This Week In AFLCMC History - August 21 - 27, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
21 Aug 1917 (Wright-Patterson AFB)

On this date, the newly-established Wilbur Wright Field got its first Post Hospital. The “Wilbur Wright Medical Department” had been stood up only a month earlier with a team of just five members: The Post Surgeon himself, a lieutenant, and three enlisted personnel. By May 1918, the hospital had 89 beds, 14 physicians and dentists, 11 commissioned nurses, and 63 enlisted medical technicians. These medical professionals would soon be called upon to fight the deadly 1918 Influenza Epidemic (the so-called “Spanish Flu”) as it swept across the base - and much of the rest of the planet. 

23 Aug 1948 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Dir.)

On today’s date, 75 years ago, McDonnell’s XF-85 Goblin made its first free flight at Muroc Field (Edwards AFB). It was piloted by McDonnell test pilot Edwin F. Schoch. The idea behind these tiny experimental fighters was that they would be carried inside of B-36 bombers as “parasite” planes: When the bombers needed escorts to protect themselves from enemy attack, they could just launch their XF-85s. After the fighting was over, the Goblins could then hook into their carrier planes, as pictured at top, via a trapeze, to get stowed away back inside. In theory, this would allow the fighters to escort the B-36 Peacemakers they were de-signed for far beyond the ranges of conventional fighters at the time. In fact, however, although the planes flew well, they had a great deal of difficulty latching onto the trapeze as a result of the airflow around their carrier aircraft, and the idea was eventually scrapped in late 1949 when the Air Force began focusing instead on aerial refueling. No XF-85 ever did launch from a B-36 as envisioned. 

24 Aug 1940 (Bombers Directorate)

On 24 Aug 1940, Boeing received a contract for three B-29 prototypes. Two years and one month later, the XB- 29 made its first flight. By that point, however, the War Department had already ordered the plane into production. Over the next few years, the B-29 bomber program would become the largest wartime effort at Wright Field—and the most expensive program of WWII. Perhaps the most significant role the base played began in Dec 1943, when HQ USAAF started the “Silverplate” project at Wright Field (which was a project to modify B-29s so that they could carry atomic bombs). The preliminary “Silverplate” changes were made on base in a flightline hangar. It cost thousands of hours of work, but the project was ultimately successful in equipping the U.S. with the planes, dubbed Enola Gay and Bockscar, that would deliver the “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” atom bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. 

25 Aug 1932 (Wright-Patterson AFB)

On this date, Amelia Earhart  became the first woman to complete a nonstop transcontinental flight when she flew from Los Angeles, California to Newark, New Jersey. Earhart had visited the Fairfield Air Depot (today a part of WPAFB’s Area A) a few years earlier in 1928, and revisited Wright Field again in late 1936, less than a year before she’d go missing during her attempt to fly around the world in 1937. During her 1936 visit, she flew into town with another famous female aviator, Jacqueline Cochran. She was visiting so that work could be done on the radio equipment in her Lockheed Electra. She took a tour of the base while here.

26 Aug 1975 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)

Today in 1975, the YC-15 medium Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) transport completed its first flight, taking it from the McDonnell Douglas facility at Long Beach to Edwards AFB for testing. At the time, the McDonnell Doug-las YC-15 was up against the Boeing YC-14 in the Air Force’s Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST) competition—with the idea being that the winning plane would either supplement or entirely re-place the existing C-130 Hercules. The program was ultimately cancelled, however, with neither the YC-14 nor the YC-15 going into production. All was not lost, though, because the YC-15’s basic design would go on to inspire the creation of the C-17 Globemaster III. Today, one of the two YC-15s constructed for the contest (serial number 72-1875) can be seen at the Edwards AFB Flight Test Museum. 

27 Aug 1990 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Directorate)

On this date, Northrop company test pilot Paul Metz flew the YF-23 through the skies above Edwards AFB. The test flight of the air superiority fighter prototype—which was unofficially nicknamed the “Black Widow II”—went well, lasting for about an hour. The F-16 chase plane following it had to use its afterburners to keep up with the YF-23 (which was not using afterburners) during climb out, and Metz later recalled that the aircraft was, in the words of AFMC historian Tony Landis, “abnormally ‘solid’ yet agile.” Despite its early promise, a series of minor accidents and malfunctions occurred during further flight testing (such as cracking outer windscreens and engine and fuel line troubles), and the Air Force announced in 1991 that the YF-23’s competitor, the Lockheed F-22 Raptor, was the winning design. In announcing the decision, Secretary of the Air Force Donald Rice acknowledged that both planes had met the requirements of the Advanced Tactical Fighter program, but that greater confidence was held in Lockheed and Pratt & Whitney’s ability to deliver the F-22 in a more timely and economical fashion. The YF-23’s first prototype would ultimately end up at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, where it can be seen today. (See photo for F-22 Raptor).