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This Week In AFLCMC History: December 12 - 18, 2022

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
12 Dec 1966 (Hill AFB)

In cooperation with the Ogden Air Materiel Area (OOAMA), Weber State College, Ogden, Utah, commenced a 9-month course to train 100 air-craft instrument repairmen. The course ended on 16 September 1967. This would give OOAMA a reservoir of qualified personnel in a critical field: instrument repair, which was an area that OOAMA gained oversight over with the phase-down earlier in the year of the Air Materiel Area program (where Air Force Logistics Command closed three of the eight Air Force depots operating at the time). In addition to the instrument repair function, OOAMA also received management of the Titan missile system, and other significant new programs and work.

13 Dec 1943 (Bombers Dir./Tinker AFB)

The first B-29 Superfortresses were overhauled at Tinker Field. During this time, Tinker maintenance teams in-stalled extra fuel tanks on 104 B-29 aircraft for "flying the hump" from India to Burma to China. “The Hump” refers to a hazardous air corridor across the Himalayan Mountains used by Allied pilots starting in April 1942 to fly supplies from India to China. It was then used regularly throughout the war to resupply Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek’s forces in their efforts against the Japanese, as China was an Allied nation during World War II. On Christmas Day, 1943, the depot would be formally made a B-29 overhaul center.

14 Dec 1981 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)

The House and Senate jointly agreed to eliminate all funding requests for the C-X program from the FY 1982 Defense Appropriations Bill, and to instead include $50 million to acquire more existing widebody aircraft such as the Lock-heed C-5, Boeing 747F, and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 or KC-10. But even though the funding had been removed, the Department of Defense opted to keep the C-X program alive by including in its fiscal year 1983-1987 Program Objective Memorandum (POM) nearly $8 billion for it. This program became the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) C-17 Globemaster III (pictured at top), which continues to be a staple of the Air Force mobility fleet.

16 Dec 1907 (Wright-Patterson AFB)

115 years ago, the Army’s Chief Signal Officer, Brigadier General James Allen, called for bids on a "lighter-than-air" airship. This led to the purchase of “Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1.” Billy Mitchell and other early aviation leaders had high hopes for lighter-than-air vehicles - which they dreamed might be used as mobile air bases and gun platforms, like aircraft carriers in the clouds - and the Engineering Division at McCook Field (in Dayton) was tasked with improving on the designs of army airships after World War I. Flight testing mainly took place at Wilbur Wright Field (WPAFB Area A), which had more space than McCook, and would lead to experiments with aircraft such as the Sperry Messenger, a tiny airplane meant to hook onto the underside of airships, from where they could be “dispatched” to scout surrounding areas or, as technology improved, to fight off attacks against the mothership. Ultimately, air-ships proved hazardous and vulnerable and were largely phased out.

17 Dec 2002 (Wright-Patterson AFB - 88 ABW)

Two workers install an interpretive piece with a quote from Amos Ives RootTwenty years ago today, the national Centennial of Flight celebration began with the dedication of the Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center and a commemorative ceremony at the Wright Memorial, and ended with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Wright Memorial in 2004. The National Parks Service’s Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center broke ground in 2000, and was finished by the summer of 2002, though exhibit installation work continued right up to opening day. In the photograph, taken 21 Nov 2002, two workers install an interpretive piece with a quote from Amos Ives Root (an Ohio entrepreneur who catalogued the achievements of the Wrights even before more mainstream media outlets became aware of them) reflecting on the potential impact of the Wright Brothers’s invention. Celebrated by the whole country, the Centennial of Flight, marking the start of powered, controlled flight on 17 Dec 1903, began and ended outside Wright-Patterson AFB. (Photo: AFLCMC/HO)

18 Dec 1922 (AFLCMC/ISR & SOF Directorate)

The “Engineering Division Helicopter” made its first flight at McCook Field, with newly-retired (see p.4) Maj Thurman Bane at the controls. Though the flight lasted nearly 2 minutes, the quad-copter rose only about 6 feet - not quite enough to get out of ground effect and qualify as the first successful helicopter flight. Its inventor was the Russian George de Bothezat, who came to the US in 1918 and quickly established a reputation as brilliant, but quirky and difficult. Bane brought de Bothezat to Dayton to design propellers, but the Russian had other ideas. He convinced the Army to give him a $200,000 contract in 1921 to build and test his helicopter. He insisted on absolute secrecy, with the work done in a specially constructed hangar at the far reaches of McCook Field, making it one of the Air Service’s first “special access programs.” The craft flew over 100 times, lifting 4 people, but was never able to get more than a few feet off the ground. When the Army cancelled the project in late 1923, de Bothezat quickly left town.

100 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 15 December 1922

Colonel Thurman Harrison “T.H.” Bane - the head of the Army Air Service Engineering Division since the end of World War I - officially retired.

Bane was born in San Jose, CA, in 1884 and entered the US Military Academy in 1903. He graduated in 1907 as Battalion Captain, with future 5-Star Gen George S. Patton under his command. He placed 35th in his class of 111, ahead of his good friend and the eventual commander of the Army Air Forces in World War II, Gen Henry “Hap” Arnold.

