This Week In AFLCMC History - January 23-29, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
23 Jan 1947 (Hill AFB)

Air Materiel Command directed the establishment of a Historical Section under the Plans and Procedures Office of T-5, Deputy for Plans. Beginning 18 May 1947, George B. Holbrook began preparation of the histories of the Ogden Air Materiel Area, starting with February 1943. Responsibility for Air Force history shuffled until a 1969 panel chaired by history professor Maj Gen I.B. Holley recommended an “Office of Air Force History” be established, reporting directly to the Chief of Staff. For 34 years, there were Active Duty historians in the Air Force, until the positions were converted to civilian in recent decades, though there are still Air Force Reserve Historian Specialty Codes. Pictured are the occupational badges worn by these historians.

24 Jan 1966 (Business & Enterprise Sys. Dir.- Gunter)

At Malmstrom AFB, the installation of the UNIVAC 1050-II Real-Time computer was completed for the 341st Supply Squadron and 341st Maintenance Squadron. This version of the UNIVAC 1050 was developed specifically for the Air Force, which had been using UNIVAC systems since the 1950s, including at WPAFB in order to allow, as the name suggests, for “real-time” operation. It used magnetic tape and punch cards for input/output operations, and could process 100,000 transactions per month. The UNIVAC at Malmstrom AFB remained in use all the way up through the mid-1980s.

25 Jan 1949 (Agile Combat Support Dir.)

Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg approved a blue winter uniform  for the United States Air Force (USAF). This was a major step towards transitioning Airmen from the Army greens they’d been wearing under the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF), and helped to differentiate the two branches. The new uniform included new shoes as well - so that those who had served with the USAAF or had bridged the gap between the USAAF and USAF were sometimes called the “brown-shoe Air Force” on account of the fact that the Army’s uniform shoes were brown and the new Air Force’s shoes were black. For several years after the new uniform was introduced, older uniform items remained in use. To-day, USAF uniforms are designed at AFLCMC’s Air Force Uniform Office at Wright-Patterson AFB.

26 Jan 1978 (Wright-Patterson AFB)

Forty-five years ago, a severe blizzard with 75 miles-per-hour gusts and 7-to-12 inches of fresh snow whipped across Wright-Patterson AFB and buried the Dayton area. This led to reduced activities at the base, with only minimum essential operations until January 29. Wright-Patterson was closed to all aircraft traffic between 0433 Eastern Standard Time this date and 1600 Eastern Standard Time January 27. Termed the “Great Blizzard of 1978,” this significant winter storm retains a notable place in the community’s memory, with the greater Miami Valley area seeing over 40 inches of snow in some places over the month, creating snow drifts as high as 25 feet. In total, 51 people died in Ohio from this storm.

27 Jan 1939 (Fighters & Adv. Aircraft Dir.)

On this day, Lt Ben Kelsey piloted the first flight of the Lockheed XP-38 (serial no. 37-457) - taking off from March Field near Riverside, California. This prototype, experimental aircraft would soon be developed into the P-38 Lightning. The Lightning (with various versions, though the first major production model was the P-38E) was utilized in a significant number of missions by the USAAF during World War II. While it served in all major theaters of the war, the plane had its greatest success in the Pacific, where seven of the eight highest-scoring fighter aces there were flying P-38s. It was powered by two turbocharged American Allison V-12 engines and was typically armed with a 20mm cannon and four .50 caliber machine guns in the nose.

28 Jan 1946 (Tinker AFB)

On this date, a devastating fire at Tinker Field’s Building 230 killed 10 maintenance personnel. Building 230 was an industrial facility built during WW2. When the fire alarm sounded around 0930, most of the workers were able to safely escape. However, 22 others in-side a soundproof and classified secure room only became aware of the fire when smoke began to pour into the area from under the door. Twelve of those were able to blindly fight their way through thick smoke to the second-story windows and jump out of them to the safety below, but the other ten did not make it, and perished in the flames. The fire was started when gasoline fumes were ignited by an open element heater.

100 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 29 January 1923

On this day, construction began on the world’s largest aircraft at Wilbur Wright Field (now WPAFB).

During the First World War, the Germans and our allies fielded a few very large bombers, flown mostly at night against wide area targets. The US attempted to buy some of these designs for American production, but the war ended before any were completed. In 1919, that experience led deputy chief of the Army Air Service Gen Billy Mitchell to direct the Engineering Division at McCook Field to develop its own “super bomber.”

McCook Chief Maj Thurman Bane had his team draw up initial requirements, but wanted more input. On the Navy’s recommendation, he brought in Igor Sikorsky, but worried the Russian was more interested in industrial espionage than helping out. Bane also reached out to Englishman Walter Barling, who had recently designed and built the massive Tarrant Tabor bomber in Britain. After it had been modified against Barling’s strong advice, who then refused to fly on it, the plane crashed and killed both pilots on its first flight.

Bane was sensitive to the politics of employing foreign designers when domestic aircraft companies were begging for business and were already at odds with the Army. However, he felt they were doing little to innovate and opted to “throw a scare into them” by employing Barling as a consultant.

The procurement process required a company to build a flyable prototype at their own expense. If acceptable, the Army would pay for it, but then contract production to the lowest bidder. As a result, no American aircraft company was much interested in this hugely expensive project when they might not recoup the cost.

Instead, Bane had Barling do the design himself, which was then put out for bids in May 1920 to build a single prototype. The little-known Witteman-Lewis Aircraft Company in New Jersey won the $375,000 fixed-price contract, mostly because it had no other work. Barling went to work for the company, directing the construction of the XNBL-1, or Experimental Night Bomber, Long Range under the Army’s designation system. The aircraft was a massive triplane with six 12-cylinder, 400HP Liberty engines driving four propellers in the front and two in the back. It sported seven machine guns for defense and carried 5,000 pounds of bombs, while its performance remained to be seen.

The “Barling Bomber” was completed, but not flown, in the summer of 1922 at the Witteman-Lewis facilities. It was then disassembled and shipped by train in dozens of crates to Wilbur Wright Field, which served as a flight test annex of McCook Field for aircraft too large or fast to fly from its small downtown aerodrome. They repurposed one of the WWI-era hangars for the job, though the plane was so large that its front half jutted outside.

Unfortunately for the company, the bomber cost almost twice as much to build as they had contracted for, leading them into bankruptcy. The plane fared little better, but that story will wait for a future Heritage Hangar.