This Week In AFLCMC History - April 17 - 23, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
18 Apr 1991 (Wright-Patterson AFB)

On this date, a 4950th Test Wing Boeing EC-135E ARIA (Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft), participated in the first successful Small ICBM (SICBM) test launch. The MGM-134A SICBM program was authorized in 1986. The idea behind SICBMs was to house them in large, truck-like launcher vehicles that could disperse across the country’s road systems when needed. This theoretically negated the vulnerability of stationary missile silos, which adversaries might target in an initial attack. The program was scrapped after the end of the Cold War. Meanwhile, the 4950th Test Wing was inactivated in 1994, ending almost 75 years of flight testing in the Miami Valley area.

19 Apr 1995 (Tinker AFB)

On this date, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City robbed the Air Force and the nation of two bright young Airmen. Killed in the explosion were Tinker AFB assignees Airman 1st Class Lakesha Levy of the 72nd Medical Group and Airman 1st Class Cartney McRaven of the 32nd Combat Communications Squadron. McRaven had been married four days prior to the bombing, and was at the building to get a new Social Security card. Levy, who had just moved to Oklahoma a few months before, was also there to get a Social Security card. In total, 168 people were killed in the terrorist attack.

20 Apr 1938 (ISR & Special Operations Forces Dir./Wright-Patterson AFB)

On this day, 85 years ago, the first U.S. military autogiro school opened its doors at Patterson Field (which is today Area A of WPAFB). The school’s mission was to train officers as pilots and enlisted as maintenance crews for the testing of autogiros. Three YG‑1B direct-control autogiros were used. The autogiro functions like a hybrid between helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Unlike a helicopter, the rotors of autogiros are not powered and can spin freely. The forward movement of the airplane provided by the engine and front propeller causes the rotors to turn in the airstream and provide lift, instead of using wings like an airplane. This arrangement provides a short take-off and landing capability.

21 Apr 1993 (AFLCMC/Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.)

On this date, 30 years ago, the Air Force published its response to a 1992 DoD IG report on the C‑17 program that charged three general officers and one senior civilian official with mismanagement of the C-17 program. The Air Force legal team found that all four named individuals were innocent of any misconduct. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, Jr., rejected these findings, however, and fired all four individuals. In a contemporary article, Air Force Magazine suggested that this was due to political pressures, though the official reason from Secretary Aspin was that he had lost confidence in the accused. Whatever the truth of the matter, Secretary Aspin’s tenure was indeed during a time of intense political pressures and social change following the end of the Cold War, and Aspin himself resigned from his post only a year after being confirmed (partly due to the fallout of a disastrous mission in Somalia made famous by the book and film, Black Hawk Down).

22 Apr 1918 (Wright-Patterson AFB/Armament Dir.)

On this day, 105 years ago, an armament school was opened at Wilbur Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. It was fully staffed with 76 Signal Corps Officers, 19 Ordnance officers, 500 Signal Corps enlisted men, and 80 Ordnance enlisted men. The arrival of the 231st Aero Repair Squadron on this day is what completed their staffing and allowed for the opening of the school. At the beginning of World War 1 (WW1) in 1914, airplanes were unarmed observation platforms. By the end of the war, however, mounted machine guns and more highly developed ideas about bombardment were beginning to revolutionize the role of airpower in war - it was becoming an offensive weapon, not just a tool for surveillance and reconnaissance. The armament school at Wilbur Wright Field was established to train mechanics on the installation, arming, and repair of aerial machine guns over the course of six weeks. The first class graduated on June 6, 1918, and the school closed in February 1919.

23 Apr 1973 (Tinker AFB/Presidential & Executive Airlift Dir.)

Today, 50 years ago, the Oklahoma City Air Materiel Area received system management responsibility for the advanced airborne command post system contained on the Boeing 747-adapted E-4B. The main role of E-4B aircraft is to serve as a survivable command post in the event of catastrophe. It is a key component of the National Military Command System, and operates as the National Airborne Operations Center. It can be crewed by up to 112 crew members, and can fly for upwards of 12 hours before needing refueling. There are four E-4Bs active in the Air Force inventory today. (See photo at top). 

100 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 17 April 1923

On 17 April, 1923, Lt Harold Ross Harris set a world speed record in the skies above Dayton, Ohio. He flew 114.35 mph for 1,500 kilometers at the controls of a De Havilland DH-4L (A.S. 64593). Continuing the flight, he set a second world speed record for 2,000 kilometers at a speed of 114.22 mph. If his name is familiar to regular readers of Heritage Hangar, it may be because he was just months before his world record flight also the first person to be saved from an airplane crash using a manually-powered, or ripcord, freefall parachute (as described at length in the October 17, 2022 issue). In addition to these two feats, Harris would accomplish many great feats in aviation through his lifetime, ultimately setting 26 flying records (16 American and 10 World), helping to develop “crop dusting” as a civilian application of aviation, under-writing what would become Delta Airlines, and helping create Pan American Grace Airways (Panagra) - the first American scheduled airline with flights to South America.

Harris was born on December 20, 1895 in Chicago, Illinois, and learned to fly in the summer of 1916 at one of the Citizen Military Training Camps in Monterey, California. In 1917, he enlisted in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps. In 1918, he was sent to Wilbur Wright Field (WPAFB Area A) in Dayton, Ohio. He was made Chief of the Flight Test Division at nearby McCook Field in 1920, and remained there until he retired from the Army in 1926. During this time, he also tested the first Martin Bomber equipped with Liberty engines, and was the first pilot to test a pressurized cabin. He returned to military service from 1942-1945, during WWII, where he achieve the rank of Brigadier General before retiring from service a second time. He died on July 28, 1988, at 92 years old.