This Week In AFLCMC History - September 11 - 17, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
11 Sep 2001 (88 ABW/Wright-Patterson AFB)

Following the Sep 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, nonessential personnel were sent home from WPAFB for several days as the installation closed its doors and numerous contingency plans were activated. Once everyone returned to work, the base adopted staggered work schedules to facilitate traffic flow at backed-up gates where 100% positive ID checks were now required for all those seeking entry. Security Forces took the brunt of this new workload, and on average worked 12+ hour days, 6 days a week, until Nov 2001. Fortunately, they were soon supplemented: First with dozens of augmentees detailed to work the checkpoints with them, and then with more than 2,000 volunteers trained to assist with ID checks at peak traffic hours. Wright Memorial Hill, however, would remained closed until May 2002, and the Huffman Prairie Flying Field was closed until Dec 2002.

12 Sep 1947 (Bombers Directorate)

Today in 1947, Boeing rolled out their XB-47 (tail number 46-065). The event took place at Boeing’s Seattle plant, and represented their answer to a 1944 Air Force requirement for a jet bomber. When the plane flew in Dec 1947, it easily met requirements and outclassed its competitors, leading to its acceptance and the development of the B-47 Stratojet. The B-47 with its six jet engines carried about the same payload as the propeller-driven B-29s and B-50s it replaced, while flying-more than 200 mph faster. By 1958, more than 1,300 B-47s (and nearly 200 RB-47 reconnaissance variants) were in use; though they’d be phased out almost entirely by the mid-1960s and retire in 1966. The B-47 established the basic layout for modern jet airlines and bombers.

13 Sep 1972 (88 ABW/Wright-Patterson AFB)

An American Airlines 707 airliner, Flight 192, made an emergency landing at Wright-Patterson AFB after its front-end landing gear got stuck in the closed position. The aircraft diverted from Dayton’s Cox Municipal Airport (now Dayton International Airport) and landed on the base runway - which had been foamed for its approach - with only minimal damages to its nose. Three passengers suffered minor injuries, but were treated at and quickly released from Wright-Patt’s Medical Center. Mr. Charles A. Luigs, American Airline’s local manager, delivered a letter to Gen Catton, thanking the base for its help. In forwarding the letter on to the what’s now the 88 Air Base Wing, Gen Catton noted that its actions “were in keeping with the long tradition the Air Force has of serving the public in emergencies and disasters.”

14 Sep 1965 (Hanscom AFB/Digital Dir.)

Today in 1965, the Air Defense Command accepted the Northern Area Communications System (also known as 489L)’s “Subsystem B” upgrade. Subsystem B involved the installation of twenty-two 60-foot antennas across the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, upgrading the system to existing communication standards. The DEW Line, a series of radar stations (with each of the black dots in the picture representing one such station), detected and warned of enemy aircraft or ballistic missiles coming over the polar region. In 1988, the DEW Line was replaced with the North Warning System, which is still in use today as the U.S. and Canada’s early detection and warning air defense system.

16 Sep 2003 (Robins/Tinker/Eglin/Wright-Patterson AFBs)

Twenty years ago today, nearly 180 airplanes (representing billions of dollars in equipment) from bases on the East Coast sheltered away from Hurricane Isabel at Wright-Patterson, Tinker, Robins, and Eglin Air Force Bases. These included, among others, two presidential support aircraft and 30 Marine helicopters at Robins; seventy-five F-15E Strike Eagles at Tinker; sixteen F-16 Fighting Falcons at Eglin; and 49 aircraft, including C-141 Starlifters from Andrews AFB and Navy P-3s from NAS Patuxent River, at Wright-Patt. Hurricane Isabel made landfall on 18 Sep 2003, and caused an estimated $5 billion in economic damages. Fifty-one people were killed as a result of the hurricane (with 16 of those people killed directly by the storm), and millions were left without power. Once the storm had passed, the bivouacking aircraft returned to their home stations.

17 Sep 1908 (Air Force History)

Today, 115 years ago, Lt Thomas E. Selfridge lost his life in an airplane accident at Fort Myer, Virginia, becoming the first U.S. military member to die in an airplane crash- before the military even owned any airplanes. He was flying with Orville Wright, who broke his back in the accident, as part of a series of acceptance tests. The accident did not deter either the Wrights nor the Army, but did delay the demonstrations until the next summer. It also resulted in the first Air-craft Accident Report, published in Feb 1909, which determined that the cause of the accident was a propeller break. A fragment of the broken prop can be seen today at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

100 Years Ago in AFLCMC History: (15 Sep 1923)

One hundred years ago, it was a typical Saturday morning for the Army Air Service Engineering Division at McCook Field in Dayton. The employees had all arrived around 0800 for the mandatory half-day of work before their weekend started. Those outside who looked up around 9:20 would have caught sight of one of McCook’s dozen Fokker D.VIIs, which had been impounded from Germany at the end of The Great War nearly four years earlier. The Allies regarded the Fokker as Germany’s premier pursuit plane, and scooped up as many as possible for their technical intelligence value. In 1923, they were still popular with McCook’s flyers.

The pilot flying the Fokker that morning was unique: Maj Edward Leroy Napier. He was the Army’s only certified flight surgeon and rated pursuit pilot. The Union Springs, Alabama (about 45 miles from Maxwell-Gunter) native was born in 1883, attended Auburn University, and graduated from Tulane’s medical school in 1906. He joined the Army’s Medical Reserve Corps afterwards. In August 1917, he sailed for France as the Army 16th Engineers’ surgeon in World War I.

Following the war, Maj Napier graduated from the school for flight surgeons on Long Island in 1920. He then was selected for flight training, under the belief that flight surgeons would be more effective if they were also pilots themselves. He excelled, and was the only doctor selected for elite pursuit training. Napier immediately was sent to McCook Field as its new post surgeon. While the Engineering Division was not doing aeromedical research, it was the center for aviation research, development, testing, and acquisition.

From his arrival in January 1921, Maj Napier impressed everyone at McCook with his medical skills and willingness to be involved in its development work. For example, he helped design the A-1 Ambulance aircraft and was on the first flight of McCook’s “Model Airways,” their proof-of-concept of the equipment and techniques necessary for scheduled airline operations.

As Maj Napier flew over McCook on 15 September, however, one of his plane’s wings suddenly collapsed. Witnesses saw him leap from the cockpit while his plane spun in. To their horror, his parachute didn’t deploy as both pilot and plane fell 1500 feet. Napier became just the second flight surgeon to perish in an airplane crash and the first in one that he was piloting. The post-flight investigation determined that Napier had impacted his spinning plane, knocking him unconscious before he could open his parachute. Shoddy manufacturing and hasty wartime repairs to the plane that had gone undetected at McCook caused the wing’s failure, though rumors abounded that the Germans had secretly sabotaged many of D.VIIs before turning them over to their former enemies.