This Week In AFLCMC History – April 15 - 21, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
16 Apr 2004 (ISR & Special Operations Forces Directorate)
Twenty years ago today, aircrews from the 347th Rescue Wing’s 41st and 38th Rescue Squadrons successfully rescued five U.S. Army soldiers after their CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed in a sandstorm near Kharbut, Iraq. The Chinook had been traveling with two other CH-47s on a resupply mission when the sandstorm hit them about 70 miles southeast of Baghdad; and while the other two helos were able to climb out of the storm, the third was forced down. To rescue the soldiers, the 347th sent out two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters—whose crews evaded multiple surface-to-air missile and rocket-propelled grenade attacks—into the near-zero visibility sandstorm to find them. For successfully rescuing the soldiers, the two Moody AFB crews were awarded the 2004 Mackay Trophy.
17 Apr 1964 (Women’s Aviation History)
Today, sixty years ago, Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock successfully circled the world on her own, becoming the first woman to accomplish the flying feat solo. The flight took 29 days, 11 hours, and 59 minutes, with Mock stopping 21 times and covering 23,206 miles. In doing so, she also became the first woman to fly across both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Born in Newark, Ohio, she began flying in her 30s—and she was soon dubbed “the Flying Housewife” by the media. Her round-the-world flight began in Columbus, Ohio on 19 Mar 1964, and ended it in the same city on April 17th. Her aircraft, a single-engine Cessna 180 was named the Spirit of Columbus. Born in 1925, she was 37 years old when she made the historic journey. She died in 2014, and aside from winning numerous medals and recognitions in her lifetime, she was posthumously inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2022.
18 Apr 1944 (Hill AFB)
On this date, 80 years ago, Hill Field began operating a new Bearing Branch to repair and salvage engine bearings. The new organization had 54 employees, 98% of which were women and it expected to save about 80 of every 100 bearings that passed through the shop. Previously, that had been about the rate that damaged bearings were discarded. The conservation of these parts was valuable, however, as they saw use in everything from tanks and airplanes to machine guns and submarines. Indeed, ball-bearing plants were a regular target of Allied bombing efforts against Germany, with the idea being that Nazi war production efforts could be severely hampered by even the temporary loss of bearing production. The notorious 1943 “Black Thursday” raid, where the USAAF lost about 20 percent of their attacking force of 291 B-17s, was partly against ball bearings plants in Schweinfurt, Germany.
19 Apr 1967 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate)
Today in 1967, then-Maj (later Col) Leo Thorsness led a formation of F-105 Thunderchief (or “Thud”) aircraft to North Vietnam on a “Wild Weasel” mission—an attack against Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) sites. He was the pilot, with Capt Harold Johnson as his backseat Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO). His combat element of two F-105s destroyed their first SAM site without incident, but during their efforts taking out a second, Maj Thorsness’ wingman was shot down by enemy anti-aircraft fire. Seeing the crew of the damaged F-105 eject, Thorsness chose to stay behind and cover them while they awaited rescue. He shot down one MiG-17—which had come to investigate the crash—and then hurried away to refuel by tanker. While searching for a KC-135 to refuel him, he heard that two helicopters were ready to begin searching for the downed crew but needed an escort to approach, and so he gave up on refueling, though he was still quite low. Major Thorsness returned to the site alone, fending off four MiG-17s, but both downed airmen were captured by the enemy. Despite still being low on fuel during the return flight, he again deferred refueling so that another F-105 running on fumes could tank up instead. He then idled his way to safety from altitude, landing at the nearest friendly base with empty tanks. For his bravery, Maj Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor.
20 Apr 1966 (Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate)
On this date, the VC-121E Super Constellation named Columbine III was delivered to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The aircraft was President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower’s presidential plane in the era before the “Air Force One” callsign. It went into service in Aug 1954, and was flown throughout Eisenhower’s presidency, ending in Jan 1961. It was named “Columbine” to honor the state flower of First Lady Mary Geneva “Mamie” Eisenhower’s home state of Colorado (she was born in Iowa, but grew up in Colorado). Between the Eisenhower presidency and its retirement to the museum in 1966, it served as a VIP transport with the 89th Military Airlift Wing at Andrews AFB (today Joint Base Andrews).
21 Apr 1994 (Wright-Patterson AFB)
Thirty years ago today, Aeronautical Systems Center (an AFLCMC predecessor) commander Lt Gen James A. Fain, Jr., officiated a “Mission Out” ceremony to mark the transfer of the 4950th Test Wing’s personnel, mission, and assets from Wright-Patterson AFB to the 412th Test Wing located at Edwards AFB, California. The ceremony took place in front of a replica of a Wright “B” Flyer and an Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA), the last plane flown by the 4950th, with the two planes representing the 90 years of flight testing in the Miami Valley, Ohio, area that was just about to end. At the time, local politicians and supporters objected to the move—not least because the wing represented more than 1,700 military and civilian positions that contributed to the local economy. The official disbandment of the Test Wing would occur on 30 Jun 1994.
50 Years Ago on April 15, 1974:
The A-10 vs. A-7 Fly-Off Begins
Fifty years ago today, a joint comparative flight evaluation of the Fairchild YA-10 prototype and the operational Vought A-7D began at Fort Riley, Kansas. Lasting until the 9th of May, the fly-off was directed by Congress, and conducted by both the Air Force and the Army. The results were then evaluated by the Weapon Systems Evaluation Group of the office of the Secretary of Defense and the Air Force’s Assistant Chief of Staff, Studies and Analysis.
At the time, the YA-10 had just bested Northrop’s YA-9 in the Air Force’s A-X program to procure a new ground attack/close air support platform. Congress, however, was concerned that the new plane might not be sufficiently better than the existing A-7D Corsair II to warrant its production costs. The legislators ordered an additional fly-off, pitting the unproven prototype against a fighter with an extensive combat record, to determine the capabilities of each aircraft in a hypothetical combined arms conflict in Europe.
The A-7D, called the Short Little Ugly “Fellow” or SLUF by its crews, was the Air Force’s upgraded version of the Navy’s A-7. It flew nearly 13,000 sorties in Vietnam, with only 6 losses (the lowest loss rate of any U.S. fighter in the war), and generally demonstrated outstanding ground attack capabilities. The YA-10, managed at Wright-Patterson AFB by Brig Gen Thomas H. McMullen and staff, on the other hand, had the advantage of its being the first aircraft specifically designed for the close air support of ground troops.
The fly-off, which was nicknamed “SABER COMPARE,” asked four test pilots to rate their preferences for each plane, in flying two simulation scenarios, one of which was a more straightforward attack scenario, where the other asked the pilots to stop a hostile armored column attempting to exploit a breakthrough in U.S. positions. Notably, none of the pilots involved had prior experience with the A-7D, in order to mitigate any bias, but all had close air support combat experience in either F-100s or F-4s. Two of the pilots also had experience as Forward Air Controllers (FACs).
In the end, the pilots found that they preferred the A-7 for higher ceiling, higher-visibility flying, but that the A-10 outperformed it in low-level, low-visibility conditions, and against high-contrast targets. Additionally, survival rates, cost, the Corsair’s shorter “legs” and its inability to carry the A-10’s massive 30mm GAU-8 gatling cannon demonstrated conclusively by July that the YA-10 was again superior. Congress approved its production funding that same month.
The “Warthog” proved its mettle as a “tankbuster” in the first Gulf War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cemented its legendary status with American ground troops.