Willys MB Jeep

This is perhaps the most iconic American vehicle of all time.  The light, 4 x 4 vehicle could travel highway speeds or bounce cross country quite easily.  Well known for ruggedness and reliability, the Willys Jeep served a wide variety functions from the immediate pre-war period.

The best job on the airfield!

The best job on the airfield!

This particular subject was a ground control vehicle for the 91st Bomb Group in England.  During the war years it was common for a busy air base to have the ground control function done from a mobile vehicle instead of the tower.  This was considered desirable both to get the ground controllers out of the cab environment (leaving more room for the controllers dealing with airborne aircraft/formations), and because radios at this time were notoriously unreliable.  The basic “Follow Me” jeep could direct ground traffic by example (!) when the aircraft had damaged radios (or didn’t have the right frequency dialed in).

If the radios don't work, there's always another way to make the point.

If the radios don’t work, there’s always another way to make the point.

Funny thing, as a tower controller myself, I have had to work from a truck on several occasions when power was out in the cab.  A truck’s alternator is often far more reliable than commercial power for radios and air conditioning!  So one thing jumps right out at me when I look at this jeep; that’s a big radio.  Modern tunable radios are about 12″ x 12″ x 3″ and weigh maybe 5 lbs.  That’s still sort of a brick, but the radio is ruggedized and has about a 10 mile range.  Notice the monstrosity in the back of this Jeep!  This is likely an SCR-522 or similar model.  It may have the same sort of range as our more modern gear, but it is only tunable on four pre-designated frequencies.  That would be enough for the home field aircraft; probably one frequency for tower, one for ground, one for weather, and maybe an emergency channel.  The catch is that the airborne radios are certainly no bigger; which means each aircraft has four  frequencies.  In fact fighters often had two frequency radios.  So the “Follow Me” sign may come in to play anytime an aircraft not based at the field drops by!

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This little display is very personal to me.  I can easily imagine working out in the elements all day long controlling ground traffic.  If I’d been born 40 years earlier that little guy with the mic would be me.  Okay, he’d need to be a little chubbier…

IMG_8089 IMG_8090

This was built from the Hasegawa kit.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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11 Responses to Willys MB Jeep

  1. Theresa says:

    Too Cool the mobile ATC station.

    • atcDave says:

      And its really cool to be out there in field alongside all the airfield movement. Its a very dynamic, very exciting environment!

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    While the Willy’s jeep is the iconic vehicle it is actually a copy of the Bantam Jeep developed at American Bantam in Butler, PA (my hometown) in the hopes of keeping the small company afloat with a military contract. They were of course far too small to meet the needs of the military once war started so Willys was given the Bantam design and awarded the contract.

    • atcDave says:

      It’s actually a pretty convoluted little story. As I understand, the Army was concerned Bantam couldn’t meet manufacturing needs, so the design (which the Army owned per terms of the design competition) was forwarded to Willys and Ford to prototype a production model. Willys was proclaimed the winner, with certain refinements per Ford. But Willys, like Bantam, couldn’t meet the production requirements. So part of the order was sent over to Ford, to build the Willys version of the design!

      The same thing happened with aircraft, engines, all sorts of hardware during the wartime emergency. It’s fascinating to me that most everyone played nice and little, if any, legal action resulted from all of this. The military was (mostly) able to get the designs and quantities of equipment they wanted.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        It even happened between the allies. I’m sure you know the history of (one of my favorites) the P-51. The original was a bit of a dog until they put the Rolls Royce Merlin engine in the B/C models. Then for the D Packard basically manufactured a Rolls Royce engine under license.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah, I think its a great example of cooperation between allies. I believe it was actually the Packard Merlin in all production Mustangs, but the “B” prototype was a Rolls Royce engine.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Makes sense. Rolls Royce wouldn’t be shipping engines to the US.

      • atcDave says:

        I was just watching fireworks tonight with a friend who was all up on the Jeep story. I guess Bantam was not exactly thrilled with the Army’s handling of the situation! He was using words like “stole” the plans. I’m pretty sure Bantam remained a parts supplier through the war years, but they seem to have had bigger plans for themselves.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        That is the story. On questionable legal grounds certain elements in the Army claimed they “owned” the plans submitted and so could give them to whatever manufacturer they wanted. Bantam was on shaky financial grounds, this was to be the thing that saved the company, so they didn’t (or couldn’t) sue and took what the Army was willing to throw their way.

        A small personal note. My father actually worked for Bantam, though I am not sure of the timing and how close to the jeep development he was. He was a teen at the time I think, and was I believe a driver for them. It is one of those stories that has faded with time that I wish I paid more attention to.

      • atcDave says:

        I can imagine from the Army’s perspective they may have had concerns about putting too much responsibility on a struggling company.

        I know there’s a similar story about Seversky Aviation. The Army was hesitant to give them any large orders until the company fired Seversky (and the company was renamed Republic).

        Of course there were also stories of several companies that got large orders that clearly weren’t up to the task; like Brewster and Curtiss (Curtiss actually did manufacture P-40s in quantity, but it was their last completely successful design).

        But even well run companies were told quite clearly what they would be making, and what designs they would have to share. Can you imagine Boeing being told that due to high demand, Douglass and Lockheed would also be building their most important aircraft?! That’s exactly what happened with the B-17. Or even better; Grumman being told that General Motors would be taking over manufacture of several of their older designs so Grumman could focus on Hellcats and development. At least Grumman was pretty sure General Motors would quit building airplanes once the war was over!
        The level of micro-management was pretty surprising.

        I used to have a co-worker with a Willys Jeep. It was fun seeing that in the parking lot a couple times a year!

  3. atcDave says:

    It’s Saturday, and I’m working from the truck again! The Ann Arbor Airport lost power last night, and our battery powered everything was dead by 11:00 am. So for now, the tower is the truck…

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