This Week In AFLCMC History - October 16 - 22, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
16 Oct 1943 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate)

On this date in 1943, the U.S. Army Air Forces awarded Lockheed (now Lockheed-Martin) the contract for the XP-80. In just 143 days, the company’s team—led by famed engineer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson—delivered the prototype, which flew on Jan 8, 1944. The first true American jet fighter (vastly outperforming the earlier XP-59), it could sustain speeds over 500 mph in level flight.

While it went into production too late to see combat during WW2, the P-80/F-80 Shooting Star did see heavy use in the Korean War before it was replaced by North American’s swept-wing F-86 Sabre. The P-80 was also the basis for the long-serving (into the 1990s) T-33 trainer.

17 Oct 1997 (Tinker AFB)

On this date in 1997, Tinker AFB dedicated its two naval personnel barracks “Evans Hall” and “McCool Hall.” These were named after Oklahoma natives and Congressional Medal of Honor awardees Commander Ernest E. Evans, whose son was at the dedication ceremony, and Captain Richard McCool, who was at the ceremony himself.

Evans lost his life at the Battle of Samar in Oct 1944, fighting gallantly as the commander of the USS Johnston to draw fire from a much larger Japanese naval force away from the lightly-armed and armored escorts he was protecting. Ultimately, he and others turned the Japanese back from their original mission, but he went down with his ship as a result of its heavy damage. McCool was awarded his medal for leading his sailors in a fight to ward off two Japanese suicide (kamikaze) squadrons, despite wounds and severe burns, until he and his crew could be evacuated safely. 

18 Oct 1917 (AFLCMC)

Just 3 days after the American entry into World War I in April 1917, a group of Dayton businessmen founded the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company to vie for new military aircraft contracts. In order to expedite production, the Army opted to have US firms manufacture proven foreign designs, starting with the British DeHavilland DH-4—a 2-seat light attack and observation plane. Dayton-Wright was chosen as the primary DH-4 contractor in August, then received the initial production lot order of 250 aircraft on 18 October 1917. By the end of the war, the company had built 3,106 DH-4s in their plant just south of Dayton. These were the only American-made aircraft to see
combat in WWI. The DH-4 program was managed by AFLCMC’s predecessor in downtown Dayton offices, while technical problems were resolved at nearby McCook Field.

19 Oct 1999 (ISR & SOF Directorate)

From October 19-20, 1999, Northrop-Grumman’s RQ-4A Global Hawk made history during a 24.8-hour flight from Edwards AFB to Alaska and back again. The unmanned aerial vehicle’s flight, Extended Range 4-01, was the Global Hawk’s first flight over water and its first flight outside of the continental U.S (OCONUS). Air Vehicle No. 1 prepares to land at Edwards AFB after this nearly 25-hour mission. The event marked the 33rd overall flight for the test program, and the 22nd for Air Vehicle Number 1. Test and Demo Team lead Maj Victor Martinez noted that it was also the first time “we performed a common data link engineering test at [NAS] Fallon Range [near Reno, Nevada] where Global Hawk images were transmitted in near-real-time to a multi-service imagery exploitation system, showing the unmanned aerial vehicle’s capability for direct downlink to users.”

21 Oct 1947 (Bombers Directorate)

Today in 1947, Northrop’s YB-49 No. 1 (tail No. 42-102367) made its first flight, traveling from Northrop’s Hawthorne, CA, plant to Muroc (now Edwards) AFB. The YB-49 featured a “flying wing” design personally overseen by Jack Northrop. It was made by modifying two YB -35 prototypes (also “flying wing” designs), with the major difference being that it replaced the YB-35’s four radial piston engines and propellers with eight Allison J35 turbojets. Despite showing improved performance over the subsequently cancelled YB-35, the YB-49 would never enter production. The second prototype had an unfortunate crash on June 5, 1948—its copilot, Capt Glen W. Edwards, became the namesake of Edwards AFB. The first prototype later broke in two during a runway accident. The program was cancelled in 1950 after that incident, though Northrop revived the flying wing design for the B-2 Spirit in the 1980s and the new B-21 Raider.

22 Oct 2013 (AFLCMC)

Ten years ago today, AFLCMC achieved Full Operational Capability. The “5-center construct” plan, the largest reorganization within the Air Force Materiel Command since its establishment, emerged from Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s 2010 “efficiency” directive, and reduced AFMC’s 12 centers down to 5. AFLCMC was born primarily from the combined missions of the former Aeronautical Systems Center and Air Force Security Assistance Center at Wright-Patterson AFB; the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom AFB; and the Air Armament Center at Eglin AFB. Pictured are some of the emblem designs proposed for AFLCMC before the final selection of our existing emblem.

Today in AFLCMC History: The Joint Helmet-Mountain Cueing System (20 Oct 1998)

Twenty-five years ago today—on Oct 20, 1998—the Air Force Flight Test Center’s 445th Flight Test Squadron flew its first sortie with the new Joint Helmet-Mounted
Cueing System (JHMCS) out of Edwards AFB. The concept behind the JHMCS was that pilots could track aerial targets by pointing their heads, rather than their aircraft, where they wanted to aim their weapons. Sensors on the helmet and in the cockpit monitor head movement to provide both tracking sensor data to the pilot, along with typical “head-up display” (HUD) information, like airspeed, altitude, and navigation, which allows the pilot to focus entirely on the air-to-air engagement without having to look away from the threat to inspect the cockpit’s display panel. This is especially helpful in “high off-boresight” engagements, where targets are not directly in front of the aircraft. The pilot can then aim missiles onto that target with head movements, as shown in the mock-up illustration to the right. This technology allows them to keep their eyes on the target at all times, rather than looking back and forth between the control panel/HUD and the sky. This was described as enabling pilots “to engage and destroy airborne targets within visual range with a first look, first shot, first kill.”

The JHMCS was comprised of a modular helmet display mated to a lightweight HGU 55/P helmet. A magnetic helmet-mounted tracker paired with a cockpit sensor to determine the pilot’s head position and coordinate that with the aircraft’s sensors and the miniature display on the visor. Although the helmet initially had developmental
problems, including with weight, its performance during ejections, and some incompatibilities with other aircraft systems, the JHMCS would eventually enter into full-rate production.

Today it is operational on the Air Force’s F-15 and F-16, as well as the Navy’s F/A-18, and has since incorporated night vision module support. The F-35’s Helmet Mounted
Display has next-generation technology that incorporates that fighter’s advanced sensors into the system.

During integration into the F-15 in 2010, Lt Col Charles Wallace, then the commander of the 4th Operations Squadron out of Seymour Johnson AFB, noted that the
helmet was a “force multiplier that significantly improves the speed and agility with which F-15E aircrew can find, fix, track, target and engage on the battlefield. It’s the next step in advanced sensor integration and man-machine interface in the cockpit.”