This week in AFLCMC history - July 11-17, 2022

  • Published
  • Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
11 July 1919 (Agile Combat Support Directorate)

Canadian pilot Lt. Robert Caldwell died testing the British “Guardian Angel” parachute over McCook Field in Dayton, where the Air Service conducted in-house chute research and evaluated commercial de-signs. They were highly skeptical of “static line” parachutes, like the Guardian Angel, that were attached to the plane and pulled open by a rope connected to the pilot. McCook’s experts warned this British team that its harness and lines were too weak, but Caldwell was un-deterred. As he jumped, his static line tangled on the plane’s rocker arm, causing him to dangle from the plane until his harness snapped under his weight. He plunged 600 feet to his death in front of hundreds of witnesses.

12 July 1980 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)

McDonnell Douglas test pilots took the first KC-10A Extender, (tail number 79-0433) on its maiden flight at the company’s Long Beach, California, plant. The Boeing KC-135 was the mainstay of the Air Force’s aerial refueling fleet during the Vietnam War era. However, the pressures of supporting conventional combat operations in Southeast Asia while maintaining a strategic airlift and nuclear bombing capability demonstrated a need for an enhanced tanker force. In 1975, the Air Force started the Advanced Tanker-Cargo Aircraft program to look at using larger aircraft than the 707-sized KC-135 (see 15 July below). McDonnell Douglas’ DC-10 airliner, which itself grew out of the earlier program that became the C-5, beat out the Boeing 747 two years later. The company built 60 KC-10s, which are still in use.

13 July 1968 (Bombers Directorate)

The General Dynamics FB-111A made its first flight at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas. The original F-111 derived from the joint TFX program, where it was to serve as a low-level fighter-bomber for the Air Force and as a high-speed interceptor for the Navy. The Navy eventually withdrew from the program, leaving the Air Force with a plane not quite optimized for its needs, though it did prove to be a versatile platform thanks to its variable geometry (swing) wings. The Air Force devised the FB variant of the F-111 as an interim strategic nuclear bomber because of delays in the nascent B-1 program. The FB-111 incorporated structural and avionics upgrades to carry the stand-off Short Range Attack Missile, which had been sized with the F-111 in mind, as well as nuclear bombs in its bomb bays. The fleet was later converted to a conventional role after the B-1 became operational in the early 1980s.

14 July 1919 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Directorate)

Captain William F. Jones and civilian mechanic George Buzane were killed when the engine of their Curtiss 18-B Hornet stalled, sending them into an unrecoverable tail spin 300 feet above McCook Field in Dayton. Jones was an experienced pilot from Indiana who had joined the Engineering Division’s flight test team earlier in the year. George Buzane had been an automobile racer and mechanic who had worked for the Army’s Bureau of Aircraft Production in Detroit, the WWI organization headquartered in downtown Dayton that oversaw the manufacture of airplanes for the Army. Buzane had just returned to work after suffering injuries while on leave preparing to race in the Indianapolis 500 in May. Former McCook Field commander Col Jesse Vincent drove the pace car that year. The Curtiss 18-B was a prototype biplane version of a Navy triplane that McCook was evaluating. Only two were built in the waning days of WWI before production was cancelled after the Armistice.

15 July 1954 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)

The Boeing 367-80 made its first flight at the company’s facility in Renton, WA. The “Dash 80,” Boeing’s first jet-powered transport, was both the beneficiary of and progenitor for Air Force programs. After World War II, Boeing produced the first significant jet bomber, the B-47 Stratojet, and was developing the new B-52. Boeing’s experience with those overcame initial hesitations about jet propulsion for commercial aircraft. The company drew up several jet transports with the military in mind, at first based on the B-47 (making it the “godfather” of modern jetliners), but then loosely used its prop-driven(K)C-97’s airframe as the starting point for the Dash 80. Boeing submitted that design for the Air Force’s first jet-tanker competition this same summer. Lockheed won that contract, but gave Boeing an order as the “interim” tanker: the KC-135. It proved so successful that the Air Force cancelled Lockheed’s order. Boeing then modified the Dash 80 design into its civilian 707, the revolutionary first of its famous 7-series airliners.

17 July 1989 (Bombers Directorate)

Test pilots Bruce Hinds and Air Force Col. Richard Couch took the Northrop B-2 Spirit on its first flight. The B-2 was the second operational product of the “stealth revolution” in the 1970s, following the Lockheed F-117A. The two companies had developed competing approaches to incorporating low observable materials and design in aircraft, which they demonstrated in the HAVE BLUE and TACIT BLUE programs. Northrop applied its experience with sharp edges and rounded surfaces to company founder Jack Northrop’s pioneering “flying wing” concept to win the Air Force’s Advanced Technology Bomber program contract. The B-2 was a closely held secret until its public unveiling in 1988. A total of 21 were built and the fleet is still operational, though they are slated to be replaced by the Northrop B-21 Raider in the future.

This Week in Air Force History: 16 July 1971

Air Force Col. Jeanne M. Holm was promoted to the grade of brigadier general, making her the Air Force’s first female general officer. Less than two years later, effective 1 June 1973, she earned a promotion to major general, the first woman to hold a 2-star rank in the history of the US armed forces. While she did not work for an AFLCMC predecessor organization, her pioneering achievements and relentless pursuit of equality of opportunity for female airmen enabled the achievements of her successors, like former AFMC Commander and first female Air Force 4-star Gen Janet Wolfenbarger.

Jeanne Holm was 20 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. She joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) out of a sense of service and because that was the only military option for women at the time. The WAAC was an auxiliary to the regular army, meaning its members had no formal military rank or standing outside of their Corps. Holm began her career in July 1942 as a truck driver, at the equivalent rank of private. She was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant equivalent 6 months later after attending WAAC officer candidate school. She served in training and hospital units until the end of the war, when most women (including her) left or were forced out of the military and lost the inroads they had made.

She returned to the Army as Capt. Holm in 1948 after the Women’s Integration Act provided a formal, permanent women’s program in each of the service branches. One of these was the “Women in the Air Force” (WAF), which initially was limited to 4000 enlisted and 300 officers, led by a single colonel billet. No pilot positions were available in this program. Capt. Holm transferred to WAFs in 1949 (the same year the program and Air Force in general was desegregated), serving in Germany before returning stateside to become the first woman to attend Air Command and Staff School.

Following successively higher roles in personnel organizations, now-Col. Holm became the third WAF Director under the Deputy Chief of Staff, Personnel, in November 1965. During her tenure, which lasted through 1973 (she was the longest-serving director), both the numbers and opportunities for Air Force women expanded significantly. While that time overlapped the historic social upheaval of the 1960s, she still faced daunting cultural and institutional barriers to her reforms. For example, Holm recalled the legal challenges facing married service women supporting their families, with the issue of equal housing allowances going all the way to the Supreme Court in 1973, where it was argued—and won—in part by lawyer and future Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

While Holm advocated for the admission of women to the Service Academies and to the ranks of pilots, the military stalled those efforts until after she was promoted to director of the Secretary of the Air Force Personnel Council in 1973. That coincided with the ending of the draft and institution of the all-volunteer force, which added enough pressure on recruitment to open these other doors for women in 1976, when the WAF was abolished as a separate program. After retiring in 1975, she worked closely and successfully with President Ford on removing broader legal barriers for all women in the federal government.

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