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

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
11 Dec 1957 (Wright-Patterson AFB)
Today in 1957, Wright-Patterson AFB’s NCO Academy was officially accredited as a senior noncommissioned officers school. Born from a desire to equip NCOs at the base with the admin skills they’d need to keep climbing up the ranks, the idea for an NCO Academy at Wright-Patt actually started in 1955. In Oct of that year, the program began teaching students a combined academic and military course of education, with instruction occurring over a period of 160 hours (later increased to 232 hours by time of accreditation). Wittenberg College, with whom the program was established, handled the academic portion of that time. The Academy’s accreditation meant that the 26 students enrolled at the time could take their credits with them when they transferred to new bases, as could all subsequent classes.
12 Dec 1941 (Bombers Directorate/Air Force History)
On today’s date, the B-18 Bolo carrying Maj Gen Herbert A. Dargue crashed into the Sierra Nevada mountains near Bishop, California, while en route to Hawaii, killing everyone on board. Dargue had been heading to the islands to investigate why the Army Air Forces there had been so unprepared for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His wreck was not located until May 1942, and then only thanks to the unrelenting efforts of the co-pilot’s father, who had vowed he would not rest until his son’s body was found. Dargue—who’d attended the Air Service Engineering School at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, in 1920—was an aviation pioneer, among whose many achievements included receiving the first-ever Distinguished Flying Cross—along with nine other notable pilots such as Ira Eaker and Muir Fairchild—for his participation in the 1926-27 Pan American Good Will Flight. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame on 19 July 1997.
13 Dec 1994 (Armament Directorate/Hill AFB)
In the wake of the end of the Cold War, Utah State University, Thiokol Corporation, and Hill AFB entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement to “beat swords into plowshares” by converting the motors and fuel of around fifty AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles into commercial explosives for use in the mining industry. Hill technicians were taught how to disarm the missiles. Prior to the agreement, excess or unserviceable rocket motors like those powering Sidewinders had to be discarded through detonation, which completely destroyed the components and left nothing to recycle. Through this agreement, the Air Force would save on these disposal costs, and the cooperating organizations would profit from the conversions by reusing the propellant. As Maj Gen Pat Condon, Ogden Air Logistic Center’s commander, put it: “This is a win-win-win situation for us and the state of Utah.”
14 Dec 1984 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate)
On this day in 1984, the experimental X-29A flew for the first time over Edwards AFB. Its pilot was Grumman test pilot Charles “Chuck” Sewell, a former Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who had flown 138 different airplanes (and 330 combat missions). Prior to the flight, Sewell noted that “every first flight you have a rather large degree of anxiety. The adrenaline is pumping a little faster. It’s not a fear, just an alertness and it’s probably a good deal, because [… you’re] more apt to respond to any kind of an abnormal experience.” His “only complaint” about the X-29 was that he didn’t “have enough fuel to stay up longer.” The two X-29s built for this USAFNASA-DARPA program were the first supersonic forward-swept wing (FSW) aircraft, and also tested advanced materials, aerodynamics, structural design, and computerized flight control systems. First tried in Germany during World War II, forward swept wings offered the same benefits for transonic and supersonic flight as backwards-swept wings, but potentially with greater maneuverability, at the expense of stability. The advantages of the X-29’s wings proved to be modest, but offered valuable data on the related technologies that transitioned to future fighters.
15 Dec 1959 (AFLCMC)
The Wright Air Development Division (WADD) was established on 15 Dec 1959 as one of four new divisions created during a significant shakeup of Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) by its commander, Gen Bernard A. Shriever (for whom Shriever SFB was named). WADD replaced the 8-year-old Wright Air Development Center (WADC, whose commander, Maj Gen Stanley T. Wray, became the new commander of WADD) and brought radical changes to the relationship between its research laboratories (now AFRL) and program offices (now AFLCMC). Since the 1930s, the labs had conducted both developmental research and systems engineering, but, under WADD, the labs were restricted from systems support entirely—which drastically reduced their manpower and budget. That function instead went to WADD’s new Systems Engineering Directorate (now AFLCMC/EN), which consisted of a large pool of engineers that would be temporarily “matrixed” to the Weapon System Program Offices when their expertise was needed. WADD was replaced by the Aeronautical Systems Division in 1961, which became the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC) in 1992. In 2012, ASC’s mission was folded—with three other Center missions— into the new “Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.”
