This Week In AFLCMC History – March 11 - 17, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
11 Mar 1918 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir.)
Today in 1918, Lt Paul Frank Baer of the 103rd Aero Squadron shot down his first German airplane, which was also the first-ever aerial victory for a U.S. Army Air Service pilot. Flying a French-built Spad fighter, Lt Baer jumped seven enemy aircraft by himself. In a letter to his father, he described the encounter: “I pointed my machine at the closest [German aircraft], and as I got right on him, I opened up with my machine gun and down he went. The rest of them came at me and at the same time I sure did some ’scientific retreating.’” For the bravery he demonstrated in taking on those overwhelming odds, he became the first American aviator to earn the Distinguished Service Cross. Later, he also became the first Air Service “ace” in history by taking down 5 enemy aircraft. He had 9 “kills” before being shot down himself and taken prisoner for the last months of World War I.

12 Mar 2007 (Tinker AFB)
 On this date in 2007, Paula J. Cochnauer—then Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center’s Equal Employment Opportunity manager—was selected as the winner of the 2007 Air Force Distinguished Equal Employment Opportunity Award for Complaint System Resolution, an Air Force-level award she received a couple months later. In reflecting on her complaint resolution strategy, Cochnauer noted that “the key is communication and early intervention. I have found that people have to sit down and talk in order to work out problems. If you cannot engage in communication, problems will not be resolved. […] You have to be able to listen, be patient, stay calm and not take anything personally.” Her approach seemed to work, as in the previous fiscal year her office had received nearly 600 contacts (i.e., informal inquiries or complaints), and only 19 percent of them resulted in formal investigations. The majority were resolved at lower levels with EEO counselors.

13 Mar 1961 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Directorate)
Today in 1961, Lt Gen Robert M. Lee—then Air Defense Command’s brand-new commander—accepted McDonnell Aircraft Corporation’s last F-101 Voodoo (an F-101B). This final F-101, out of over 800 built, went to Hamilton AFB’s 84th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in California. First flown in September 1954, the original Voodoo was designed as a bomber escort; but Strategic Air Command deemed that role obsolete after the introduction of the B-52 the next year. As a result, McDonnell redesigned the F-101 for alternative missions. For example, the B model was a 2-seat, all-weather interceptor for air defense, while the RF-101 was the first supersonic reconnaissance aircraft. The latter took numerous low-altitude photos during the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962, and was also active during the first part of the Vietnam War.

14 Mar 1929 (Maxwell-Gunter AFB)
On the evening of March 14, 1929, Maxwell Field’s commander—Maj Walter R. Weaver—received a phone call from Alabama’s governor, David B. Graves, requesting that the military step in to aid victims following devastating floods around much of the state, but particularly centered on the town of Elba. In response, Maj Weaver authorized Maxwell Field’s entire fleet to fly relief missions from sunup to sundown over the next five days, ultimately delivering more than 50 tons of food and supplies to stranded and homeless flood victims over more than 600 flying hours. It was perhaps the most significant early humanitarian airlift operation in U.S. military history.

15 Mar 1967 (ISR & Special Operations Forces Directorate)
Today in 1967, the Sikorsky HH-53B flew for the first time, with company test pilots James R. Wright and Patrick A. Guinn. Nearly twice the size of the HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” that it replaced, the HH-53 was developed under the Aeronautical Systems Division (an AFLCMC predecessor) at Wright-Patterson AFB. Originally called the “Super Jolly Green Giant,” it was a variant of the Navy/Marine Corps’ CH-53A Sea Stallion, and would eventually evolve into the MH-53 Pave Low. The HH-53B had in-flight refueling capabilities, armor plating, a rescue hoist for lifting allied forces up from the water or ground, and three 7.62 miniguns. It was the largest, fastest helicopter in the Air Force’s inventory at the time, and first saw operational use in the Vietnam War.
16 Mar 1949 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)
75 years ago today, the Fairchild Aircraft Corporation delivered the first production model of their track-style landing gear-equipped C-82 Packet aircraft to the 314th Troop Carrier Wing at Smyrna, Tennessee (now the 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock AFB). By the end of deliveries several days later, the 314th’s 20th Troop Carrier Squadron was the first squadron in the Air Force to be completely equipped with the tank-track-like landing gear. Conceived at Wright Field the idea behind the landing gear was that it would make landing on sod fields and unimproved landing strips more viable, but the treads added significant weight and maintenance time to the aircraft. Ultimately, these and other problems resulted in a reversion to conventional wheels.

17 Mar 1959 (Hill AFB/Armament Directorate)
65 years ago today, a three-day world-wide air munitions conference began in Salt Lake City, Utah. Hosted by Hill AFB, the conference attracted around 150 civilian and military air munitions, supply, and logistics support managers from across the Air Force and from other Department of Defense agencies. Topics discussed included the storage, handling, inspection, training, transportation, and disposal of air munitions, and the conference concluded with tours of Hill AFB’s related facilities.
AFLCMC Women’s History Month Highlight:
Capt Mary T. Klinker (1947-1975)
Mary Therese Klinker was the last nurse—and the only member of the Air Force Nurse Corps—to be killed in Vietnam. She was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal for Heroism and the Meritorious Service Medal.
Born to Paul and Thelma Mary Klinker on October 3, 1947, Mary Klinker grew up in Indiana. There, she went to Lafayette’s Central Catholic High School—class of 1965—before attending and graduating (in 1968) from the nearby St. Elizabeth School of Nursing. She was remembered as “quiet and rather serious.” After finishing her formal education, Klinker very briefly worked at St. Elizabeth’s, before deciding to join the Air Force in January 1970.
In the Air Force, Lt Klinker became a flight nurse, was promoted to the rank of captain, and received an assignment to the 10th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Travis AFB in California. In 1974, she was temporarily assigned to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, where her duties included flight nurse, instructor, and flight examiner. It was there, in 1975, that Capt Klinker, and the rest of the world, watched as South Vietnam began to collapse to North Vietnamese forces. The US had pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, but continued to support the South Vietnam-ese government. When it became clear that they were losing the war, South Vietnam’s U.N. ambassador asked the Americans to evacuate and resettle 2,000 South Vietnamese orphans from Saigon. The U.S. agreed to do so, beginning “OPERATION BABYLIFT”—a thirteen-day mission that resulted in 30 flights and 1,794 children saved, with most of them adopted by families in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia.
Captain Klinker volunteered to help with BABYLIFT, and was assigned to the very first aircraft supporting the mission—a C-5A Galaxy.
On April 4, 1975, shortly after this first aircraft took off from an airbase outside of Saigon, the locks on the rear loading ramp failed, resulting in an explosive decompression in its tail section. As the cargo doors flew open, passengers, equipment, and medical records were hurled about the cabin, and the pilots found their ability to fly and steer the airplane severely hampered by severed control cables and other systems failures. The pilots regained some control over the aircraft using just a single aileron and engine thrust and attempted to return to the air base, during which time Capt Klinker left her secured position to help the injured. Despite the heroic efforts of the pilots—they were later awarded the Air Force Cross for their outstanding airmanship—the plane crash-landed, breaking up in a field. Captain Klinker and 137 others on board, including 78 children, perished. The other crew and adult passengers struggled heroically to save the remaining 150 children. Flight nurse Regina C. Aune rescued 80 babies from the wreckage, despite a broken foot and a compression fracture of her spine, before passing out from her injuries. She became the first woman to be awarded the Cheney Award by the Air Force.
Captain Mary Klinker’s life and sacrifice were honored recently at JBSA-Lackland, where a street was memorialized for her in 2023.