This Week In AFLCMC History - November 13 - 19, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
13 Nov 2003 (National Native American Heritage Month/Hill AFB)

Twenty years ago today, Hill AFB hosted a luncheon at Club Hill in observance of National Native American Heritage Month. The event’s featured speaker was Navajo veteran Norman Largo, who’d spent 277 days in captivity as a Prisoner of War during the Vietnam War. Largo was one of approximately 42,000 American Indians who’d served during that conflict, with 90% of those who served doing so voluntarily (as opposed to being drafted— before the draft ended in 1973). Over 200 American Indians were killed in action during Vietnam; three received the Medal of Honor (with the latest, Dwight W. Birdwell, receiving his in 2022). Today, one location where the military service of American Indians is honored is the National Native American Veterans Memorial, unveiled in 2020 and located at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
14 Nov 1949 (Armament Directorate)

Today in 1949, the Air Force and Ryan Aeronautical Company unveiled one of the first guided air-to-air missiles in history, the XAAM-A-1 Firebird—touted in the papers as a “guided rocket” with “human intelligence.” Evolved from existing unguided air-to-air rockets used previously, the Firebird’s development started in 1946, with testing beginning at Holloman AFB in 1947. Nearly ten feet long and radar-guided, Firebirds were subsonic missiles capable of traveling about 630 mph. As a technology demonstrator, the Firebird did not enter production or operational use. Instead, it was supersonic missiles like the AIM-4 Falcon and the slightly later (and much improved) AIM-9 Sidewinder that were the first to go into service and be used in combat.
15 Nov 1978 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate/Hill AFB)

45 years ago today, Hill AFB received its first F-16 aircraft—a single-seat model meant for intensive “hands-on” maintenance training. With it arrived SSgt Richard I. Devault, the first F-16 crew chief assigned to an operational unit. Classes were comprised of two instructors and six students, and included not just 388th Tactical Fighter Wing maintenance crews, but also multi-national students from Denmark, Belgium, Norway, and the Netherlands. Hill AFB and the 388th would receive the first operational F-16 on 6 Jan 1979, and HL 002, the maintenance trainer received today in 1978, would eventually become (also in 1979) an operational trainer once all of the maintenance training was completed.
16 Nov 1956 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)

Today in 1956, the 98th Air Refueling Squadron out of Lincoln AFB, Nebraska, received the last KC-97 Stratofreighter (s/n 53-3816) off the Boeing production line. A G model, it was the 888th KC-97 tanker produced—and, as such, it was nicknamed “888.” A KC-97L model can be seen today at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. At the time of 888’s delivery, Lincoln AFB’s paper, The Jet Scoop, correctly predicted that the 98th would “go down in the record books as having the last of this breed in its Lincoln brood.” Although the slow, propeller-driven KC-97s would be gradually replaced by jet-propelled KC-135s after 1956, KC-97 refuellers would continue to fly with Strategic Air Command until 1965, and with the Air National Guard until late in the ’70s.
18 Nov 1973 (Robins AFB)

On this date, 50 years ago, President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon visited Robins AFB. They were there to meet with former Georgia Congressman Carl Vinson on his 90th birthday. The president presented Vinson with a model replica of the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier named in his honor, the USS Carl Vinson, at a special ceremony that afternoon. The president also paid tribute to Mercer University’s School of Law on its 100th anniversary. On arriving to Robins AFB, Nixon was met by Georgia Senator Samuel A. Nunn, Macon Mayor Ronnie Thompson, Warner Robins Mayor James Edward Bryant, Warner Air Materiel Area Commander Maj Gen Robert E. Hails, and Dr. Robert G. Farrell, Jr., Chairman of the Georgia State Petition Committee.
19 Nov 1957 (Propulsion Directorate)

Today in 1957, Maj Gen Donald Keirn was selected to lead the ANP (Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion) project’s new integrated project office—in charge of developing a nuclear-powered airplane by the mid-1960s. Keirn had spent his career working in propulsion before this assignment, with many of those years at Wright Field, where he was eventually chief of the Power Plant Laboratory (now AFRL/RQ). During WW2, Keirn was hand-picked to lead the top-secret effort that imported the British Whittle turbojet engine for reproduction by General Electric, resulting in the first American jet aircraft. As a joint Atomic Energy Commission and DoD program, the ANP used an on-board nuclear reactor to heat air driving aircraft turbine engines (rather than conventional fuel burning in a combustion chamber) as a way to increase the unrefueled range and loiter time of strategic bombers. GE and Pratt & Whitney built experimental engines, Wright-Patt constructed an ANP engine test facility (still there today), and Convair flew an active nuclear reactor aboard a B-36; but President Kennedy scrapped the program in 1961 as the ICBM fleet became operational.
AFLCMC History Highlight: XB-52 Construction Approved (17 Nov 1948)

Seventy-five years ago, the Air Force approved a supplemental contract agreement to Boeing to proceed with Phase II of the XB-52 bomber program. This allowed the company to construct the first two aircraft. By late 1948, the program for America’s first purpose-built, post-World War II intercontinental-range nuclear bomber was in flux...and in trouble, having just barely escaped cancellation. In the waning days of the war, the Army Air Forces began imagining military characteristics for such an aircraft, based heavily on the extrapolations of current systems and technologies: 10,000 pound payload, 5000 mile range, and 300mph speed. The Air Materiel Command planning staff (equivalent to the current AFLCMC/XA) did the math and predicted such a bomber would weigh nearly half a million pounds. Sure enough, Boeing’s design proposal weighed 360,000 pounds and had a 221-foot wingspan. Months of back-and-forth over requirements continued— mainly increasing the speed to 450mph— before Boeing won the ensuing Phase I design competition contract in June 1946 with its Model 462, powered by six turboprop engines.
As Boeing went through design iterations over the next year, the Air Force continued revisiting its requirements in light of emerging threats and technologies. A subcommittee determined that range and speed should be radically increased to 8000 miles and 550mph, well beyond the Model 462’s capabilities. In December 1947, the Air Force headquarters recommended cancelling the XB-52 contract and starting from scratch with the new military characteristics. Just as the new (and first) Secretary of the Air Force was about to sign off on that decision, Boeing’s president, with the support of Air Materiel Command, successfully lobbied to save the program. Boeing submitted a revised airframe with fewer, more powerful turboprops to meet the new criteria. However, the engines had significant developmental problems, delaying the entire effort.
In mid-1948, the program office asked Boeing to study the substitution of turbojet engines on the XB-52. Conventional wisdom in the first few years of the jet age discounted true jet engines for long-range, subsonic aircraft because they lacked fuel efficiency at slow speeds and had a service life measured in just hundreds of hours before needing an overhaul. As a result, the turboprop—a gas turbine engine driving a propeller—was the powerplant of choice for the XB-52. But the possibility of interception by new jet fighters was now a certainty, driving up the speed requirement into a range where only turbojets could reach. In a famous anecdote, at the urging of Wright Field, the Boeing team spent an October weekend in a Dayton hotel room, leveraging its resulting studies and experience on related programs to radically alter its bomber design to incorporate 8 turbojet engines. The Model 464 was born.
For the next few months, the XB-52 program proceeded on two parallel tracks: The turboprop version continued, with Boeing winning the Phase II contract (which had gone out for bids in May) to build the first two airframes. Though signed a few weeks prior, the Supplemental Agreement was approved on 17 November 1948. But just two months later, the Air Force revised the contract to delete the turboprops and substitute the jet engines.