This Week In AFLCMC History - May 8-14, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
 9 May 1932 (Engineering Dir/WPAFB) 
From May 8-10, Capt Albert F. Hegenberger accomplished the first blind solo instrument landing in history at Wright Field, OH. Hegenberger accomplished the feat using a system he’d started developing about a year earlier, which became known as the “Hegenberger system” and was used by both civil and military pilots for some time afterward.

Essentially, his system relied on nondirectional, low-frequency radio and marker beacons on the ground, which could be picked up with a radio compass and receiver, among other instruments, aboard his NY-2 biplane. For his 1932 accomplishment, he was later awarded the 1934 Collier Trophy. 
10 May 1979 (Digital Directorate) 

From May 8-10, 1979, a demonstration of the Digital European Backbone (DEB) reconstitution system was conducted at the headquarters of the Defense Communications Agency (today known as the Defense Information Systems Agency or DISA) in Washington, D.C. This system consisted of trans-portable vans, manpacks, and a ground erectable tower, and was intended to be used to restore DEB communication sites damaged by sabotage or natural disaster. The DEB this reconstitution system was intended to service consisted of 83 equipment sites, built up in Belgium, England, Germany, and Italy through the 1970s and 80s, which were designed to provide connectivity to all U.S. military installations in and around the European Command. The DEB was decommissioned and replaced (with fiber optics) over several years beginning around 2005.  

11 May 1953 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Dir.) 
On this date, 70 years ago, the North American Aviation F-86H Sabre made its first flight at Edwards AFB. Although the F-86H never saw combat, it bridged the late 1940s-era F-86 platform and North American’s upcoming supersonic F-100 Super Sabre (which had its first flight two weeks later). Despite being a larger and heavier airplane than the F-86A, E, or F variants flown throughout the Korean War, the F-86H had better all-around performance. It was also a fighter-bomber, capable of carrying up to 2,000 lbs. of munitions (or a nuclear weapon). The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s F-86H has part of its skin removed to better show the aircraft’s internal equipment placement and configuration. 

12 May 1945 (Tinker AFB/Bombers Dir.) 

In Jan 1945, the Oklahoma City Technical Service Command at Tinker Field was assigned the “B-29 Eagle Project.” This project was to modify the B-29 for high-altitude precision bombing missions in heavy, overcast skies, and it was completed today: May 12, 1945.

The B-29 would see extensive use in the Pacific Theater of WWII, inflicting heavy damage to Japanese cities with its firebombing campaigns. Most famously, it was B-29s Enola Gay and Bockscar that dropped the first and second atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tinker began working on B-29s in 1943, becoming the B-29 overhaul center on Dec 25 of that same year. 

13 May 1976 (ISR & SOF Dir./Hill AFB) 

Today, the Teledyne Ryan AQM-34V remotely piloted vehicle (RPV) made its first free flight at the Utah Test and Training Range at Hill AFB. The vehicle was released at 15,000 feet from a DC-130 mothership, which also piloted it from a control station in the back, and was recovered by an HH-53 helicopter in a midair retrieval after reaching an altitude of 25,000 feet. The AQM-34V was the latest derivation of the original BQM-34 Firebee target drone introduced in 1952, which served as the basic platform for many special mission RPVs during the Vietnam War era. The AQM-34V was equipped for an electronic countermeasures mission, with both active and passive jamming systems and chaff dispensers. This series was retired in 1979. 

14 May 1923 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Dir.) 

100 years ago today, the Army at McCook Field accepted the first Curtiss PW-8 prototype. From 1919-1924, the Air Service used a French-derived “Type” numbering system for aircraft based on their missions. Type I, like the PW-8, were single-seat Pursuit planes (air superiority fighters) equipped with water-cooled engines (like most cars), thus the “PW” prefix. The PW-8 was based on Curtiss’ highly-successful air racers, which both Army Air Service and the Navy had used to win trophies and set speed records. The fuselage had a steel tube structure with fabric skin, while the wings were covered with wood laminate. The engine’s radiator was built flush into the upper surface of the top wing, which helped with aerodynamics, but proved to be leaky, unreliable, and vulnerable to damage. 

100 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 8 May 1923 

McCook Field in Dayton, OH, hosted an aerial circus in honor of their test pilots Lts John Macready and Oakley Kelly, who had completed the historic first non-stop transcontinental US flight. 

In the early 1920s, the Army Air Service Engineering Division at McCook (predecessor to AFLCMC and AFRL) faced the challenge of improving aircraft technology in the face of negligible budgets and official disinterest from Army leadership and Congress. The keys were clear: fly higher, faster, farther, and more reliably, day or night, in bad weather, and end up where you intended. The military was interested in that capability for both long-range bombing missions and for air mobility. 

To those ends, McCook’s leadership leveraged highly-public feats and air races to demonstrate their developments. In 1921, Oakley Kelly was the first at McCook to focus on attempting a non-stop coast-to-coast flight. His organization was home to experts in all of the relevant technical disciplines, had some of the world’s best aircraft test facilities, and had acquisition authority, which made the idea feasible. 
Macready and Kelly shared the flying duties for the flight.
In spring 1922, the Engineering Division purchased a Fokker F.IV passenger plane for $30,000 and dubbed it the T-2. Their team ripped out all the unnecessary components and added large fuel tanks. They added a second pilot’s seat and controls to the T-2’s open cockpit, along with a tunnel for them to switch places and a clothesline to send messages back and forth. The plane had a single Liberty V-12 motor, 
thoroughly prepped and tested by McCook’s experts. 

In late 1922, Kelly and Macready made two attempts to fly from California to New York, taking advantage of prevailing winds, but technical problems stymied both flights. They then opted to literally reverse the course. But first they made an equivalent test flight in Dayton, staying aloft for 36 hours straight, flying over 2500 miles, and set numerous records in April 1923. They then took their plane to Roosevelt Field, Long Island to start the flight. They chose the place and time to leverage a seasonal “Hudson Bay High” weather phenomenon that changed the wind direction to go east to west. 

Kelly and Macready took off on 2 May 1923, headed southwest to fly over Dayton, then proceeded to California. They fixed one early in-flight electrical problem, then re-routed around the mountains in Arizona, but landed safely at the Air Service’s Rockwell Field in San Diego, where they were greeted by the base commander—Maj Hap Arnold. Their achievement was front-page news around the country and earned great publicity for the Air Service. The plane went on a publicity tour, ending up at the Smithsonian in 1924, where it still resides.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force via National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution (SI 98-15780).