Cause and Effect, Moments in History

What has three wheels and waddles through the air?

The Brewster in it's natural state

It’s time to learn what it takes to get your aircraft factory shut down in 1944. To start out as the first US Navy monoplane then be remembered as living up to it’s name as the Buffalo of the air.

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The wild Buffalo at play

The Brewster Buffalo was a response to a US Navy requirement in 1935 for a monoplane fighter. It would be armed with the standard .30 caliber and .50 caliber machine guns and be capable of exceeding 267 mph.  The Buffalo was more then capable of this and immediately went into Navy service.

By the beginning of the war the Buffalo was considered obsolete and relegated to the training fleets. With the need of fighter aircraft as great as it was the Buffalo began to lead a second life. Being shipped to all far corners of the Pacific to make sure the Japanese understood we had fighter defenses in place waiting for them. Note the lack of the world “quality” in that sentence.

Brewster factory Warminster Pennsylvania

The problem came when the Japanese spread out further then expected and these Air Forces were forced to launch their obsolete fighters into the air against the Zero’s. The odds were never in the hands of the Buffalo pilot. That isn’t to say that the Buffalo didn’t create it’s own small list of aces. In the hands of the Finnish it would be quite successful at shooting the equally badly equipped Russians. Of course with it fighting for the wrong side can this be considered a high point?

Next up on the story of the Buffalo is to mention the weird atmosphere that surrounded one of it’s three plants. This one located in Warminster Pennsylvania holds a special place in history. The Brewster aircraft company could never quite get full control of the plant having issues with both management and personnel.

The first approach was to give the plant over to Henry Kaiser to bring it back into control. This failed and it led to one of the very unusual stories of World War 2. The employees at the plant in 1944 went on a four day strike. Once again this is during the war they simply weren’t allowed to do this. Although exact reports of what happened there seem to be in the realm of myth and legend several things seem to stand out. First the employees took home about $50,000 in parts in those four days. Second they took over the plant and acted like it a prison lock down. The US Navy didn’t appreciate this very much. They went into the plant and shut it down. It would later be revived as the Naval Air Development Center at Johnstown to once again be closed in 1996. Which leads to the last sorry part of our little water mammals story.

A small group of surviving factory workers managed to acquire a Brewster Buccaneer that had crash landed in the midwest. They had it brought back to the old Brewster factory and slowly started to restore it. The Buccaneer’s were built along side the Buffalo and had as successful a story and their fighter cousins. Anyway these older gentlemen did their best to restore the aircraft. Right until 1996 when the Air Development Center closed. At this moment the US Navy grabbed the plane that they were restoring and sent it to Pensacola Florida to the US Navy Air Museum. Incredibly they did this without letting the restorers know they were doing this. Once again a sad end to a sad story.


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Brewster Buffalo finally at rest


Their are few survivors of the Brewster and this should be considered it’s legacy to aviation. The Brewster introduced the monoplane to the US Navy and helped to modernize it’s fleet but it  came at a high cost. One that can be measured in lives and time lost.

  • jakebonz

    Perhaps if they had fed the pilot porcupine broth they would have fared better.

    • fodder650

      Yeah I never did get that joke in there did I?

  • Number_Six

    This was one of the first kits I ever built and put fireworks into. I often wondered if pilots at the beginning of WWII were all excited when they got their wings and were assigned to a fighter group, then totally devastated they were shoved into one of these obsolescent piles of dodo.
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    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      I'm pretty sure it was the first plane model kit that my uncle made when he lived with us when I was a little boy. I remember reading on the instructions how it was a NAVY plane and vary unsuccessful in the war, though his had US markings, likely just a different decal sheet. I got interested in model kits after that myself, he was more into ship model kits, me cars though.

  • BlackIce_GTS

    Thread with pictures and details of the Buffalo's recovery and why there's swastikas on it.

    • fodder650

      Thanks for the link. As I watch the Wings of Russia series I am learning more about the Russian assault on the Finns.

    • fodder650

      Might as well make this a second reply instead of an edit –

      So the Swastika's on the Finnish planes predate the Germans using it by a few years? I wondered what the connection was between the two nations. I never questioned it much because I thought I read that several of the German aircraft designers went to Finland after the war.

      So I am corrected and in the future I will make sure I don't make the same mistake. Now let's take a second and talk about Pensacola. Which took the ME262 that was a gate guard at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station after a museum was formed AND BUILT to house it. They also took several other rare and unusual aircraft from Willow Grove.

      Anyway Pensacola took the Brewster Buccaneer when the Air Development Center was closed and then went on to collect a Buffalo to have a set? Of course both sit unrestored and I can't imagine this will get fixed at any point but I am going to go check

      Edit – ok this just keeps getting weirder and weird. So the Finns are demanding the Buffalo back saying it;'s theirs. Due to it's status as the only surviving Buffalo Pensacola is saying it's American. Probably because of lend-lease. Now this is from the end of the link you used earlier but is dated 2008. Now I need to find what happened to it since then.

      And here is the planes current status as of 1/26/2012 –

      • Number_Six

        The swastika used by the Finns is a symbol that dates back to pre-history and can be found from SE Asia to Finland. The elaborate Victorian mansion / palliative care facility in Belfast that my dear departed grandmother spent her final days resting in had a massive swastika tiled into the vestibule floor. The Nazi version is reversed but they were still hoping to draw on the mystical power of the shape. Heinrich Himmler's obsession with Eastern mysticism and confusion about the Aryan race is a whole nother subject…

        • fodder650

          The German leadership's interest in mythology is pretty well known. It still seems odd that they would have bought into it.

          • Number_Six

            What a stupendous collection of crackpots, psycopaths, and terrifying supervillains.

            It's always fun to come back from Asia with swastika ornaments picked up at temples and given as gifts by monks. It's easy to forget you're wearing that on a chain or something and have everyone glare at you in mis-informed fear and hatred.

          • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

            When I was in grade school I was into indians after dinosaurs. By Indians I mean Native Americans. I knew nothing about the swastika but somewhere I read about the Indian symbol. being so geometric and simple I started doodling it a lot in my notebooks at school. So here I was in third grade and I have this picture of Indians dancing around a fire with that symbol in my notebook. Of course I am not paying attention and Ms. White catches me. She yells at me about the swastika! I get sent to the principals office again. I try to explain that the symbol I am shown is different, that this is a religious Indian one, see it's not tilted, did not work well.

            Years later I am in Japan and there's that symbol on maps, means temple. It all makes sense now, Indian in the sense of from India! Anyway Ms. White never liked me, another time I got in trouble for pronouncing Godzilla gajeela like in Polish. I said it was disrespectful for her to say 'god' in the name of a monster that destroyed Tokyo. It was a Catholic school, that did not go over well.

          • Number_Six

            It's amazing how one symbol is so important to literally billions of people, but to several hundred million others it's hideous.

  • craigsu

    The second photo is my favorite. The pilot looks so tiny in the Buffalo. Thanks for the post, Fodder!

    • fodder650

      Here to serve. Honestly I'm having a blast doing this. Next up for tomorrow is going to be one of two things.

      The answer to we need more power and we need it now but we don't have the time to make a new engine. In other words "Hey Bob do you see the two engines over there? What if?"


      "Hey do you know the greatest fighter in WW2? What if we doubled it!"

  • pj134

    My (great) aunt actually worked at Johnstown for a while. She had a pet monkey… She never talks about her pet monkey. It probably ended up dead, so I don't push too hard. In her words, "it's where they spun the monkeys".

    Someone far better at it than I should interview her, she worked in the pentagon also.

    Johnstown Museum link: