This Week In AFLCMC History - September 19-25, 2022

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  • By By Air Force Life Cycle History Office
19 Sep 1961 (Maxwell-Gunter/Eglin/Hanscom)

The Air Force’s Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) Center at Gunter AFS, Alabama, controlled a Boeing BOMARC-B surface-to-air missile (SAM) from its launch at Eglin AFB, Florida, to its interception of a Navy Regulus II supersonic drone seven miles up and 250 miles away off the Florida coast. The predecessor for Hanscom’s Electronic Systems Division was created to support development of the automated continental air defense system that became SAGE. The BOMARC, managed by the Aeronautical Systems Division at WPAFB, was the Air Force’s only operational SAM (the rest were Army). Gunter, now home to AFLCMC’s Business & Enterprise Systems Directorate, was site for the Montgomery Air Defense Sector and the primary location used for these test and training launches.

20 Sep 1922 (AFLCMC/WPAFB)

One hundred years ago today: The War Department announced the impact of the latest Congressional appropriations for the Air Service. In keeping with post-World War I trends, the budget was lower than the previous year. The Air Service Engineering Division at McCook Field’s appropriations had been $5 million in 1921, $4.3 million in 1922, and now were just $3.5 million for FY1923. As a result, they had to reduce their civilian workforce from 1400 to 1180, mostly by 1 October. While painful, they were already experiencing attrition because the reduced budgets flattened salaries, making it difficult to retain qualified personnel, many of whom left for higher pay in the private sector. As this trend continued over the 1920s, the aircraft industry was seeded with former McCook experts, which extended the organization’s influence on the development of American aviation.

21 Sep 1942 (Bombers Directorate)

The Boeing Model 345, the prototype for the B-29 Superfortress, made its first flight at the company’s facility in Seattle, Washington. Though seen as the most advanced American aircraft of WWII, the B-29 was on the drawing board before bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. It was conceived as a “Very Heavy Bomber” capable of carrying a larger bomb load over a longer range than the then-operational bombers like the B-17. While ultimately a success, the B-29’s development and production were fraught with difficulty, given its complex systems like cabin pressurization and remote control gun turrets. It was the only program of the War that cost more than the Manhattan Project that produced the atomic bombs dropped by B-29s on Japan in 1945 to close out WWII.

22 Sep 1995 (Digital Directorate-Tinker)

A Boeing E-3B Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) crashed during takeoff from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. The aircraft was assigned to the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron and had the callsign YUKLA 27 for this training flight. A C-130 took off just ahead of it, unknowingly disturbing a flock of Canada geese. Just as the E-3 left the runway, it ingested multiple birds into both its left-side engines. The crew was able to reach an altitude of just 250 feet as they tried to dump fuel and make an emergency turn back to the runway. The crippled aircraft impacted a tree-covered hillside after less than a mile, breaking apart and exploding. All twenty-four crew, including two Canadians, on board were killed. This was the first E-3 to be lost in an accident. Exactly one year later, the 552nd Air Control Wing dedicated a monument to the crewmembers of YUKLA 27. The photo shows the 20th anniversary commemoration of the accident.

23 Sep 1992 (Propulsion Dir.)

A week ahead of schedule, initial altitude testing began at the Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) of the Pratt & Whitney FX620-1 engine core for the first Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) F119 engine for the Lockheed F-22 Raptor program. Pratt had won the engine contract for the Advanced Tactical Fighter the previous year and, like Lockheed with the aircraft, had to turn its prototype YF119 engine into an operational system. The FX620 was the “gas generator” section of the engine, including compressor, combustor, and high pressure turbine, but missing the front fan, low pressure turbine, nozzle, and other accessories. It combined pieces from the original FY119, as well as new components for the EMD phase. The engine development program was managed by the Aeronautical Systems Center’s Propulsion System Program Office (SPO). 

24 Sep 2009 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.)

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Ashton Carter issued a memorandum “rescinding the KC-X [tanker] Program Milestone B decision to proceed into System Development and Demonstration as documented in the February, 2008 Acquisition Decision Memorandum.” The KC-X began formally with Air Mobility Command’s Initial Capabilities Document for the modernization and recapitalization of the USAF aerial refueling fleet in 2005. The high-visibility program’s ensuing difficulties resulted in the 2008 cancellation of the source selection. After Undersecretary Carter’s memo, the KC-X Program Office (then the 836th Aeronautical Systems Group) at Wright-Patt rewrote the Request for Proposals, released in 2010, that resulted in the current Boeing KC-46 Pegasus program.

This Week in AFLCMC History Highlight: 25 September 1955

An agreement between the Wright Air Development Center (WADC) at Wright- Patterson AFB and the Air Force Armament Center (AFAC) at Eglin AFB to transfer responsibility for air munitions from the former to the latter went into effect. 

When the Army Air Service began equipping its aircraft with bombs, those were the province of the Army’s Ordnance Department, a long-standing entity that the nascent airmen had little power to fight over responsibility for air-dropped munitions development and acquisition. Instead, Ordnance would provide those based on requirements provided to them. By the end of World War I, the largest American aerial bombs had 4000 pounds of explosives, like the Mark I Demolition Bomb shown at the far right in the photo. The Air Service Engineering Division at McCook Field and its successors at Wright Field spent their efforts developing means of carrying and releasing these munitions from aircraft, as well as bomb-sights used to put them on target. 

They were also responsible for machine gun installations and accessories, from the rotary rings used for the backseat gunner on biplanes, to gunsights, to the synchronizers that allowed guns to fire past rotating propeller blades without shattering them. These subsystems grew increasingly more sophisticated through WWII, including powered and remote-control gun turrets and radar-and computing gunsights. 

The advent of guided aerial missiles using radar and other means added a significant degree of complexity for the Armament team at Wright Field, then WADC after its formation. By the mid-1950s, that group was inundated with responsibilities and was not averse to off-loading some of those to their counterparts at the Air Proving Ground at Eglin. There, the organization had undergone several administrative and functional changes regarding its armament mission, which mostly focused on testing. 

This 1955 agreement transferred “research and development responsibilities for Basic Ordnance” from Ohio to Florida, expanding Eglin’s mission into R&D for: un-guided rockets and fixed-positions guns, along with their accessories, ammunition, fuzes, and ballistics; unguided bombs, including their explosives, fuzes, release mechanisms, and handling equipment; and war-heads, fuzes, and carriage/release mechanisms for guided missiles. Along with those missions came 140 personnel slots, all non-permanent equipment, and nearly $6 million worth of programs.