This Week In AFLCMC History – March 4 - 10, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
4 Mar 1924 (Bombers Directorate/Tinker AFB)
100 years ago today, the Army Air Service bombed an ice jam in Nebraska’s Platte River that had caused flooding, washed out the main east-west line of the Union Pacific railroad, and threatened the North Bend region. Two Martin Bombers (Number 20 & The Devil’s Own) and a pair of DH-4s (The Rover & Pegasus) from Langley Field, VA, destroyed the blockage and freed the waterway. One of the bomber pilots was 36-year-old Maj Clarence L. Tinker, future namesake of Tinker AFB. Mission Photographer Sgt George H. Fisher, noted: “I consider the Platte river bombing expedition by far the most interesting and worthwhile [of my many missions], because it proved that bombing planes may be used in conservation as well as in destruction.”
5 Mar 1948 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate)
Today in 1948, the Curtiss XF-87 Blackhawk, had its first flight at Edwards AFB. The XF-87 was Curtiss’s last fighter plane. It was powered by two XJ34-WE-7 turbojet engines, with room for two crew members (a pilot and a radar observer), and it was intended as an all-weather interceptor. Originally designated the “XP-87,” the Air Force changed the “Pursuit” category to “Fighter” in June 1948. The aircraft had aerodynamic problems and other challenges that Curtiss could not readily fix, however, and the Air Force ultimately chose Northrop’s F-89 Scorpion for production instead. That decision resulted in the exit from airplane production of the two most historic names in the American aircraft industry: Curtiss-Wright.
6 Mar 1979 (Digital Directorate/Hanscom AFB)
Forty-five years ago today, the Rome Air Development Center (RADC) at Griffiss AFB, New York, awarded SEEK TALK Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) contracts to E-Systems, Electronic Communications, Inc. (ECI) of St. Petersburg, Florida ($4,104,399); General Electric Company (GE) of Utica, New York ($4,067,683); and Hazeltine Corporation of Greenbaum, New York ($5,454,435). The SEEK TALK program developed a secure, jam-resistant voice communication capability for the Air Force, so that pilots could communicate with each other and with command elements in the air and on the ground during conflicts where enemy forces were attempting to disrupt comms equipment.
7 Mar 1961 (Armament Directorate/Eglin AFB)
On this date, Strategic Air Command (SAC) announced that the McDonnell GAM-72A (later ADM-20) Quail decoy missile was operational. The first SAC unit to be equipped with the Quail was the 4135th Strategic Wing at Eglin AFB. The program originated in the mid-1950s, with successful flight tests in 1957 and 1958. The tailless vehicle had folding wings so that it could be more economically stashed inside of its strategic bomber carrier craft—particularly the B-52. Carrying both chaff and electronic countermeasures equipment, but no warhead, the Quail was meant to fool enemy radar by imitating a bomber’s radar profile and operational performance—with the idea being that enemy air defenses would divide their fire between the decoys and the bombers they protected. The B-52 could carry 8 decoys, and the B-47 could carry 4. The Quail was retired in 1972.
8 Mar 1985 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Directorate)
Today in 1985, Shaw AFB received the first F-16C—then the most advanced F-16 available, which was slated to replace the existing F-16A models. Assigned to the 33rd Tactical Squadron, the new F-16Cs had a redesigned cockpit, enhanced avionics, and improved radar systems. The F-16D, developed at the same time, was the two-seat variant of the F-16C, meant primarily for pilot training (much in the same way that the F-16B was the two-seat variant of the F-16A). In describing the upgraded jet to the public, Shaw’s director of public affairs noted that the “innovative thing about it is that, in its role as a fighter jet, it has the capability of switching from air-to-air combat to air-to-ground combat very quickly.”
9 Mar 2004 (Hill AFB/Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)
Twenty years ago today, officials at Hill AFB cut the ribbon on a new, state-of-the-art C-130 maintenance and corrosion control facility, following nearly two years of construction and $30 million in construction costs. The 54,000 square foot facility had a number of “first-of-its-kind” features, such as a paint removal bay with a new dual-use “wet-dry process” for removing paint, and polymer fabric “mega doors” which could be opened vertically and cost 20 percent less than their traditional counterparts. Hill had recently gained the C-130 maintenance mission following Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) actions. Congress approved an initial $16.5 million Military Construction (MILCON) for the project in 2000.
AFLCMC Women’s History Month Highlight:
First Women’s Navigator Training Class Begins at Mather AFB (10 Mar 1977)
After the draft officially ended in 1973 and the nation transitioned to an all-volunteer military, the Air Force sought new ways to meet its personnel needs. One option discussed was to open previously all-male career paths to women. In 1975, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David C. Jones announced the start of a three-year test program allowing for 28 women to enter pilot and navigator training for noncombat flying missions, and on March 10, 1977, the first class of six women began undergraduate navigator training at Mather AFB, California.
The half-dozen women arriving at Mather (which was located near Sacramento, and was closed in 1993) as part of Class 78-01 in the March of 1977 were: Capt Elizabeth “Liz” Koch, 2nd Lt Ramona Roybal (later, after marrying, McCall), 1st Lt Mary Kay “MK” Higgins, 2d Lt Florence “Flo” Fowler (later, after marrying, Parker), Capt Margaret “Maggie” Stanek, and Capt Betty Jo “BJ” Payne. Over the next 700 training hours, they learned how to serve as navigators aboard T-43 trainers. These modified Boeing 737s, which were also known as “Gators,” were primarily used for undergraduate navigator training (UNT), where they could host twelve students per flight.
Ultimately, five of the six women graduated on October 12, 1977—Capt Stanek graduated with a later class after suffering an injury during parasail training. A female Coast Guard class member also graduated with UNT Class 78-01. In 1980, a few years after becoming a navigator, Mary Kay Higgins became one of the first women to earn both pilot and navigator ratings, and eventually retired as a colonel. The other five women all retired as lieutenant colonels.
In the end, the three-year test program was determined to be a great success, and women have been flying ever since. As one instructor put it, following Class 78-01’s trailblazing graduation, the women had “shown beyond any shadow of a doubt they have the ability to be navigators.” Or, as Capt Payne challenged in an interview as she prepared to move on to serve as a navigator aboard C-141s at Travis AFB, “give me a sextant and I can take you anywhere in the world.”