As far as I know, jets did not see mass production across the world until the 1950's. So I'm interested in how they were built in that time. How many different types of factories were needed? How did those factories work? What supplies were needed and how much manpower did they need per jet?

Right now I'm only imagining two kinds, an airframe factory and an engine factory. I'm very interested in learning more and would not be surprised if there are many other types of factories that go into making a fighter jet.

For simplicity, let's exclude electronics factories like the radar, and weapons factories like guns, bullets, and missiles.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "mass production"? My direct experience is a bit out of date, only going to the late 90s with the Tornado, but they were built by hand, albeit with many assemblies being delivered pre-built. Those pre-assemblies where by and large also hand built. I have never seen, nor heard of, "mass production" as I would recognise it, say for example in the car industry. Can you provide an example of what you mean? $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    May 27, 2016 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Simon Mass production means produced on a mass scale. It does not necessarily mean produced on an assembly line. I was speaking in relative terms as well. The 50's is when jets really "took off" in production. Before that, Germany mass produced some jets in WW2, and before that it was mostly experimental jet aircraft. So it wasn't until the 50's that they were mass produced "across the world" (America, UK, USSR, etc). $\endgroup$
    – DrZ214
    May 27, 2016 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I think I understand. By mass, you mean large number of? $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    May 27, 2016 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Simon Yes exactly. $\endgroup$
    – DrZ214
    May 27, 2016 at 12:16
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    $\begingroup$ I think you would be wrong in saying that jets only entered 'mass production' (as you define it here) in the 1950s. Jets were produced in large numbers in the mid-to-late 1940s. $\endgroup$ May 27, 2016 at 13:55

2 Answers 2


Building an airframe did not change all that much in the jet age. Assuming you are talking about all aluminum aircraft the power plant is somewhat abstracted from the equation in terms of a production line.

Here is the assembly line that Lockheed had for the early P-80 Jets (not all that different than their propellor counter parts). This picture would make it seem as though the airframe was all built in one place as you can see it in various stages in this image alone.

enter image description here (source)

This is a pretty interesting article about the history of the plane and the role Kelly Johnson played in it.

Like anything in the world of production the assembly line does not change nearly as much as the tooling does. One of main costs in bringing anything to production is cutting and preparing the tooling. Assembling a jet airframe was not all to different than assembling a high performance prop plane of the era.

Things got more complex as they moved to more complicated materials (this came a bit later than your question references but none the less). By all accounts an enormous portion of the SR-71 Blackbird budget was spent developing tooling that could work with titanium.

The engine companies (Like GE/P&W etc) saw much bigger changes as they were now making and testing a completely different product. The P-80 above housed a GE/Allison J33. This would have fallen on to GE to build and like many engines prior would have simply been bought by Lockheed for the plane.

I will try and find some hard production numbers/times for this era of planes.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm sure large sections of the avionics were outsourced, as well. Artificial horizon, pitot tubes & IAS gauges, etc were all built by and purchased from the same companies that were building them for prop-powered aircraft. Probably seats (especial ejection seats) fall into that category, as well $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    May 27, 2016 at 15:52

Right now I'm only imagining two kinds, an airframe factory and an engine factory.

The plane's skin needs to be built, as well as all the electronics, all the cables, gauges, radios, guns, missiles, electric wiring, pumps, radar, radar receivers, ejection seats, the plexiglas canopy and windshield, the rubber wheels, etc, etc, ad nauseum.

Hundreds of subcontractors have supplied airplane manufacturers since the 1930s.


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