Historic Structures

History of Fairchild Kreider-Reisner Aircraft Company - Fairchild Aircraft, Hagerstown Maryland

Sherman M. Fairchild invented the first successful aerial camera and started the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation in New York in 1920. He developed a thriving business producing aerial cameras and aerial surveys, which transformed the mapping industry. Expanding into the nascent aviation industry, Fairchild formed the Fairchild Aviation Corporation in 1925, which in addition to the aerial survey business, started developing its own airplanes and engines from a facility in Farmingdale, New York. It was during this period that Sherman Fairchild met Ammon Kreider and Lewis Reisner of the upstart Kreider-Reisner Aircraft Company (KRA) of Hagerstown, most likely at one of the many air races that were popular during the 1920s. Kreider-Reisner, which started as an airplane repair and flying service out of a former wooden shoe repair shed, managed to build over 100 Challenger sport biplanes in 1927-28, working inside and outside of four buildings in north Hagerstown. Beginning in 1928, Kreider worked with Fairchild to test the Caminez engine, and only the KRA Challengers proved sturdy enough to handle the rough running engine.

The C-2 Challenger was a three-place biplane powered by a Curtiss OX-5 engine. It developed a national reputation as a sturdy, well-built, low maintenance sport plane. Ammon Kreider"s salesmanship and racing exploits marketed this model, along with the more powerful C-4. While building three planes a week, KRA was poised to modernize. The partners had blueprints for a new 32,000 sf factory capable of producing 500 planes a year, but needed the capital to expand. Since Fairchild and Kreider had already developed a successful working relationship, on 31 March 1929 the Fairchild Aviation Corporation officially acquired Kreider-Reisner Aircraft Company for $250,000. Sherman Fairchild was to be chairman of this new subsidiary, with Ammon Kreider president and Lewis Reisner vice-president. At a dinner announcing the merger at the Detroit Air Show, Sherman Fairchild exclaimed, "The most important thing… is not the plant, but the fact that we are connecting with the Kreider-Reisner organization, one of the most efficient airplane manufacturing organizations in the United States."

Tragically, four days later on 13 April 1929, Ammon Kreider was killed in a midair collision at Detroit. This setback did not slow the momentum of the new company, as the purchase of the land for the new Kreider-Reisner Aircraft Company Factory No. 1 closed on 18 April 1929. Built on the former flying field behind the Kreider-Reisner Shed, at 1 Park Lane, the factory was completed in only four months. The 35,000 sf structure tripled Kreider-Reisner"s capacity, and transferred most of the assembly operations under one roof. In addition to the cluster of buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue, Kreider-Reisner also used an airfield and hangar 4 miles to the north which it built on 60 acres acquired in 1928. The new plant modernized and streamlined the production process, with 300 employees working two shifts for a projected capacity of ten planes a week. An auto executive with experience in large scale production, John Squires, was hired to replace Kreider as president. As soon as the plant opened in September, the company authorized an 8,000 sf expansion. They also began a large scale marketing campaign to sell the newly renamed Fairchild KR-31 (formerly C-2), KR-34 (C-4, a three-place open cockpit biplane with increased power), and KR-21 (C-6, a two-place, tapered wing, open cockpit biplane) airplanes.

When it opened, Kreider-Reisner proclaimed their new factory was "one of the most modernly equipped airplane plants in the world… equipped with the latest and best equipment," and offered "a wealth of new manufacturing processes." Kreider-Reisner could now manufacture its biplanes in a mechanized assembly line process under one roof, with an improved capacity of eight aircraft a week. The KRA biplanes were constructed of chrome molybdenum steel fuselage frames. The steel was shaped with metal working equipment, including milling machines, punch presses, multiple spindle drill presses, tool maker"s lathes, steel cutting saws, etc. All the fittings were jig-welded in a master fuselage jig to minimize distortion. The updated welding shop piped acetylene gas under the floor to stations from the generating plant. After welding, the entire fuselage was sandblasted in a separate, ventilated room, outfitted by the Pangborn Corporation of Hagerstown, a leader in sandblasting technology. The sandblasting cleaned all the welded structures, parts and fittings, providing a clean surface before being sprayed with several protective coatings of dope and lacquer.

