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As World War II erupted in Europe in the late 1930s and the United States mobilized its own war industry, civic leaders aggressively promoted construction of a new aircraft assembly facility in Tulsa. The U.S. War Department agreed to build a plant if Tulsa provided land and necessary runways. Tulsa citizens quickly responded, passing a $750,000 bond issue in March 1941, enabling the city to purchase 750 acres east of the municipal airport and to construct the runways. On May 2, 1941, groundbreaking took place for what became known as Air Force Plant 3, and Donald W. Douglas, owner of the Douglas Aircraft Company, dedicated the plant on August 15, 1942.

The Douglas Aircraft Company, headquartered in Santa Monica, California, operated the Tulsa facility. During World War II it produced A-24 Dauntless dive bombers, B-24 Liberator strategic bombers, and A-26 Invader medium bombers. From 1953 to 1957 during the Cold War, B-47 Stratojet strategic bombers and B-66 Destroyer medium bombers were manufactured. More than twenty-three thousand people worked in the plant during peak World War II production.

The 4,004-foot-long and 200-foot-wide assembly structure provided over 800,000 square feet of floor space. Its forty-foot headroom and crane hoists were designed to process large, multiengine aircraft. A Burlington Northern Railroad spur line brought aircraft subassemblies and raw materials into one end of the building, and completed aircraft emerged from the other end. Built without windows, the plant operated under blackout conditions. In addition to the assembly building, the plant included a boiler house, cafeteria building, guardhouse, hanger, maintenance building, office building, paint shop, police building, and pump house.

Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City used the plant for storage after the plant ceased aircraft production at the end of World War II. In 1951, as the Cold War with the Soviet Union intensified, the plant reopened and produced and modified aircraft until 1991. The plant also produced missile-guidance systems, space-vehicle components, electronic countermeasure devices, and stealth technologies during that time period.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Danney Goble, Tulsa: Biography of the American City (Tulsa, Okla.: Council Oak Books, 1997). Tulsa (Oklahoma) Tribune, 14 April 1992, 15 August 1992. Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 15 and 16 August 1942.

Kent A. Schell

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