This Week In AFLCMC History - October 31 - November 6, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
31 Oct 2022 (Halloween—Wright-Patterson AFB)

Today, in a nod to Halloween, we look back to January 2008 when The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) visited Wright-Patterson AFB to film for their Ghost Hunters television show. The episode on Wright-Patt aired in April 2008 as the sixth episode of their fourth season, and featured the crew of ghost hunters exploring mysterious phenomena on base. In particular, they focused their investigations on the Arnold House and Building 70. The Arnold House, named after General Henry “Hap” Arnold who lived there as a major between 1929 and 1931, was built in 1841 or 1842 and is the oldest building on base. 

1 Nov 1982 (AFLCMC)

Air Force Systems Command placed the Air Force Wright Aeronautical Laboratories (AFWAL) under the Aeronautical Systems Division (ASD) at Wright-Patt. This was the latest periodic restructuring of the relationship between product centers and laboratories that, depending on the context, either emphasized technology transition by bringing the two together or promoted more revolutionary science & technology by separating them. Both electronics and armament research had been similarly aligned with systems development since the early 1970s. AFWAL included Aero Propulsion, Avionics, Materials, and Flight Dynamics. Now, ASD was able to consolidate technology planning, and it created a Senior Engineering Technology Assessment Review (SENTAR) to bridge S&T and tech transition. 

2 Nov 2007 (Tinker AFB)

A heroic bronze statue of Major Charles B. Hall  was installed in Tinker AFB’s Heritage Airpark. The airpark, which is free and open to the public, was renamed Charles B. Hall Park in the namesake Airman’s honor in 2002. A Tuskegee Airman of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, Maj Hall was a highly-decorated WWII pilot. In addition to his general skill and bravery throughout the war, he was the first African-American pilot to shoot down an enemy airplane in combat, and the first African-American to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross. The statue was sculpted by Joel Randell, and it was placed at Tinker on account of Maj Hall working there from 1949-1967 as a civilian after the war. 

3 Nov 1969 (Bombers Directorate)

The Air Force’s Aeronautical Systems Division (ASD) released the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft program. AMSA had been recently dubbed the “B-1,” the first bomber acquisition program designated under the Department of Defense’s new consolidated, uniform aircraft numbering system. (The original “B-1” from 1926 never made it out of the prototype stage). Boeing, General Dynamics, and North American Rockwell all responded to the AMSA RFP, with the contract going to Rockwell. The program for this high-speed, low-level bomber was controversially cancelled in 1977 in favor of systems that were cheaper and more survivable, like cruise missiles, but the on-going development of stealth technology helped confirm this decision. President Reagan revived the B-1 in 1981 as an interim strategic nuclear capability before the stealthy B-2 was operational. 

4 Nov 1960 (Wright-Patterson AFB)

Major General Robert A. Rushworth made his initial flight in the North American X‑15 rocket airplane. One of twelve test pilots to fly the experimental space-plane, he ultimately flew the X-15 34 times in 13 years (more than any other pilot). Neil Armstrong, Ohio-born astronaut and first human being to walk on the moon, was another one of the test pilots. In total, three X-15s were constructed, and together they were flown 199 times between 1959-1968. Launched from a B-52, the X-15s were hypersonic planes that could reach the edges of space - with several pilots, including Rushworth, qualifying for astronaut wings in it.

5 Nov 1979 (Digital Dir.—Hanscom AFB)

The Electronic Systems Division (ESD) at Hanscom AFB released the JTIDS Class 2 terminal request for proposal (RFP) to industry. JTIDS stands for Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, and it was essentially a secure communications system resistant to jamming, which was utilized to exchange real-time tactical information between Joint Forces regarding the operational battlespace. The system accomplished this by transmitting data between individual units (surveillance units, naval ships and submarines, attack and fighter aircraft, command posts, and so on) equipped with terminals like the Class 2 terminal. Updated JTIDS devices and associated Link 16 radios are still in use today.

25 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 6 November 1997

Northrop Grumman delivered the final production B-2 Spirit bomber, dubbed “The Spirit of Louisiana,” AV-21.

“Stealth” or low observable (LO), generally refers to the ability of an object to evade detection by electromagnetic radar waves, though it can also include reducing visual, audible, and infrared/heat signatures.

In the 1950s, radar researchers at Wright Field seeking to improve radar systems began studying the factors that affected radar cross sections, or how much of a radar return an object has. These included large features like the engine face, as well as small ones that had an outsized effect, like blade-shaped antennas on the fuselage. In conducting the first flight tests of a plane covered with radar-absorbing materials (RAM), they also demonstrated that those had to be combined with special shaping in order to make an LO aircraft.

After more than a decade of research and development, the LO principles were advanced enough for DARPA to sponsor two stealth technology demonstrators in the mid-1970s. HAVE BLUE was Lockheed’s iconic flat-panel design for a strike aircraft, while TACIT BLUE was Northrop’s curvy “whale” intended for radar-based ISR. These both had significant implications for American nuclear bombers.

Bomber survivability had cycled from WWII principles of mass formations that spawned the B-52, to high-speed/altitude embodied in the B-58 Hustler and XB-70 Valkyrie, to launching long-range stand-off missiles, to below-the-radar penetrators like the B-1 that was then underdevelopment. Each time, the Soviets improved defenses like surface-to-air missiles and look-down/shoot-down radar-equipped interceptors.

Stealth offered the ability for strike aircraft, like the F-117 that came out of HAVE BLUE, to neutralize any air defenses, then allowing conventional bombers to follow unimpeded. But what if bombers themselves were stealthy? The Air Force approached both Lockheed and Northrop about this in 1979, spawning the Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB) program. In 1981, Northrop won the contract with its flying wing design.

The ATB became the B-2, but its timing proved inauspicious. The initial acquisition plan called for 132 of them, but that figure was revised downward as development time and costs rose. While it made a significant impression during its first public rollout in 1988 (the F-117 was publicly revealed just 2 weeks earlier, despite being operational for years), the collapse of the Soviet Union led Congress to end the production run at only 21 aircraft. As a result, the total costs of development and procurement spread over the small fleet came to approximately $2 billion per plane (1996 dollars). The final B-2 to come off the assembly line was the second one built in the Block 30 configuration.