This Week In AFLCMC History - May 15-19, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
15 May 1967 (Hanscom AFB/Digital Dir.)

On this date, Air Defense Command successfully concluded Category III tests of newly-completed modifications at the three forward sites of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS). These modifications were made by Hanscom Field’s Electronic Systems Division, and largely represented the completion of the BMEWS, which was begun ten years earlier in 1957. BMEWS was the first operational ballistic missile detection radar, and was meant to provide long-range warning of missile at-tacks over the northern polar region (particularly from the Soviet Union). 

17 May 1917 (Wright-Patterson AFB)

The United States entered WWI in April of 1917, but, having neglected the development and sustainment of American military aviation in recent years, had no combat-worthy aircraft. The country turned to men like Dayton engineer and industrialist Edward A. Deeds to remedy this problem. He was appointed to the Aircraft Production Board in Washington, D.C. on May 17, 1917, where he for development of a single standardized aircraft engine. The resulting “Liberty” engine was probably America’s greatest contribution to First World War aviation technology (and was famously laid out in only six days at the Willard Hotel). During this time period, he helped see to it that Wilbur Wright Field and McCook Field were both established in his home town of Dayton, Ohio—the predecessors for Wright-Patterson AFB and AFLCMC, respectively. In August 1917, Deeds was appointed a Colonel and made the chief of the Signal Corps’ Equipment Division, which was responsible for aircraft production. 

18 May 1935 (Wright-Patterson AFB)

The Physiological Research Laboratory was established at Wright Field on May 18, 1935. In classic military fashion, Capt Harry G. Armstrong, M.D., was charged with forming and leading the new organization after he complained about the inadequate protective equipment available to aircrews in a letter to the air surgeon. The air surgeon replied, telling him that since he was the one to point out the problem he was “the logical man to try to solve it.” Armstrong was thus ordered to Wright Field in 1934, and is today acknowledged as the father of American aeromedical research, producing a vast array of innovations ranging from aircraft oxygen systems to tools for rescuing crash victims. Among his major accomplishments was his help in developing the first successful, pressurized passenger aircraft. 

19 May 1919 (Agile Combat Support Dir.)

Master Sgt Ralph W. Bottriell made the first jump by an Army soldier with a ripcord-operated, free-fall, backpack-type parachute, for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Previous parachutes relied on “static lines” connecting a parachute pack to an airplane or balloon basket to open the canopy, which led to graphic episodes of pilots getting entangled on their planes. When the US entered WWI in April 1917, the military had no parachutes, leading the Army to establish a development program at Wilbur Wright Field in Dayton, later moved to nearby McCook Field. The team focused on manually-deployed (ripcord) parachutes, resulting in the “Type A,” which became the Air Service’s first standard chute. It was first tested “live” at McCook on April 28, 1919. Bottriell was already an experienced parachutist, having made his first jump when he was just 16 years old. In 1920, Sgt Bottriell set a world record for parachute jumps at 20,600 feet. 

20 May 2013 (Tinker AFB)

Ten years ago today, a massive (over one mile wide at its peak) EF-5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, about 3 miles south of Tinker AFB. The storm killed 24 people (incl. 9 children), injured 212, and destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes. The tornado started around 15:00 local time, and lasted more than half an hour. Tinker AFB personnel assisted nearly 250 members of the Oklahoma National Guard in rescue, recovery, and cleanup efforts. This tornado remains the world’s most recent officially-rated EF-5 tornado - representing the longest on record that the world has gone between F-5 or EF-5 tornadoes (with the second longest break being 8 years between 1999 and 2007).
Destruction after E-F5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma in 2013.

21 May 1929 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.)

As a follow-up to the successful flight of the Question Mark, which had generated a great deal of public interest in aerial refueling earlier in the year, Assistant Secretary of War for Aviation F. Trubee Davison ordered another demonstration in the spring as part of annual maneuvers. The plan for the May flight was for Lt Odas Moon to fly his Keystone LB-7 bomber from Fairfield Air Depot in Dayton, Ohio, (WPAFB Area A) to New York City and back again, being refueled throughout by an accompanying C-1 tanker. Moon had also flown with one of the tankers supplying the Question Mark in Jan 1929. Unfortunately for the May demonstration, the C-1 was grounded by weather, and while Moon made it to New York himself, he had to overnight in Washington, D.C. Moon would return to Dayton the next day, after the C-1 caught up with him over New York City that morning for the planned (if somewhat delayed) aerial refueling demonstration. 

This Week in AFLCMC History: Dedication of the Arnold House Heritage Center: 16 May 1986

On May 16, 1986, Building 8 in WPAFB Area A was dedicated as the “Arnold House Heritage Center” in honor of former 5-star General and head of the US Army Air Forces, Henry H. “Hap” Arnold. The ceremony included numerous dignitaries: the Wright Brothers’ nephew, Mr. Horace Wright; Hap Arnold’s sons and daughter-in-law, Col Bruce Arnold and Col and Mrs. David Arnold; Air Force Logistics Command Vice Commander Lt Gen and Mrs. Marc C. Reynolds; and the Honorable Michael DeWine, representing Ohio’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives. The ceremony concluded with a fly-by of three F-4 Phantom II aircraft piloted by members of the 906th Tactical Fighter Group.

The house that would become the Arnold House Heritage Center in 1986 has a long and storied history and is in fact the oldest building at Wright-Patt. It was built by Henry E. Hebble, a bridge and house builder, in about 1841 and then modified over the decades. Originally it was an almost perfect cube structure, but additions were added over time. For nearly eight decades, it was a private residence, and even stood witness to the earliest flights of the Wright brothers at nearby Huffman Prairie.

In 1917, the house and land were acquired by the Miami Conservancy District as part of its regional flood control project, which then leased it to the U.S. government during WWI for the establishment of the Wilbur Wright Field training base. In 1924, it was part of the 4,520-acre donation to the government for the new Wright Field. It had several notable residents after that, including Lt Col Augustine Warner Robins (namesake of Robins AFB), though its most famous resident (from 1929 to 1931) was then-Major Hap Arnold. From 1937 to 1946, it was the Base Squadron HQ, and the induction center for many WWII servicemembers. From then until 1980, it was again officers’ family quarters. In 1984, a $100,000 restoration project led to this dedication in 1986. The Center was used for tours, base events (like promotions and retirement ceremonies), and historical research. In 2014, The Heritage Center closed and was converted to offices for the 88th Air Base Wing, though, per Air Force regulations, it maintained its formal “Arnold House Heritage Center” designation.

Because it is now no longer needed for office space, the 88th ABW’s Cultural Resources Manager, with the support of the AFLCMC History Office, is currently working to reignite the mission of the Heritage Center as a tool for telling the story of Wright-Patterson's diverse history and as a repository for artifacts associated with the base's development and its prominent leaders.