World War II – Lockheed Burbank Aircraft Plant Camouflage

During World War II the Army Corps of Engineers needed to hide the Lockheed Burbank Aircraft Plant (now known as Bob Hope Airport ) to protect it from a Japanese air attack. They covered it with camouflage netting and to make it look like a rural subdivision from the air.

Lockheed Plant Burbank

Three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lockheed’s company officials gathered at Burbank plant to decide how best to ramp up production. The Army began setting up barricades around the factory and placed an urgent call to a Col. John F. Ohmer a pioneer in camouflage, deception and misdirection techniques.

Lockheed Plant Burbank

Col. Ohmer’s mission was to find the solution how to disguise one of the most important military facilities in the United States to look like an ordinary California suburb.

Lockheed Plant Burbank

Col. Ohmer marked key factories and assembly plants that may be possible targets, including Douglas Aircraft. He was given authority to use whatever means necessary to protect the Lockheed plant. With a camouflage engineering battalion under his command, he began recruiting artists, set designers, and painters from nearby movie studios, including Disney, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox.  In a short period of time the entire area of the factory was camouflaged.

Lockheed Plant Burbank

Airfields and parking lots were painted green and lined with plants to make them look like fields of alfalfa.

Lockheed Plant Burbank

The Lockheed-Vega aircraft plant in Burbank was fully covered with a canopy of chicken wire, netting and painted canvas representing peaceful rural neighborhood scene to blend in with the surrounding grass. There were rubber cars and fake trees with spray-painted chicken feathers for leaves, some painted green to represent new growth and some brown to represent decaying patches.

Lockheed Plant Burbank

Even a small farm was made with animals and all necessary facilities like a barn, a silo and other buildings.

Lockheed Plant Burbank

Employees continued to do their work, encouraged by the placement of new bomb shelters and big anti-aircraft guns. They were expected to play along with the illusion during their breaks, often walking back to their burlap bungalows to take down the laundry they had placed on clotheslines earlier in the day. Maintaining the illusion of a neighbourhood required signs of life and activity. Workers emerged to relocate automobiles, and took walks on hidden catwalks.

Lockheed Plant Burbank

The disguise of California ceased to be critical when the US Navy defeated a Japanese carrier task force at Midway Island. The threat of a serious attack against the West Coast diminished, then vanished.

Similar project was undertaken in Seattle where Boeing covered nearly 26 acres. It became covered by a complete town with municipal buildings, a park, schools and homes.

Source – Lockheed Martin