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This week in AFLCMC history - June 6 - 12, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
06 June 1952 (AFLCMC/Hill/Tinker/Robins/WPAFB) 

The Ogden Air Depot at Hill AFB prepared its plan for Air Materiel Command’s (AMC) Decentralization Program, which had a significant impact on all of the depots, including Tinker and Robins. In response to a 1951 Presidential directive to improve efficiencies, AMC enacted this decentralization effort that transferred responsibility for operations from its headquarters at WPAFB to each of the Air Materiel Areas (depots), while retaining only administrative control. Many functions (and airplanes full of documents) were dispersed over 1952, while the rest took years to execute. The depots gained significant procurement and management authority, though subsequent studies indicated resulting efficiencies were marginal at best. 
07 June 1961 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir.)
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara concluded that the TFX (Tactical Fighter-Experimental) concept should meet both Air Force and Navy requirements and authorized start of its development. The TFX, which resulted in the General Dynamics F-111, became emblematic of McNamara’s approach to DoD acquisition reform: insisting on joint programs in every possible circumstance. It also became a symbol of the difficulties of this approach when developing aircraft to meet dissimilar requirements. The Air Force sought a low-level penetrating tactical strike aircraft, while the Navy needed a new fleet defense interceptor. While those bore superficial similarities on paper, the actual design needs varied significantly. McNamara gave the Air Force priority, leading the Navy to eventually withdraw from the program and develop the Grumman F-14 Tomcat of “Top Gun” movie fame instead. (See photo above).
08 June 1970 (C3I & Networks Directorate—Hanscom AFB)

The Electronic Systems Division (ESD) Deputy for Communications Systems at Hanscom transferred Air Force Engineering Responsibility for the System 484N-B, the Kanto Plains Communication System, to Air Force Logistics Command. Started in the mid-1960s, 484N (aka WET WASH) was a 3-part program to modernize long-line communications in the Pacific: Philippines & Vietnam; Hawaii-Johnston Island; and the Tokyo area, which was the-B component. The Japanese network was built after World War II and was replaced under WET WASH with a microwave system, including a 49 transmission towers and control centers, along with training and support equipment. The program cost $22 million and was completed 72 days ahead of schedule. 
09 June 1966 (Bombers Directorate) 

The second of just two North American XB-70A Valkyrie strategic bombers was lost in a mid-air collision over Edwards AFB. The Valkyrie was conceived in the 1950s as a high-altitude, Mach 3 bomber. Unfortunately its development cycle overlapped improvements in Soviet air defenses that reduced the survivability of high/fast aircraft like this. The operational version was cancelled but the program was far enough along that the Air Force was able to build two prototypes for research purposes. On this day, the Valkyrie was flying with several other aircraft for a photo opportunity for aircraft powered by GE engines. The small F-104 (shown just off the XB-70’s right wing) contacted the bomber’s wingtip and flipped over the back of it, damaging both. The F-104’s pilot and XB-70’s co-pilot both perished, though the Valkyrie pilot ejected with injuries. The remaining XB-70 resides at the National Museum of the USAF. 

10 June 1918 (WPAFB) 

Pilot Philip Rader and his passenger Robert Connor lost their lives when their JN-4 Jenny crashed at the Curtiss Aircraft plant in Buffalo, NY. Just a few days earlier they had transferred from the Aviation School at Wilbur Wright Field (now WPAFB Area A) where Rader was a contractor test pilot and instructor. While the details are somewhat questionable, the 26-year-old Rader led a colorful life. He had penchant for art that earned him a job as a political cartoonist and reporter. It’s not clear when he learned to fly but he purportedly was involved in what was arguably the first air-to air combat. He and a fellow American were serving as mercenary pilots for opposing sides during the 1913 Mexican revolution when they reportedly exchanged pistol fire in the air, with neither inflicting damage. Rader made his way to Europe when WWI broke out and served briefly for the French military before signing up with the British Royal Flying Corps. By 1916, stories indicate that he racked up considerable debt to his fellow pilots, causing him to hop a ship back to the US. He joined Curtiss as a company pilot/instructor, including his stint in Dayton, where he was highly regarded by his colleagues. 

11 June 1969 (AFLCMC) 

Newspapers reported that the Defense Department had cancelled the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL), the Air Force’s last human spaceflight program. While the military investigated putting humans in space during the 1950s, President Eisenhower transferred that mission to the newly-formed NASA after Sputnik in 1957, leaving the military to find justification for their own space programs. The Air Force’s best effort was the reusable spaceplane Dyna-Soar, which was cancelled in 1963 in favor of MOL. MOL’s ostensible mission was as the first space station, but its classified payload was a large camera that enabled its astronauts to take and return photos of ground targets with greater flexibility than spy satellites. However, the program’s cost and improvements in unmanned reconnaissance satellites led President Nixon to cancel it before any flights. 

100 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 12 June 1922 

McCook Field Engineering Division Photography Lab head Capt Albert Stevens set altitude records for: a 3-person aircraft, photograph taken from a plane, and parachute jump, all on a single flight. 

“Would it get me in any trouble if I jumped out while we happened to be flying over my hometown?” McCook test pilot Lt. (later Maj Gen) Leigh Wade was surprisingly unperturbed when Bert Stevens posed that question from the back seat of their DH-4 in 1921. The photographer had a daredevil reputation and had taken aerial photos of dozens, if not hundreds, of parachute tests over Dayton. Wade admitted with a shrug that there wasn’t much he could do about it if his superior officer chose to leave the airplane. Stevens promptly seized the opportunity—the first of his many such exploits and was believed to be the first time anyone had used the McCook-developed freefall, ripcord-operated parachute under anything but test conditions. 

The following spring, Stevens had the opportunity to test several McCook projects at once: aircraft turbo-chargers that enabled engines to operate in thin air; building markings for high-altitude identification; long-focal-length aerial cameras; and parachutes. 

On 12 June 1922, Wade piloted Stevens and observer Sgt Roy Langham  to 24,206 feet using the only existing turbocharged Martin NBS-1 bomber. Stevens snapped a photo of the ground marker, then jumped out. The opening shock tore loose his oxygen bottle and the high winds buffeted him until he was seasick. He drifted 30 miles during his 20-minute descent. Dodging trees and barbed wire fences, Stevens landed roughly in a field, breaking two toes, dislocating one, and breaking an ankle. Undeterred, Stevens promptly requested approval for a jump above 30,000 feet.