The wood-framed wings had previously been built in narrow, low-lying buildings and doped on saw horses outside of the shed. In the new woodworking department, KRA had the equipment to shape wing beams "in less than one tenth the time" by using mechanical routers, universally adaptable saws, and employing an overhead system of blowers to collect shavings and dust. The spruce wing spars were routed and connected to Pratt trussed ribs with three-ply mahogany gussets. This aerodynamic frame was then post-tensioned with molybdenum wire to create a strong but light structure. The wing was then "Lion-oiled" and covered with grade A cloth and sprayed with multiple coats of dope and lacquer. All spray painting of the assembled frames was now performed in state of the art spray tunnels, fitted with automatic sprinkler systems and selfcontained exhaust blowers. The KR Challenger also featured ailerons on both the upper and lower wings, controlled by steel rod. The tail featured a horizontal stabilizer adjustable from the cockpit. A heat-treated molybdenum steel tail skid assisted landing on typically rough field conditions. The Challenger had two cockpits, a front for two passengers and rear for the pilot. There was a 24 inch walkway on the wing to allow access into the opening. The cowling, which covered the engine, was made of power hammered heavy sheet aluminum, and independently removable for access.

"KREIDER-REISNER AIRCRAFT CO. AIRPORT 4 MILES" was painted proudly on the roof, a reminder that testing and delivery was still accomplished at the company"s airfield up Pennsylvania Avenue. The future appeared bright for Fairchild"s Kreider-Reisner Aircraft Company on the brink of the opening of its new factory in September 1929.

Prior to the official purchase of Kreider-Reisner, Sherman Fairchild combined the Fairchild Aviation Corporation with a new conglomerate called the Aviation Corporation (AVCO). Although hoping to become a "General Motors of the Air," AVCO became unwieldy, with sixty-seven directors overseeing thirty-one aviation companies. Combined with the effects of the stock market crash in October 1929 and the ensuing Depression, AVCO lost up to $350,000 a month. In 1930 Kreider-Reisner stopped production altogether, cutting the workforce to fifteen and reverting to just servicing existing aircraft. Even with orders at a standstill, Fairchild encouraged development. Lewis Reisner and George Hardman designed a new, low cost aircraft, the Fairchild 22C-7, forerunner of the F-22. A parasol-shaped, open cockpit, two-seat, high-wing monoplane, the F-22 lowered production costs and sold for around $2,500. In order to save his business, Fairchild sold most of his Farmingdale holdings and intellectual property to AVCO shareholders. With only the Hagerstown facilities and the aerial survey company, Sherman Fairchild staked his reputation on the F-22, which started Fairchild"s comeback. With the innovative F-22 and the cabin monoplane F-24, Fairchild led his company through a slow rebuilding period during the Depression of the 1930s.

While producing the F-22s and F-24s built at Hagerstown, Fairchild attempted to expand into the air transport market, winning a contract from Pan American to build six F-91 "Baby Clippers" for its Amazon River route in South America. Needing capital and threatening a move to Florida, Fairchild sold its airport tract to the city of Hagerstown in exchange for staying in town and expanding production. Under this arrangement, Fairchild would continue to use the Hagerstown Municipal Airport for demonstrating, testing, and delivering airplanes for free. The city eventually built a larger 100'x100' brick and steel airport hangar next to the existing wooden one in 1938, which it leased back to Fairchild. In 1934 Kreider-Reisner also built a 2-ton air freighter for the army, the single engine C-31, which at the time carried more payload than any aircraft ever built; this effort would eventually be rewarded with future military contracts.

Meanwhile, on 4 Dec. 1934, the names Kreider-Reisner, who had started the company in Hagerstown a decade earlier, were finally retired, as the subsidiary officially changed its name to Fairchild Aviation Corporation.

On the road to recovery in 1935-36, Fairchild increased the production area at Fairchild No. 1 to 65,000 sf by adding a 140'x120' final assembly bay to the south. The new structure featured two large monitors oriented east-west, that created a light-filled production shed; the original assembly area became the sub-assembly bay. Other new rooms added along the west wall of the subassembly bay were devoted to anodic treating, hot and cold cleaning baths for metal and cadmium plating, steel and dural heat treating equipment, hammering, bitumastic painting, and sandblasting. The 140'x 50' dope and spray room was fully ventilated. Doping fumes were sucked down through a grill in the floor, preventing the accumulation of inflammable scum and fumes. After this addition was completed, the company painted over "KREIDER REISNER," and "FAIRCHILD HAGERSTOWN, MD." appeared on the roof.

