Gallery: One Airman’s Trash...

Discarded parts of WWII aircraft were recycled for all kinds of purposes.

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All air forces dropped their fuel tanks when empty, not just the Allies. This German tank was turned into a set of shelves by members of the 90th Photographic Reconnaissance Wing in Italy. (NARA)
This bomber crew in Italy built a house from wooden crates salvaged from deliveries of drop tanks and unassembled aircraft. (NARA)
If you need a haircut on this South Pacific island, look for the Warhawk Barber Shop with its barber pole made of a bomb shell. (NARA)
Sergeant Ray Petit of the 15th Air Force in Italy built a chair using the wood crate from a belly tank. His chair is equipped with a reading light, ashtray, magazine rack, and a radio that turns off on a timer once he dozes off. (NARA)
This member of the ground crew of the 94th Fighter Squadron in Italy began with the belly tank of a Lockheed P-38 and added a Plexiglas shield and wheels. When airmen and Navy pilots returned to the States, they bought surplus tanks for $35 and hauled their “lakesters” to dry lake beds in southern California and to the Bonneville Flats in Utah. In 1946, the 165-gallon belly tank from a North American P-51 reached 131 mph with the help of a Mercury V-8 engine. (NARA)
Add a bench to an abandoned cockpit seat, and you have a fine place to play a game of cards. (NARA)
Captain Everett Baker of the Assam Dragon squadron in China had some hot pin-up photos, but for the really cold nights he welded a stove from an empty bomb shell and scrap tin. (NARA)
On wash day at North Field on Guam, Marianas Islands, there’s no better way to keep the momentum of the homemade agitator drum than a rotating propeller. (NARA)
When your job is servicing the P-51s stationed on Iwo Jima, a motor scooter built from fuselage panels and cowling comes in handy. Notice the logo of North American Aviation on the scooter’s side. (NARA)
If you fly by the skin of your teeth, it’s fitting to get your dental work done in a pilot seat, pulled straight from the cockpit and mounted to a frame. The drill is run by a 24-volt motor from a salvaged bomber, and the cuspidor is the propeller spinner cone from a fighter. (NARA)
Given a little downtime on Palau, a bomber crew of the 7th Air Force turned fuel tanks into racing sailboats. (NARA)

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. 

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