In Evelyn Blake: Killed in Action, we’re introduced to two projects that were wartime investment opportunities. Evelyn’s father invested in Plexiglas, now a common place plastic, was a miracle of science during WWII. Unlike other plastics, it did not easily yellow or cloud, and was perfect for making aircraft parts. Meanwhile, Mitchell’s father invested in the company that developed pigeon guided nose cones. Pigeon controlled missiles sound ridiculous by today’s standards, but as a somewhat viable alternative for guided missiles during the war.
By the end of WWII, Plexiglas was used for gun turrets, windshields, and cabin windows of combat airplanes. Arguably, advancements in plastics were one of the most important scientific advancements of the war. If nothing else, the B-17, one of the war’s most iconic planes, could not have been built without Plexiglas.
The U. S. Army Air Forces Pilot’s Information File gives very detailed instructions on the car of Plexiglas, giving us a sense that it wasn’t quite as durable as the Plexiglas we have today. “Cover Plexiglas with canvas covers when exposed to sun, as extreme heat will soften and bend the Plexiglas… …An automobile type wax, free from any abrasive materials, will remove the majority of light scratchers, Several applications with a small grit free cloth may be necessary. Do not rub too hard or too long on one spot as the heat generated may be enough to soften the plastic.” In addition, it was recommended to use the bare hand instead of a wiper cloth. No strong soaps or any type of solvent except Kerosene should be used. These clouded the plastic. While Plexiglas existed prior to WWII, Rohm and Haas, it’s main manufacturer, grew rapidly during WWII to keep up with the need for aircraft during the war.
While Evelyn’s father may have made his imaginary fortune investing in the plastics of tomorrow, Mitchell’s father was hardly the only person to lose money on Pigeon guided missiles. While the idea of birds controlling missiles may seem ludicrous, in 1943, Project Pigeon was awarded $25,000 by the National Defense Research Committee. The sum equates to around a half million dollars when adjusted for inflation. The plug was pulled on the program in late 1944.
The Bat, a guided bomb that used an active radar homing device, was designed to use the same basic airframe design put an end to Project Pigeon for the remainder of the war. In 1948, the project was restarted by the U.S. Navy, who continued to pursue pigeons as a way to guide missiles. The first electronic guided missile was put into service in 1953, effectively ending any need for Pigeon steering.