This Week In AFLCMC History - April 10 - 16, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
10 Apr 1973 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.)

On this date, 50 years ago, the Boeing T-43 navigator trainer flew for the first time with a Boeing test crew. The T-43 (also known as the “Gator”) flew until 2010, and was made from a modified Boeing 737. Essentially, where the 737 had passenger seats, the T-43 had navigator training stations instead - enough for twelve undergraduate navigator students per flight. Nineteen T-43s were delivered to the Air Force in all, and over the course of their 37 years in service these aircraft trained more than 20,000 Air Force navigators, as well as Navy, Marines, and Allied nations students. (Photo of T-43 navigator above).

11 Apr 1942 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir./Hanscom AFB)

The Curtiss-Wright Company unveiled its first production C-46 Commando. This aircraft would see a great deal of use during WWII hauling both cargo and personnel, with 3,144 C-46s accepted over the course of the war. They were also used for hauling gliders. Pictured are several of the C-46s belonging to the 89th Troop Carrier Group at Laurence G. Hanscom Field in 1950 (today Hanscom AFB, though no longer with an airfield - the air-field is now Hanscom Field, a primarily General Aviation airport run by the Massachusetts Port Authority). The C-46 is perhaps most famous for its WWII role flying war materiel from India to China after the Japanese blocked the overland route - a feat requiring pilots to navigate the difficult Himalayas. This treacherous over-the-mountains route was referred to as “flying the Hump.”

13 Apr 1981 (Wright-Patterson AFB/88 ABW)

On this date, a groundbreaking ceremony occurred at Wright Field (Area B) to mark the start of the construction of what would become building 146. A $9.8 million project, this building was to connect to and complement the adjacent building 145 in creating the “most complete and sophisticated complex of its kind in the Department of Defense” - the Flight Control Development Laboratory. The two buildings belonged to the Flight Dynamics Laboratory, which was itself one of the four major Air Force laboratories (all four of which would combine with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in 1997 to become the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, at WPAFB).

14 Apr 2006 (Armament Dir./Edwards AFB/Eglin AFB)

Today in 2006, the F-22 Combined Test Force flew an F-22 Raptor with an AIM-120D missile in its weapons bay. This was notable because it was the first time one of these missiles - which at that time were still in development - was loaded onto an F-22. The purpose of the flight was to assist Eglin AFB with the development of the weapon by testing the effects of noise and vibration on the AIM 120D Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM. Since then, more than 14,000 AMRAAMs have been produced for the Air Force and other customers, though it is now slated to be replaced by the new AIM-260 JATM.

15 Apr 1981 (Digital Dir./Hanscom AFB)

On this date, low-level radiation testing of the Cobra Judy radar subsystem commenced on board the USNS Observation Island at Baltimore, MD. In May, the ship would sail out of Boston Harbor for additional testing, before a Cobra Judy dedication ceremony occurred on 10 June 1981. This was the start of a nearly 33-year joint program between the Air Force and the Navy, ending only when USNS Observation Island was decommissioned in 2014. The AN/SPQ-11 Cobra Judy shipborne phased array radar stood 40-feet-high and weighed around 250 tons. USNS Observation Island served the nation as an advanced range instrumentation ship supporting military weapons testing and monitoring global compliance with strategic arms treaties.

16 Apr 1978 (Tinker AFB/Digital Dir./Hill AFB)

45 years ago, during BRAVE SHIELD XVII (a joint tactical exercise involving both the Air Force and the Army), Tinker AFB’s 552nd Air Control Wing demonstrated E-3A Sentry initial operational capability (IOC) by deploying three E-3As to Hill AFB, Utah. Thanks to the rotating radome mounted above the mid-section of the fuselage, the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) can detect and identify aircraft in every direction around itself for more than 200 miles. The 552nd Air Control Wing was activated at Tinker AFB in 1976 (originally as the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing) specifically to prepare for and then to operate this aircraft. They continue to operate the E-3 today.

100 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 12 April 1923

Assistant Chief of the US Army Air Service Gen Billy Mitchell arrived at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, to inspect the Engineering Division facilities, personnel, equipment, and technology development efforts.

Mitchell was well known as the earliest and most determined advocate for an independent air force. His brash and abrasive personality put him at odds with his colleagues and commanders, preventing him from achieving his goal of heading the Air Service.

As the Assistant Chief, Mitchell’s portfolio was vague, but his boss, Gen Mason Patrick, sent him on frequent (and lengthy) inspection tours of Air Service facilities around the world, mainly to get him away from Washington D.C. McCook Field was one of Mitchell’s frequent stops because it was where the future of the Air Service was being created, both through research and development and its acquisition management.

On Thursday, April 12, 1923, Mitchell and his 4-man team conducted a day-long inspection. He left feeling underwhelmed and, as usual, pulled no punches in his
assessment. Regarding its staff: “The the field did not seem to be as high as during previous inspections. The field seems to lack enthusiasm and punch.” For its experimental aircraft: “Every airplane was conventional and few of them incorporated really new ideas.” But he saved his most damning remarks for the R&D Program: “[
[They] seem to be running out of ideas...very little initiative is being shown.”

The reality was that the Division’s budget was about 1/3rd of what it had been in 1920 and barely covered civilian salaries, much less supported concerted research programs. Likewise, the Army had returned to buying just a few hundred aircraft per year. Together these factors eliminated any incentive or possibility for innovation in industry or at McCook. That remained the case for more than a decade.