This Week In AFLCMC History - September 6 - 11, 2022

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  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
6 Sep 1963 (Hill AFB/Armament Dir-Eglin AFB) 

The Ogden (Utah) Air Materiel Area issued a $9,530 contract to install a 10-million electronvolt (MEV) linear accelerator (LINAC) in the newly-constructed Radiographic Laboratory, building 2113. The facility was designed to detect structural and other defects in the solid rocket propellant of Minuteman ICBM motors using X-rays. There was already a 24MEV LINAC installed when it opened. This second device had been in use at Eglin AFB during research and development of the Skybolt air-launched ballistic missile that was cancelled in December 1962. It was declared surplus, then packed up and shipped to Hill for its new ICBM support mission. 

7 Sep 1997 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir.) 
The first F-22 made its initial flight, from the Lockheed facility at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia. The air dominance fighter originated in the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program of the 1980s to combine stealth, high maneuverability, supercruise capability, and advanced integrated avionics. The YF-22 prototype version, competing against the Northrop YF-23 for the ATF contract, had first flown 7 years earlier. After Lockheed won the contract in 1991, it made numerous size and shape changes between proto-type and production versions, though the overall appearance remained similar. They unveiled the resulting “Raptor 01”  in April 1997. It was slated for the Engineering & Manufacturing Development flight test program. 
8 Sep 1990 (Tinker AFB) 
Then-Colonel Marcelite J. Harris became the first African-American woman to be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the US Air Force. She was concurrently assigned as the Vice Commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker AFB (now the Air Force Sustainment Center’s Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex). After graduating Spelman College, then-Lt Harris was commissioned through Office Training School at Lackland AFB. The Air Force credits her as “the first woman aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two women air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the first woman deputy commander for maintenance.” When she retired as a Major General (Director of Maintenance, HQ USAF) in 1997, she was both the highest-ranking female officer in the USAF and African-American female in the entire DoD. 

9 Sep 1940 (Fighters & Adv. Aircraft/AFSAC) 

Less than four months after receiving authorization to build it, North American Aviation (NAA) completed their prototype fighter, the NA-73X—the future legendary P-51 Mustang. US policy prior to Pearl Harbor allowed for sales of military hardware to Allies, which both supported the fight against fascism and partly financed the expansion of the American aviation industry. The British approached NAA about building Curtiss P-40s under license, but the company instead offered to design and build a superior fighter in less time: the NA-73X. As the production Mustang Mark I, two of which were provided to the US Army Air Corps for evaluation at Wright Field, it was unremarkable. However, when the British replaced its American Allison engine with their superior Rolls-Royce Merlin, they created arguably the greatest fighter of WWII. While the UK used hundreds of Mustangs, the US flew thousands, paired with American-built versions of the British Merlin engine. 

10 Sep 1956 (Fighters & Adv. Aircraft Dir.) 

The North American Aviation F-107A made its first flight at Edwards AFB. This was a derivative of the company’s almost-operational F-100 Super Sabre, and was initially dubbed the F-100B. The Air Force was interested in acquiring an all-weather, nuclear-capable fighter-bomber and a Mach 2 fighter-interceptor. North American’s design studies suggested it could meet all of these roles with a single type, for which the Air Force approved three service-test airframes. Though it borrowed from the F-100 design, it had a single Pratt & Whitney J75 turbojet engine producing 24,500 pounds of thrust on afterburner. The F-107’s air intake mounted above the fuselage was its most unique feature and was a result of the need to maximize flow to the engine under all flight conditions. It competed against—and lost to—the Republic F-105 Thunderchief for the fighter-bomber contract. As a result, only the original three were built. Those were used for flight test research before retirement, with the second one ending up at the National Museum of the USAF. 

11 Sep 1953 (Propulsion Dir/Armament Dir/Hill AFB) 

The Radioplane Company (part of Northrop) began development of the Air Force Project MX 2144 Drone System. It was managed by the propulsion and armaments elements of the AFLCMC predecessor, the Wright Air Development Center (WADC) at WPAFB, and designated for logistics support at Hill AFB. Known in R&D form as the Q-4 and as the production AQM-35, this was an air-launched, jet-powered target drone designed to mimic the radar profile and performance of supersonic bombers for testing new American surface-to-air missiles, like the Navaho, and air–to-air missiles. The drone was radio controlled from the ground or aircraft, provided telemetry to the control station, and then could be recovered with parachutes and a landing bag, if not destroyed in flight. A more powerful B model was also developed, though only 25 total AQM-35s were produced.

This Week in AFLCMC History Highlight: 5 September 1918 
The Army Air Service’s senior acquisition leadership met to decide the fate of an American fighter plane. 

When the US went to war in April of 1917, it had no combat-worthy aircraft and only one company capable of building more than a few airplanes. Now, the Air Service and industry expanded with unprecedented speed and scale. The Army had so few aircraft acquisition professionals at all levels, from accountants to engineers to executives, that it relied heavily on the “titans of industry” types, primarily from automobile companies, to create a competent organization from scratch. However, they were nearly completely ignorant in matters of aviation and the military, wrongly assuming that the design, production, and logistical support of airplanes was at least closely analogous to cars. These new leaders turned to the European aeronautical experts for design knowledge and to their own industry for production. American aviation companies and engineers were almost entirely left out, due to their lack of a proven track record, thus men like Boeing, Douglas, Martin, Vought and Curtiss were mostly footnotes during WWI. 

In one example, the Air Service invited the French Capt Georges LePere to design a 2-seat “fighter” to be built by Packard Automobiles and powered by the American “Liberty” engine. The result was dubbed the “LePere US Army Combat 11” (LUSAC-11). Though LePere worked at Packard in Detroit, he was overseen by the McCook Field Airplane Engineering Division (AED) in Dayton. He went from a clean sheet in January 1918 to first flight at Wilbur Wright Field (WPAFB Area A) on 15 May. 
After that testing, the leaders of the Bureau of Aircraft Production (SAF/AQ equivalent) and Col Thurman Bane from Wilbur Wright Field (similar to AFTC or AFOTEC), met in the Dayton office of AED commander (AFLCMC/CC equivalent) Lt Col Jesse Vincent, who was himself a Packard engineering executive turned Army Reservist, on 5 September to consider the LUSAC-11. 

Georges LePere briefed his design, explaining its novel features, two of which were subject to particular criticism. The radiator was built into the upper surface of the wing, above the pilot, but routinely leaked, reducing its effectiveness and annoying the crew. It also had its two machine guns mounted on the side of the fuselage, rather than on top, to improve the forward view. This, too, annoyed the pilots but more importantly didn’t work well with the synchronizer that allowed the guns to fire through the propeller. He had also tweaked its Liberty engine, which negated the point of having a single standardized engine across most aircraft types. Despite the reservations, the group approved the production of 3500. Two examples made it to France in October for in-service testing, but those contracts were cancelled a month later when the war ended. Just 31 were built, a few serving at McCook Field as flight test platforms, notably setting altitude records. Only one still exists and is on display in the National Museum of the USAF.