This week in AFLCMC history - January 24 - 28, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
In this edition of Heritage Hangar, you'll learn about old and new airplanes and tidbits of what happened this week many years ago. 
24 Jan 1958 (Bombers Directorate) 

Contractors North American Aviation and General Electric signed their letter contracts with the Air Force for the XB-70 Valkyrie and its YJ93 engines, respectively. The Valkyrie was the epitome—and end—of nuclear bombers designed to penetrate Soviet airspace through maximum speed (Mach 3+) and altitude (70,000+ feet). The timing proved inauspicious as its development overlapped the operational introduction of Soviet surface-to-air missiles that considerably reduced its projected survivability. The program was cancelled in 1961, with just two prototypes produced for research purposes. The sole surviving example is in the National Museum of the USAF. 
25 Jan 1954 (Propulsion Dir.—Tinker AFB) 

The new jet engine test cells in Tinker’s Building 3703 became operational. Two factors necessitated this construction. First, the Air Force had been phasing out its piston engines since the end of World War II. Work on those had been a major part of Tinker’s mission since the beginning, but on 9 January 1953, it overhauled its last piston engine: a Wright R3350 Duplex Cyclone, used on the B-29 and other planes. From that point on, Tinker serviced exclusively turbine engines and needed the test cells to accommodate that focus. Additionally, the Korean War greatly expanded the operational tempo of the Air Force and the commensurate acquisition and logistics support. 
26 Jan 1958 (Fighters & Adv. Aircraft Dir.) 
The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter became operational with Air Defense Command. Designed by Lockheed’s famed chief engineer, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, the F-104 was the company’s response to fighter pilots’ interest in a fast, lightweight fighter to complement the increasingly heavy and complex fighters of the time. It served initially as an air defense interceptor, with maximized acceleration, climb, and altitude capabilities, but was repurposed as a fighter, fighter-bomber, reconnaissance, and even a space research vehicle (dramatically depicted in the film The Right Stuff when Chuck Yeager flies/crashes an NF-104).  

27 Jan 1956 (Armaments Dir.—Eglin AFB) 
The Air Force signed a development contract with the Martin Company to start full-scale development of the TM-76 Mace missile. The Mace was an improvement on the earlier Matador surface-to-surface cruise missile. The Mace was launched by a solid rocket, then cruised at high subsonic speeds for 500+ miles at low levels using a turbojet engine. The A model used an early form of automatic terrain recognition for guidance, while the B model had an inertial guidance system. Both carried a small nuclear warhead. 

28 Jan 1986 (AFLCMC) 

The Space Shuttle Challenger broke up 73 seconds after lift off due to faulty seals in a solid rocket booster. While the STS 51-L mission was best known for the Teacher In Space, 3 of the 7 crew members were Air Force, though none worked directly for an AFLCMC predecessor. Payload Specialist Capt Greg Jarvis (back, 2nd from R in photo at top) served 1969-1973. Mission Specialist Col Ellison Onizuka (back, L) was a flight test engineer and test pilot. Commander Lt Col Dick Scobee (seated, center) was a test pilot, notably for the X-24 and C-5. His son Lt Gen Richard Scobee is the current commander of Air Force Reserve Command at Robins AFB. 

29 Jan 1926 (AFLCMC) 

McCook Field Engineering Division chief test pilot John Macready attempted to set a world’s altitude record, but fell just short. His plane was the XCO-5, designed in-house by Lawrence Kerber & BC Boulton first as the TP-1 (Two-place Pursuit). The plane was specially modified with larger wings and a side-type turbosupercharger designed at McCook and built by GE as the Form F, and renamed the XCO-5 (Experimental Corps Observation), ostensibly for high-altitude photography work. A broken turbo intercooler line limited Macready’s flight to 38,704 feet. 

30 Jan 1948 (WPAFB) 

Orville Wright, the first person to make a controlled, powered, heavier-than-air flight, died in Dayton, Ohio, following a heart attack at his lab 4 days earlier. Born on 19 August 1871, Orville was the youngest of the four Wright Brothers, with Wilbur being the closest in age and 4 years older. Wilbur died in 1912 of typhoid fever, leaving Orville to carry on their aviation business. He also frequently engaged with the Army Air Service in Dayton, primarily as a consultant. Wright Field, now WPAFB Area B, was named in honor of the brothers in 1927. 

100 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 30 January 1922 

Major Henry H. Arnold, the Air Officer for the Headquarters Ninth Corps Area, San Francisco, produced the final report of a committee charged with surveying World War I aircraft production. While its shortcomings and massive expenditures ($1 billion+) had been 
investigated extensively and repeatedly, this new study focused on applying the lessons-learned. 

In 1918, the Army Air Service separated from the Signal Corps in part because of the constraints resulting from being subordinate to a function that had little relevance to the uses of airpower that had evolved during the war. The Air Service, aside from those operational units assigned to the American Expeditionary Force in France, was divided into two entities: The military-led Division of Military Aeronautics (DMA) and the civilian-led Bureau of Aircraft Production (BAP). The DMA was responsible for developing equipment and training an air force, while the BAP managed production. Then-Lt Col Hap Arnold, assistant to the DMA director, took on the responsibility of coordinating the experience and input from operational units into requirements for the BAP. He felt that stateside production was turning out airplanes that were borderline irrelevant to combat. Arnold was aided in this task by Lt Col Thurman Bane, the DMA’s Technical Section director, stationed at Wilbur Wright Field (now WPAFB Area A) in Dayton. 

The final report laid much of the blame on the automobile executives and companies responsible for planning the production program and building the planes, but who knew nothing of airplanes or their operating environment. It concluded with 16 recommendations, many of which proved relevant to the WWII production program, while others were applicable to peacetime and continue to resonate: 
  • Peacetime preparations of aircraft types, drawings, tooling, raw materials, and industry were essential to rapid scale-up for war. 
  • Lacking sufficient demand for commercial aircraft to keep industry afloat, the government should provide enough peacetime orders for military planes to support the domestic industrial base. 
  • Commitment to definitive aircraft types, sizes of orders, and suppliers at the outset of an emergency avoids significant delays. 
  • Most of all, design changes should be minimized. The WWI DH-4 had nearly 7,000 changes in a year. This recurred during WWII, but now minor changes were handled at separate Modification Centers, where newly-built planes were flown straight from factories for updating. That process avoided stopping production at the manufacturing plants entirely each time there was a revision. 

By World War II, Major HH Arnold became General “Hap” Arnold, Chief of the US Army Air Forces and was well-positioned to leverage his experience in preparing for that war.