This Week In AFLCMC History – March 18 - 24, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
18 Mar 2004 (Tinker AFB)

Twenty years ago today, Dr. Wayne Jones received the Golden Torch Lifetime Achievement in Government award at the annual meeting of the National Society of Black Engineers in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Jones was born in Oklahoma City in 1952, and his father worked at Tinker AFB as a civilian machinist. The younger Jones started his career at a handful of private corporations before finding work himself at Tinker AFB’s Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center (OC-ALC) in 1980. He remained at the base for 30 years. At the time of the 2004 award, Dr. Jones was the chief of OC-ALC flight systems/mechanical engineering. He retired from Tinker in 2010 as the director of engineering for the Supply Chain Management Group, after which he went to work at Rose State College as the dean of the Engineering and Science Division.

19 Mar 1989 (ISR & Special Operations Forces Directorate)

Thirty-five years ago today, the V-22 Osprey made its first flight at Bell Helicopter in Arlington, Texas. Bell test pilot Dorman Canon and Boeing test pilot Dick Balzer were at the controls. It spent about 15 minutes airborne over three takeoffs and landings in its helicopter configuration. Although experiments with tilt-rotor technology and “convertoplanes” go back many decades, the Osprey was the first production tilt-rotor aircraft to see operational use. It began its acquisition journey as a joint Department of Defense project in 1981, but due to political opposition, four crashes between 1990 and 2000 (killing 26 Marines and four civilian contractors), and a number of other hurdles, it didn’t actually achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC) until 2007 with the Marines (the Osprey’s primary customer). The Air Force version of the Osprey, the CV-22, is used for special operations missions and achieved its IOC in 2009. (Photo of Osprey above).

20 Mar 1929 (Wright-Patterson AFB/Bombers Directorate/Foreign Military Sales)

At the beginning of the Escobar Rebellion—an attempted coup in Mexico that started in early March 1929—the Mexican government purchased a dozen Chance-Vought O2U Corsairs (similar to the Coast Guard O2U-2 pictured below) for use as bombing planes. They later built a couple dozen more under license. On this date, 95 years ago, three of these Mexican bombers landed at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. They were traveling from Mitchel Field in New York, where the planes had been delivered to their three Mexican pilots, to Kelly Field in Texas, from whence they would rejoin the front. The flight was the first time foreign bombers flew across the United States, requiring a special dispensation from the U.S. government to do so. Ultimately, the Mexican government prevailed over Gen José Gonzalo Escobar and his rebel forces.

21 Mar 1994 (Hill AFB)

On this date thirty years ago, Hill AFB officially joined the Intermountain Technology Alliance (ITA) in an effort to promote technology transfer between the Department of Defense and private industry. The ceremony was presided over by Utah’s governor Mike Leavitt (who would later lead the EPA, then U.S. Health and Human Services, as part of the George W. Bush administration) and Maj Gen Lester L. Lyles, then the commander of Hill AFB’s Ogden Air Logistics Center (and later the commander of AFMC). Other members of the ITA included the State of Utah, Dugway Proving Ground, Tooele Army Depot, Brigham Young University, Utah State University, University of Utah, the Utah Research Institute, Weber State University, the Defense Distribution Depot Ogden, and the Federal Laboratory Consortium. The relationships developed through the ITA have continued into the present day, where Hill AFB still works closely with many of these and other community partners.

22 Mar 1944 (WWII History/Bombers Directorate)

80 years ago today, the 340th Bomb Group suffered from one of WWII’s largest single-day losses of U.S. aircraft. Their losses were not due to an enemy attack, however: Instead, they found themselves victims of the March 1944 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The volcano near Naples, Italy, is perhaps best known for its 79 C.E. eruption that destroyed the city of Pompeii. As it began to erupt in mid-March 1944, quickly demolishing two villages and threatening others, the U.S. Army Air Forces commander at the Pompeii airdrome mistakenly believed they were far enough away from the volcano to remain in place, continuing attacks against enemy forces. Unfortunately, over the course of about 21-23 March enough ash and tephra rained down on the base to destroy or damage 88 of the B-25 Mitchell bombers stationed there. The incident contributed to the idea that the 340th was “unlucky;” and, perhaps notably, this was the Group with whom author Joseph Heller later served, basing his novel, Catch-22, partly on his wartime experiences with them.

23 Mar 1979 (Digital Directorate/Hanscom AFB)

Today, forty-five years ago, the partly-constructed PAVE PAWS facility at Beale AFB, California made its first radio transmission as part of ongoing calibration and testing. Construction was completed in October 1979, with the site achieving Initial Operational Capability in August 1980. The Beale AFB PAVE PAWS was one of several planned phased-array warning system (PAWS) radars constructed for the U.S. by Raytheon. The mission of these systems was to detect submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) along the east and west coasts of the United States, as well as to track satellites. In addition to the PAVE PAWS radars at Beale AFB and Cape Cod Space Station, a third operates today out of Clear Space Force Station, Alaska. 
AFLCMC Women’s History Month Highlight:
Colonel Jacqueline Cochran (1906-1980)

Jacqueline Cochran was a trailblazer in the field of women’s aviation. She was the first woman to enter the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race in 1935; on March 24, 1939, she set a new women’s altitude record during WWII, she helped trained female British pilots in 1941 before becoming the director of America’s Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in 1943; she became a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve in 1948, eventually retiring as a colonel in 1970; and she was the first woman to break the sound barrier in 1953 (in an F-86 Sabre).

All of these accomplishments—a small sampling of her achievements—were in spite of a challenging childhood and a dearth of opportunities early on. She was born Bessie Lee Pittman in 1906 to a poor family in north-western Florida. She lacked a formal education, but she was ambitious, quick-witted, and hard-working. Her first marriage in 1921, when she was just 14 years old, ended in divorce six years later, though her married name of Cochran stayed with her. After that, she became a beautician and eventually found her way to New York City and began calling herself Jacqueline or Jackie.

After riding in an airplane, she decided she wanted to fly and earned her pilot’s license in just three weeks in 1932. In 1935, she both started a cosmetics company and became the first woman to compete in the Bendix Air Race. Three years later, she won it.

Colonel Cochran’s dogged advocacy for women in aviation led to the establishment of the WASPs during WWII. Despite proving the value of women pilots in transport, training, and even test flying, the US military took a regressive stance after dis-banding the WASP program in 1944 and prohibited female flyers for decades. Afterwards, Col Cochran continued to set records, establish many more “firsts,” and serve as a leader for women aviators.

Colonel Cochran’s legacy in challenging institutional barriers proved more complicated, however. In the 1960s, she initially supported the un-official, privately-funded “Mercury 13” program—which was unaffiliated with NASA, but demonstrated that women could meet the physical requirements to be astronauts. However, she then testified against this effort before Congress; a move which helped delay US women going into space until 1983 (the Soviets put a female cosmonaut in space in 1963, one year after this testimony). Some have argued that she believed that America needed to focus all its resources on the male astronaut program to beat the Soviet Union in the space race, or that she hoped NASA would instead officially incorporate women into the astronaut corps. A decade later, as Congress debated allowing female military pilots, Col Cochran again testified, saying that women in combat went against her “personal conception of women’s proper role in society.” The Navy and then the Air Force pinned wings on their first modern female aviators in the 1970s, but maintained a “combat exclusion policy” until the 1990s.

By the time of her death in 1980, Col Cochran held more speed, distance, and altitude records than any other pilot—male or female—and she’d helped open the doors for the first generation of female military pilots in America.