You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 10:05 a.m.

PBS to air documentary about Ypsilanti's legendary Willow Run B-24 bomber factory

By Katrease Stafford

A documentary about the Ypsilanti Willow Run airport's legendary B-24 bomber plant will air Sunday on PBS.


B-24 Liberators line the airfield at Willow Run Airport in this June 1945 photo. The bomber plant adjacent to the airport produced the famed World War II bombers in a plant built by Henry Ford. The influx of workers for the massive war-time production project gave rise to an entire community called Willow Run. file photo

"The Story of Willow Run" was a black and white documentary produced by the Ford Motor Company in 1945. The documentary describes the history of the bomber plant during the World War II period.

According to the Michigan Aerospace Foundation, the documentary recounts the building of the massive assembly plant, and the production process of more than 8,000 B-24 heavy bombers. The bombers were built at the plant from 1942 to 1945.

The plant was built by Henry Ford in 1941 and employed more than 42,000. The factory produced one B-24 aircraft every 59 minutes, according to the Yankee Air Museum. The museum was established in 1981.

The program will air at 4 p.m. Sunday on Channel 56.

Below, see a preview of the documentary from the Michigan Aerospace Foundation:

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.



Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 11:52 a.m.

This is the first time I've found the comments to be far more interesting and informative than the actual article. Refreshing to not have all the grumpy sniping that characterizes most of the commentary. Thanks!

Robert Richards

Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 3:10 p.m.

The Stockbridge High School Robotics Team will be traveling to the Republic of Palau March 21 to April 3, 2013 to search for a B-24 shot down in 1944. This is the last missing B-24 in Palau her 8 member crew is still listed as MIA. The kids have been to the Yankee Air Museum as part of their research prior to deploying. You can follow their Expedition to Palau with the BentProp project on their Facebook Page or at

Alan Haber

Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

The untold story is that when the plant was opened, workers were recruited from various states in the South and migrated here for the war jobs. However, no provisions were made for housing the workers. The local real estate politicos refused to permit the feds from building public housing for these workers, (that would be socialism!) arguing that there was enough housing in Detroit, Inkster and other points East. So rather than build housing near the factory, they persuaded the government to build these workers a special road from Detroit to Willow Run, and to give the workers extra gas and tire rations so they could commute to work. This bit of road, now called I-94, was the first segment of actual freeway in America (other limited access, divided highways were all toll roads, like the Pennsylvania turnpike.) The result was that the factory was surrounded by tents and tar paper shanties where many workers lived in the winters of 1942 and 1943, and summers too. Temporary housing was finally built in 1944, which was taken over by the University of Michigan after the war for Veterans' student housing. The Willow Village area of Superior Township became a racially and economically divided cluster of neighborhoods marked by endemic post war poverty. An Office of Economic Opportunity, War on Poverty "demonstration" project was organized in 1964-66. Remember these reactionary economic policies every time you ride on this bit of "historic highway."


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 3:17 p.m.

Alan -- this is more insightful than the show itself...and so so true. Thanks for posting.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

The story of the Willow Run Bomber Plant is a fascinating story, not only about the Arsenal of Democracy which was Detroit and SE Michigan during World War II, but also the story of the people who were the "Home Front" during that time. So many people in SE Michigan today can point to that plant and recall knowing someone who worked there. The Yankee Air Museum has been researching and keeping that story alive for over 30 years and the Michigan Aerospace Foundation has been raising money to support the efforts of the museum. If you have not visited the museum at Willow Run (NE Corner of Willow Run Airport - D Street of Beck Road, you should do that. Also, the documentary which is being shown on PBS was provided to them by the Michigan Aerospace Foundation and the DVD can be purchased either through the website of the foundation - or at the Yankee Air Museum Gift Shop at Willow Run - You can also receive a DVD for donating to the MIchigan Aerospace Foundation or Detroit Public Television. Learn about this important part of the history of SE Michigan.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 7:21 a.m.

Love reading the posts! The County of Washtenaw stands on the "edge" of creating the appropriate memorial to the Place where, like Helen of Troy, who launched a thousand ships, Willow Run launched ten thousand bombers that Won WWII!! High Altitude Daylight Precision Bombardment, that's what it was about 60+ yrs ago!!!


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 4:04 a.m.

Channel 56 already aired it earlier this week. It was quite interesting, but: 1. Very dated; not unexpected, but wow 2. Clearly produced by Ford


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 3:30 a.m.

I worked at the Engineering Department for 13 years there, what an amazing place inside.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 2:18 a.m.

God bless all the veterans and men and women who worked to support them!

An Arborigine

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 10:28 p.m.

Michigan vs Indiana also at 4pm, looks like DVR time!

Top Cat

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 9:46 p.m.

Copies of this film can be purchased at the retail shop of the Yankee Air Museum.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 8:54 p.m.

Dang, I'd like to watch this, but doesn't PBS know that the biggest basketball game of the season is on at 4pm too?


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

There's also; DVR; TIVO; VHS;, everyone knows nothing happens in the first half of the game anyway, just the last 10 minutes....


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 9:45 p.m.

I went to the DPTV website and looked at the schedule and clicked on the program, which brought up a small box with the option of "When to watch." It looks like it's scheduled to air later that night and several more times throughout the week.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 8:13 p.m.

