This Week In AFLCMC History - January 1 - 7, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
1 Jan 1937 (Eglin AFB)

Today in 1937, Lt Col Frederick Irving “Fritz” Eglin died in a plane crash. A poor orphan, Eglin never graduated high school, but went to Wabash College at the behest of an alum who thought he’d succeed at sports there: He did, and then graduated with honors. He became a pilot with the National Guard in 1917, and served as an Instructor Pilot during WWI. After the war, he quickly rose through the ranks with a regular commission in the Army Air Service, eventually being assigned to GHQ Air Force. Unfortunately, on 1 Jan 1937, as he was flying from Langley Field to Maxwell Field, poor weather and low visibility resulted in his crashing his Northrop A-17 pursuit plane into Alabama’s Cheaha Mountain, killing both himself and his passenger—a navy officer. Later that year, in Aug 1937, Maxwell’s auxiliary field in Florida was memorialized “Eglin Field” in his honor. 

3 Jan 1989 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate/Hill AFB)

On today’s date, 35 years ago, Hill AFB’s maintainers completed the base’s first programmed depot maintenance (PDM) on a C-130 Hercules, rolling it out in the ceremony pictured here. This C-130 first arrived at Hill on 8 Jul 1988 to begin PDM work, where the new mission was immediately hailed by the base—which recognized that the workload was arriving just in time to replace the F-4 Phantom’s, which was then just starting to be phased out. The Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill AFB still performs PDM work on C-130s. Depot maintenance is “programmed” or scheduled at regular intervals, and requires aircraft to be sent from their operational locations to depots like Hill’s for a deep-dive into the weapon system’s guts, where any deficiencies or vulnerabilities found therein can be corrected. 

4 Jan 1985 (Digital Directorate/Hanscom AFB)

The Air Force and RCA Government Communications Systems of Camden, New Jersey, signed a restructured contract for the Ground Wave Emergency Network (GWEN) Thin Line Connectivity Capability (TLCC) project. The GWEN sites erected by this project were intended to provide the U.S. with a fixed emergency communications system in the event that an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), such as from a high-altitude nuclear explosion, de-graded or destroyed traditional comm systems. The newly restructured 1985 contract (original contract awarded in Oct 1983) covered the fabrication and deployment of the TLCC along with option prices, and was worth $122 million. TLCC was Phase II of the GWEN project, and was ultimately meant to involve about 60 GWEN sites like the one pictured here. Phase III (“Full Line Connectivity”) would have seen 240-plus GWEN sites put up around the country in a roughly figure-eight-shaped pattern. The project was cancelled after the end of the Cold War, however, officially terminating in 1994.

5 Jan 1971 (Armament Directorate)

On this day in 1971, the USAF first flew the AGM-65A Maverick missile as part of a captive flight test at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. It was carried by an F-4E Phantom II. The Maverick was a television-guided, rocket propelled air-to-ground missile for use against fortified positions, surface-to-air missile sites, and armored vehicles.
It was notable at the time for its “fire-and-forget” capability; where earlier guided missiles required the firing airplane remain in line with a target to “paint” said target with a laser or some other form of guidance beacon, the Maverick autonomously locked on to its designated target when it was fired. Hughes Aircraft Company was chosen as the contractor for the Maverick in 1968, and a few weeks before the flight, on 22 Dec 1970, the USAF performed its preliminary configuration inspection.  Later, in July 1971, Hughes was awarded $70 million to build 2,000 of the missiles—with the Air Force accepting its first operational stock in Aug 1972. Originally intended for use on F-4Es and A-7D Corsair IIs, they later saw use on A-10s, F-15Es, F-16s, and others. 

