This Week In AFLCMC History - January 15 - 21, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
15 Jan 1950 (WPAFB/USAF History)
On this date, 63-year-old retired General of the Air Force Henry H. “Hap” Arnold died at his ranch near Sonoma, California. Arnold’s military career took him all around the world, including to what became Wright-Patterson AFB as the commanding officer of the Fairfield Air Depot from 1929- 1931. The 19th-century farmhouse where he lived on Patterson Field (WPAFB Area A) was memorialized in his honor as the “Arnold House” in the 1980s. Hap Arnold was taught to fly by the Wright Brothers at nearby Huffman Prairie, developed American airpower into a dominant force, served as the commander of the Army Air Forces during WWII, was promoted to 5-star general in 1944, advocated for science and technology, and retired in 1946. Congress subsequently designated him the first (and only) General of the Air Force, making him the only person to have been a 5-star in two services.
16 Jan 1970 (Bombers Directorate)
Today in 1970, the Air Force retired its last four operational Convair B-58 Hustlers. The Hustler was Strategic Air Command’s first supersonic bomber, capable of reaching Mach 2. It was only in operational use for ten years (from 1960 to 1970), but in that time period it set 19 world speed and altitude records, and won five different aviation trophies (Bleriot, Thompson, Mackay, Bendix, and Harmon). Because its thin fuselage prevented it from carrying bombs internally like most bombers do, it used a droppable MB-1 nuclear “bomb pod” setup. With its limited range, high flying-hour cost, and inability to carry conventional bombs (only nuclear ones), it never saw live combat and had one of the shortest operational lives of any Cold War bomber.
17 Jan 1947 (Hill AFB)
Today in 1947, the last officer of the Women’s Army Corps’ Section C, 4135th Army Air Forces Base Unit, departed from Hill Field to Camp Beale, California for her separation. Women in uniform began serving at Hill after the activation—on 15 Jul 1943—of the 907th Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) Post Headquarters Company. This unit, and its redesignations (including as “Section C”), contributed to World War II efforts at Hill Field, where uniformed and civilian women workers alike did everything from depot maintenance work (typified by the iconic “Rosie the Riveter”) to tracking grounded aircraft. In May 1951, this tradition of service continued with the activation at Hill AFB of the 3005th Women in the Air Force Squadron.
18 Jan 1932 (Wright-Patterson AFB)
On this day in 1932, Capt Reuben C. Moffat flew from Wright Field (Dayton, Ohio) to Bolling Field (Washington, D.C.) in just 85 minutes, flying at an average of 266 mph—described at the time as an “almost unbelievable speed”—and setting a speed record for that flight. He made his trip in a Curtiss XP-6D pursuit plane, flying through bitter cold air five miles (or 26,000 feet) high. His plane took nearly 20 minutes to reach its ceiling, where he had to breathe pressurized oxygen and struggled to keep warm as the temperatures averaged 20 below zero. The P-6 wasn’t notably fast nearer the ground, but its engine’s turbocharger enabled it to reach these high altitudes, where powerful winds pushed it along at record speeds in the thin air. At the time, at least one paper saw in the flight the “promise […] of days to come when people will be whisked through the atmosphere [in commercial airplanes] at greater speeds than we now know or now seem possible.”
19 Jan 2001 (ISR & Special Operations Forces Directorate)
Today in 2001, the Air Force—via Air Combat Command commander Gen John P. Jumper—announced that Beale AFB in California had been selected as the home of the first operational remotely-piloted RQ-4 Global Hawk squadron. Dayton-area lawmakers had lobbied for the unit to be located at Wright-Patterson AFB, as it was expected to create hundreds of jobs and inject about $150 million into the local economy per year; but Beale AFB was ultimately selected because, in Gen Jumper’s own words: “Collocating Global Hawk with Beale’s 9th Reconnaissance Wing and the U-2 mission will ensure Global Hawk transitions smoothly from initial bed-down to full operational capability.” Early on, it was conjectured that the RQ-4 might replace the crewed U-2; but in 2022, Beale AFB’s last Block 30 RQ-4s  left the base, and the platform is now expected to retire by 2027.
