This Week In AFLCMC History – April 29 - May 5, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
29 Apr 1974 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate)
Fifty years ago today, Secretary of Defense (SecDef) James R. Schlesinger directed the Air Force to transition its Lightweight Fighter (LWF) program from a technology demonstration to a “fly-off” between the General Dynamics YF-16 and Northrop YF-17. Air Force leadership was initially cool to the LWF concept, which launched at Wright-Patterson AFB in Jan 1972, as it threatened the acquisition of its higher-priority F-15s; but assurances from the SecDef that the LWF would supplement, not replace, the Eagle in a “high-low” mix of fighters changed their minds. The support of foreign partners interested in upgrading their fighter fleets also helped shift the LWF demo into an acquisition program starting with the fly-off. The YF-16 won the competition as the Air Force’s F-16, while the YF-17 went on to win a Navy contract as the F/A-18 Hornet.
30 Apr 1969 (Armament Directorate/Eglin AFB)
Today, 55 years ago, the 71st Tactical Missile Squadron was inactivated at Bitburg AB, Germany. The 71st TMS was the last USAF unit in Europe to employ the Martin CGM-13B Mace missile, which fully retired in 1971. A surface-launched intermediate-range cruise missile, the Mace was an improved replacement to the Matador missile, swapping the latter’s radio guidance system with a more sophisticated radar-mapping and terrain matching system known as “Automatic Terrain Recognition And Navigation” or ATRAN. When the “A” model Mace was traded out for the “B” model (which had jam-proofing and twice the range of the earlier model), some of the “A” models were sent back to Eglin AFB to be used as target drones due to the fact that their flight characteristics resembled those of manned aircraft.
1 May 1974 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)
On this date, fifty years ago, the first operational aerial refueling between a KC-135 Stratotanker and the then-still-pretty-new C-5 Galaxy took place at 26,000 feet above Texas and New Mexico. Both aircraft were assigned to Altus AFB, Oklahoma, with the KC-135 belonging to the 11th Air Refueling Squadron, and the C-5 flying with the 56th Airlift Squadron. KC-135s had been operational for about 20 years by this point, while the C-5—the largest aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory—had its first flight in 1968, and the first operational one was delivered in 1970. Both aircraft types are still in use today.
3 May 1999 (Tinker AFB)
Twenty-five years ago today, a devastating F-5 tornado hit Tinker AFB as part of a wider outbreak of tornadoes across Oklahoma. With its mile-wide funnel, the Tinker tornado was the outbreak’s worst, causing approximately $1 billion in damage and killing 45 people (directly and indirectly) in the communities through which it tore. At Tinker, specifically, it caused $16 million in damage and took the lives of five Tinker AFB employees. Dormitories were damaged, the hospital lost part of its roof, Tinker’s Vance Gate was wrecked, and several horses were killed when their stables were destroyed. The Tinker personnel who lost their lives were SSgt James Day, Robert Siano, Suzanne Cox, Loretta Richard, and TSgt Glynda Stanfield.
4 May 1979 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Directorate)
On this date, forty-five years ago, the YA-10B (or “Night/Adverse Weather [N/AW] A-10”) made its first flight at Edwards AFB, with formal flight testing beginning there later that year. This company-funded prototype plane—adapted from the first preproduction A-10A (s/n 73-1664)—was a unique two-seater meant to operated at night and in weather conditions that would otherwise prohibit the use of the A-10A. The second seat accommodated an Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) who relieved the pilot of the additional workload imposed by its specialized sensor systems. However, the advent of greatly-improved N/AW equipment (specifically the LANTIRN program managed by AFLCMC’s predecessors) eliminated the need for this 2-seat variant. The A-10B program was cancelled in 1983 and the plane is now at the Edwards AFB museum.
5 May 1954 (Hill AFB/Armament Directorate)
On this date seventy years ago, Hill AFB’s Ogden Air Materiel Area (today’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex) was appointed the prime maintenance depot for the Air Force’s MX-2013 air-launched decoy drone. This experimental device developed into the GAM-67 Crossbow. The Crossbow was powered by a small jet engine to near-supersonic speeds after being dropped from a carrier aircraft. With the development of a zero length rail system, it eventually could be launched from the ground as well. The program was cancelled in 1957, however, in favor of more advanced, single-purpose decoy and reconnaissance drones, like the GAM-72 Quail and the AQM-34L Firebee. .
100 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 2 May 1924
Flying six miles above the Earth, a pair of American airmen approached their target. Despite being a clear, sunny day, they were out of sight and sound of the air base below them. Though the altitude protected them from detection and interception, it exposed them to temperatures of 60 degrees below zero and thin air that starved men and machine of oxygen and required specialized equipment to overcome. On this sortie, they carried an experimental reconnaissance camera capable of operating under those same harsh conditions to snap images like never before. As the pilot signaled “bingo fuel”— time to go back—the camera operator took this shot.
Fortunately for veteran test pilot Lt John Macready and aerial photography expert Lt Albert Stevens, they weren’t over Russia going Mach 3 in an SR-71 facing down Mig-25s or at 70,000 feet in a U-2 dodging surface-to-air missiles; they were in a biplane, chugging along at 100mph over downtown Dayton and their own base, McCook Field. What they had just done was set (unofficial) records for the highest altitude ever attained in an airplane by two men and at which a photograph had been taken—31,540 feet.
The Engineering Division at McCook Field, AFLCMC’s predecessor, added aerial cameras to its R&D portfolio after World War I. New airplane technologies, many from McCook Field, enabling higher speeds and altitudes brought new challenges for aerial photoreconnaissance: vibration, static, fast exposures, atmospheric haze, fogged and frosted lenses, frozen mechanical parts, brittle film, and wonky chemical reactions.
Albert Stevens, an experienced WWI photographer, headed McCook’s Photo Lab in 1921 and used their meager resources, and leveraged the camera industry, to solve those problems. In June 1922, he set a record for taking a picture from 24,200 feet...then promptly set another for the highest parachute jump as he hopped out of the plane. Stevens was not a pilot, so he frequently turned to McCook’s John Macready, arguably America’s most experienced test pilot. Macready owned numerous official and unofficial aviation records, and remains the only three-time winner of the Mackay Trophy for the Air Service/Corps/USAF’s most meritorious flight of the year (Stevens won it twice).
For this May 1924 flight, Stevens used a modified Fairchild K-3 camera in the back of trusty old “P-53” flown by Macready. This LePere LUSAC-11 was the product of the first American designed (by a French engineer) and built (by Packard) fighter plane program, managed at McCook Field, now modified with experimental engine turbochargers for reaching record altitudes. This day’s excursion was another step for both men and for the development of strategic aerial photo-reconnaissance that culminated in systems like the U-2, SR-71, and “spy” satellites.