This Week In AFLCMC History - January 22 - 28, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
22 Jan 1968 (Hill AFB)

On this date, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen John P. McConnell announced that Hill AFB’s newspaper, The Hill Top Times, had won first prize in the agency’s annual “best newspaper” awards. The Hill Top Times, still published today, took the prize for bases with populations of more than 10,000 personnel (the largest category), and it was the first time an Air Force Logistics Command (AFMC predecessor) base had taken top honors in that category. The award was accepted later that year by the newspaper’s editor, Dorothy G. Nelson, who had by then been editor of the paper for 18 of her 21 years of federal service. Colonel James T. Bull, base Information Officer, noted that “it is an outstanding accomplishment to put together a paper every two weeks of 50 or more pages with minimal outside help,” and was glad that Nelson’s “talents and untiring efforts” were being recognized.
24 Jan 1996 (Bombers Directorate)

Today in 1996, Lt Gen Richard M. Scofield, then-commander of the Aeronautical Systems Center (one of AFLCMC’s predecessor organizations), personally delivered the 10th B-2 Spirit to Whiteman AFB, Missouri. There, it was assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing. Named the “Spirit of Alaska”, it was the last B-2 to be delivered in the original Block 10 configuration. It was for this reason that Lt Gen Scofield piloted the vehicle—it was a symbolic “closing of the loop,” because he had served as the B-2 System Program Office Director from Jun 1983 to Jul 1991, as the program really got its legs, and changed its name from the “Advanced Technology Bomber” (ATB) to the “B-2” in 1988. The ASC commander since Oct 1994, Gen Scofield (who was once also in charge of the F-117 program office at Wright-Patt) would retire a few months after the 1996 flight.

25 Jan 1952 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir./ISR & SOF Dir.)

On this date, 1st Lt Joe W. Corbin, a 27-year-old pilot from Birmingham, Alabama, crash-landed his F-84 Thunderjet on an ice cap off the North Korean coast after it was crippled by enemy groundfire. Corbin’s strike force had been on a mission to attack North Korean railroads when the damages were sustained. His wingmen immediately notified the 3rd Aerial Rescue Squadron (3 ARS), who hurried out a rescue helicopter (piloted by 2nd Lt J. E. Lewis) with escorting F-86 Sabres. Corbin’s F-84 wingmen suppressed continued groundfire by strafing enemy forces in the area, while the helicopter rescued the downed pilot. The F-86s ended up destroying three enemy MiG-15s sent to interfere with the rescue, and chased away the remainder. Corbin’s successful recovery was the 3 ARS’ 4,000th U.N. personnel rescue.
26 Jan 1990 (ISR & Special Operations Forces Directorate)
On this date, the Air Force operationally retired the iconic Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, though the decision had been made several months earlier. The move was controversial at the time, and remains so among the plane’s enthusiasts, but the perceived lack of a post-Cold War need for the aircraft and the capabilities of other assets made the fleet expendable in the Air Force’s view. Congress briefly revived the program in 1995, with Big Safari managing the reactivation process, but it did not fly any missions before being again retired—permanently—in 1997. Capable of flying over three times the speed of sound at altitudes above most threats to take photos and collect electronic intelligence, the Blackbird actually came in four different versions: the original A-12 that the Lockheed Skunk Works built for the CIA; the Air Force’s two-seat SR-71 fleet; a pair of experimental M-21s for launching a high-speed recon drone; and three YF-12A prototype high-speed interceptors.
27 Jan 1911 (USAF History)

Today in 1911, the “Mackay Trophy” was established by Clarence H. Mackay, who was at that time leading the Postal Telegraph-Commercial Cable Companies. Administered by the National Aeronautic Association of the United States of America, the trophy has been awarded annually since 1912 for the nation’s most meritorious flight of the year by an Air Force person, persons, or organization. The very first Mackay Trophy was won by none other than 2nd Lt (and future General of the Air Force) Henry H. “Hap” Arnold. The most recent winner was Maj Stephen Keck, an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot, who was notified of his win at an 11 Jan 2024 ceremony at Nellis AFB.
28 Jan 1982 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)
On 28 Jan 1982, the first C-5A Galaxy (tail number 67-0173) set to receive a new pair of recently-developed, modified wings arrived at Lockheed-Georgia Company’s Marietta, Georgia, plant for refitting. The improved structure of the enhanced, but thicker, wings added around 18,000 pounds to the aircraft’s weight (though they were still less than 5% of its empty operating weight) and cost the Air Force well over a billion dollars in total, but were expected to extend the plane’s service-life by 30,000 flight hours.
AFLCMC History Highlight: Acquiring the Atlas Missile (23 Jan 1951)
Immediately after World War II ended in 1945, the US jumpstarted its long-range missile development program as a means of deterring the Soviet Union. Both countries leveraged German V-2 ballistic missile technology and scientists to build that capability. The American effort was haphazard at first, thanks to fights among the armed services over who should be responsible for it. The Air Force’s missile portfolio fell into a maelstrom of internal conflicts: demobilization versus recapitalization; research and development versus acquisition versus sustainment; missiles or strategic bombers; and cruise missiles or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
The Air Force prioritized long-range, winged cruise missiles, which it had experimented with going back to 1917, when deciding which programs to continue after 1947. Over the next decade, it expended considerable money and effort on the subsonic Northrop Snark and the supersonic North American Navaho cruise missiles. However, both suffered myriad technical difficulties and delays—Northrop had so many flight test failures from Cape Canaveral that the Atlantic Ocean off its coast was sarcastically dubbed “Snark-infested waters.” Just a single Snark unit was briefly activated, while Navaho was cancelled outright in 1957.
On the other hand, ground-launched missiles had fallen near the bottom of the Air Force’s 1947 priority list and resulted in the cancellation of nearly half those initial programs. One of these was the Project MX-774 ballistic missile study contract with Convair that included a proof-of-concept demonstrator and a planned 5,000 mile range weapon. The Air Force determined that “no tangible results were expected in the next 8 to 10 years” and cancelled the program in May 1947, though Convair finished some test launches using unexpended contract money and its own funds. However, the Air Force reconsidered its decision a few years later and, on January 23, 1951, granted Convair a $500,000 R&D contract for Project MX-1593—what became the USAF’s first operational ICBM, the Atlas.
Much of the blame for the cruise missile program failures fell on AFLCMC’s predecessors at Wright Field and their perceived conservative approach to system development. In the early 1950s, they were actively struggling to shed legacy project-focused acquisition processes that had outcomes that were, at best, “often criticized…[but] usually considered adequate,” in favor of implementing the “weapons system” approach to procurement. That concept considered aircraft subsystems as an integrated whole, rather than “an assembly of parts stuffed into an airframe,” using a single prime contractor as the integrator. The idea had been implemented as a war-time expediency on the B-29 and was recently revived for the F-102 interceptor, but was still very much being refined as Navaho and Snark struggled.
When ICBMs became the top national priority in 1954, Air Force leadership concluded that the only way to produce a viable weapons system on a “crash” basis was to break it out from Wright Field and establish an entirely new acquisition organization. The resulting Western Development Division was led by Gen Bernard Schriever and successfully produced the Atlas, though not without significant cost and difficulty. That organization still exists today as the US Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center.