This Week In AFLCMC History - May 22-28, 2023

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  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
23 May 1968 (Armament Directorate) 
The 8th Tactical Fighter Wing’s 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron began three months of combat testing of the Air Force’s first Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs) in Vietnam. The Air Force discovered that the combination of a 2,000-pound Mk-84 bomb with a KMU-351B guidance kit (dubbed the GBU-10 Paveway) proved at least as accurate as the 750-pound BOLT-117, while providing more than twice the “bang”—resulting in a shift in development focus to the Paveway. These tests further demonstrated that aircraft carrying LGBs were able to destroy far more targets with fewer aircraft, less risk, and lower costs than those using conventional munitions. This first generation of precision guided munitions ushered in the “Second Offset” era of US military force structure and reoriented the Air Force’s approach to air-to-ground attack operations. 
24 May 1996 (Bombers Directorate) 
In a May 24, 1996 letter of transmittal, Under Secretary of the Air Force Rudy de Leon obligated FY 1996 funding to convert the original B-2 flight test vehicle, known as Air Vehicle-1 (AV-1), into an operational B-2. This was possible due to the fact that AV-1 was not a simplified demonstrator, made only to illustrate the basic concepts of the proposed aircraft, but a fully-functioning bomber in its own right with full low observability technology in place. It only needed to be upgraded to be made operationally ready. These upgrades included new landing gear, a new avionics suite, and some modifications to the aircraft’s structure, fuel system, and weapons bay doors. Once finished, the newly updated AV-1—rechristened the “Spirit of America” on Jul 14, 2000—brought the B-2 fleet to 21 aircraft. This was all in spite of AV-1’s initial retirement in March 1993, after a 1992 decision had originally capped the B-2 fleet at 20 aircraft. 
25 May 1979 (Hanscom AFB/Digital Dir.) 
During full-power operation in a test mode, the north face of the Beale AFB PAVE PAWS radar (pictured here in 2014) successfully tracked three satellites. While PAVE is simply an Air Force program identification code, PAWS is an acronym standing for “Phased Array Warning System,” and the main purpose of the PAVE PAWS radars—which reached initial operating capability (IOC) in April 1980—is to detect and track Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), providing as early a warning as possible of in-coming missile strikes. The radar themselves used to be operated by the Air Force Space Command (and today are operated by the Space Force), but Hanscom AF-B’s Digital Directorate’s predecessors managed their systems. 

26 May 1948 (Armament Dir.) 

Seventy-five years ago today, North American Aviation launched its first prototype cruise missile, the RTV-A-3 North American Test Instrument Vehicle (NATIV), at the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. Of NATIV’s seven flight tests, only one was a true success, with two others considered partial successes. The NATIV was cancelled in 1949, but North American used that experience to develop the subsequent SM-64 Navaho missile, which was itself cancelled in 1957 when the Air Force pivoted to ICBMs. The failure of the Navaho and other early “winged” cruise missiles reflected poorly on AFLCMC’s predecessor, the Wright Air Development Center, that managed them. The combination of a legacy acquisition process that was ill-suited to rapid development, stovepipes between the R&D and acquisition phases, and the nascent idea of “systems engineering/management” for advanced technology led Gen Bernard Schriever to spin off an entirely new organization in California to manage ICBM development. 

27 May 1958 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Dir./Eglin AFB/Hill AFB)

Today, 65 years ago, the first production F-105B Thunderchief was accepted by Tactical Air Command’s Gen Otto P. Weyland. This occurred outside of Republic Aviation’s Farmingdale plant in Long Island, New York, with this first operational aircraft going to the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron—who had then just moved to Eglin AFB, Florida from their old base at Seymour Johnson, North Carolina. The F-105B initially had several deficiencies (as tends to be the case with many new planes), mainly with its avionics and firing controls, but through modification efforts like Project Optimize (which involved 26 engineering changes) would in time become a beloved fighter aircraft affectionately nicknamed “the Thud.” In total, 833 F -105s would be constructed, and they would play a significant role in the Vietnam War. It was retired from active service in 1983, and had its last flight with the Air Force Reserve Command’s 466th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB on Feb 25, 1984. 

28 May 1968 (ISR & SOF Dir./Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.)

55 years ago today, the Cessna Aircraft Plant in Wichita, Kansas, produced the first A-37B Dragonfly. Nicknamed “Super Tweets,” the A-37 had its start in 1964-1966 tests where two T-37 Tweet trainers were modified into YAT-37Ds for counterinsurgency attack and reconnaissance tests. Following these tests 39 T-37Bs were modified into the first A-37As and sent into combat operations in Southeast Asia for evaluation. 577 A- 37Bs were built as a result of their successes in close air support, FAC, and night interdiction missions, with nearly half of them delivered to South Vietnam’s Air Force. While A-37s were only used for a short time in the in the USAF, they remained in
use with the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve until 1992.

This Week in AFLCMC History: 22 May 1917 

On behalf of the War Department, Army Signal Corps Construction Department head Lt Col C. G. Edgar signed a short-term lease with the Miami Conservancy District regional flood control entity for 2,075 acres of land near Fairfield (now Fairborn), Ohio. Included within this lease was the Huffman Prairie, site of the Wright brothers’ 1904-1916 experimental flying and civilian pilot training school. This would become part of what is now Wright-Patterson AFB, comprising most of today’s Area A. 

Following Dayton’s Great Flood of 1913, this area had been purchased or optioned by the Conservancy District to serve as a planned floodplain. The District was headed by local industrialist, Edward Deeds. When the US declared war on Germany to enter World War I in April 1917, one of its initial major projects was a massive expansion of military aviation. One of the first moves for that was to establish new pilot training schools around the country. Deeds, who at that point directed aircraft production, informed the head of the Signal Corps that Dayton had a readily available and suitable plot of land for one such school. An Army team evaluated and approved the site by the end of the month and signed the lease on 22 May 1917. It dwarfed any existing or planned flying school in the US, being over double the size of the others. The new site was dubbed Wilbur Wright Field in honor of the brother who had died in 1912. The lease cost $20,000 for the first year, along with $73,000 to the remaining land owners for their crops, with annual options to renew. 

Construction began almost immediately, but suffered from significant delays due to weather, a shortage of materials, and (primarily) a dearth of carpenters and other qualified workers. Captain Arthur R. Christie was the first commander and had the honor of making the first flight at Wilbur Wright Field on 17 July 1917 in a Curtiss JN-4 trainer. Flying training began 2 days later, but ceased altogether when winter hit. The Field switched to training mechanics and armorers, but the school closed entirely when the war ended in November 1918. It remained an auxiliary field for experimental flight testing by the Engineering Division at nearby McCook Field, but its facilities were all later torn down. The land was purchased outright by the citizens of Dayton and donated to the government in 1924.