This Week In AFLCMC History - August 29 - September 4, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
29 Aug 1988/1989 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.)

The Cessna Aircraft Company began five days of demonstration flights of its T-47A Navy trainer in consideration for the Air Force’s forthcoming Tanker-Transport Training System (TTTS) competition. The TTTS emerged from a Secretary of the Air Force decision to revise its flight instruction process such that training for fighters would be combined with bombers, and tankers with transports. This program also reflected a Congressional mandate for the Air Force and Navy to work jointly on new training aircraft procurement. Earlier in the month, both ASTRA and Learjet conducted similar demonstrations. The final Request for Proposals was released on 29 August 1989. Douglas won the contract to modify Beechjets as the new T-1A Jayhawk.

30 Aug 1982 (Fighters & Adv. Aircraft/AF Security Assist. & Coop Dir.)

The prototype for the Northrop F-20 Tigershark made its first flight at Edwards AFB, CA. The type originated in the 1960s as a lightweight fighter counterpoint to the heavy and technology-laden Century Series fighters. The resulting F-5 variants saw some success as an inexpensive export fighter in the 1960s and ‘70s, but its primary USAF use was as the T-38 Talon trainer. The design was heavily upgraded in the early 1980s as the F-20 to again compete in the export market, featuring modernized avionics and a single, more powerful engine. This first prototype had the new F404 engine in an F-5G airframe, while the full-up F-20 flew a year later. US policies and competition from foreign fighters and exported F-16s doomed the program to cancellation after just 3 aircraft, 2 of which crashed.

31 Aug 1918 (AFLCMC)

The Bureau of Aircraft Production (BAP) transferred its Production Engineering Department from Washington to Dayton and merged it with the Airplane Engineering Department at McCook Field to form the Airplane Engineering Division (AED). This was former auto executive CW Nash’s, who was in charge of the BAP’s entire engineering apparatus, attempt to combine the disparate organizations, both organizationally and physically. He placed McCook commander Lt Col Jesse Vincent in charge of the AED. The organizational structure presaged the Air Development Center construct used in the 1950s that had the functions of AFRL and AFLCMC under one “roof.”

1 Sep 1975 (Digital Directorate—Hanscom AFB)
The Rome (New York) Air Development Center (RADC) was reassigned from Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) to the Electronic Systems Division (ESD) at Hanscom AFB. This was part of a series of steps to both reduce headquarters/support manpower across the Department of Defense and to increase technology transition from the Air Force’s laboratories (like RADC) to the operational programs. The 1974 “Air Force Laboratory Utilization Study,” (the Chapman Report) suggested sweeping
revisions to the lab structure, which had been quasi-independent for the past decade. The WPAFB labs were rolled into a new Air Force Wright Aeronautical Lab (AFWAL), while RADC that focused on ground-based electronics systems like radar installations was slated to close entirely and shift its functions to Hanscom. Rampant opposition revised the plan to this organizational reassignment only.

2 Sep 1924 (WPAFB)
McCook Field test pilot Lt Alexander Pearson died in the crash of his Navy Curtiss racer at Wilbur Wright Field (WPAFB Area A) during a practice flight for the
upcoming International Air Races being held there. Pearson was a 28-year-old from Kansas who had joined the Army for World War I in 1917 and transferred to
the Air Service the following year. After the war, he participated in numerous speed races, formal and informal, once disappearing on a flight from Florida to
California, only to reappear several days later after having been rescued from the “wilds of Mexico” by trappers—his plane was also later recovered. He
married Margaret Shannon in December 1921 and moved to McCook Field in Dayton a few months after. Unfortunately, she and several hundred spectators
were watching the practice speed runs this day and saw the wings collapse on Pearson’s plane, plunging it into the Field’s tennis courts at an estimated 260mph. Pearson Avenue in Area A is named in his honor.
3 Sep 1954 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir./WPAFB)

Air Force Maj John L. “Jack” Armstrong set a new 500 kilometer course record of 649.3 mph flying an F-86H Sabre jet aircraft from WPAFB, where he was a test pilot. This was the kickoff of the National Air Show being held at Dayton’s airport and just one of several flight records set during the event. Tragically, he was killed two days later in the same aircraft attempting to best his own record. His Sabre broke up during the flight, just seconds after passing by the estimated 100,000 air show spectators, including Armstrong’s family. He ejected from the aircraft, but did not survive. His helmet and memorabilia from his record flight are on display at the National Museum of the USAF. 
100 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 4 September 1922

Army Air Service Lt James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle skipped school. In light of his future academic (and otherwise) achievements, this might seem incongruous for the soon-to-be-famous pilot, but it was not his first time. In fact, Doolittle blew off his entire senior year at the University of California-Berkeley to join the Air Service as a pilot in World War I. The rest of his senior class who enlisted were retroactively granted degrees, but Doolittle had neglected to register and thus remained without a diploma.

By 1922 Doolittle had made a name for himself as an excellent pilot with a keen technical mind. He combined both attributes in the successful on-site repair and recovery of the plane abandoned by Lt Alexander Pearson in a Mexican canyon in 1921.

That same year, Doolittle pondered lessons learned from Billy Mitchell’s bombing demonstrations of Navy ships and concluded that a fast trip across the US could likewise demonstrate key military capabilities. Specifically, he felt that the rapid movement of men and aircraft cross-country was vital for national defense, and could showcase the prowess of the post-war Air Service. He planned out modifications to a standard DH-4 biplane, mostly more copious fuel tanks. It was modified at Kelly Field in San Antonio. He also visited the McCook Field in Dayton to obtain their latest instrument, a turn-and-bank indicator that was crucial for flying in reduced visibility or nighttime conditions.

After several short test runs, Doolittle took his DH-4 to Pablo Beach, Jacksonville, FL, on 6 August 1922. Unfortunately, one of his wheels caught in the sand during takeoff and flipped the plane into the surf, nearly drowning him in front of the gathered crowd. Embarrassed, but uninjured, Doolittle set about repairing the plane for another attempt. This time on 4 September, he made it successfully into the air. He flew for over 10 hours to Kelly Field for refueling. After a race car-like pit stop, Doolittle was back in the air for another 11 hours. He landed safely at Rockwell Field, California, making him the first person to fly cross-country in less than a day, and with only one stop, earning him his first taste of national fame.

Doolittle had no time to rest on his laurels because he was already late for school. He was assigned to the 4th class of the Air Service Engineering School (predecessor to AFIT) at McCook Field, the rest of whom  had reported the same day Doolittle landed in California. He sped eastward to San Antonio for a brief celebration, then took the train to Dayton. His troubles weren’t quite over, as his lack of a college degree ran afoul of the Air Service requirements for higher education. Major Thurman Bane, the school’s commandant and McCook’s commander, intervened on his behalf with Berkeley and “finagled” the retroactive diploma. Doolittle justified the action by earning the first PhD in aeronautical engineering in the US.