This Week In AFLCMC History - June 5-11, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
5 Jun 1948 (Bombers Dir.)

Today, 75 years ago, Northrop’s No. 2 prototype YB-49 flying wing broke up over Muroc AFB, killing all crew. Among the crew was co-pilot Capt Glen W. Edwards. Muroc AFB would be renamed “Edwards AFB” in remembrance of Capt Edwards the next year, on Dec 8, 1949. Despite the accident, testing of the YB-49  would continue until the No. 1 prototype was destroyed on the ground in a high-speed taxi accident in Mar 1950. After that, the project was cancelled, and John K. Northrop’s dream of an all-wing airplane would lie dormant until the operational B-2 Spirit and the forthcoming B-21 Raider. 

7 Jun 1968 (Hill AFB)

Fifty-five years ago at Hill AFB, 24 members of the Civilian Non-Appropriated Funds Council participated in the groundbreaking ceremony of the “Hill AFB Park and Picnic Area.” The actual groundbreaking, was conducted by Gordon Milne, Council Chairman; Pete Alex; Sam Anderson; Noall Hyde; Glen North; and Dan Davidson. Once completed, the 11-acre recreation area would include a large pavilion, picnic facilities, a BBQ pit, a baseball diamond and other ball courts, and restrooms. Most of the funding for the park was from Civilian Non-Appropriated Funds, which was money realized from profits accrued from base restaurants, vending machines, and other such sources. 

8 Jun 1971 (Armament Dir./Fighters & Adv. Aircraft Dir.)

The Air Force and U.S. Navy signed a joint agreement to develop the AIM-9L air-to-air missile for the F-15 fighter, which was then in development by the USAF. Delays in the F-15 subsystem development programs drove up costs and led the Air Force to “scrub” the F-15 requirements in 1970-71. One of the deleted items was the new Short Range Missile program that had already expended over $200 million. Splitting the costs with the Navy to instead improve the existing AIM-9 Sidewinder missile could produce a better weapon at lower expense. The infrared-guided AIM-9 had serious shortcomings during the Vietnam war, namely its need to attack from the rear. The L variant improved that by including an “all-aspect” seeker that could track targets from any perspective. 

9 Jun 1967 (Digital Directorate)

Hanscom AFB’s Electronic Systems Division awarded a $3.5 million contract to EG&G, Inc., to develop and produce a system by which weather records and charts could be transmitted between USAF bases worldwide. The system they came up with was comprised of devices designated weather plotter transmitters (GMT-3) and receivers (GMH-3), and it was posited that with the new system critical weather data could be pushed from weather forecast centers to operational bases fives times faster than before. Weather has played a critical role in military history since the earliest days of warfighting - for example, Kublai Khan’s attempted invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281 were
thwarted by windstorms/typhoons, which the Japanese termed “kamikaze,” or divine winds. This term would come into use again during WW2 for Japanese suicide pilots. Also during WW2, advances in weather forecasting allowed leaders to make the call to press with D-Day on Jun 6, 1944, during a break in bad weather, rather than holding off the invasion until weeks later. Pictured is an 850 millibar (mb) streamline analysis from a 1979 weather forecasting training manual. 

10 Jun 1948 (Wright-Patterson AFB)

Although Chuck Yeager’s sound barrier-breaking flight occurred on Oct 14, 1947, it wasn’t until this day in 1948, 75 years ago this year, that the USAF broke the news to the American public. The news was relayed by the first Secretary of the Air Force, W. Stuart Symington. At the time, Yeager’s X-1A  was still being referred to as the XS-1. The Dayton Daily News proudly reported that “youthful Capt Yeager, first man to fly at speeds greater than sound, is stationed at Wright Field in its flight test division and is on temporary duty at Muroc [later renamed Edwards AFB], Cal, where the tests on the XS-1 were held.”

11 Jun 1943 (Bombers Dir.)

On this date, 80 years ago, the Italian garrison on Pantelleria Island (pictured) signaled their desire to surrender as Allied troops began landing on their shores. The infantry’s invasion followed almost daily aerial bombardment, which, combined with a naval blockade, had weakened the defenders’ resolve to the point that the island could be taken
without a single Allied soldier being shot in the landing. In total, 5,285 bombing sorties were flown against the island beginning on May 8, dropping more than 12,000 pounds of bombs. At its time, the reduction of Pantelleria was regarded as an experiment in the effectiveness of sustained aerial bombardment, and most agreed that it was a successful one. Indeed, the taking of Pantelleria is frequently touted as the first time in history the use of airpower forced an enemy’s capitulation in war.

100 Years Ago in AFLCMC History: Explosion of the TC-1 (6 Jun 1923)

Although most of McCook and Wilbur Wright Field’s work in the years after World War I centered on the development of airplanes, there was still considerable optimism regarding the value of airships during the interwar years. Brigadier General Billy Mitchell in particular was a major proponent of the technology, imagining things like aircraft carriers in the sky, and even in 1923 there were still two airship and two balloon squadrons in the Air Service. For this reason, in March 1922, the Balloon and Airship Section at Omaha, Nebraska was moved to McCook Field and attached to McCook’s Engineering Division. There they advised McCook Field’s engineers and designers on improving lighter-than-air vehicles, spherical balloons, and non-rigid dirigibles.

On this date, however, 100 years ago, one of these non-rigid dirigibles—the TC-1—was destroyed at Wilbur Wright Field. Then touted as the largest airship in the Army at 195 feet in length, the TC-1  landed at Wilbur Wright Field late on Wednesday, Jun 6, following a cross-country trip started out of Scott Field, Illinois. It was a stormy night, but the crew thought the ship would be safe if they moored it to a fifty-foot-high mooring mast. Unfortunately, after mooring its nose to the first mast, a strong wind swung the ship into a second mooring mast. Charged with static electricity and filled with hydrogen gas, when the ship collided with the second mast, the friction and heat caused the gas to ignite, destroying the airship in an instant. Fortunately, most of the crew were out of the ship when the explosion occurred, but two—Sgt Harry Barnes and Mr. A.C. Maranville, a civilian representing the Goodyear Rubber Co. who had built the TC-1—were still in the cabin when the TC-1 lit up. They jumped from fifty feet in the air to escape at the first flash, both enduring broken right ankles and other injuries from the fall. Besides these two, who were injured and not immediately present following the accident (as they were on their way to the hospital), the crew were photographed after the event. The TC-1 had been acquired only months earlier, in April 1923, at a cost of $40,000. This accident and other more fatal airship accidents would eventually convince the Army (and the Navy) to move away from airship technology.