic aircraft of all time
Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 41,065
- North American P-51 Mustang (Country: the United States, Role: Fighter, Production Date Range: 1940-1951, Estimated Total Built: 15,586)
- North American T-6 Texan (Country: the United States, Role: Trainer, Production Date Range: 1937-1950s, Estimated Total Built: 15,495)
- North American B-25 Mitchell (Country: the United States, Role: Medium Bomber, Production Date Range: 1939-1945, Estimated Total Built: 9,984)
What happened to North American Aviation after WW2?
After the war, employment in North American Aviation (NAA) fell from 91,000 to 5,000 by 1946. The American government had given North American orders for 8,000 aircraft on V-J Day, but after just a few months, that number had dwindled to a mere 24.
General Motors delisted NAA as a public entity two years later, in 1948. Still, NAA kept coming up with innovative designs, such as the T-28 Trojan trainer and attack aircraft, the peculiar-looking F-82 Twin Mustang, the B-45 Tornado jet bomber, the FJ Fury fighter, The Sabre, AJ Savage, the ground-breaking XB-70 Valkyrie Mach-3 strategic bomber, Shrike Commander, and T-39 Sabreliner business jet.
The Columbus, Ohio, branch of North American Aviation played a vital role in the development and production of the T-2 Buckeye Naval Trainer, which served from the late 1950s until 2008. OV-10 Bronco, the first aircraft designed explicitly for forwarding air control (FAC), and the A-5 Vigilante, an advanced high-speed bomber that saw significant use as a naval reconnaissance aircraft during the Vietnam War.
In 1955, the rocket engine operations were spun off into a separate division as Rocketdyne. The company played a role in the U.S. Space Program, developing engines for a number of NASA missions, including the Saturn family of launch vehicles, until the fatal Apollo 11 fire, for which it was partly blamed. Soon after, the company merged with Rockwell-Standard, becoming known as North American Rockwell (later Rockwell International Corporation). It built the Command and Service modules for all eleven Apollo missions. In the 1990s, this company was bought out by Boeing.
2. Ilyushin was one of the most prolific aircraft builders of the war
Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 36,183
- Ilyushin Il-2 (Country: the Soviet Union, Role: Ground-attack, Production Date Range: 1941-1945, Estimated Total Built: 36,183)
What happened to Ilyushin after WW2?
It is currently known as "Ilyushin" (Russian: лин) or as the "Ilyushin Design Bureau" and is a former Soviet and current Russian aircraft manufacturer. Ilyushin aircraft are identified by the prefix "Il-" (Russian: л-) in Soviet/Russian terminology, as in the Ilyushin Il-2.
The company was founded under the Soviet Union by order of P. I. Baranov, People's Commissar of the Heavy Industry and Head of the Main Department of Aviation Industry. In turn, Sergey Vladimirovich Ilyushin established the public joint stock firm Ilyushin Aviation Complex in 1933.
Post-war, Ilyushin would continue to design and build other aircraft, including jet fighters and commercial aircraft.
Ilyushin, Mikoyan, Irkut, Sukhoi, Tupolev, and Yakovlev were all merged by the Russian government in 2006 to form a new business called United Aircraft Corporation.
In 2014, Ilyushin and Myasishchev united internally to become the United Aircraft Corporation business unit Transport Aircraft. Today, the Aeroport District of Moscow's Northern Administrative Okrug is home to Ilyushin's headquarters.
3. Messerschmitt is probably the best-known aircraft manufacturer of WW2
Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 34,852
- Messerschmitt Bf 109 (Country: Germany, Role: Fighter, Production Date Range: 1936-1958, Estimated Total Built: 34,852)
What happened to c after WW2?
Following World War II, the business was prohibited from producing airplanes for ten years. The three-wheeled motorcycle/bubble car known as the Kabinenroller (cabinscooter) KR175/KR200, created by aircraft engineer Fritz Fend, was one of the company's alternative products.
Willy Messerschmitt had very little to do with the automobiles other than to decree that they bore his name; the cars were produced by Fend's own company in the Messerschmitt plant at Regensburg. The KR200's production terminated in 1964.
The Messerschmitt plant also made prefabricated homes, which were built primarily from alloy frames and were intended to be "self-building kits."
The modest civil engineering and civil aviation company Bölkow and Messerschmitt AG combined on June 6, 1968, to form Messerschmitt-Bölkow. The company bought Hamburger Flugzeugbau (HFB) in May of that year. Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm became the company's new name (MBB).
DASA took over MBB in 1989. Later, DASA operated as "EADS Germany," now Airbus.