6 Jan 1945 (Bombers Directorate)

Today in 1945, forty-five B-29 Superfortresses based out of Chengtu, China, bombed various Japanese installations and targets of opportunity in Japan-occupied sections of China and on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Most notably, the attack hit the Omura aircraft plant, and was the sixth such American attack against that beleaguered aircraft production facility. The offensive was part of Operation MATTERHORN, a campaign started in the summer of 1944 to bomb Japanese targets from bases in China, India, and Ceylon. Although MATTERHORN was judged a strategic failure in the post-war U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, it did bolster Allied Chinese morale, and allowed for the U.S. to begin strategically bombing Japan a full six months earlier than otherwise would have been possible. Shortly after this attack, MATTERHORN strikes against the Japanese home islands ended and bombing operations shifted to the newly-captured and much-closer Mariana Islands.

7 Jan 1929 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)

Ninety-five years ago today, the Fokker C-2A transport aircraft nicknamed Question Mark ended its flight after 150 hours, 40 minutes, and 15 seconds in the air. The endurance record and experiment started on 1 Jan, and was flown by Lt Harry Halvorsen, Capt Ira Eaker, SSgt Roy Hooe, mission commander Maj Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, and Lt Elwood “Pete” Quesada. The Question Mark was refueled multiple times during its nearly week-long flight by a pair of modified Douglas C-1 transport aircraft, which were converted into early “aerial refuelers.” The flight took place over California, and 43 total contacts were made with these modified “tankers” for refueling and replenishment. Around 5,700 gallons of fuel were ultimately passed to the C-2A to keep it aloft. The operation excited the public at the time, encouraging even longer civilian flights and proving a valuable military capability, though it would still be decades before aerial refueling became a normal part of Air Force operations.

USAF History Highlight: Operation BOLO (2 Jan 1967)

Today in 1967, US Air Force Col Robin Olds (photographed) and Capt John “J.B.” Stone’s Operation BOLO destroyed nearly half of North Vietnam’s MiG-21 fighters—without a single USAF plane lost. Early in the Vietnam War, North Vietnamese radar directed surface-to-air missile (SAM) and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) sites presented a significant threat to American airpower. The effectiveness of the Soviet SA-2 missile in particular came as a surprise to US forces, leading to an ongoing game of electronic “cat-and-mouse” between operators of those defensive systems and American engineers (primarily at Wright-Patt and its contractors, along with testers at Eglin) developing Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) to foil them. The Air Force roll out of QRC-160 (ALQ-71) ECM pods (the white pods circled in red on the F-105s below), along with their improved employment—and convincing fighter pilots to actually use them on strike missions— marked a significant advantage for the US.

The North Vietnamese countered that advantage by scrambling interceptors to attack USAF strike aircraft, like F-105 Thunderchiefs (aka Thuds), which were closely packed together to optimize the effects of their jamming pods. American pilots were not allowed to strike enemy aircraft on the ground at this stage in the war, only in the air, giving the MiGs the advantage of choosing to scramble only when they detected vulnerable groups of bomb-laden F-105s. Newly-introduced Soviet MiG-21s only added to that threat. Assessing the situation, legendary ace fighter pilot and commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (8 TFW) Col Robin Olds and his tactics officer, Capt John “J.B.” Stone, came up with a ruse to deceive the enemy in the hopes that they could destroy a few of their MiG-21s. The plan, dubbed “Operation BOLO,” was to fly their F-4C Phantom II air superiority fighters using a typical F-105 route, flight pattern, and formation in an attempt to bait the enemy into sending up their MiGs against what were presumably vulnerable Thuds. To help sell the deception, they even equipped the Phantoms with the F-105’s QRC-160 jamming pods. Additional F-4s were positioned to cut off the enemy’s escape route. BOLO worked perfectly: The North Vietnamese pilots were taken by complete surprise, and, in the span of 12
minutes, seven (the Vietnamese said five) MiG-21s were shot down-about half of the enemy's operational fleet. 

Following that success, a second operation occurred four days later, taking down two more MiGs. The 8 TFW (now the 8th Fighter Wing) earned the nickname “The Wolf Pack” from BOLO, on account of their teamwork and because their whole plan had hinged around being “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Colonel Olds, for his part, retired as a brigadier general in 1973, going down in history as a “triple ace” with 17 enemy aircraft destroyed between WWII and the Vietnam War (one of which was scored during Bolo).