This Week In AFLCMC History - January 29 - February 4, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
29 Jan 1965 (Engineering Dir./Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.)

After aircraft manufacturers had little success converting purpose-built military airlifters for commercial use in the early Cold War, Congress directed the USAF to solicit industry input in accommodating for “dual use” in the design of its forthcoming “optimum mobility” platform. The Air Force refused to compromise any military requirements, but did specify in the resulting contract for Lockheed’s C-141 Starlifter that it receive a civil certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. Military and civil airworthiness processes (the former now managed by AFLCMC/EZF) differed in significant ways, requiring additional flight testing before the FAA issued a civil type certificate to the C-141, as the L-300, on 29 January 1965. Lockheed was never able to find customers for the civilian version and the sole prototype went to
NASA for use in airborne astronomy.

30 Jan 2007 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)

Although a then-recent plan to lease Boeing 767s as refueling tankers had fallen apart before it could be executed, the Air Force still counted the recapitalization of its aging tanker fleet among its top priorities during the first decade of the 21st century. Indeed, when the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition Sue C. Payton  announced the posting of the KC-X Aerial Refueling Aircraft Request for Proposal to the Federal Business Opportunities website on this date in 2007, it was the Air Force’s #1 priority acquisition program. Ultimately, though not without several years of contention beforehand, the KC-X program would result in the Air Force’s latest operational tanker—the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus.

1 Feb 1928 (Propulsion Directorate)

The US Army and Navy’s new standardized designation system for aircraft engines went into effect on this date. As with airplanes, the government did not specify any nomenclature for its engines until after World War I—it was whatever the manufacturer provided, such as the “Wright H,” which rarely had any relationship to its form or function. AFLCMC’s predecessor Engineering Division at Dayton’s McCook Field began using consistent model numbers in the 1920s, but it was the 1928 agreement that codified a universal “modern” system (shown here are the V-1710-1 and R-1510-1): the first letter for the cylinder arrangement (V or R, for radial); the displacement
in cubic inches (rounded to the nearest 0 or 5), which Packard was the first to do; then additional numbers for the particular series, with the Army variants using odd numbers and the Navy using evens. 

2 Feb 1974 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate)

Fifty years ago today, the (Y)F-16’s “official” first flight occurred out of Edwards AFB. Unlike the “unofficial” first flight featured in the Heritage Hangar last month (20 January), this sortie was intentional, lasting about an hour and a half, and reaching an altitude of 30,000 feet. In the fifty years since this first flight occurred, the F-16 has become one of the most in-demand fighter jets around the world, with Lockheed Martin currently dealing with an order backlog of 135 jets. Compact, maneuverable, and capable of filling multiple roles—from air-to-air combat to air-to-surface attack—the F-16 flew more sorties during Operation DESERT STORM than any other aircraft type; continued to see multirole use during Operation ALLIED FORCE in Kosovo; and most recently played a key role in Operations NOBLE EAGLE (post-9/11 homeland defense), ENDURING FREEDOM (in Afghanistan), and IRAQI FREEDOM (in Iraq). “Pound for pound, the best fighter around,” as the F-16 Program Office puts it.

3 Feb 1992 (Eglin AFB/ISR & Special Operations Forces Directorate)

Today in 1992, the V-22 Osprey made its first vertical landing at Eglin AFB, where it was arriving for tests in the McKinley Climatic Lab. The lower photo is of an MV-22B (a Marine Corps variant of the Osprey) undergoing similar tests at the McKinley Lab in 2010, where it was cooked and chilled between 125 and –65 degrees Fahrenheit over a period of two weeks to test how the weapon system and its Environmental Control System (or ECS) held up under extreme conditions. Primarily used by Air Force Special Operations Forces for infiltration, resupply, and exfiltration missions, the Air Force’s CV-22 version is a versatile, “self-deployable” aircraft able to land and takeoff vertically with moveable tiltrotors that smoothly transform into turboprops once aloft, allowing the vehicle to shift from a helicopter-like takeoff and landing function to a more traditional airplane flight style—in turn increasing its range, fuel efficiency, and speed over what the helicopter form factor might otherwise afford it. (V-22 pictured above).

4 Feb 1985 (U.S. Air Force History)

Today in 1985, the Air Force decided that women would be allowed to serve on Minuteman and Peacekeeper missile crews, with SAC commander Gen Bennie L. Davis writing that “[we] have determined that introducing females onto gender-specific crews is feasible and have initiated plans to implement this concept beginning this year.” At the time, women were already allowed to serve on four-person Titan missile crews, but the Air Force had previously opted not to allow them on two-person Minuteman or Peacekeeper crews - ostensibly because the more cramped working space on these missiles did not afford much privacy. The new policy, following a special study on the utilization of women in Minuteman/Peacekeeper missile crews, reversed that earlier decision, and ensured that women would continue working as missileers
after the Titan retired in 1987. Pictured, top-right and forefront on the left, is retired Col Linda Aldrich, one of the first women to serve on an all-female Minuteman II crew.

60 Years Ago in AFLCMC History: NASA Eyes Hanscom for New Electronic Research Center (31 Jan 1964)

On January 31, 1964, NASA Administrator James E. Webb (for whom NASA’s latest space telescope is named; pictured below, at left) wrote a letter to the Speaker of the
House of Representatives, John W. McCormack, notifying him that NASA intended to build an Electronic Research Center in the Boston, Massachusetts area.

That same day, partly because New York was sore over its not being chosen for the site of the new Center, three New York members of Congress (Senators Kenneth
B. Keating and Jacob K. Javits, and Representative Alexander Pirnie) suggested to Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert that, in light of NASA’s decision,
NASA’s new center should be placed at Hanscom Field to save money on the construction of a new facility - and Hanscom’s Electronic Systems Division (ESD)
in turn should be moved to Griffiss AFB in Rome, New York, which was already home to the Rome Air Development Center (now AFRL/RI) that specialized in
ground-based electronics and radar systems R&D. The Air Force replied that it would study the suggestion, and discuss it with NASA officials. Indeed, a few days later, on February 3rd, James Webb visited Hanscom Field himself, accompanied by Maj Gen Don Ostrander (commander of the Office of Aerospace Research) and Massachusetts governor Endicott Peabody.

Although it does not appear that the Air Force was considering the proposal too seriously, locals nonetheless fought back hard against the suggestion that Hanscom’s
ESD depart the region, with the managing editor of the Boston Globe, Ian Menzies, even pointing out that the NASA facility would bring at most 2,000 jobs, while Hanscom’s ESD supported a workforce of 6,000 and had an FY 1964 operating budget of $850 million (with on average $100 million of that budget being contracted
out to local industries).

NASA eventually constructed its research center in Cambridge—in Kendall Square, within walking distance of MIT - in September 1964, and ESD remained at Hanscom.

Both the center and its location made sense for NASA at the time. Its moon landing program was pushing the state-of-the-art in miniaturized electronics and its most
complex computer system, the Apollo Guidance Computer, was designed and built at MIT’s Charles Stark Draper Labs. However, NASA’s center operated for
barely five years, before President Richard Nixon announced its closure in December 1969. Just as the Air Force found out after being early sponsors of integrated
circuit research, NASA concluded that the commercial electronics industry advanced the relevant technology without the intervention of its specialized center.

NASA transferred the building to the new Department of Transportation (for one dollar). As the John A. Volpe Building, named in honor of the Secretary of Transportation,
it became the Transportation Systems Center—a role that continues today, though the original building was just replaced in September
2023 by the new John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.