This Week In AFLCMC History - November 27 - December 3, 2023

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
28 Nov 1986 (Armament Directorate/Bombers Directorate)
On today’s date, the 131st B-52 modified to carry AGM-86B air-launched cruise missiles (or ALCMs) landed at Carswell AFB, TX. This aircraft’s deployment was notable because it meant that the U.S. had made a conscious decision to ignore the unratified SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II) nuclear treaty it had negotiated from 1972-79 with the USSR. According to the treaty, each side was supposed to have no more than 1,320 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (“MIRVed”) ballistic missile launchers/heavy bombers with long-range cruise missiles in aggregate; and prior to this event, the U.S. had always retired one of its Poseidon submarines before fielding a new ALCM-equipped B-52. This did not occur this time, however, bringing the U.S. arsenal to 1,321 launchers.
29 Nov 1989 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Directorate)
On this date in 1989, the Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) YA-7F made its first flight in the skies outside LTV’s Dallas aircraft assembly plant. The prototype plane was flown by LTV test pilot Jim Read, and the flight—climbing as high as 15,000 feet—lasted about one hour and 10 minutes. The YA-7F was a highly-modified YA-7D Corsair II, which had been flying since the 1960s, meant to serve a close air support and battlefield air interdiction role in answer to a USAF 1985 RFP for a new fast strike aircraft to potentially replace or supplement the A-10. Ultimately, only two of the prototypes were produced before the project was scrapped. The role envisioned for the YA -7F instead went to the LANTIRN pod-equipped F-16.
30 Nov 1948 (Propulsion Directorate)
Seventy-five years ago today, Curtiss-Wright test pilot Herb Fisher demonstrated Curtiss-Wright’s new reversible pitch propellers out of Caldwell Airport, NJ. These props acted as an “air brake,” decelerating airplanes to allow for quicker and safer landings. The first reversible props were tested at Dayton’s McCook Field in 1919. Fisher used a Douglas C-54 Skymaster for the demonstration, taking the four-engine airplane from 15,000 feet to 1,000 feet in 1 minute, 22 seconds—and quickly landing it from 15,000 feet, for a total of 2 minutes, 55 seconds. He halted the aircraft on the ground in only half the normal landing distance—about 100 yards. The comparison plane, a DC-4 (the commercial version of the C-54) without reversible pitch propellers, took 5 minutes, 1 second to conduct its landing using emergency landing procedures, and had to circle several times as it descended.
1 Dec 1958 (Eglin AFB/Armament Directorate)
Sixty-five years ago today, Strategic Air Command (SAC) activated the 4135th Strategic Wing at Eglin AFB. Preparation for the wing’s stand-up had begun months earlier, with ongoing construction projects to establish new facilities valued at $4,800,325 (split between nine contracts), and with fifteen Boeing B-52s set to arrive the next year. The purpose of the new wing was twofold: First, it was part of SAC’s dispersal plan, which intended to split the manned bomber force across multiple bases to decrease their vulnerability to sneak bomber attacks or early missile strike should the Cold War ever turn hot. The secondary mission of the B-52s at Eglin, however, was to conduct final testing on the GAM-77 (later AGM-28) Hound Dog and the GAM-72 (later ADM-20) Quail. The former was a supersonic air-to-ground thermonuclear missile designed to shatter fortified locations, while the latter was a decoy missile for confusing enemy air defenses.
2 Dec 1983 (Hanscom AFB/Air Force Security Assistance & Cooperation Directorate)
On this date, forty years ago, Headquarters Air Force informed Air Force Systems Command that Saudi Arabia’s Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) had accepted Option #1 of PEACE SENTINEL’s Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) for two additional KE-3A tanker/cargo aircraft. PEACE SENTINEL, begun in 1980, was part of a larger program to modernize Saudi Arabia’s air force. SENTINEL included the delivery of E-3 Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), with KE-3As to support them as tankers (KE3As were based on the Boeing 707, like the AWACS). First orders were placed in 1981, with delivery beginning in 1986. The last of the thirteen aircraft (five E-3s and eight KE-3As) would be delivered to Saudi Arabia in Sep 1987. The effort to modernize Saudi Arabia’s air force with PEACE SENTINEL and the other PEACE programs (PEACE SUN, PEACE SHIELD, and PEACE HAWK) represented the largest single Foreign Military Sales program at the time, with Saudi Arabia remaining a significant component of U.S. Foreign Military Sales ever since.
3 Dec 1993 (Tinker AFB)
Thirty years ago today, the Charles B. Hall Chapter of the Tuskegee Airman Association received its charter at Tinker AFB. Major Charles Hall was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, training for service with the 99th Fighter Squadron at Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama. He flew 108 combat missions during WW2, and was the first black Airman to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. After the war, in 1949, he moved to Oklahoma where he worked at Tinker AFB for a number of years before joining the Federal Aviation Administration. Hall died in 1971, but his widow, Delois Hall, was present for the 1993 ceremony, receiving a dozen red roses and delivering remarks at the event, informing those present that “my husband always said you have to provide a frame of reference to achieve anything. There is no better way to do that than for our young people to know their history.”
AFLCMC History Highlight: P-47 Flight Testing (27 Nov 1942)
On this day, Army Air Force pilot 2Lt Andrew Brenkus lost his life flight testing a P-47C out of Patterson Field, Ohio (WPAFB Area A). The story began 25 years earlier.
