As we drive forward with new product designs, it’s always good to check the rear view mirror occasionally – we can learn from previous mistakes and take inspiration from previous successes.
I work in Global Engine Engineering’s Turbocharger Design and Release section - the basic hardware behind Ford’s Ecoboost technology. On a recent trip to an aircraft museum in Arkansas, I stumbled across a display featuring the turbocharger from a World War II fighter plane. It is old technology today, but it was on the cutting edge in the 1940s. Designed and built by General Electric, the large turbo was used on various aircraft, from the nimble P-38 Lightning fighter to the lumbering B-24 four-engine bombers… and on all, the turbos allowed the engines to maintain power at high altitudes, a crucial enabler for their dangerous missions.
I knew of these turbos existence, but little more… so some research ensued. One of my first discoveries was an image of one of these turbos from a B-17 bomber… and I was amazed to see on its nameplate, the text “Ford Motor Company!” According to the nameplate, Ford was building the turbos under license from G.E. Well, this required more investigation – Ford was in the turbo business LONG before Ecoboost ever made the news! And as a further coincidence, our products were going onto Boeing aircraft (the B-17).
On a hunch, I visited the Benson Ford Research Library on the grounds of the Henry Ford Museum. The library holds many of Ford’s early corporate records, and makes these valuable documents available for public viewing and research. I asked for material on Ford’s work at Willow Run, where we built the B-24 bomber during the war, in hopes that some reference to the Ford turbo might show up. To my further amazement, an entire report on Ford’s turbocharger work was found in the collection.
In brief, the U.S. Army Air Force recognized that G.E. could not keep up with demand for these “turbo-superchargers” as America’s “Arsenal of Democracy” was starting to pump out enormous quantities of aircraft. A request went to Ford, and within eight months, Ford was in production with a design improved for manufacturability, and with dedicated manufacturing and test facilities... with a product that Ford had zero previous experience with! Production eventually reached 3500 units per month. In just over two years, Ford produced over 50,000 of these turbos, and many additional spare parts.
The story illustrates how Ford employees went further to support our fighting forces – 70 years ago! I was inspired by the efforts of my predecessors, and have made the story available to anyone with access to our internal file storage. The original report on Ford’s Turbo-Supercharger project is here:
And a brief slide show with additional photos is here:
Images attached show Ford workers at the Rouge building the turbos, and are from the original report. The original high quality 8x10 photos are available for viewing at the Benson Ford Research Library.