4. Supermarine made the iconic Spitfire, among many other planes
Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 22,685
- Supermarine Spitfire/Seafire (Country: the United Kingdom, Role: Fighter, Production Date Range: 1938-1948, Estimated Total Built: 22,685)
What happened to Supermarine after WW2?
The need for many of Supermarine's wartime airframes at war end dropped considerably. In response, the company scaled back its production facilities.
Since there was no need for flying boats and Supermarine lacked experience with big multi-engined aircraft, it focused on developing jet fighters, producing the Attacker, the first jet fighter for the Royal Navy.
Eventually, the last aircraft to bear the Supermarine name was the Scimitar, the final examples of which were delivered in 1957.
Supermarine began working on projects not related to aircraft in the late 1950s, including film equipment and hovercraft. For example, the Vickers-Armstrongs VA-3 hovercraft.
Soon after, Supermarine merged with Vickers-Armstrongs to form the British Aircraft Corporation in the early-1960s.
Up until 1957, a separate Supermarine design office operated in Weybridge. After that, many employees were integrated into Vickers-Armstrongs' main operation or transferred to the new Supermarine headquarters in South Marston, Wiltshire. Vickers-Armstrongs, a Weybridge-based company that offered the Type 571 in response to government specification GOR.339, had a design team mostly made up of former Supermarine personnel.
The final BAC TSR-2 design was finally created by combining This design was eventually merged with that proposed by English-Electric/Short design to make the final design for the BAC TSR-2.
The British Aircraft Corporation eventually merged with other notable aircraft manufacturers into British Aerospace PLC in the 1970s.
5. Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation almost survived to the present day
Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 22,111
- Grumman F6F Hellcat (Country: the United States, Role: Fighter, Production Date Range: 1942-1945, Estimated Total Built: 12,275)
- Grumman TBF Avenger (Country: the United States, Role: Torpedo Bomber, Production Date Range: 1941-1945, Estimated Total Built: 9,836)
What happened to Grumman after WW2?
After the war, Grumman began to develop jet aircraft, like many others. The F9F Panther was Grumman's first jet aircraft, and it was followed in the 1950s by the improved F9F/F-9 Cougar and the less well-known F-11 Tiger.
The 1960s' A-6 Intruder and E-2 Hawkeye, as well as the 1970s' Grumman EA-6B Prowler and F-14 Tomcat, marked the company's major postwar triumphs.
In the 1960s, Grumman began to develop parts for the United States space program, including the development of lunar modules. The company was the chief contractor for the Apollo Lunar Module, which landed humans on the Moon.
While the U.S. Marine Corps, the final branch of service to fly the Prowler, retired on March 8, 2019, the U.S. Navy continues to use the Hawkeye as part of Carrier Air Wings on board aircraft carriers.
The business changed its name to Grumman Aerospace Corporation in 1969, and in 1978 it sold the Grumman-American Division to Gulfstream Aerospace The company also developed its highly successful Gulfstream I turboprop (Grumman model G-159) and Gulfstream II business jets (Grumman type G-1159).
In 1994, Northrop Aircraft bought Grumman Aerospace for $2.1 billion and formed Northrop Grumman (N.G.).
The new company closed many of its facilities. Some former aircraft hangars became a film and television production center, Grumman Studios.
6. Focke-Wulf made, arguably, the best fighter planes of the war
Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 20,051
- Focke-Wulf Fw 190 (Country: Germany, Role: Fighter, Production Date Range: 1939-1945, Estimated Total Built: 20,051)
What happened to Focke-Wulf after WW2?
The war in Europe, and the consequent defeat of Germany, took a heavy toll on companies like Focke-Wulf.
For example, their mass-production facilities were relocated to eastern Germany and the General Government (in the German Zone of occupation in Poland) due to the repeated bombing of Bremen during World War II.
These factories employed many foreign and forced laborers; from 1944, prisoners of war were also used. The Eighth Air Force bombed the Marienburg Focke-Wulf factory, which covered 100 acres (0.40 km2) and produced about half of all Fw 190s, on October 9, 1943.
The company also suffered a significant "brain drain," with crucial staff fleeing Germany after the war.
For example, between 1947 and 1955, Kurt Tank (a senior Focke-Wulf engineer and designer of the FW 190) was one of many Focke-Wulf employees that worked at the Instituto Aerotécnico in Córdoba, Argentina. Others, including the company's founder Henrich Focke, went to Brazil's Department of Aerospace Science and Technology and assisted that country in developing the Embraer.
