American airmen and ground crews in World War II may have been linked to the world’s best supply chain, but that only delivered basic necessities. To duplicate the comforts of home, they had to get creative.
The soldiers stationed at bases around the world found clever new uses for all kinds of surplus airplane parts. One of the most common and versatile items was the drop tank, the external fuel pods attached to the belly or wingtips of fighter aircraft, which were dropped when empty or jettisoned to shed weight when under attack. Drop tanks came in the shape of a teardrop, and held from 75 to 330 gallons. Some were made of heavy paper laminated with glue or plastic, and were only strong enough to hold fuel for a few hours. These smashed to bits when dropped, to deny any scrap to the enemy.
Long-range tanks were made of aluminum or steel, though, and were reusable. These durable watertight tanks, and the sturdy wooden crates in which they arrived by the hundreds, were an airman’s best building materials.
Light aircraft such as gliders and scout planes were also delivered in wood crates for assembly in the field. With nails and fresh paint, aircraft crates became cozy barracks, hangars, musical stages, and private clubs.
View the gallery above to see more creative uses for repurposed aircraft parts.
Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.