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Willow Run: 1942

Willow Run: 1942

July 1942. "Willow Run bomber plant. A small part of the world's largest one- story war production plant, the giant Ford bomber factory at Willow Run, Michigan. Fixtures in background hold bomber wings during assembly." Photograph by Ann Rosener for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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Re: Willow Run

I always look for my mother in Willow Run photos. She left Kentucky to work in that plant.

Worked near this area

I graduated from Chelsea High in June l942, worked at the bomber plant July 1942 until Feb 1943 when I went in the Army Air Corps. I worked near this section alongside of the noisy center wing section mounting castings for the landing gear.

In the early days things were slow getting up production. If the production line didn't move to take out a center wing we were idle until they moved one, they would have us sort rivets to make us look busy, when we got them sorted we would mix them up and we would sort them again. I tell people that production sped up after I left. In November 1943 after I graduated from airplane mechanic school I was sent to Pratt & Whitney engine school on the other side of Willow run airport.

To Brian

I also lived near City airport We moved into our brand new house in February,1950. I was six years old. Shortly after we moved in, a large cargo plane crashd just a few blocks away, destroying two homes, I will neveer forget walking over there to see it. My mom got nervous everytime she heard a plane going over after that.

B-24 stringers

The channel-like material in the foreground might be "stringers" for the wing surfaces. These ran spanwise just under the skin and gave strength to the structure. An example can be seen at this B-24 wreck on Humphrey's Peak in Arizona.

Willow Run

Hi Tom. Is your dad still alive? I grew up in Willow Run in the 50s/60s, my grandfather had a drycleaning company that picked up and delivered in the village. I've never heard the story about the planes. I'll have to ask my dad if he remembers that. Where do you live now, by the way?

Willow Run workbenches

My grandfather worked at Willow Run during the war and acquired one of the work benches shown here. The legs look like they are made out of angle iron but were in fact one piece cast iron. I still have the leg sections and will try to reproduce the top. Thanks for the great pictures.

Willow Run


I also grew up in Belleville, and graduated BHS in 1956. I worked for Capital Airlines in 56, loading baggage out of the final assembly building, which was then the terminal. I also learned to fly at WCFS at RML.

As a small boy I lived near City Airport, and recall stories of them flying completed B-24's full of gas into City, draining the tanks, and shipping them out on flatcars as spare parts. The gas went down the sewers, they say, or into local's car gas tanks, if cars could be set up to run on 100 octane.

Drove by City Airport last summer. Really sad.

Luscombe Driver

Willow Run

Wow, thanks so much for sharing this photo. My grandma worked at this plant during the war; for all I know, she could be one of the ladies in the foreground. She carpooled with coworkers every day from River Rouge. I'm going to have a copy of this printed and share it with her. Thanks again!

Willow Run Photo

I believe they are assembling wing spars for North American B-25 "Mitchell" bombers. I can do some digging on the web for confirmation, if necessary, but I remember reading recently that they were assembled there early in the war, before B-24 production ramped up. Note that the spars are not straight; the B-25 had a strange inverted gull wing.

New to this site: FABULOUS!


I'm thinking that it's the wing in-spar rib assembly area, though it's kinda hard to tell since there isn't a completed one on the tables. Looks like they just do the forming of the outer ribs and maybe it goes to another area (off camera) for the attachment of the flat sheet metal to complete the rib. The proximity to the wing jig makes me think my guess might be correct. That and I work in a rather large plant (Boeing 747) right now.

Thunder Over Michigan

Good timing, as the Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run was hosting the 10th annual Thunder Over Michigan air show the day this image was posted. A lot of great old warbirds on display and flying, including a couple B-24s. This show just gets better every year.

Willow Run Jigs

Being an engineer and lifelong aviation enthusiast, I always love the photos of the aircraft factories. I am curious as to what the jigs in the foreground are for, as I can't quite make out the shape of what's being put in them. Any guesses? Control surface structure? Perhaps Dave can provide a closer look at the racks or one of the nearly completed jigs near the bottom of the photo?

[Click below to enlarge. Depending on your browser you may need to click a second time to expand the image. - Dave]

Willow Run III

If memory serves me correctly, Ford made Consolidated B-24 bombers at this plant, or at least the airframes for them. Were there any other warplanes being assembled here at that time?

Willow Run II

Charlie Paterson, a manager of Willow Run, was later a company vice president. I had to report to him because one my workers had cut off his thumb while operating a stamping press. Years later as I was walking back from lunch we met, he remembered me, he asked how I was doing etc. etc. as six or seven of his assistants stood waiting wondering how a vice president knew a die room supervisor.

Willow Run

I grew up in Belleville in the 60's, less than a mile from the plant, and have always had a fascination for its history. My grandfather worked there during the war as a machinist (center section) and always had some interesting stories. I actually worked at Willow Run in the 70's and 80's, and at one point worked in Hangar 1, Bay 4, the subject of another Shorpy picture. Unfortunately the B-24's were long gone. My dad tells of seeing them lined up along the Ecorse Road side of the field after the war, scheduled for demolition, lined up three rows deep for nearly a mile.


I love seeing the plant on Shorpy! I went to Willow Run School District for all K-12. The district, and practically all of Ypsilanti Township, was built for the families that came up (mostly from the South) to work at the plant. I loved hearing the stories. There's a great museum at Willow Run Airport.

Go Flyers! Class of 2001!

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