In 1951, Focke-Wulf began producing gliders; in 1955, it recommenced producing motorized aircraft. The company also expanded into making rockets when Focke-Wulf, Weserflug, and Hamburger Flugzeugbau formed the Entwicklungsring Nord (ERNO) in 1961.
ITT Corporation, which had purchased a 25% part in the business before WW2, was also awarded $27 million in damages in the 1960s for the damage the WWII Allied bombing caused to its portion of the Focke-Wulf complex.
In a formal merger in 1964, Focke-Wulf and Weserflug created Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke (VFW), and, following several additional mergers, became the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company N.V. (EADS).
Later, EADS was restructured to become Airbus in the 1970s.
7. Consolidated Aircraft made the incredibly successful B-24 Liberator
Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 18,482
- Consolidated B-24 Liberator (Country: the United States, Role: Heavy Bomber, Production Date Range: 1940-1945, Estimated Total Built: 18,482)
What happened to Consolidated Aircraft after WW2?
The Consolidated Aircraft Corporation and Vultee Aircraft combined in 1943 to establish Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft, otherwise known as Convair.
Convair continued to manufacture aircraft and parts after General Dynamics acquired a majority stake in the company in March 1953. Convair was eventually sold to McDonnell Douglas in 1994. After only two years of existence, McDonnell Douglas closed the division in 1996.
8. Yakovlev made some very sturdy aircraft throughout WW2
Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 16,769
- Yakovlev Yak-9 (Country: the Soviet Union, Role: Fighter, Production Date Range: 1942-1948, Estimated Total Built: 16,769)
What happened to Yakovlev after WW2?
Post-war, Yakovlev (JSC A.S. Yakovlev Design Bureau to give the company its full name) continued to make and design a range of aircraft (jet and piston-engined) for military and civilian use until the break up of the Soviet Union.
In the post-Soviet era, the company created the Pchela (aka the "Bee") drone surveillance aircraft, which made its first flight in 1990. However, it is arguably best known for its iconic line of piston-engined fighter aircraft from World War II.
Irkut purchased the organization 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, as we previously mentioned.
9. The Douglas Aircraft Company fell from grace in the 1960s
Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 16,079
- Douglas DC-3 (Country: the United States, Role: Airliner/transport, Production Date Range: 1935-1952, Estimated Total Built: 16,079)
What happened to the Douglas Aircraft Company after WW2?
Douglas made some of America's most iconic war aircraft, including the SBD Dauntless and DC-3. The latter, primarily a transport aircraft, was also used as a scout/light bomber in some variants.
With the termination of government aircraft orders and a surplus of aircraft, Douglas Aircraft experienced severe cutbacks after the war. This included laying off somewhere in the order of 100,000 employees.
After that, Douglas won contracts to develop intercontinental warfare systems and continued developing commercial aircraft.
The successful four-engined Douglas DC-6 and its last propeller-driven commercial aircraft, the Douglas DC-7, were two new aircraft that Douglas continued to create in this period. As part of its expansion into jet propulsion, the company built its first aircraft for the U.S. Navy in 1948, the straight-winged F3D Skyknight, then in 1951, the more "jet age"-inspired F4D Skyray.
To compete with the new Boeing 701, Douglas also produced commercial jets in the 1950s.
Douglas was a pioneer in related sectors, such as ejection seats, air-to-air, surface-to-air, and air-to-surface missiles, launch rockets, bombs, and bomb racks.
In the 1950s, the corporation was prepared to enter the new missile industry. Under the 1956 Nike missile program, Douglas transitioned from manufacturing air-to-air rockets and missiles to constructing whole missile systems. It later became the primary contractor for the Skybolt air-launched ballistic missile program and the Thor ballistic missile program. In particular, Douglas received contracts from NASA for designing the S-IVB stage of the Saturn I.B. and Saturn V rockets.
The business struggled in 1967 to increase production to keep up with demand for the military attack aircraft A-4 Skyhawk, DC-8, and DC-9 airliners. Along with quality issues, cash flow issues, DC-10 development expenses, and supply constraints brought on by the Vietnam War, Douglas began to get into serious problems.
Despite this, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation offered to buy the business. Following nearly four years of merger discussions, the two firms joined to form McDonnell Douglas Corporation on April 28, 1967.
McDonnell Douglas later merged with its rival Boeing in 1997.
10. Republic Aviation made the incredible P-47 Thunderbolt and the iconic Thunderbolt II "Warthog"
Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 15,660
- Republic P-47 Thunderbolt (Country: the United States, Role: Fighter, Production Date Range: 1942-1945, Estimated Total Built: 15,660)
What happened to Republic Aviation after WW2?