As military tensions increased in Europe in the late 1930s, the army began looking for a new plane to train pilots both at home and abroad. Fairchild engineer Armand Thieblot developed the M-62, a low-wing monoplane in 1938-39. Powered by the Fairchild-built Ranger engine, the M- 62 was durable enough to handle the abuse of a service-type trainer. After the M-62 won a special competition, the U.S. Army Air Corps ordered 270 Model PT-19 primary trainers in April 1940. A turning point for the company, it started Fairchild on the road to becoming a major military supplier. Fairchild also became a subcontractor for the Glenn L. Martin Company of Baltimore, earning deals to produce wings for the all-metal PBM Mariner Patrol Bomber seaplane, and Martin 167 and 187 bombers. As the build up for WW II started, Fairchild No. 1 continued to expand to the west and south. Western Maryland Railway built a siding leading to the south end, with connections to the Baltimore & Ohio and the Pennsylvania lines. Fairchild constructed three Quonset huts with a freight platform to the west of the track, and additional sheds to the south of the assembly bay.

With Fairchild No. 1 at capacity, Fairchild started planning major expansion on land adjacent to the Hagerstown Municipal Airport in 1940. They employed Albert Kahn and Associates, Inc. of Detroit, the same firm that designed the pioneering Glenn L. Martin aviation plants near Baltimore in 1937 and 1941. Originally 100,000 sf, Fairchild Factory No. 2 opened on 23 August 1941 for the final assembly of PT-19s, while Fairchild No. 1 maintained a sub-assembly role. Fairchild Factory No. 2B soon added another 200,000 sf, with three massive monitor roofs. The workforce increased from 163 in 1939 to over 8,000 by 1943.

While undergoing phenomenal growth during the war, Fairchild required additional capacity, even with its new buildings. It subcontracted with several businesses all over Hagerstown to meet demand. These local industries suspended their regular production schedules, sacrificing for the greater good of the wartime buildup. These included furniture makers such as Moller Organ Works, which produced wooden center sections and outer panels for primary trainers; Statton Furniture, which converted to production of wooden wing parts; and Brandt Cabinet Works, which built a few mock-ups of Grumman Wildcat fighters. Machine shops such as Foltz Manufacturing, Victor Products, Maryland Metals, W.H. Reisner Manufacturing, and Kauffman Manufacturing converted to machine work, fixtures, and welding for Fairchild. Automobile dealers and repair shops were used for tool work and storage. The coordination of this extraordinary city-wide production effort became known as the "Hagerstown System."

By 1944, Fairchild expanded again with an Albert Kahn Associates-designed, sawtooth-roofed 200,000 sf east addition. Fairchild No. 2 was used for the assembly of PBM wings for the Martin subcontract, while Fairchild No. 1 was relegated to "detailed parts manufacture." In 1943-44 Fairchild also developed the C-82 Packet as a revolutionary transport plane for the "All- Air Army" for WW II. The prototype of this twin boom-tailed cargo aircraft, the XC-82, was designed and built at Fairchild No. 1. Aluminum templates of the XC-82 fuselage and tail wing were used to sheath the original Kreider-Reisner shed when its lean-tos were removed sometime in 1943. Used to transport eighty paratroopers and cargo, the C-82 played an important role in the last year of the war in the Berlin airlift. More than 200 C-82 Packets were built before being superseded by the C-119 Flying Boxcar in 1948. Heavily used during the Korean War, Fairchild built more than 1,200 C-119s of eight variations by 1955, mostly at the airport facilities.

Fairchild Corporation peaked with over 10,000 employees in Hagerstown by 1955. After the end of the Korean War, the government cancelled the contracts for the C-119 and other models. Nonetheless, Fairchild constructed a Bonding Plant near the airport in 1957. By 1961, Fairchild starting losing out on other large commercial contracts such as the F-27, and employment fell to less than 1,300 at Hagerstown. Although Fairchild managed to win a piece of the A-10 Warthog contract in the 1970s, the company closed Fairchild No. 2 in 1983 and ceased all operations in Hagerstown by 1987. In 1989 Fairchild Corporation sold to Banner Industries of Ohio. Today Topflight Airpark owns the Fairchild No. 2 complex.

By 1963, aircraft production ceased at Fairchild No.1, and the facility was sold to Roper-Eastern, a division of appliance manufacturer Roper Corporation. Afterwards Roper expanded the building by adding a wing of seven gable roof sheds fanning out to the southeast between the siding and the Western Maryland Railway tracks. Vincent Groh bought the former Fairchild No. 1 in 1984. He leased assembly, office, and loft space to Commercial Modular Systems Inc., a modular building company, from 1987 to 1991. While a handful of light industries do use portions of the complex in 2007, only about 20 percent of the building is leased. Additionally, the building suffers from lack of maintenance. After being cited by the City of Hagerstown for broken windows and a leaking roof in 2007, Groh planned to install a translucent cement roof.