Saturday, January 20, 2018

Buick Built Aircraft Engines in Chicagoland

I attended a presentation given by James A. Brown at a Railroad & Shortlines Club meeting about the industrial development of the Santa Fe corridor in the Chicagoland area. I knew that the land for the current UPS facility was previously used by a GM Stamping Plant. I learned that it was originally a Buick plant and that it also made the Buick J-65 jet engine between 1952-55. (The Korean War was 1950-53.) During the life of the stamping plant, it made parts for all of GM's divisions. It closed in 1989.

I write about coaling towers (see label "towerCoal" in this and my other blog) because they demonstrate the strength of well-built reinforced concrete. Not only do they still exist after a half-century, they are so strong that many times it is not economical to tear them down to reclaim the land. As another testimony to the strength of concrete, the test stands for the jet engines still stand. James mentioned that some of the Santa Fe people that he interviewed for his book talked about how noisy this test stand could be.

3D Satellite
A Buick stamping plant making jet engines raised the question: How did Buick get into the aircraft engine business?" The short answer is World War II.

The Melrose Park plant now owned by Navistar to make engines was one of 19 plants that were owned by the government but operated by General Motors. In 1946, the government sold the 2,030,000 sq. ft. plant to International Harvester. Of the 173,618 Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial aircraft engines built, Buick assembled 74,198 of them in this plant, or 43%. These engines were used in the B-24, and later, in the C-47. (Chevrolet also helped build R-1830s) Later in the war, Buick also built some Pratt & Whitney R-2000 engines for the Douglas C-54. (Buick also made Hellcat tanks in a Flint, MI plant and several smaller items such as anti-aircraft gun mounts, shell bodies, aluminum cylinder heads, and crankshafts for Detroit Diesel engines.)  [USautoIndustryWWII]

This WWII era photo gives an aerial view of the Melrose Park, IL, plant looking northwest. The complex covered 126 acres.
For the J-65 jet engine design, Buick partnered with Wright Aeronautical. [Smithsonian, Wikepedia] "Buick built an aluminum foundry in 1942 to build airplane engine parts during the war. In 1952, a Buick factory was built south of East Stewart Avenue to make jet engine parts." [Mlive] Parts were made in both Flint and Willow Springs, but the assembly and testing was done in Willow Springs.

Probably Buick's last contribution to the aviation industry was to provide big V-8s to start the SR-71 in the AG-330 Start Carts. [WVI]

One of 13 photos in an album about this plant
The J-65 jet engine produced by Buick and assembled and tested at Willow Springs.

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