16 Dec 1998 (Bombers Directorate)
Twenty-five years ago today, the United Nations withdrew its weapons inspectors from Iraq after Saddam Hussein repeatedly thwarted their work. In response to Iraq’s noncompliance with the inspections, the U.S. and U.K. launched Operation DESERT FOX. The four-day campaign was intended to limit Hussein’s ability to produce weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and struck some 100 weapons production facilities across the country. The operation notably saw the first combat use of the Rockwell B-1B Lancer, on 18 Dec 1998. 
AFLCMC History Highlight: Celebrating the Anniversary of Flight (17 Dec 1903)
On December 17, 1903, Dayton brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright completed the world’s first controlled, powered, heavier-than-air flight (120 feet in 12 seconds). The commemorations of this accomplishment over the ensuing 120 years reflected both the changing state of aviation and eras.
Five years on, Wilbur Wright was in France proving that their airplane actually worked—they had yet to actually sell one—by setting records for distance (61.5 miles), duration (2 hours), and altitude (300+ feet). By 1913, aviation had a foothold in both practice and culture, making the 10th anniversary the first to be significantly celebrated. Wilbur had died the previous year, so the Aero Club of America feted a solo Orville in New York.
The next decade saw an explosion in the growth and application of airplanes that Orville admitted was beyond “the wildest stretch of imagination,” thanks to World War I. Dayton corporate leaders like Frederick Patterson (cousin to Wright-Patt’s second namesake) now actively marketed a vision for their city as an aviation leader. They leveraged the Wright’s local connection at every opportunity, though the value of their “brand” far outweighed that of their company. These efforts secured the 1924 National Air Races for Dayton, and raised the funds to buy and donate what’s now WPAFB to keep the Air Service Engineering Division from leaving town.
Fifty years after the first flight marked even more radical changes in aviation: supersonic jets, rockets, and international air travel. Dayton hadn’t become a hub of the aircraft industry, but instead hung its hat on its Air Force connections. The Air Force Secretary at that time was Daytonian Harold Talbott, who had known the Wright Brothers, was taught by their sister Katherine in school, and co-founded the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company during WWI. The 50th anniversary was celebrated across the country, with Dayton again hosting the National Air Show. The dominant narrative was now as ominous as it was optimistic: “air power” in the form of strategic bombers carrying nuclear weapons was both the instrument of global destruction and its shield from it, depending which side you were on.
The 1978 Diamond Anniversary’s honored guests bookended aviation history: Jimmy Doolittle knew Orville from his time at McCook Field in the 1920s, while Ohioan Neil Armstrong was the first to walk on the moon, just 66 years after Kitty Hawk. In a sign of the times, Katherine Wright was finally recognized for her indispensable role in enabling her brothers’ accomplishments. As the “First Lady of Flight,” she was their de facto mother after their actual mother died, nurse when Orville broke his back and Wilbur had typhoid, social coordinator, press secretary, family hostess, and chief of staff. When Katherine married in her 50s, Orville (who died a bachelor, like Wilbur, in 1948) felt betrayed and cut her out of his life, reconciling only as his sister lay on her death bed.
The year-long Centennial of Flight celebration in 2003 took 5 years of planning and put Dayton and Wright-Patt at the center. The local Wright Brothers sites were remade, revamped, and rededicated for the occasion and Dayton again hosted a massive air show. The 88th Air Base Wing (and AFLCMC’s predecessor History Offices) led those efforts for the Air Force, including restoring Huffman Prairie and opening its Interpretive Center.