In mid-1917, when Brenkus was a 1-year-old growing up near Cleveland, General Electric engineer Sanford Moss was introduced to the Army’s new Airplane Engineering Division with the intent of applying his expertise on turbines to airplanes. The aircraft turbosupercharger is a device that uses the engine’s exhaust gasses to spin a turbine, which connects to a compressor that squeezes more air into the engine cylinders. On the ground, turbos can boost horsepower; but aircraft could use them to reach higher altitudes where the thinning air normally robs engines of oxygen, saps their power, and limits their ceiling. The Moss turbo was successfully tested at McCook Field after it opened a few months later and became one of the technology transition success stories of World War I. During the 1920s, the US was the only country developing aircraft turbos, applying them to fighters and bombers.
The Engineering Division at McCook Field, relocated to Wright Field in 1927, was also the epicenter for the development of aircraft engines. The most significant issue for them was whether to focus on automobile-style liquid-cooled inline (or “V”) engines, where the cylinders are arranged in straight lines and cooled by water flowing through a radiator, or on air-cooled radial engines, where the cylinders are in a circle around a central shaft and cooled by airflow around the cylinders themselves. The former were more aerodynamic and preferred for fighters (and by speed-obsessed Europeans), while radial engines offered greater simplicity and reliability and were favored for airliners, bombers, and the Navy. Wright Field was hedging its bets, funding in-house and contracted research on each type, while its engine program offices likewise managed both. Like most American engine companies, Pratt & Whitney struggled to meet these split demands. Only a personal appeal to Army Air Corps chief Gen Hap Arnold freed Pratt to focus on its preferred R-2800 “Double Wasp” radial engine.
As Moss was starting his turbo work, Russian aviator Alexander de Seversky came to the US as a consultant, test pilot, and engineer, spending time employed at McCook Field before starting his own firm, which became Republic Aviation. Countryman Alexander Kartveli joined him as the chief designer in the 1930s. They produced the P-35, one of the Army’s first “modern” fighters, which had some success in foreign military sales.
In June 1940, 18 months before Pearl Harbor, leadership and technical experts from the Air Corps’ Experimental Engineering Division met with Republic executives, including Kartveli, at Wright Field to discuss requirements for a new fighter based on their observations of the on-going war in Europe. The specifications were radically more advanced than anything in the American inventory, and notably well beyond the capabilities of the best liquid-cooled engine that the indifferent Interwar Period technology investment had produced: The Air Corps needed 400mph; a 40,000 foot ceiling; and 6 or more wing-mounted machine guns. Kartveli reportedly sketched out a plan on the train ride home. He upscaled the basic P-35 design around the pairing of Pratt’s R-2800 and the largest available GE turbo. In just 8 months, the resulting XP-47 made its first flight.
Army flight testing had originated at McCook Field, then moved to Wright Field, but focused on evaluating prototype aircraft and equipment. The urgency of the war meant that new aircraft production ramped up as flight testing occurred. Company pilots made the first flights, while Wright Field test pilots flew the early production models to verify performance. The pace of testing exceeded their capabilities, however, leading to the temporary reassignment of pilots from operational units to nearby Patterson Field to evaluate combat worthiness (operational test and evaluation, in modern terms), while other units did similar work at the Eglin Field Air Proving Ground. Problems were discovered in all of those flights, sometimes fatally, then retrofitted to both existing airframes and the production line.
The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt typified this process. The first production model, a P-47B, arrived at Wright Field just two weeks after Pearl Harbor. The first head of what was then a 3-person P-47 Program Office, future 4-star General (and commander of AF Logistics Command) Mark Bradley, recalled taking that plane out for its first taxi test when the engine backfired, blowing up the plywood turbo duct that was under his feet and showering him with splinters. He quickly ordered all future ducts be made of aluminum. That plane’s service, like many of its sister ships, ended in a crash, revealing issues with the engine and tail that warranted redesigns. The improved P-47C came off the assembly line the next fall, with several ending up in Dayton for testing, even as others were going to tactical units.
Army Air Force 2Lt Andrew Brenkus had enlisted in mid -1941 before entering pilot training. In September 1942, he was assigned to the 88th Fighter Squadron in Florida, but stayed with them only briefly before drawing the reassignment to Patterson Field for accelerated service testing of the P-47C-1, which had an extended nose. On the morning of 27 November, he was flying tail number 41-6131 just a few miles from the base. Witnesses on the ground described seeing Brenkus fighting for control as the plane repeatedly dove and recovered, before he muscled the plane over a cornfield where it made a fatal plunge, killing him instantly. Investigators attributed his failure to bail out to his heroic efforts at keeping the plane away from the nearby houses. That same day, an identical P-47 assigned to Eglin had an engine failure and crashed, though its pilot survived.
Shockingly, Brenkus’ squadron mate 2Lt Edgar Greek, who was also detailed to Patterson Field, perished just a week later when his P-47C-1 exploded in flight. Fifteen days later, yet another P-47C crashed following an engine failure during takeoff at Patterson Field, but the pilot, Lt Charles Wemberly, was able to walk away. Many other crashes followed in the next few months, leading to further revisions.
Eventually over 15,000 P-47s were built, with an outstanding record as both a fighter and ground attack platform. After the war, flight testing moved to the safer environs of Edwards AFB, while engine R&D, and program management stayed put. The joint turbo work with GE resulted in the first American jet engines during WWII and put that company in the engine business. Kartveli and Republic went on to produce a series of notable aircraft like the F-84 and F-105, culminating in the A-10 Thunderbolt II.