This Week In AFLCMC History: March 13 - 19, 2023

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  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
13 Mar 2007 (ISR & Special Ops Forces Dir.)

On this date, the first operational MQ-9 Reaper arrived at Creech AFB, Nevada. Its arrival was nearly a year ahead of schedule. The MQ-9 is frequently described as a “hunter-killer drone”—though it is actually a remotely-piloted aircraft with two ground-based crew members—because its primary mission is to neutralize enemy targets from medium-to-high altitude as a long-endurance weapons platform (it can remain in the air for 20+ hours). It also has a secondary mission as an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance asset. Both larger and better -equipped than the MQ-1 Predator, the Reaper entirely re-placed the retiring MQ-1 on 9 Mar 2018. 

14 Mar 1966 (Bombers Dir.)

The Aeronautical Systems Division (AFLCMC’s precursor at WPAFB) announced the award of $2 million in study con-tracts to conceptualize the avionics subsystem for the Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft (or AMSA), a long-range, penetrating strategic bomber. AMSA officially became the B-1A program in 1969, and was under development during the 1970s. It was cancelled by President Carter, and then picked up again, with the first production Rockwell B-1B Lancer flying in Oct 1984. Today, the B-1 is a highly-versatile, multi-mission bomber with a global reach and is still in active service. 

15 Mar 1996 (Tinker AFB/Digital Directorate)

The Air Force Reserve expanded its associate program to include Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft when it activated the 513th Air Control Group (513 ACG) at Tinker AFB. The 513 ACG became the first Reserve unit to fly the E-3 AWACS. The AWACS was originally developed in the mid-1960s by the Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright-Patterson AFB—when the Air Force realized it needed improved radar detection and airborne target tracking capabilities— then reassigned to the Electronic Systems Division at Hanscom AFB on this same date (15 Mar) in 1967. The E-3 AWACS first became operational at Tinker in March 1977, and the 513 ACG’s activation expanded total force integration. 

16 Mar 1953 (Hill AFB) 

70 years ago, Hill AFB informed Air Materiel Command (AMC) that a study of its facilities had revealed that its lack of adequate runways was its most serious deficiency. Its WWII-era 7,500-by-150-foot runways had served their purpose during that war, but were no longer meeting the needs of new larger, jet-powered aircraft. A new 13,500-by-200-foot runway was proposed, with the base commander telling AMC that it would make the difference as to whether "the first AMC base on this side of the Continental Divide" became an "adequate operation with a potential for the future" or not. AMC concurred with the proposal, though the project would not actually begin until 1955 on account of budgetary constraints. The $3.5 million project was completed in 1957.

17 Mar 1967 (Digital Directorate) 

The Electronic Systems Division (ESD) at Hanscom AFB acquired an AN/TRC-97 lightweight tactical communications facility. Originally developed for the Marine Corps in the early 1960s, and first seeing operational use in southeast Asia in 1966, the equipment would provide transportable communications terminals in remote areas, and could be set up, aligned, and put into operation by two men in less than an hour. Two hundred and twenty-two units were purchased from the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Camden, New Jersey, under a $30 million contract. For years after, the AN/ TRC-97 radio systems proved invaluable, especially for multichannel communications between the USMC and the Air Force. It would eventually be replaced by later systems like the AN/TRC-170. 

18 Mar 1977 (Women’s History—Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir./Agile Combat Support Dir.) 

On this day, all 10 members in the first group of women undergraduate pilot students completed the Phase II Training program in the T-37 Tweet. They then started Phase III with the T-38 Talon. All of them completed training to graduation in Sep 1977, and went on to blaze trails for the Air Force. Capt Connie Engel, for example, was the first woman to lead a two-ship formation, and the first T-38 instructor pilot. Capt Kathy La Sauce was the first woman to command a C-141. Women’s uniform design and other considerations remain important in the acquisition space today, as LCMC strives to ensure that all Airmen are ready and equipped to serve. 

19 Mar 2004 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.) 

The C-130J, the latest version of the C-130 Hercules aircraft, entered the Air Force inventory in 1999, but it wasn’t until this day in 2004 that the first C-130J assigned to an active-duty unit was delivered to the 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock AFB. Touted as providing a 40 percent increase in performance over existing C-130s, some of the largest changes included a shift from analog to digital instrumentation and the introduction of a six-bladed composite propeller (vice the four-bladed propellers of older models) with a Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 turbo-prop engine. The C-130 provides tactical airlift to the Air Force, dropping troops and cargo wherever they are needed. 

AFLCMC Women’s History Month Highlight: Women in Early Aviation History 

Women have played a role in the development of aviation since its earliest days. The first woman to fly in an untethered hot air balloon, for example, was the French aeronaut Marie Élisabeth Thible, who made her historic first flight on 4 Jun 1784. This was less than a year after the Montgolfier brothers first demonstrated the hot air balloon’s capabilities for flight, and only about 28 weeks after the first untethered balloon flights by male aeronauts. More notable still is Jeanne Geneviève Garnerin, the first woman to fly a balloon solo (1798), and the first woman to parachute (in 1799, though she repeated the experience multiple times, selling tickets to one of her parachute descents in Rouen.

The 19th century saw several women aeronauts and parachute jumpers in the United States as well, such as Louise Bates and Mary Myers, and when the Wright brothers invented the first powered airplane at the turn of the 20th century, they were continuously supported in their efforts by their sister, Katharine, who first flew in 1909 as a passenger with her brother Orville in France. 

The age of the airplane brought with it a number of women pilots and parachutists, first civilian and eventually military. A list of notables might include Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick, sometimes credited as the inventor of the parachute ripcord; Bessie Raiche (the first woman in America to fly solo in 1910); Harriet Quimby (the first American woman to get her pilot license in 1911); Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman and first Native American to get her pilot’s license (for which she had to learn French and go to France, because American pilot schools would not teach her); Katharine Stinson, the first female pilot employed by the U.S. Postal Service and one of the earliest pilots, man or woman, to fly at night (whose flying career inspired her brothers to start the Stinson Aircraft Company); and, of course, noted adventurers like Amelia Earhart (the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo). 

In terms of military aviation, the earliest military aviators were the Bulgarian Rayna Kasabova (1912), who flew as a nurse and observer over contested battle space during the First Balkan War, and the Russian princess Eugenie Shakhovskaya (1914), who was possibly the first female military pilot (though it is historically unclear whether she flew any actual military missions). American women began to fly in support of military missions during WW2, first as volunteers assisting Great Britain in the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), and then in the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) and Women's Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS). WFTD and WAFS merged into the famous Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) organization in 1943. Not all women could serve in WASP, however: When Willa Brown (the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license in the US in 1938, and the first to earn a commercial license in 1939) was rejected from WASP on account of her race, she organized a Civil Air Patrol Squadron with her husband in Illinois, and served there. The WASPs were disbanded in 1944.

Women continued to serve after the Air Force was established as an independent branch, however, with the creation of WAF (Women in the Air Force) in 1948. In 1976, WAF ended when women were permitted into the USAF on an equal basis with male Airmen. Since then, women have continued to serve in critical roles, trailblazing in much the same way as the very early women aviators discussed here. 
Uniforms of the first 10 USAF officer pilots