This Week In AFLCMC History: August 22 - 28, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
22 Aug 1979 (AFSAC/Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir.)

Egypt signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance for the purchase of 35 F-4E aircraft and other major elements of support, including AIM-7, AIM-9, and AGM-65 missiles. This equipment was provided in response to Egypt signing the Camp David Peace Accords brokered by President Jimmy Carter between it and Israel. The agreement stipulated that Egypt would switch to US military hardware in lieu of former Soviet equipment (some of which was provided to the US for technical evaluation). McDonnell Douglas had just ceased production of the Phantom, so former USAF F-4Es were provided. The hardware preparation and transfer was conducted at Hill AFB.

23 Aug 1937 (Engineering Dir.)

An Experimental Engineering Section team led Capt Carl Crane made the first entirely automatic aircraft landings at Wright Field, with Capt George Holloman and civilian project engineer Raymond Stout aboard. Holloman piloted this modified Fokker Y1C-14B transport from takeoff, then turned control over to the electronic system. It used radio guidance and navigation technologies developed starting at McCook Field in the early 1920s that enabled the first instrument-only “blind” flight, as well as the California-Hawaii flight. Radio beams from the ground beacons cued the on-board equipment to initiate and execute the landing procedures, through touch down and even stopping. 

24 Aug 1917 (AFLCMC/WPAFB)

Dayton industrialist Edward Deeds was commissioned a colonel in the US Army Signal Corps Reserve. Deeds had earned fortune and fame as an engineer and inventor, particularly with the National Cash Register (NCR) company and as a founder of the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO) that became synonymous with General Motors electronics systems. Aside from the Wright Brothers, no single individual was more influential in establishing a permanent military aviation presence in Dayton. As a member of the Aircraft Production Board, then head of the Signal Corps Equipment Division at the outset of World War I, he personally advocated for the present site of Wright-Patterson AFB for a training field and air depot, offered use of the site one of his companies owned for McCook Field, and started the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company that built thousands of DH-4s. He was later investigated for these conflicts of interest, but ultimately exonerated.

25 Aug 1945 (Hill AFB)

Air Technical Service Command (ATSC, forerunner to the Air Force Materiel Command) announced that the Ogden Air Depot at Hill Field would cut nearly half of its 8,000+ civilian workforce by 30 September—just one month later. Shortly after the dropping of the two atomic bombs, Japan indicated its intent to surrender and the first “Victory in Japan (V-J) Day” was celebrated, though the formal surrender and official V-J Day had yet to happen. In fact, that same day the American fleet was awaiting its Japanese counterparts, holding off on landing occupying forces due to a typhoon. While the reductions seemed dramatic, employment at most of ATSC’s facilities, including Hill, Wright, and Patterson Fields had peaked early in the war and had been dropping over the previous two years. In fact, worker retention was already seriously problematic, as the end of the war was in sight and workers rushed to be the first to return to non-military jobs. By the end of the year, the Ogden Air Depot at Hill had just 2800 civilians left.

26 Aug 1980 (ISR & SOF Dir.)

Ground and simulator training began for Operation CREDIBLE SPORT, a second attempt to rescue US hostages held in Iran, after Operation EAGLE CLAW failed. The preparation efforts, dubbed HONEY BADGER, focused on modifying C-130s for ultra short take off and landing (STOL) because they planned for the aircraft to land inside a soccer stadium across from the American embassy in Tehran where the hostages were held. The Big Safari office supported some equipment installation, including a radar warning system, flare/chaff dispensers, a radar altimeter, and inertial navigation system. The XPC-130Hs were further modified with retrorocket packages to cushion the rapid descent, and decelerate/accelerate in an extremely short distance. Unfortunately one crashed during flight tests at Eglin AFB that fall. While the mission was ultimately cancelled when Iran released the hostages following the election of President Reagan, those modifications subsequently influenced the configuration of the MC-130H Combat Talon II. (See image for example of the Talon II)

27 Aug 1921 (WPAFB/Robins AFB)

Army Air Service Maj Augustine Warner Robins became Commanding Officer of the Fairfield Air Intermediate Depot (FAID), outside of Dayton, Ohio. Major Robins
served concurrently as Commanding Officer of Wilbur Wright Field (WPAFB Area A), the host installation for FAID. Robins was a 1907 West Point graduate, along
with McCook Field commander Thurman Bane and Hap Arnold. Like Bane, Robins served in cavalry before transferring to the Air Service in 1917. Though a pilot, he
made his career in logistics, serving as FAID commander from 1921-1928, and eventually as head of the Materiel Division from 1935-1939. He died of a heart
attack in 1940 and the new Air Depot and field near Macon, Georgia, were named for him in 1942, as was the town itself—now Robins AFB in Warner Robins, Georgia.
He is regarded as the father of Air Force logistics for the inventory and training processes he implemented during his career.

