the Vultee

The next aircraft manufacturing pioneer to come to Downey was considerably more successful than his predecessors. Jerry Vultee moved his young Aviation Manufacturing Corporation to Downey from its hangar-plant in Glendale in 1936.

Having previously built commercial airliners, Vultee shifted his focus to military applications, developing the V-11 attack bomber. While the American Army Air Corps was apparently uninterested in the aircraft, many were sold to the Chinese, Turkish, Brazilian and Soviet Union governments.

Vultee airplanes on assembly line

Vultee airplanes on assembly line

Ultimately, the U.S. government did purchase some V-11s as well as many more of later Vultee models; by 1941 Vultee(Aviation Manufacturing Corp. became Vultee Aircraft, Inc. after the untimely 1938 death of Jerry Vultee in an airplane crash) produced 15 percent of all the military aircraft in the nation. Three new models in addition to the attack bomber were being produced by 1940: the Vultee Valiant Basic Trainer; the Valiant 51, a basic combat aircraft; and the Vanguard pursuit-interceptor.

Vultee Aircraft was an innovator in the area of manufacturing as well as aviation design. Having significantly expanded and revamped the Downey manufacturing facility to meet the new demand for its aircraft, Vultee now boasted that it had “more automatic machinery per square foot than any other aircraft factory.” Vultee’s particular masterpiece (in their own words) was what the executives exultantly described as “the first and only truly powered assembly line in the industry.”

“Rosie the Riveters” working at the Vultee plant (1942)

“Rosie the Riveters” working at the Vultee plant (1942)

In 1942 Vultee bought operating control of the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation of San Diego and became Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation (Convair). Convair at Vultee Field in Downey produced hundreds of Vultee Basic Trainers, parts for military war aircraft produced by other companies, and the B-24 “Liberator” heavy bomber.

At the end of World War II in 1945, as the production of military aircraft wound down, the Vultee Division of Convair remained open to support missile systems development for the government. Convair had contracts for the short-range LARK surface-to-air missile, and to study long-range missile weapons systems. The latter, dubbed MX-774 was designed to study two types of missiles: a subsonic, jet-engine cruise missile and a rocket-powered supersonic ballistic missile. The contract was cancelled for economic reasons in 1946.