This Week In AFLCMC History - September 4 - 10, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
4 Sep 1976 (88 ABW/Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir.)

On this date, the 178th Tactical Fighter Group, Ohio Air National Guard, deployed with 26 F‑100 aircraft to Wright-Patterson AFB from their home station at the Springfield, Ohio, Municipal Airport while the latter was undergoing repairs. The Group returned to Springfield on Feb 23, 1977. The F-100 Super Sabre saw heavy use in Vietnam, both by the regular Air Force and the Air National Guard. It first flew on May 25, 1953, and, even after its retirement from the Active Duty Air Force, saw continued life with the Air National Guard up until 1979. Today the 178th Wing, still based in Springfield, has an intel, surveillance, and reconnaissance support mission, with the Ops Group flying the MQ-9 Reaper and other units working with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) out of WPAFB. 

5 Sep 1951 (Bombers Directorate)

Today in 1951, the Air Force awarded Convair a contract to produce a nuclear-powered airplane. The idea for an “atom-powered” plane that could stay in the air much longer than one requiring refueling traced back to an Army study in 1946. Convair produced a test bed for the concept out of a damaged B-36 strategic bomber, first designated the XB-36H then the NB-36H. It carried a 3-megawatt, air-cooled test nuclear reactor in its bomb bay; but while the reactor was operational, it did not actually power the plane. Instead, the purpose of the test bed was to examine the effects of nuclear radiation on the aircraft’s systems and crew, who were in a specially-shielded cockpit. The nuclear plane completed 47 test flights, flying for 215 hours (89 of which occurred while the reactor was active), before the plane was scrapped in 1958. The nuclear plane program itself was ended in 1961. Wright-Patt’s distinctive dome-shaped Building 470 in Area B (visible from Gate 22B) was built to support the development of the NB-36’s nuclear-powered engines.

7 Sep 1969 (Hanscom AFB/C3I & Networks Dir./Digital Dir.)

Today, in 1969, the Electronic Systems Division Detachment 13 was designated and organized at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, to manage Project MALLARD. Begun in April 1967, MALLARD was an 8-year, multibillion-dollar effort by the Department of Defense and others to develop a joint tactical communication system for the armies, navies, and air forces of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia. Pictured is the U.S. Project Manager Maj Gen Paul A. Feyereisen welcoming Marine Corps representative Lt Col Howard R. Henn and Navy representative Cmdr Raymond Hoff-man to the project staff in 1968. Unfortunately, because each service purchased its own technologies (their own telephone switches specifically), the system’s interoperability was problematic throughout its short lifecycle, leading to the development of the Tri-Service Tactical Communications (TRI-TAC) systems architecture in the 1970s.

8 Sep 2001 (Presidential and Executive Airlift Dir.)

Today in 2001, former first lady Nancy Reagan joined the Secretary of the Air Force, James G. Roche, and Assistant Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Lt Gen Lance W. Lord, for the final flight of the Boeing VC-137C (tail number 27000) that had served as the primary “Air Force One” from 1972 to 2001. At a speech retiring the plane from presidential service near the end of Aug 2001, President George W. Bush noted that the airplane had flown 444 presidential missions as “Air Force One,” and traveled more than 1 million miles. Nancy Reagan flew on its final flight because her husband had used it more than any other president, and after it landed in San Bernardino, California, it was transported to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. 

9 Sep 1908 (Air Force)

One hundred and fifteen years ago today, then-Lieutenant Frank Purdy Lahm became the first military officer to fly aboard a powered airplane. This first flight by a servicemember came as a result of the Wright Brothers’s 1908 acceptance tests at Fort Myer, Virginia. In proving their airplane to the Army—required by their contract—Orville Wright flew a demonstration flight on Sep 3, 1908. Another demonstration took place on the 9th, but this time Lt Lahm was invited aboard as a passenger. Orville flew Lt Lahm around the skies above Fort Myer for more than six minutes before eventually landing the airplane. A little more than a year later, Lt Lahm would become a pilot himself, receiving training from Wilbur Wright in College Park, Maryland. Lahm, who was born in Mansfield, Ohio in 1877, would eventually retire from the Army Air Corps as a Brigadier General in 1941. He died in Sandusky, Ohio on Jul 7, 1963, aged 85 years old.

10 Sep 2003 (Armament Directorate/Bombers Directorate)

Today, 20 years ago, a B-2A Spirit dropped 80 inert GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) against 80 targets over the Utah Test and Training Range at Hill AFB in order to test a Smart Bomb Rack Assembly (SBRA) the B-2 had been modified to carry. JDAM “smart bomb” kits can be attached to existing munitions (either 2,000-pound BLU-109/MK84s, 1,000-pound BLU-110/MK83s, or 500-pound BLU-111/MK82s) to turn them into accurately-guided all-weather air-to-surface weapons. The B-2’s SBRA, meanwhile, allowed it to carry and guide up to 80 of the 500-pound GBU-38 munitions. The photo shows the B-2 dropping 80 “separation test vehicles” at Edwards AFB a month earlier in a buildup to this final weapons drop test. All in all, the tests helped to “[clear] the way for warfighters to attack [many] individual targets on a single bomb-run.”

100 Years Ago in AFLCMC History: An Early Instrument Flight (6 Sep 1923)

“We never saw a bit of Pennsylvania—not a hill, nor a city, nor a tree. In fact, we didn’t see much of anything of the earth from the Ohio River to the Hudson River.” — Lt Albert F. Hegenberger 100 years ago today, pilot Lt Albert F. Hegenberger  and his navigator Bradley Jones flew approximately 750 miles from Wilbur Wright Field (WPAFB Area A) in Dayton, Ohio, to Boston, for the grand opening of that city’s Air Port, in 7 hours, 35 minutes. Both men were from the Engineering Division at Dayton’s McCook Field. Between them is Lt R. C. Moffett, chief of Boston’s airport, which officially opened on Sep 8, 1923. Hegenberger was in charge of McCook’s Instrument and Navigation Branch, which was responsible for developing all of those related technologies and techniques for the Army Air Service—arguably doing more to improve the safety and utility of aircraft than any other organization in the country. As both an engineer and a pilot, Hegenberger drew on in-house, industry, and government sources to solve the interrelated problems of flying at night and in bad weather. Throughout the Interwar Period, “Heggy,” as his colleagues called him, conducted numerous advanced flight demonstrations, leading to his ultimate goal of entirely “blind flight.”

This 1923 mission took off at 10am, knowing there was inclement weather between Dayton and Boston. Hegenberger wanted to test his long-distance navigation capabilities, particularly using a new design of an Earth-induction compass and a sextant, used for determining location based on star sighting. He and Bradley flew above 11,000 feet to get above a storm system, and stayed there for much of the journey, guided only by their instruments for the many miles flown without sight of the ground.

The pair were flying in a DH-4 biplane, which had been modified in several ways. First, it carried larger than normal gasoline and oil tanks. Second, it had substituted
some vertical instruments for the standard dials in the front cockpit (below, left). While not popular with most pilots, both Air Service Chief Gen Mason Patrick and his deputy, Gen Billy Mitchell, had them fitted to their personal aircraft. Jones’ rear cockpit (below, right) had a new type of drift meter, controls for the Earth induction compass, and designed to facilitate the operation of the sextant they were testing.

Around 3:40 pm, Hegenberger dropped below the clouds to test his prediction that they should be near the Hudson River, which he spotted within minutes. Staying low, the pair soon passed Hartford, Connecticut, confirming that their instrument navigation experiment had been a success. They landed about 6:25 pm at the Boston airport, which had a whole weekend of exhibitions and races planned to celebrate its grand opening.