21 Jan 1958 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)
After the Air Force announced its acceptance of the Cessna T-37 Tweet on 17 Jan 1957, the agency began preparing its Undergraduate Pilot Training program to use it. And, on this day in 1958, Bainbridge Air Base’s Class 59-9 became the first class to begin training with the T-37 (in combination with T-34s) as a test class. The Tweet was the Air Force’s first jet trainer, and discussions with Class 59-9’s supervisors and instructor pilots, as well as the staff of subsequent classes, found that students could solo in the T-37 almost as early as in the T-34, but that it took an additional 15-20 hours for students to “unlearn” the techniques they’d learned flying piston-engine/propeller aircraft. In short order, the Tweet completely replaced the T-34, and it remained in use for more than 50 years as the Air Force’s primary trainer, only retiring in 2009. As the Tweet was retiring at Columbus AFB in 2008, one of the students there, 2Lt Trevor Kernes, summed up the feelings many pilots had about the trainer, stating: “I’m sorry for the T-6A student pilots, because they didn’t get to fly the T-37.”
50 Years Ago in AFLCMC History: The (Unofficial) First Flight of the F-16 Fighting Falcon (20 Jan 1974)
It’s a bit of lore well-known in the F-16 community: The Fighting Falcon (or Viper) has the odd, confusing—yet not entirely unique—distinction of having not one, but two, “first flights.” This year marks 50 years since the first accidental (and unofficial) flight on January 20, 1974.
The Air Force awarded contracts to build prototypes for its Lightweight Fighter (LWF) program to General Dynamics (now Lockheed) and Northrop on April 1, 1972, with the former’s design ultimately winning the day. General Dynamics quickly produced two YF-16s, with aircraft number one’s rollout ceremony occurring a year and a half later, on December 13, 1973. Today, more than 4,500 F-16s are flown around the world by 25 different countries.
During that YF-16’s high speed taxi test that preceded actual flights at Edwards AFB, however, General Dynamics test pilot Phil Oestricher ran into a problem. The YF-16 was the first operational aircraft to use a fly-by-wire (FBW) control system (developed by what’s now AFRL), which meant that the flight control system was entirely electronic, without a direct mechanical/hydraulic connection between the control stick and the aircraft. Instead, the pilot pushed and pulled on a fixed sidearm joystick that sent the input forces to the flight control computer, which then translated them to the plane’s control surfaces in order to maneuver the jet.
The F-16’s FBW and relaxed static stability design (for enhanced maneuverability) combined to give it a unique “feel” that ground-based simulators couldn’t entirely predict. Even a highly-experienced test pilot like Oestricher did not know exactly what to expect until he got in the actual cockpit. As he took the YF-16 out on its first high speed taxi run, Oestricher made what he thought was a minor stick input to measure the prototype’s roll response, but induced an oscillation and scraped its right horizontal stabilizer and wingtip against the runway at high speed. Rather than risk an emergency stop or veer off the runway and further damage the plane, Oestricher accelerated, taking off, circling back around the runway, and landing on the ground safely, after a six-minute, unplanned flight.
Since that episode lacked the requisite VIP audience and pomp-and-circumstance, the test team reset for a formal first flight two weeks later, allowing enough time to tweak the flight control system and repair the damage. On February 2, 1974, Oestricher flew the F-16’s official first flight, lasting 90 minutes.
And for those who might be curious as to the F-16’s dual nicknames, the plane spent its first several years without a formal one. In that absence, early F-16 pilots and team members took cues from its appearance and agility to dub it the “Viper” among themselves. When the Air Force and General Dynamics announced in 1980 that it would be the Fighting Falcon, the response was somewhat muted. Oestricher himself was firmly on “Team Viper,” once stating that, “Fighting Falcon is a perfectly silly name. There’s no punch to it. Viper clearly portrays the message, ‘This is a lethal device—watch your manners around it.’” Apparently that view was common: the original Viper moniker remains ubiquitous today.