This Week In AFLCMC History – March 25 - 31, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
25 Mar 1944 (Armament Directorate)
Eighty years ago today, the Fifteenth Air Force used the VB-1 Azon radio-controlled bomb to temporarily cut off the Aviso Viaduct in Brenner Pass, a major route between Italy and Austria/Germany. It was the first operational use of this very early “smart bomb”—the only radio-controlled bomb used operationally by the U.S. Army Air Forces during WWII. The weapon’s name—“AZON”—stood for “AZimuth ONly,” which referenced how it was controlled: The bombardier could only steer it left or right. As with more modern GPS-guided munitions, the AZON was a guidance “kit” installed onto a conventional bomb. Though limited, the degree of control it afforded made it effective against otherwise challenging targets, such as bridges and railways. Though first used in Europe, AZON had its greatest successes in the Pacific Theater.
26 Mar 1943 (Tinker AFB)
Today in 1943, construction of the Douglas aircraft plant outside Tinker Field was completed. During WWII, the plant churned out 5,354 C-47 cargo planes (the military version of the iconic DC-3). This was more than half of the Skytrains (or “Gooney Birds”) used in the war. At its peak, the plant employed as many as 38,000 people (over half of whom were women) and was building 13 planes per day. It also produced around 400 C-54 Skymasters and 900 A-26 Invader attack bombers. After the end of the war, the plant closed down; but the building was transferred to the Oklahoma City Air Technical Service Command in November 1945. Today, it is Tinker AFB’s Building 3001. (Photo: USAF)
27 Mar 1936 (Eglin AFB)
On this day in 1936, the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) began gunnery training at the Valparaiso Bombing and Gunnery Range. Between when it was activated in June 1935 and the start of WWII, the Range (renamed “Eglin Field” in 1937) was one of the largest military reservations in the country, with dual missions of (1) bombing and gunnery training on the western half of the base and (2) aircraft, armament, and munitions testing on the eastern half. At the end of the range’s first weekend-long gunnery training session, on 29 Mar 1936, former Wright Field flier Capt Benjamin W. Chidlaw and his passenger, Pvt John L. Hammack, had to bail out of their plane when it caught on fire during their return trip to Maxwell Field. Chidlaw survived to head the equivalents of AFLCMC/WL and then AFRL, retiring as a 4-star general.
28 Mar 1986 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)
Today in 1986, the Air Force officially terminated the troubled T-46 program. Although the jet trainer (which first flew on 15 Oct 1985) had won the contest to replace the Cessna T-37, a number of budgetary, corporate, bureaucratic, and political problems resulted in the program’s cancellation. The T-46’s failure ultimately contributed to the closing of Fairchild’s Farmingdale aircraft manufacturing plant in New York later in 1987, and to the company’s follow-on financial problems. In the end, the Air Force would not replace the T-37 Tweet until 2009.
29 Mar 1991 (Wright-Patterson AFB)
Today in 1991, the Air Force Communications Command Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFCC OTEC) at Wright-Patterson AFB (WPAFB) was inactivated. AFCC OTEC was initially established at Wright-Patt as the 1815th Test and Evaluation Squadron in June 1981 (after it was reorganized and relocated to WPAFB from Scott AFB, Illinois), and its mission was to conduct all of Air Force Communications Command’s (AFCC’s) Operational Test and Evaluation work. After AFCC OTEC inactivated at Wright-Patterson AFB, its function was transferred back to Scott AFB and combined with four other functions there to establish the Technology Integration Center (TIC). The Air Force Communications Command, for its part, had a history going back to 1943 and eventually became today’s Air Force Network Integration Center, also located at Scott AFB.
30 Mar 1989 (Hill AFB)
35 years ago today, Air Force Logistics Center commander Gen Alfred G. Hansen concluded a visit to Hill AFB’s Ogden Air Logistics Center (OO-ALC). General Hansen began the two day visit (over 29-30 March) by pinning the Distinguished Service Medal on Maj Gen James W. Hopp, OO-ALC’s commander. The first day of the visit was largely focused on providing Gen Hopp and OO-ALC with any immediate help that they might need, with the idea being that they could streamline the usual bureaucratic processes. The second day was spent discussing quality and quality improvement—and, specifically, the importance of providing quality work efficiently in an era of shrinking budgets, offering a preview of the prevalent post-Cold War sentiment of “doing more with less.”
31 Mar 1951 (ISR & Special Operations Forces Directorate)
Today in 1951, the 3rd Air Rescue Squadron utilized their newest helicopter—the Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaw—to retrieve 18 U.N. personnel from behind enemy lines. This marked the first time that the Chickasaw aircraft was used for a special operations mission. At first the H-19 merely supplemented the H-5 Dragonfly, but by the end of the Korean War the Chickasaw had become the USAF’s primary rescue and medical evacuation helicopter. In addition to being larger (and therefore able to carry more people) and more capable than the H-5, the H-19 also extended the range of rotary-wing rescues by about 50 miles.

AFLCMC Women’s History Month Highlight:
The Women’s Combat Exclusion Policy (1948-2015)

Women have served in all of America’s wars—as everything from clerks to spies to medical staff. As in the case of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a surgeon and Civil War prisoner of war—and the only woman so far to have earned the Medal of Honor—they have some-times been highly decorated for their service.
Nonetheless, women have been asked to avoid direct combat service for much of the country’s history. While there are many stories of women disguising them-selves as men to serve in combat, or otherwise joining in under extenuating circumstances (like American Revolutionary War heroine Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, who is said to have fought in the Battle of Monmouth), it was not until the 20th and 21st centuries that women have been allowed to, first, don the uniform, and then, later, to openly serve alongside men in formal combat positions.
This 20th century shift in women’s military service largely started during and after WWII. Although tens of thousands of women supported America’s efforts during WWI, the Second World War saw the biggest change in how women served in the U.S., thanks to programs like the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. Following the success of these programs and the end of the war, President Harry Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948. This law made it so that women could formally serve in the military’s regular or Reserve forces, but capped their numbers at no more than 2 percent of the total force and prohibited women from serving on aircraft or ships that might be engaged in combat. Around 22,000 women were in uniform at the start of the Korean War in 1950, growing to about 120,000 by war’s end in 1953.
In 1967—the midst of the Vietnam War—the 2% quota on military women was lifted. Eight female service members died in the line of duty during that conflict. Major policy changes continued throughout the 1970s, driven in part by the end of the draft in 1973 and the now-All-Volunteer Force. The U.S. Army promoted the first woman to general officer rank, Brig Gen Anna Mae Hays, in 1970; the Air Force followed suit the next year with Brig Gen Jeanne M. Holm. The Army and Navy trained their first female pilots in 1973, while the Air Force and Coast Guard waited until 1976—the same year that President Ford signed a law allowing women to enter Military Service Academies.
However, all these women were restricted from flying in combat aircraft, such as fighters, bombers, and attack planes. Those limitations still closed off many of the traditional career-advancement pathways for military pilots and other aircrew, thereby continuing to suppress the number of women in the upper ranks. It was not until 1993, following the Gulf War, that Defense Secretary Les Aspin lifted the combat exclusion policy for female pilots. Just a few months later, the Air Force’s Maj Gen Jeannie Leavitt became the first female fighter pilot.
That limitation remained in place for ground forces until the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended lifting the ban entirely in 2013. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter finally brought the combat exclusion policy to its end in 2015, opening all combat roles to women without exception. The first women entered those last previously closed combat billets starting the following year. Today, the Air Force has the highest percentage of women in uniform across all branches.