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This week in AFLCMC history - May 30 - June 5, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
30 May 2022 (AFLCMC) 

In honor of Memorial Day that is being recognized today: It has been a long-standing Army Air Corps policy to name its fields for aviators who died in the line of duty. This includes several of AFLCMC’s locations. 

Frank S. Patterson perished in a test flight in 1918 over Wilbur Wright Field (WPAFB Area A), which was renamed for him in 1931. 

Maj Gen Clarence Tinker was lost in 1942 flying a bomber in the Pacific, with the Midwest Air Depot’s field renamed for him just months later. 

Major Ployer P. Hill was a Wright Field test pilot who was killed there while testing the prototype for the B-17, becoming the namesake for the Ogden Air Depot’s field in 1939. 

Frederick Eglin crashed his plane in bad weather in 1937 and was honored when the Air Corps named its new Proving Ground for him in 1940. 
31 May 2001 (Armament Directorate) 

An Air Force B-52H launched the first live Joint Air-To-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) over White Sands Missile Range. The missile flew 195 miles before destroying its target, a concrete bunker. The JASSM originated in the mid-1990s to fill a need for a long-range, low-observable cruise missile. Starting a decade earlier, the similar Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile (TSSAM) suffered from developmental issues and was cancelled, though the program was able to contribute to the success of JASSM. Lockheed won the AGM-158A contract in 1998, beating out a McDonnell Douglas competitor. The jet-powered missile has a conventional penetrating warhead and remains in the operational inventory.
01 Jun 1976 (Wright-Patterson AFB) 

The Wright Field (Area B) aerodrome closed for regular operations, ending a half-century of flying there. The remaining flight operations transferred to the much longer Patterson Field (now Area A) runway. Construction at Wright Field began in 1926, opening the next year. The original aerodrome was an open grass field, roughly trapezoidal in shape. As heavier aircraft came into use and flying increased significantly in frequency, formal runways were laid out and paved between 1942-1944. They were arranged in a triangular shape that became typical for that era. Today, only the far runway is used periodically by the National Museum of the US Air Force for special fly-in events and for aircraft being retired to the Museum. 

02 Jun 1954 (Hill AFB) 

In coordination with Hill AFB’s 461st Bombardment Wing (Light), the Utah and California Air National Guards conducted fighter-gunnery operations on a newly-completed bombing/gunnery range on the eastern edge of the Wendover Range. The 461st originated as a B-24 bomber group at Wendover Field during WWII, but was re-established at Hill in December 1953 to support the Air Force’s need for additional close air support and air interdiction forces in the Korean War. The Wing initially flew the Douglas B-26 Invader (formerly called the A-26 during WWII, not to be confused with the Martin B-26 bomber of the same period), but did not see combat. The photo shows B-26s undergoing depot maintenance at Hill. The 461st moved from Hill in 1956 and transitioned to B-52s during the Vietnam War. It is now the 461st Air Control Wing, flying the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) and is based at Robins AFB. 

03 Jun 1946 (Bombers Dir./WPAFB) 

Capt James M. Little piloted a Boeing B-29 on a 2000km course carrying a 2000 pound payload, setting a world speed record of 361mph. Upon finishing his roundtrip run between Wright-Patterson AFB and St. Louis, the B-29’s number 4 engine went out. Its propeller suddenly broke loose, slashing into engine 3. The heavily damaged engine also shed its propeller, tearing a gaping hole in the bomber’s fuselage and rapidly depressurizing it at 30,000 feet. Both the hydraulic system and the right-side control cables were severed. The bad luck continued when a third engine went out. Rather than bailing out, Capt Little brought the crippled B-29 back around to Patterson Field, using only left-hand turns. His crew hand-cranked the landing gear into place, enabling the plane to touchdown safely on the runway. With no brakes, Capt Little turned off the pavement into the grass, saving his crew and what was left of the plane. 
04 Jun 1917 (Propulsion Directorate) 

Elbert J. Hall and Jesse Vincent, both experienced automobile engine designers and executives, completed the detailed layouts of the 8-cylinder “USA Standardized Engine,” more famously known as the Liberty Engine. Vincent and Hall had spent the preceding few days charged with assessing the engine needs of the massively expanding Army aviation force. They took it upon themselves to design an entirely new engine (borrowing heavily from existing types) that was optimized for mass production. They took their drawings to a midnight meeting of the Aircraft Production Board and Army-Navy Technical Board, where they presented their design. The Boards approved the plans and gave the men just 6 weeks to build prototypes. Eventually over 20,000 12-cylinder Liberties were built. 

This Week in AFLCMC History Highlight: 05 June 1946 

The Army Air Force (AAF) Air Materiel Command (AMC) concluded a 3-day press tour of its activities at Wright Field, part of the “Army Air Force Technical Base.” 
Some of the notable announcements: 

-The XS-1 was in development as a “flying laboratory” intended to exceed the speed of sound. This was the first official acknowledgement of the program that led to Chuck Yeager’s “breaking the sound barrier” in 1947. 

-Northrop built the XP-79B, a jet-powered flying wing fighter with magnesium skin. The Air Force indicated this “flying ram” could intentionally collide with other aircraft to knock them from the sky. What they failed to disclose was that the lone prototype had crashed months earlier and the project was cancelled. 

-Ejection seats were being developed and tested there, with no mention that the first of these were brought from Germany where they were already in use during World War II. The AAF shrewdly attempted several world speed records over these three days (see 3 June above) and announced that several others had been set recently. 

USAAF chief Gen Carl Spaatz arranged this event, less than a year after the end of the war, to lift the veil of secrecy on some of the many wartime projects developed there and to present future plans. It was no coincidence that this came amidst deteriorating geopolitical relations between the Western world and the intransigent Soviet Union, where the fate of the defeated Axis powers and atomic weapons hung in the balance. 

As happened at the end of the previous World War, the US was purging its military might even faster than it had expanded it in order to return to its usual peace-time minimal military posture. The scale of this was staggering: the AAF had grown from hundreds of planes and thousands of men to nearly 100,000 aircraft and millions of men over the course of WWII. 

Materiel Command in Dayton had surged to over 45,000 people, or more than 20 times as many as it had in 1939, then dropped by half in just two years. Of its 80,000 active aircraft, the Air Force scrapped 60%. 

The effects of massive demobilization and curtailed military spending were exacerbated by the technological revolution instigated by the debut of jet engine late in the war that rendered many of the remaining aircraft obsolete. AMC was stuck between the need to maintain the descoped, but still historically large, fleet and the need to recapitalize with the latest technology, but with little budget to do either, much less both. 

It was in that context that 300 newsmen from around the country descended on Wright Field to hear about and see the latest wonder weapons, and (hopefully) promote AMC’s message and Air Force technology, both to the American people and their Congressmen, as well as to international allies and opponents. Presenters included AMC commander (and future USAF Chief of Staff and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Lt Gen Nathan Twining, AMC Engineering Division chief Brig Gen Laurence Craigie, and Maj Gen Curtis LeMay, who was then the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research and Development but was most famous for his zealous advocacy of strategic bombing and became synonymous with Strategic Air Command. 

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