This week in AFLCMC history - May 16 - May 20, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
16 May 1950 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.) 

Service testing on the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II began at Wright -Patterson AFB. WWII and the Berlin Airlift demonstrated the need for high-capacity strategic airlifters. The new C-124 was based on Douglas’ C-74 Globemaster which saw only limited production. The C-124 had a significantly enlarged fuselage with a capacity for 200 troops or over 68,000 pounds of cargo. Its front clamshell doors gave a distinctive look. It was powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radial engine, like the B-36.
C-124s served into the 1970s.
17 May 1978 (Digital Dir./Hanscom/Tinker) 

The Air Force announced that the Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning & Control System Aircraft was formally designated the “Sentry.” The E-3 prototype had made its first flight in 1972 and by this time 14 aircraft were in the operational fleet. The E-3A was described at the time as “a highly survivable, mobile, high capacity radar station and command and control (C2) center housed in a Boeing 707 on board the E-3A includes both active and passive radar detection and tracking systems, navigation units, communications, identification units, identification sensors, and a data processor that provides an integrated presentation of the air situation on operator display panels.” 

18 May 1992 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.) 
The first production McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) C-17 Globemaster III entered flight testing. Airframe P-1 and the next four production planes (P-1 and P-2 shown on the production line here) were slated for the flight testing program, along with the original T-1 test aircraft that made its first flight the previous September. These aircraft were critical to the success of the program because numerous problems cropped up during testing that needed resolution before the fleet became operational. P-1, tail number 88-0265, remains in the Air Force’s operational C-17 fleet. (See Globemaster photo above). 

19 May 1963 (Presidential & Executive Airlift Dir.) 

The Boeing VC-137C set 15 world records on a round trip flight from Washington, DC, to Moscow, Russia. The plane was a modified 707 airliner that was the first aircraft specifically built as a presidential transport, or Air Force One. The VC-137C, tail number 62-6000, had the call sign “SAM 26000” (Special Air Mission) after being delivered the previous October. President John F. Kennedy was the first to use it. For this flight, a Soviet navigator and radio operator came along, as required for flights over their territory. The 5,000 mile trip lasted 8 hours and 39 minutes, for an average speed of 491mph. Captain James Swindal, a veteran of WWII and the Berlin airlift, was Kennedy’s personal pilot, including returning the President’s body from Dallas to Washington after his assassination. SAM 26000 served eight presidents, JFK through Bill Clinton, and now resides at the National Museum of the USAF. 

20 May 1958 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir.) 

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen T. D. White and Hugh L. Dryden, the Director of NASA predecessor the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), signed an agreement formally bringing the civilian agency on board Weapons System 464L, better know as “Dyna-Soar” (Dynamic Soaring). Since the mid-1950s, the USAF, mainly Wright Field, had researched and conducted limited experiments on hypersonic spaceplane concepts. They focused on the “boost-glide” approach: using a rocket to boost a manned spaceplane into low orbit, where it would perform a long-range, gliding reentry. The Dyna-Soar plan progressed from an experimental glider to reconnaissance to orbital bomber. While the Air Force and NACA partnered on many experimental programs, the explicit military use of Dyna-Soar limited the NACA to technical assistance and advice. The Program Office was in the equivalent of today’s AFLCMC/WA. Dyna-Soar was cancelled in 1963 before any prototypes were built.

21 May 1981 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir.) 

The Aeronautical Systems Division Deputy for Development Planning (ASD/XR) released a Request for Information (RFI) to 9 contractors for an Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF). Relevant studies had been underway for several years and now ASD was prepared to take the next step. Money was scarce, so XR explored options for low/no cost means of exchanging government information on relevant threats, scenarios, and the results of studies and lab work for the contractors’ technical and conceptual approaches to a new fighter. Industry briefed its results a year later. ATF eventually became the Lockheed F-22 Raptor. 

This Week in AFLCMC History Highlight: 22 May 1990 

McDonnell Douglas pilot Larry Walker and Maj Erwin Jenschke landed the NF-15B Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) Maneuver Technology Demonstrator (SMTD) in just 1,650 feet at Edwards AFB, CA. 

The SMTD originated as a risk-reduction effort for the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) that culminated in Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. The 1977-78 Synergistic Strike Systems Study first spelled out a need for a STOL on an ATF. The European battleground envisioned during this period of the Cold War relied on the use of runways, which were vulnerable, fixed targets. An enemy attack could neutralize numerous aircraft more efficiently by destroying a runway than by shooting every plane down. However, a fighter with the capability of taking off and landing from very short runways had greater flexibility in its operations. 

The Aeronautical Systems Division (ASD) included STOL in its 21 May 1981 Request for Information to ATF con-tractors, and identified the critical enabling technology: two-dimensional (2D) thrust-vectoring/reversing nozzles. The Air Force Wright Aeronautical Laboratories Flight Dynamics Lab (now AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate) started the 5-year, $117.8 million SMTD program in 1983 to develop and flight test thrust vectoring/reversing nozzles on behalf of ASD. The plan was to identify and solve the technical issues outside of the ATF program’s formal budget, then transition that knowledge back into the program through the engine and airframe contractors. 

The engine nozzles were rectangular and capable of directing thrust upwards or downwards (2D). For thrust reversal, the flap closed as forward vents opened to direct thrust toward the front of the plane, rapidly slowing it. Pratt & Whitney was the prime contractor for these, using its F100-PW-220 engine, while McDonnell modified an F-15B for the nozzles, canards, and other systems as the SMTD platform. 

The thrust reversers were necessary to meet the ATF program’s requirement to land in less than 1500 feet. SMTD showed that this was an insurmountable challenge. Thermal and structural loads on the nozzles were well in excess of predictions, leading to significant weight penalties—as much as 1500 pounds. Fortunately for the program, SMTD made this clear early on, allowing the Program Office to reconsider the requirement. It gradually relaxed the landing distance to 2000’, then 3000’, then finally deleted thrust reversers from the program entirely in December 1987. SMTD kept the technology through flight demonstration, however. Once the ATF became F-22, it retained the 2-D thrust vectoring nozzles that were successfully developed on SMTD and enabled the Raptor’s “super-maneuverability,” but that was a beneficial side effect of the capability originally intended for STOL.