I spent 25 years working at that site in the Facilities Engineering Department. It was a great place to start as a young enigneer due to the specialized electrical, mechanical, and architectural systems incorporated in the buildings's original design and construction. The construction blue-prints were started in 1938, as proved by the title block dates on the drawings, well before the US officially entered the conflict. The plant received electrical power via underground conduits connecting the Power House to the Ford Lake dam. These conduits partially exist even to this day. The plant also had a small on-site hydro-electric plant powered by damming Willow Run Creek, but generated most of its electrical power via steam turbines driving generators in the Power House. War time employees were paid in cash. The armored car delivering the payroll had a private garage on the west facade equipped with a dumb-waiter which delivered the money directly to a large vault on the second floor. The PayMaster's office adjacent to this vault had an armored steel ceiling hidden above the visible tile celing to prevent break-ins from above. The building is equipped with four 35 ft x 150 ft hangar doors equipped with counterweights to facilitate their vertical opening. Two doors remain in operation and the counterweights need to be adjusted everytime the doors are painted. Hnad tools used by the aircraft assemblers were powered by 180Hz electricity generated in the underground electrical sub-stations. Use of high frequency electricity allowed these hand toosl to be smaller, lighter, and incapable of being used outside the plant where all electricity in the US is 60Hz. Wartime employees entered the plant via climbing stairs in the parking lots and along the bus road to overhead walkways which entered and bisected the plant at multiple points. Each walkway also had an exterior freight elevator, and atop the elevator shaft/ tower an anti-aircraft gun was mounted.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 1:01 a.m.

Very nice Spyker!!..that was good reading. My father worked for the company that made the runways..I remember him talking about all that was going on then.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 6:28 p.m.

The Willow Run plant did more to advance women's rights than any modern day feminist.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 6:27 p.m.

I think name of the Ypsilanti Community School's mascot should be the Liberators, the nickname of the legendary B-24 plane.

Ivor Ivorsen

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 5:42 p.m.

The history of the Willow Run B-24 is a great deal more complicated. The first bombers to roll off the line were more poorly made and had an awful failure rate. Charles Lindbergh, who was closely associated with Henry Ford, wrote that " the workmanship on the first bombers that went through Willow Run was the worst I had ever seen." The Ford team had bungled the project in the worst way, and productions fell way behind schedule. Then Senator Harry Truman was called in to investigate the plant that was being called "Will-it Run" by the Press. Eventually the Ford team would be replaced and the Willow Run plant would go on to produce high quality bombers in amazing numbers. The heroes of this story, are, of course, the thousands of dedicated women and men who worked around the clock to build the machinery of victory. Unfortunately this film only perpetuates mythologies about Henry Ford and omits his earlier flirtation with Adolf Hitler and his chronic anti-Semitism.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 3:54 a.m.

Eagleman, Ford had very successfully made airplanes in the past. The problem wasn't with the build teams, it was the design of the aircraft, the need to adapt it to mass production techniques, and the working out of bugs in a totally unique facility custom designed, from scratch, to build aircraft. I recommend everyone get a copy of "Willow Run: Colossus of American Industry" by Warren B. Kidder to supplement the video.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 3:18 a.m.

Ford's anti-semitism has nothing to do with this story. Quite a few Americans were anti-semitic--includiing the aforementioned Lindbergh. Bashing Ford--who was an old man at this point--for exhibiting beliefs that a plurality of Americans held back then is silly. How about you focus on the fact that Ford and other industrialists made it possible for the Allies to fight the war? They are heroes as well. What also seems patently unfair is blaming people who were experts in making automobiles for making errors in constructing aircraft.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 3:11 a.m.

The first planes coming off the line were using Consolidated's plans and methods. The Ford team was not replaced. They overhauled Consolidated's plans and the assembly methods, including even building some specialized machine tools to get it done. Ford never had any "earlier flirtation" with Hitler. If you mean the award he got, know that that was presented on the occasion of his birthday in recognition of the how his work benefited the common man. The German counsels from Detroit and Cleveland made the presentation to Ford here in Michigan.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 4:59 p.m.

Willow Run is where Rosie the Riveter was supposedly from


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 7:36 p.m.

Supposedly? She was.

Dog Guy

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 4:48 p.m.

Seeing this this movie in 1952 explained to this "airport kid" why crews would trade a brand new Consolidated B-24 for a used Ford B-24. It was my education in manufacturing quality and efficiency.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

My grandparents worked in that plant.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 4:40 p.m.

That's supposed to be not sure about my grandmother.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 4:39 p.m.

I know my great uncle worked there. I think his sister, my grandmother did too but I'm sure about her. Anyone in the family that would know for sure isn't around anymore.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:30 p.m.

Katrease, I worked at the plant when it was the GM Powertrain plant and I have to point a couple things out. The Yankee Air Force Museum is not located where the former plant was but is across the airport to the east. And the bomber plant employed 42,000, not the airport. I have seen the documentary that you mentioned and believe I have a VHS copy here somewhere. It is very interesting and I recommend it to everyone especially history buffs. By the way I'm not trying to be like some who come to these articles just to find mistakes, I'm just pointing some things out.


Sun, Mar 10, 2013 : 12:56 a.m.

My Wife worked at Air Force Plant 4, the Fort Worth, Texas twin of the Willow Run plant. You could walk into either of the plants and find your way very easily since they were identical layouts. Except back in the 1980's you could see painted-over signs over some of the restrooms that said "Colored Only". They were finally renovated away in the 1990's. The plant is still in use building F-16 Falcons for Lockheed-Martin.


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:17 p.m.

Any idea what time and what channel on ( Ughhh ) Comcast ?

Julia Herbst

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

It is channel 6. I just looked through the guide for comcast and set my DVR


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

Thanks Chris.I'll more than likely forget but thanks


Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

The article mentions 4PM on Sunday. Channel 56 is the Detroit public broadcasting station. I believe it's channel 6 on Comcast.