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This Week In AFLCMC History - August 15 - 21, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
15 Aug 1917 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir.) 
The first British DeHavilland DH-4 biplane arrived in US and was sent by rail to Dayton for reverse engineering. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, it had no combat-worthy aircraft in its fleet. As a result, it sent a group of experts, dubbed the Bolling Mission, to Allied countries that summer to choose aircraft to purchase for immediate use and designs to convert for American production. Lt Col Virginius Clark, one of the few aeronautical engineers in the Air Service, chose the DH-4 as the standard utility aircraft to build back home. The British provided this example and drawings for them to copy. Thousands were eventually built by the Dayton-Wright Company. 

16 Aug 1948 (Fighters & Adv. Aircraft/Engineering Dir.) 

The Northrop XF-89 Scorpion made its first flight at Muroc (Edwards) AFB. Its layout was typical of the first generation jet fighters, with two GE-designed/Allison-built J35 centrifugal-flow turbojet engines embedded in the fuselage, straight wings, and tricycle landing gear. It carried an airborne radar, early guided missiles, and guns for its all-weather interceptor/night-fighter role. It became notable in our engineering history after it crashed on a later test flight. While subsonic aerodynamics were well-known, less was understood about faster speeds. The F-89 suffered from transonic wing flutter caused partly by its external weapons carriage, leading to formal R&D and test programs at Wright Field dedicated to understanding, designing for, and verifying flutter characteristics and safe stores integration. 

17 Aug 1922 (Personnel Dir.) 

Six senior leaders at the McCook Field Engineering Division, applied for disability retirement, including its commander, Maj Thurman Bane. One month earlier, Congress had passed legislation mandating a reduction of 2500 regular officers from the Army, in the name of governmental thrift. Performance in their present positions and the needs of the Army were the sole basis for the selection. Those who were forcibly retired earned 2.5% of pay per year of service, while those retired on disability received 75% of their active-duty pay. As most fliers had been in multiple crashes, disability was entirely plausible. In Maj Bane’s case, he was already in the hospital for an undiagnosed brain tumor that forced his retirement in just a few months and his premature death a decade later. 

18 Aug 1965 (Digital Directorate) 

The Electronic Systems Division at Hanscom AFB declared Subsystem A of the Northern Area Communications System, aka 489L, operational. This was one of 7 subsystems that comprised the various early warning radar antennas and associated communications stations and lines designed to detect ballistic missiles launched from the Soviet Union over the north pole. Subsystem A created a 2-way communications bridge between the far-flung stations, from Alaska to Canada to Greenland, using the largest and most powerful radio frequency modulation tropospheric scatter system in the world. This used techniques developed in part by the Air Force’s research labs to enable wireless communications over the horizon by leveraging how radio waves bounced off the atmosphere.

19 Aug 1871 (WPAFB/88 ABW) 

Orville Wright (main photo) was born on this day in Dayton, Ohio. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt declared August 19th to be “National Aviation Day” in his honor. He was the youngest of his surviving siblings, except for his sister Katherine, who provided a critical role in enabling the Brothers’ success as they built their aviation business. Orville spent most of his life in Dayton and died there in 1948. While Orville piloted their flying machine on its famous 17 December 1903 first flight, he had actually lost the coin toss to Wilbur that determined who got the honor a few days earlier. Wilbur’s attempt ended in a crash, putting the younger brother next in line. Orville stayed involved in aviation in Dayton, frequently visiting McCook Field, then Wright Field, where he ceremonially broke ground in 1926 and raised the flag at its opening in 1927. 

20 Aug 1935 (Bombers Directorate) 

A Boeing crew piloted the company’s Model 299 non-stop for 2100 miles from Seattle, Washington, to Wright Field in Dayton, setting an average speed record of 232.2 miles per hour. The 299 was Boeing’s prototype for a 4-engine heavy bomber capable of eluding enemy fighters and air defenses through speed, altitude, and armament. Once over a target, its gyroscope-driven, mechanical computing Norden bombsight could put “a bomb in a pickle barrel” from 30,000 feet, in fulfillment of the Army’s doctrine of precision strategic bombing. The 299 did display impressive performance and, while its bombing accuracy proved wildly exaggerated, it earned fame in production form as an icon of World War II: the B-17 Flying Fortress. 

80 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 21 Aug 1942 

The Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce suggested that the War Department name the installation housing its new local Air Depot “Tinker Field,” in memory of Oklahoma native, Maj Gen Clarence L. Tinker. 

As the Second World War began in 1939, Army Air Corps Gen Henry H. “Hap” Arnold had learned from the near-disastrous World War I experience that expanding aircraft production took many months. As a result, he vigorously increased their acquisition and logistics infrastructure, including the establishment of regional air depots designed to centralize support of relevant production in the surrounding states. Plans for a Midwest Air Depot caught the attention of Oklahoma City’s civic and commercial leaders, who banded together to advocate successfully for the facility in April 1941. 

Over the next year, over $40 million in construction proceeded, including a Douglas Aircraft factory. Per Air Corps policy, the depot was named for its location, the Oklahoma City Air Depot, but an opportunity to honor a local hero arose in the summer of 1942. 

Clarence L. Tinker was born in the Osage Nation of Oklahoma in 1887. His parents were both part Osage Indian and raised their son in that culture. He joined the Army in 1912 and served stateside during WWI. Afterwards, he transferred to the Air Service and learned to fly. His career took him to posts across the country and to London as an air attaché. He commanded pursuit groups and headed an air mail route when the Air Corps infamously took over those operations briefly in 1934. He transitioned to bomber units, ending with his posting in January 1942 to Hickam Field, Hawaii, as the 2-star head of the 7th Air Force - the Army’s highest-ranking officer of Native American ancestry. 

On the morning of 7 June 1942, Gen Tinker personally headed a raid against Japanese ships threatening Wake Island. His group of four Consolidated LB-30 bombers, the export version of the B-24 Liberator, took off into the pre-dawn skies over Midway Island. Along the route, his wingmen watched as his plane inexplicably spiraled out of control into the sea. Neither the crew nor the plane were ever found, nor was a cause determined. Tinker was the Army’s first general to perish in WWII. 

Tinker Field was formally named on 14 October 1942. It has honored his legacy through its support of many bomber programs, including the AFLCMC Bombers Directorate’s current B-1 and B-52, as well as elements of the Propulsion Directorate.