This Week In AFLCMC History: March 27 - 2 April, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
27 Mar 1999 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Dir.)

The F-117 Nighthawk, the first operational stealth aircraft, first flew in 1981 and officially retired from service in 2008. It achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 1983. During its 25 year career from IOC to retirement, only a single F-117 was lost in combat: Which happened on this day in 1999. While flying over Serbia as part of Operation ALLIED FORCE, F-117A 82-0806, flown by Lt Col Darrell Patrick “Dale” Zelko, was struck by an SA-3 Goa (S-125) sur-face-to-air missile and crashed to the ground. An A-10 pilot, Capt John A. Cherrey, successfully located Lt Col Zelko for rescue. Cherrey would later receive the Silver Star for this.

28 Mar 1948 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.)

Today, 75 years ago, Boeing and the USAF tested out the British hose method for refueling B-29s as part of a feasibility study called Operation DRIP. Earlier in March 1948, personnel from Wright-Patterson AFB had visited Flight Refueling Limited in the United Kingdom to assess the company's loop-hose air refueling system design, buying two examples for conversion. During the 28 March 1948 test, two B-29s modified with the converted gear to deploy the hose system were able to successfully transfer 400 gallons of water from one bomber to the other. This encouraged the USAF in its decision to modify 80 B-29s for inflight refueling, which became the KB-29M. The British hose method was found unwieldy, however, so Boeing developed the American “flying boom” system later in 1948, with its telescoping pipe, leading to the first KB-29P in 1950 and the birth of the “boom operator” crew position. 

29 Mar 1996 (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance & Special Operations Dir.)

DarkStar air vehicle 1 UAV first flew on this date over Edwards AFB. Unfortunately, it had several problems that were not sufficiently resolved before its second flight on 22 Apr 1996, resulting in a crash on takeoff and loss of the aircraft. The RQ-3 Dark-Star was developed as one of a suite of Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator (ACTD) UAV projects in the 1990s. The high-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance ACTD platforms were the stealthy Tier III Minus DarkStar, and its more conventional sister program, Tier III Plus, that became the RQ-4 Global Hawk. DarkStar was cancelled partly as a result of the crash. The National Museum of the USAF has the second (and last) RQ-3 on display. (Photo at top of article)

30 Mar 1998 (Tinker AFB/Women’s History Month)

Today, 25 years ago, Tinker AFB hosted and honored more than 100 former “Rosie the Riveters” during a special celebration and luncheon in recognition of women who had worked at Tinker Field and the Douglas Plant during World War II. During the event, Veralynn Wall, a welder in the Commodities Directorate, showed her mother LaVera Senn the latest 1990s-era welding techniques and equipment. LaVera Senn worked at the Oklahoma City Air Depot from 1942 to 1945, first employed as a riveter before being transferred to do fuel cell repair work, where she was employed for the majority of the war.

31 Mar 1992 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Dir.)

On this day, the last of 561 Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting InfraRed for Night (LANTIRN) navigation pods contracted for by the Air Force were delivered by Martin Marietta Corp (two months ahead of schedule). The AAQ-13 navigation pods, with the accompanying AAQ-14 targeting pods, allowed the F-15E and F-16C/D aircraft equipped with them to deny enemy forces the cover of darkness. LANTIRN (first introduced in 1987) allowed these aircraft to easily fly and accurately target adversaries at night and from low altitudes, a combination (in tandem with APG-68 and APG-70 attack radar) which proved highly effective during Operation DESERT STORM.

1 Apr 1961 (Digital Dir./C3I & Networks Dir/Hanscom AFB)

The Electronic Systems Division (ESD)—which became the Electronic Systems Center in 1992 (which was itself rolled into AFLCMC in 2012) - was activated at L. G. Hanscom Field with Maj Gen Kenneth P. Bergquist as Commander and Brig Gen Charles H. Terhune, Jr., as Vice Commander. In addition to its headquarters, ESD included the 3245th Air Base Wing and the Rome Air Development Center (at Griffiss AFB, NY). ESD would oversee a number of high-profile USAF projects like the development of the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS).

2 Apr 1973 (Armament Dir./Eglin AFB)

On this date, 50 years ago, the Air Development and Test Center at Eglin AFB chose the GE GAU-8/A Avenger gun system over the Philco-Ford competitor (the GAU-9) for exclusive use in the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The GAU-8/A  is a 30mm rapid fire (upwards of 3,900 rounds per minute), Gatling-style cannon designed to defeat enemy armor, though it has since been used to fire multiple ammo types for close air support and other missions. The weapon entered service with the A-10 in 1977.

AFLCMC Women’s History Month Highlight: Sarah Clark

When one thinks about Air Force women’s history, one usually thinks first to the pilots: Trailblazers like Maj Gen Jeannie Leavitt (the first female fighter pilot) or decorated combatants like Distinguished Flying Cross-recipient Col (Ret.) Kim Campbell. But just as it is today, the Air Force has always been supported by thousands of hard-working administrators, maintainers, security professionals, engineers, contractors, and more, in addition to its highly-skilled pilots and crew. One such supporter was Wright-Patterson AFB’s Sarah Clark, who not only served her nation across a 39-year civil service career (1917-1956), but also saved critical historical information about the USAF’s earliest years.

Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sarah Clark graduated from business school and worked several years in her home town before applying, in 1917, to work for the Army Air Service at McCook Field, Ohio. In an early show of her personality, she indicated that she was ready to work as an “executive” when asked on her application what role she was best suited to fill. She was hired on as a Production Expert instead, and placed in the Army Signal Corps’ Production Engineering Department in downtown Dayton, subsequently reorganized as the Airplane Engineering Department at McCook Field, at which time Clark was named the Chief of Central Files. It had only been nine months since she’d started working for the government - and already she was in a leadership position. This suited her just fine, for she would remain in this position for the next 38 years of her civil service career, all the way up to her retirement, building a reputation as a disciplined and no-nonsense archivist who highly valued speed and accuracy from her staff of records analysts and clerks.

When McCook Field was closed in 1927, Sarah Clark and the Central Files she oversaw moved with the Materiel Division to Wright Field (present-day WPAFB Area B). There she stayed through the thirties and forties, watching the Army Air Corps (as the Army Air Service had been renamed in 1926) become the Army Air Forces, and then the U.S. Air Force. In her role as Chief of Central Records, Clark worked to standardize her records using the Central Decimal Filing System of the Army (which had been adapted from the Dewey Decimal library classification system). She would use this system, expanding on it as she went, until 1955, when the Air Force implemented a new system of records management. By that time, Clark had accrued 66,000 cubic feet of files - a good deal of which came from the 1940s as the Air Force rapidly expanded as a result of World War II. It was because of this expansion, which continued even after the war, that the Air Force was changing its records management system: the old way was becoming untenable. As part of this change, it required records personnel review their files annually for shipment to offsite storage facilities, rather than collecting them locally as Clark had always done. Dutiful to the end, Clark carefully collected her nearly forty years of files (representing her life’s work and a great deal of early Wright-Patt and Air Force history), systematically inventoried and labelled them, and shipped to the National Archives. In 1956, she retired.

Those files, now known as the Sarah Clark Collection, are today much-prized by Air Force historians, containing tens of thousands of official photos, early Air Force R&D, drawings and papers generated by Wright Field’s scientists, engineers, program managers, and more. Efforts are currently ongoing to return the Sarah Clark Collection to WPAFB, so it can be used by Air Force historians and other researchers.