This week in AFLCMC history - July 18 - 24, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
18 Jul 1941 (Tinker AFB) 
Construction began on the new Midwest Air Depot (aka Tinker Field after 1942) in Oklahoma City, off of SE 29th Street. The Army Air Corps had been accelerating the expansion of its acquisitions and logistics footprint across the country in the late 1930s in response to the outbreak of World War II. Air depots like this one both distributed those functions geographically in case of invasion and provided a centralized management point of the relevant regional industries. Oklahoma City leaders had lobbied for a depot since late 1940, with the site selection confirmed in April 1941. On 8 July, the Army awarded the $14.27 million construction contract to Charles Dunning, Guy H. James, and Patterson Steel. 
20 Jul 1982 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir/Hill AFB) 
The F-16 office at Hill AFB reported that Pacer Loft I modification program was running ahead of schedule with 42 aircraft completed. This was the initial effort to upgrade the 94 Block I F-16s—the very first production model—to Block 10 standards. The changes were minor, with the most visible difference being the switch from a black radome (nose) to a grey one. The black proved to be highly visible, which was a disadvantage during air-to-air combat. The follow-on Pacer Loft II completed the upgrade process in 1983. The first production Block I F-16 went to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill AFB in 1978.

21 Jul 1981 (Bombers Dir/Armament Dir/Tinker AFB) 
The first B-52G arrived at the Tinker AFB air logistics center for the Offensive Avionics System (OAS)/Cruise Missile Integration modification. This upgrade was the result of improved Soviet air defenses in the 1960s that reduced the survivability of piloted strategic bombers, particularly the subsonic B-52. Strategic Air Command sought ways to keep its fleet of over 700 Stratofortresses relevant by equipping them with stand-off weapons and decoy missiles. Over the course of the 1970s, the Air Force improved its long-range, terrain-following missile technology that resulted in the AGM-86A Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). Once that was operational, the B-52 avionics and airframe was modified at Tinker to accommodate those. 

22 Jul 1935 (Engineering Dir./WPAFB) 

Captain Albert Hegenberger was awarded the Collier Trophy for his development and demonstration of an aircraft instrument-only landing system. He was McCook and Wright Field’s head of Instrument (and Navigation) work since 1919. He had achieved international acclaim in 1927 when he made the first non-stop flight from California to Hawaii. He spent most of his career developing various aerial navigation technologies, many focused on the use of radio guidance, which resulted in his being one of the preeminent pioneers in this field. A few years before this flight, Jimmy Doolittle conducted a similar “blind” flight using some McCook technologies, though he had a safety pilot along. On this day, Hegenberger equipped a BT-2B biplane with his equipment, then took off solo from Wright Field, circled, and landed, all on instruments. His system became the first adopted for national navigation. 

23 Jul 1970 (Digital Directorate—Hanscom AFB) 

The Electronic Systems Division (ESD) at Hanscom forwarded the signed contract to Boeing for the development of the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft that became the E-3 Sentry. Equipping aircraft with radar to detect incoming targets originated with the night fighters of World War II and large aircraft for broader battle control were tried early on as well. However, the radars themselves were limited by their inability to “look down” and sort low-flying targets from reflections off ground clutter. Investment in airborne radar technologies at Hanscom and the labs at Wright-Patt during the 1960s solved those issues enough to warrant an acquisition program. The AWACS concept was first managed by the Aeronautical Systems Division in Dayton, but then transferred to ESD in 1967. Two airframes and radar companies competed for the contract, with Boeing and Westinghouse winning, respectively. 

24 Jul 1942 (Hill AFB) 

The first officer of the 907th Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) Post Headquarters Company was activated at Hill Field, Utah. The unit had been activated nine days earlier. The WAAC was the first formal military organization to admit women during WWII in positions other than a nursing corps, though it was specifically an “auxiliary,” denying its all-female cadre of formal military rank and standing. Two more officers and 11 enlisted women arrived by the end of the month. Since barracks were not yet finished, they moved into the base’s Hillcrest Village civilian dorms. On 1 October 1943 the 907th was inactivated and its personnel were attached to the then Women’s Army Corps Detachment 1, Ogden Air Service Command and assigned to the 482nd Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron. 

100 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 19 July 1922 

Navy Lt John D. Price crashed a Vought VE-7 biplane into a house near McCook Field while landing. 

Price was detailed to the McCook Field Engineering Division as the Assistant Inspector General for Naval Aircraft. He was approaching McCook from across the Great Miami River when he throttled back, perhaps to limit the noise over the houses. He misjudged the approach and attempted to power up for more altitude, but the motor failed to respond. Price instead aimed for the roadway between the houses and the river. Unfortunately one wing caught a telephone pole’s guy wire, spinning the plane into the front porch of a house and a tree. He leaped for safety just as the plane hit the ground, thus avoiding any serious injury. 

Price was a well-regarded pilot, and this incident seemed to have no affect on his career. He went on to set flying records, became the first naval aviator to make a night landing on an aircraft carrier, commanded an air wing during World War II, and retired as a 3-star vice chief of Naval Air Operations. 

The Vought VE-7 was a typical example of World War I-era aircraft acquisition. Company founder Chance Vought learned to fly from the Wrights, then worked as an engineer for several aircraft firms. He co-founded the Lewis-Vought Company to capitalize on WWI aircraft production orders, like many others. Vought proved to be a skilled designer: his 1917 prototype VE-7 2-place advanced trainer impressed McCook Airplane Engineering Division commander Lt Col Jesse Vincent enough that he ordered 6 test articles and attempted to recruit Vought. Though he demurred, Vought became a frequent visitor to Dayton throughout the war and Vincent’s personal friend. 

The first VE-7 arrived in Dayton in March 1918, followed by the rest, including Price’s plane over the next eight months. It easily passed all of McCook’s structural and flying tests, even outperforming some fighters. They became some of the Field’s most popular planes for routine flying. McCook engineers devised a few changes, but the Armistice preempted production contracts. Many companies folded or exited aviation at that point, but Vought persisted. The Engineering Division subsequently sponsored modest development with them, including an unsuccessful attempt to convert the VE-7 to a fighter. 

Whether through Lt Price’s experience or not, the Navy became very interested in the VE-7 after the war, procuring more than the Army had. It equipped its first fighter groups with them, one of which made the first-ever aircraft carrier landing. Its forgiving handling and low landing speed made it ideal for that role. That began a decades-long relationship between Vought and the Navy including the iconic F4U Corsair in WWII. Oddly enough, the Air Force never used another Vought plane until Robert McNamara forced it to adopt the Navy’s Vought A-7 Corsair II attack plane in the 1960s.