This Week in AFLCMC History: 27-28 Aug 1934

Aviator Wiley Post, whose fame rivalled Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, arrived at Wright Field for a secret series of experimental tests.

Post was born into poverty in Texas, found his way to mechanic school, then prison, and finally the booming Oklahoma oil fields as a roughneck. In a stroke of luck (bad and good), a shard of metal from an oil derrick put out his left eye. He received $1700 in compensation, which he promptly spent on a derelict Curtiss JN-4 Jenny training plane. Despite his visual handicap, he took to flying with stunning success: just two years after receiving his license he won the famous Bendix trophy, then set the world’s record for fastest aerial circumnavigation of the globe the next year, and repeated that feat solo a year later in 1933. His became obsessed with winning air races and prize money.

One way to fly faster and farther than the competition was via the thin, cold air at high altitudes. However, pressurized aircraft to sustain life at those heights were still a few years away - in fact, Wright Field at that exact time was conducting the preliminary studies for their 1935 program that that produced the first successful pressurized cabin airplane. Post’s alternative was to encapsulate just him-self in a pressurized rubber suit, like a deep sea diver, but in reverse, and had rubber company BF Goodrich construct one.

Out of caution, Post wanted to test the suit first and knew just the place. His world-circling flights were made possible by navigation instruments provided by Wright Field engineers. They tested these in a vacuum chamber stashed in the basement of Building 11. This 8’ diameter by 11’ tall cylinder was built in 1918 for early Army aeromedical experiments, put in storage after a fire at the School of Aviation Medicine in New York, and finally shipped to Wright Field when it opened in 1927. It could provide both the low temperatures and pressures found at 35,000 feet.

Post brought his suit to Dayton in June 1934 for tests, but its design and construction were so poor that it ruptured when inflated during an unmanned test. It was also excessively stiff when pressurized because it lacked any sort of joints. Undaunted, Wiley drove from Wright Field to BF Goodrich in Akron, where engineer Russell Colley designed a new suit, tailored precisely to Post, of better materials and with articulated joints. The large-living pilot was similarly un-daunted when it came to any meal or party, causing him to exceed the suit’s dimensions by the time it was finished. Colley literally had to cut Wiley out of it during a fit test...and then construct a third pressure suit.

Post drove back to Dayton with this newest design—and Russ Colley—on August 26 and arranged to use the Wright Field altitude chamber the next afternoon. Skipping preliminaries, Wiley donned the suit and stepped inside. However, the oxygen generator he borrowed from the Equipment Branch to pressurize the suit leaked too much for a successful test. After overnight repairs to it and last-minute adjustments to the suit, Post tried again on the 28th. This time, everything worked well, except for the chamber. It depressurized too slowly for the impatient Post, who cut off the test at just 23,000’ simulated altitude, satisfied that the suit worked well enough. He and Colley
packed up again and headed for Chicago. Post made a few suited test flights there, taking his plane, the Winnie Mae, up to 40,000 feet, but well short of a record.

A series of problems prevented Wiley from racing with the suit. Tragically, he perished in an aircraft crash in Alaska in 1935, along with his friend, the famous
humorist Will Rogers. Their accident occurred almost exactly a year after the trip to Wright Field.

Despite not fulfilling its intent, Post’s suit is regarded as the first functional aviation pressure suit. Russ Colley continued this work, including for Wright Field during
World War II, and designing the first space suit used by NASA’s Mercury astronauts. Post had insisted that the Equipment Branch keep the tests secret, leading
them to classify the reports. As a result, Wright Field’s participation in this historic project was buried until the 1960s when it was finally declassified.

Wiley Post’s final suit is now at the National Air and Space Museum, while the Wright Field altitude chamber belongs to the National Museum of the USAF and
is currently sitting outside in WPAFB Area B.