Post-war, like many other aircraft manufacturers, Republic's (formerly Seversky Aircraft) business took a massive hit with the drop in demand for its products. However, they did find some commercial success with non-military aircraft development, like the RC-3 Seabee.
In 1946, however, they returned to designing and building military aircraft with the development of the F-84 series of jet fighters.
These aircraft proved to be a commercial success, with some models continuing to be used for many decades. For example, until 1971, the F-84F remained in use with Air National Guard units before physical deterioration forced its removal from U.S. service.
Several foreign operators, including those from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Denmark (one squadron of RF-84F that was phased out in 1971), operated the F-84F and RF-84F. Until the 1980s, the F-84F was still used by some European air forces.
Republic established a helicopter business in December 1957 and built the French Aérospatiale Alouette II helicopter under license with mediocre sales results.
Republic suggested transforming a four-engine reconnaissance aircraft built during the war (the XF-12 Rainbow) into a transport aircraft to save the firm.
The plane would be speedy for a prop plane, but airline demand was insufficient to support further development, and the project was abandoned.
In a final effort to stay afloat, Republic Aviation turned to its military clientele once again. In 1960, the company acquired a minority stake in the Dutch aircraft manufacturer Fokker and attempted to sell the Air Force a Fokker-designed attack plane (the D-24 Alliance variable-sweep wing VTOL).
However, the Air Force showed little interest in foreign design, and no contracts were offered.
Sherman Fairchild's aerospace business, Fairchild, started buying Republic Aviation stock in the early 1960s, and by July 1965, it had acquired the entire company. Republic ceased to be a separate entity in September and became the Republic Aviation Division of Fairchild Hiller.
Fairchild Hiller continued Republic's naming scheme with the highly capable A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog," which made its debut flight in May 1972 and is still in service.
Ultimately, in 2003, the assets of Fairchild were purchased by M7 Aerospace, and the new company was moved to San Antonio.
11. Junkers made the iconic Ju-88 bomber
Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 15,183
- Junkers Ju 88 (Country: Germany, Role: Multirole, Production Date Range: 1939-1945, Estimated Total Built: 15,183)
What happened to Junkers after WW2?
After surviving the Second World War and the establishment of East Germany, the Junkers corporation was reorganized as the Junkers GmbH. It finally amalgamated with the MBB consortium (via the 1958 joint venture Flugzeug-Union-Süd between Heinkel and Messerschmitt).
After taking over JFM AG and incorporating it into Messerschmitt in 1967, Messerschmitt ended the joint venture that had begun in 1965.
During the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, Junkers GmbH conducted research on the future of aeronautical transportation in West Germany. Eugen Sänger, a well-known Austrian engineer and space travel theorist, was employed by Junkers and finished work on constructing an advanced orbital spacecraft there in 1961.
In 1969, MBB absorbed Junkers GmbH, and the Junkers name was no longer used.
As we previously mentioned, we have to end the list somewhere. However, if you are interested, the rest of the top 30 aircraft manufacturers and their most produced aircraft.
- Hawker - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 14,487, most-produced aircraft: Hawker Hurricane
- Curtiss - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 13,738, most-produced aircraft: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
- Boeing - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 12,731, most-produced aircraft: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
- Vought - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 12,571, most-produced aircraft: Vought F4U Corsair
- Vickers - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 11,462, most-produced aircraft: Vickers Wellington
- Petlyakov - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 11,427, most-produced aircraft: Petlyakov Pe-2
- Avro - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 11,020, most-produced aircraft: Avro Anson
- Mitsubishi - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 10,939, most-produced aircraft: Mitsubishi A6M Zero
- Polikarpov - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 10,292, most-produced aircraft: Polikarpov I-16
- Lockheed - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 10,037, most-produced aircraft: Lockheed P-38 Lightning
- Lavochkin - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 9,920, most-produced aircraft: Lavochkin La-5
- Bell - Estimated total aircraft built (top 30): 9,584, most-produced aircraft: - Bell P-39 Airacobra
And that is your lot for today.
While all of the above enjoyed a very lucrative period during the horrors of the Second World War, the cessation of hostilities in 1945 took a toll on many of them. Some managed to struggle for a few years, even decades, post-war, but most had ceased to exist as independent companies by the 2000s.
While the original companies may now be defunct, the products of their labor have shaped aeronautical history to the modern-day.
Foresight helped an Austrian city protect its buildings from the European floods in 2021. The flood protection barriers they used now have a rising demand across Europe.