Bane served in cavalry and ordnance, first in the Philippines and then along the Mexican border where US airplanes – and Bane – experienced their first combat action. As he told it, seeing airplanes overhead as he sat atop his horse convinced him then and there to join the Air Service. He earned his wings in 1917 and served as the head of experimental repairs and shops at the Air Service’s seminal North Island, CA, facility, which was the nascent technical center of Army aviation. He taught himself aeronautics through independent reading and was immediately assigned to instruct classes in it. His technical acumen earned him an assignment as the first Chief of the Technical Section of the Army Air Service’s Division of Military Aeronautics (DMA), at Dayton’s Wilbur Wright Field in 1918, which ensured through testing and experimentation that industry’s airplanes and equipment met the Army’s requirements for service in Europe. The DMA was the operational side of Army aviation and its Technical Section was the counterpart to the Airplane Engineering Division at McCook Field, then headed by Packard engineer and Army Reserve Col Jesse Vincent.

Vincent returned to civilian life when WWI ended and nominated Bane as his successor. While many (including Bane) were highly critical of the “automobile men” who had managed the controversial aircraft production program during the war, Col Bane was profuse in his thanks to Vincent and his cohort for teaching him much about business that he would not otherwise have learned in his “rough [life] as a soldier.”

On 26 Nov 1918, Bane became the first peacetime head of the Engineering Division that combined the former DMA Technical Section with the Airplane Engineering Division. Bane was its Chief during the pivotal period for establishing a permanent military aircraft research & development and procurement organization in the Air Service, positioning McCook Field as the most influential entity in American aviation during the Interwar years. As the “Master of McCook,” Bane was the de facto “most important man in the Air Service” because of the Field’s breadth of functions and its technical control over all Army aircraft.

Bane deliberately dispensed with military rigor in favor of a more commercial or academic environment and organization for the Engineering Division. Its employees cited that as critical to McCook’s success, given its heavily civilian workforce and military leadership. Over a century later, AFLCMC and the Air Force Research Lab still operate under these same premises.

Col Bane was ultimately responsible for selecting which airplane designs to buy and who should build them. As such, he played a critical role in shaping the future of the military aviation industry, making or breaking entire companies at a time when vast post-war retrenchment threatened their very existence. His decisions enabled companies like Martin and Boeing to rise to prominence, while others foundered.

The list of Col Bane’s long-lasting decisions goes on: He single-handedly conceived of, secured authorization for, and first headed the “Air School of Application,” to provide a graduate-level technical education for aviation officers. That became the Air Force Institute of Technology, with graduates including Jimmy Doolittle, Buzz Aldrin, and AFLCMC Vice Commander Col John Kurian. After seeing two of his pilots needlessly perish in crashes, Bane was the first to mandate use of parachutes, which spread to the entire Air Service. He also served for 4 years on the NASA-predecessor National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, shaping national aeronautics policy.

While not known for his politicking, Bane repeatedly appeared before Congress to advocate for the Engineering Division—which he did with notable success—and to side with Gen Billy Mitchell in lobbying for an independent air force. Without his steady hand and personal integrity, it was entirely likely that the Engineering Division would’ve been gutted, moved from Dayton, or disbanded entirely.

Throughout his Army career, Col Bane had recurring and perplexing health issues, spending considerable time at Walter Reed Hospital. In 1922, cuts in the Army officer corps and a change in Army policy made it advantageous for him to finally take medical retirement in December. The Dayton Chamber of Commerce and the employees at McCook hosted elaborate ceremonies for Bane’s departure; there was little doubt as to his contributions to the organization and the city.

While the now-civilian Bane had uncertain plans for retirement, other than returning home to San Francisco, he went out with a flourish. In 1919, he had invited the eccentric and ostensibly brilliant Russian scientist George de Bothezat to McCook to work on propeller theory, and then on his helicopter from 1921-1922. Bane assigned himself as its first test pilot. He took to the air on 18 December 1922, but the helicopter only rose a few feet. Bane piloted it a few more times before moving on from Dayton that Spring.

Many McCook engineers had gone into private industry or formed companies, but that proved complicated for Thurman Bane. As McCook’s commander, he rankled many of the aviation contractors who envied its budget and resented its role, impeding any future career prospects he might have with them. In 1926, his brief hopes of becoming the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Air were likewise stymied, despite an unequivocal recommendation from his good friend Orville Wright. He held several consultant-type positions over the next few years, eventually working with the airline that became the foundation for the famous Pan Am. In 1932 he was the technical advisor for an aircraft holding company when he finally succumbed to the brain tumor that had unknowingly plagued him for years. A dozen years later, his daughter Suzanne became a member of the final (1944) class of Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Army Air Force chief Gen Hap Arnold attended her graduation so that he could personally pin the wings on his old friend’s only child.

Though Thurman Bane experienced neither the fame nor fortune of many of his contemporaries, all who worked with or for him lauded his influence decades later. While he was not the first to head the organization that became AFLCMC and AFRL, he was undoubtedly their (and AFIT’s) functional “Founding Father.”