Aeronautics and Aerospace Industry

By: Charles C. Alexander and E. C. Barksdale

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: May 31, 2017

In Texas all types of aircraft, from small one-man planes to vehicles capable of landing on the moon, have been manufactured, and several major commercial airlines have originated in the state. Many years before the space age dawned with the orbiting of the first artificial earth satellite in 1957, Texas played an important part in the development of American military aviation and aircraft technology.

Before World War II a complex of army airfields (later air force bases) surrounded San Antonio, and Randolph Field (see RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE) was known as the "West Point of the Air." During the war other military installations were built in the state. The United States Air Force School of Aviation Medicine at San Antonio grew into the nation's outstanding aeromedical center and became a center for the new field of space medical research and applications.

Aircraft manufacture did not begin in Texas until 1940, although since World War I repair shops had operated in the state and had been successfully rebuilding airplanes. In May 1939 the Southern Aircraft Corporation was formed in Houston, and in July 1940 this plant completed its first plane, a biplane designed for use as an army trainer. In that month also the Hall-Aluminum Aircraft Corporation announced plans for a $5 million plant to be constructed near Dallas. In August 1940 the Bennet Aircraft Company opened a plant near Fort Worth, and the Worth Garment Company bought and moved to a plant near Fort Worth the equipment of the Roos Aircraft Company of Kansas City. On September 28, 1940, ground was broken at Hensley Field, Dallas, for the $7 million North American Aviation factory. The original unit consisted, when finished, of six buildings on a 180-acre site. The large main building of the plant was completely windowless, air-conditioned, and artificially lighted. In December 1940 Southern Aircraft began excavation for a plant near Garland and in February 1941 moved from Houston and began production of military primary-training planes.

In January 1941 the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation announced plans for the construction of a $10 million plant near Fort Worth to construct four-motor bombers, under United States Army auspices. It was estimated that the erection of this plant, one of the largest factories of any kind in the world, more than doubled the number of industrial wage earners in the Fort Worth area. Ground was broken in May and included a housing project and a community center called Avion Village. The main building of the factory, completed in December, was fourteen city blocks long and more than a block wide; it covered thirty acres.

By the close of 1941 six companies supplied parts and equipment for aircraft factories in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Several oilfield-equipment factories were converted to wartime production, and the Hughes Tool Company (see BAKER HUGHES) at Houston manufactured bomber parts for nationwide distribution. Workers at these plants came from all over the nation. Industrial-training schools emphasizing aircraft techniques were operated at Texas colleges and universities as well as at factories themselves.

Some decline in Texas aircraft manufacture occurred in the immediate postwar years, as most aircraft factories and supplemental equipment companies were converted to peacetime production on a smaller scale of operation. Equipment designed for working aluminum was newly employed in prefabricated houses, household furnishings, and industrial supplies. Chance-Vought, one of the four divisions of United Aircraft, Incorporated, took over the North American plant in May 1949 to produce and experiment with jet aircraft. The Texas Engineering and Manufacturing Company was organized to utilize the facilities of what by then had become one of the world's largest centers of aircraft production, and in 1950 Lawrence Bell established in a Hurst-Euless cow pasture the world's first plant specifically designed to manufacture helicopters.

By the 1960s aircraft manufacture was located chiefly in North Texas, particularly in the area of Grand Prairie, Richardson, Hurst, Euless, Arlington, and Fort Worth, an area that ranked second only to the entire state of California in aircraft production. Other aircraft-manufacturing enterprises or their subsidiaries could be found in Bexar, Cameron, Harris, Harrison, Hunt, Kerr, McLennan, Medina, Stephens, and Young counties. After the North American facility (later Ling-Temco-Vought), the Fort Worth General Dynamics or "Convair" plant was completed in 1941. This firm, noted for bomber production and its controversial TFX contract, ranked first in the nation in the export of defense weapons in 1965.

In 1944 the United States Army established an Air Defense Center for guided missiles at Fort Bliss, near El Paso. The missile center and its test range were subsequently used to test German rockets, principally V-2 missiles, captured at the end of the war. In the 1950s, as national security needs dictated an expensive ballistic-missile program involving all three military services, millions of federal dollars found their way to Texas in development and fabrication contracts to such firms with large Texas plants as the General Dynamics Corporation, the Boeing Company, and Texas Instruments. During this decade the space industry came to Texas in the form of manufacture for military rocket projects, ballistics research, and testing at the United States Navy's Daingerfield Ordnance Test Facility and research into the psychophysiological conditions of space flight at San Antonio. Aircraft manufacture and its later concomitant, the electronics industry, added significantly to the Texas economy. With the advent of electronics, companies such as Texas Instruments and Collins Radio developed in Dallas County and branched out elsewhere in Texas.

The decision of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in September 1961 to locate its Manned Spacecraft Center (see LYNDON B. JOHNSON SPACE CENTER) in Houston, planned as the command post for the national effort to send men to the moon, marked the culmination of the growing identification of Texas with the development of atmospheric and extra-atmospheric transport. In the 1990s NASA cooperated with other agencies to explore outer space, firms like Space Services Incorporated in Houston developed privately funded rocket launchers and other innovations, and area universities developed programs relating to needs of the industry. Among these were the Rice University Department of Space Physics and Astronomy and the University of Houston Space Vacuum Epitaxy Center and Institute for Space Architecture, working to support the space-shuttle mission and establish the nation's first permanent space station.

Aircraft manufacture in the 1960s ranked sixth in the state in number of employees, sixth in payroll accounts, and eighth in value added by manufacturing. (These figures did not include data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration complex, certain government contractors in North Texas, or satellite plants.) In 1967 sixty aircraft-manufacturing establishments operated in the state, employing 58,000 workers; 50,900 workers were employed in aircraft manufacturing in 1986.

E. C. Barksdale, The Genesis of the Aviation Industry in North Texas (Austin: University of Texas Bureau of Business Research, 1958). Roger Bilstein and Jay Miller, Aviation in Texas (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1985). Lloyd L. Turner, "The South's Biggest War Baby," Editor and Publisher, October 31, 1953.

Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Houston
  • North Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Charles C. Alexander and E. C. Barksdale, “Aeronautics and Aerospace Industry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 09, 2022,

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May 31, 2017

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