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This week in AFLCMC history - June 13 - 17, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
14 June 1976 (Bombers Directorate) 
First flight of the third/last Rockwell B-1A bomber of the original 1970 order (t/n 74-0160). The B-1 was the first strategic bomber developed as low-altitude, terrain-following “penetrating” aircraft. Its escalating costs, the introduction for long range cruise missiles, new Soviet airborne radar that could spot low-flying aircraft, and the highly classified demonstration of stealth led President Jimmy Carter to cancel it in 1976. He was lambasted for the decision, but just months later he authorized the Advanced Technology Bomber that became the B-2. President Reagan later revived the B-1A as the current B-1B. 
15 June 1956 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir.) 

Air Materiel Command released $25 million to Republic Aircraft to continue development of its F-105 Thunder-chief. The program started in 1952 under the “Cook-Craigie Plan,” or “concurrency,” a WWII acquisition reform revived by two Wright Field vets now at HQ USAF that eschewed the linear prototype-development-test-production process. Instead, early production models served as prototypes and production preparations over-lapped with development. This shortened acquisition time, at the risk that any technical issues had a significantly greater impact on schedule and cost, which proved true for the F-105. This $25 million infusion was one of many stops/starts/changes for the program resulting from both problems and evolving Air Force requirements. 

16 June 1943 (Bombers Dir./Propulsion Dir.) 
The Vega XB-38 bomber crashed on its ninth test flight near the company’s Burbank, CA plant. Vega, a Lockheed subsidiary, was one of three companies building the Boeing-designed B-17—it was usual Army Air Force (AAF) practice during WWII to license production of its most crucial aircraft to multiple companies. The Army tasked Vega with swapping out a B-17E’s standard air-cooled radial engines with liquid-cooled Allison V-12 fighter engines and called it the XB-38. In radial engines, cylinders are arrayed in a ring around a central shaft and are (usually) cooled only by the airflow over them, while a V-12 is like most car engines with cylinders in two rows forming a “V” and cooled by fluid circulating through a radiator. Radials were generally more reliable, while Vs were more aerodynamic. The XB-38 tested whether the streamlined Allison V-12s would in-crease performance. Early flight tests showed they did not, so the project was cancelled after this crash. 

17 June 1954 (Bombers Directorate) 

The Air Force accepted its first production model Boeing B-52A Stratofortress. The B-52 had a somewhat torturous development process since its inception as a straight-winged, propeller-driven bomber in the 1940s. De-spite the delays and technical issues, the Air Force gave Boeing the first production Letter Contract on 14 February 1951. It called for 13 B-52A models, though these were not in-tended for operations. Instead they were “development vehicles in order to complete the flight test of the basic aircraft as expeditiously as possible.” Their configuration benefitted from experience with the XB-52 and YB-52, though neither would fly until the following year. For example, the A-model was the first to have the side-by-side cockpit, rather than front-to-back. In March 1952, the Air Force cut the order to just 3 B-52As, with the rest revised as RB-52Bs, or reconnaissance bombers. The definitive production contract came on 16 December and the first A-model rolled out in March 1954, slated for the flight test program. (see photo above).

18 June 1985 (Digital Directorate) 

The first Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) Class 2 terminal was successfully flight tested on an F-15 at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis. JTIDS is a means of digitally distributing, receiving, and processing secure battlefield command, control, and communications (C3) data between information-gathering sources and combat elements. It was managed by a Joint Program Office comprised of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The concept originated from a study contracted by the Electronic Systems Division (ESD) at Hanscom in the late 1960s and the enabling technology was developed during the following decade. The introduction of the E-3A Airborne Warning & Control System (AWACS) aircraft enabled and accelerated JTIDS because of its unprecedented data-gathering capability. The Class 1 terminals were for command and control centers, including larger aircraft like AWACS, while the Class 2 terminals were sized for tactical assets, like the F-15 that had been introduced along with the E-3A in the mid-1970s. 

19 June 1953 (Tinker AFB/Robins AFB) 

The Oklahoma City Air Materiel Area at Tinker AFB adopted a new approach to the maintenance portion of life cycle management: Inspect and Repair as Necessary (IRAN). Beginning with WWII, depot maintenance was based on Disassemble, Inspect, and Repair (DIR), or taking apart specified components or aircraft down to their constituent parts, and rebuilding them to “as new” condition. While efficient in terms of process, it required significant manpower and replacement parts. A shortage of skilled personnel and budget led to scheduled maintenance at specified time intervals to see what needed repair, then replacing only those worn components. Warner Robins was the first depot to enact IRAN, but Tinker followed shortly afterwards, beginning with the repair line for B-47s, C-97s, and KC-97s. Because initial intervals weren’t based on empirical data, it took some years for IRAN to realize its potential efficiencies. 

This Week in AFLCMC History Highlight: 13 June 1944 

Cruise missile predecessors originated during World War I. Dayton inventor Charles Kettering’s “Bug,” managed by McCook Field, was the most advanced, but the war ended before it was deployed. Related technology research, such as autopilots, guidance systems, and warheads continued during the interwar period, but without any cohesive missile program. 

World War II accelerated flying bomb development on both sides. The German V-1 (“Vengeance weapon”), tested in 1942, was the first deployed. Like its predecessors, it used gyroscopes and compasses for navigation and a wind-driven counter for range. It was powered by a pulse jet engine. This simple device uses only its funnel shape to compress air to mix and combust with fuel. Many times per second, inlet shutters open to let in air, then close for each ignition pulse, creating the “buzz” sound. V-1s launched either from a ground rail using solid rockets or was dropped from a plane. It carried a 2,000 pound high-explosive warhead. 

The V-1s that hit England offered Allies an opportunity to reverse-engineer them. Though the missiles were rigged to self-destruct if they malfunctioned, 
enough damaged components were recovered to send to Air Technical Intelligence at Wright Field in July. In just two weeks, the Engineering Division’s in-house propulsion experts built and tested a copy of the engine, while industry replicated a complete V-1 sixty days later. 

At that time, the Army Air Force (AAF) did have its own flying bomb programs in the Wright Field Equipment Lab’s “Special Weapons Unit,” though AAF Headquarters had been hesitant to invest in them, assuming the missiles wouldn’t be effective or reach production early enough to affect the outcome of the war. The June 13th V-1 attacks prompted Washington to revaluate its guided missile program and made reproducing the Buzz Bomb in the US, dubbed the JB-2 (Jet Bomb–2), the highest priority in that portfolio. 

Republic Aviation received the contract to produce the airframes, with later production subcontracted to the Jeep factory in Toledo, OH, while Ford built the engines. The first prototypes were sent to Eglin Field in Florida  for flight testing, which started on 12 October 1944. Thousands of JB-2s eventually were built and slated for an invasion of Japan, but none were used in combat. Testing continued after the war, though further missile development focused on American designs. One lasting legacy of the program was its ground test tracks installed at Edwards and Holloman AFBs that were repurposed for John Paul Stapp’s human rocket sled aeromedical experiments in the 1950s.