This Week In AFLCMC History – 6-12 May, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
6 May 1994 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Dir./Tinker AFB)

Thirty years ago, 1st Lt Leslie DeAnn Crosby became the first female fighter pilot in the Air Force Reserve to graduate from the F-16 training course at Tucson, Arizona. An alumnus of California’s Palomar College, she was already a Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran who had flown 39 different types of aircraft, both military and civilian, when she started “Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals” (IFF) training at Holloman AFB (becoming the fourth woman to complete it). After IFF and F-16 training, Lt Crosby was originally scheduled to join Tinker AFB’s 507th Fighter Group (hence her inclusion in their paper), but the group was reassigned to a refueling mission and became the 507th Air Refueling Group (today the 507th Air Refueling Wing) a month before her F-16 course graduation. As a result, she in-stead went to the 704th Fighter Squadron at Bergstrom ARS in Austin, Texas. 

7 May 1949 (Air Force History/WPAFB)

Today, 75 years ago, President Harry S. Truman signed legislation that made retired Gen Henry H. “Hap” Arnold the first, and only, five-star General of the Air Force, in recognition of his historic career. Pictured here in 1911 as a student pilot at the Wright Flying School in Dayton, Ohio, then-Lt Arnold was the U.S. Army’s second Military Aviator and earned pilot license #29. Among his career’s many assignments and duties, he commanded the Fairfield Air Depot Reservation and the Field Service Section of the Materiel Division at Wright Field, Ohio beginning in 1929, at which time he lived in what is now WPAFB’s “Arnold House.” He later headed the U.S. Army Air Forces during all of WWII, earning the rank of 5-star general. Hap retired from military service in 1946 after his third heart attack, attributed to “overwork.” When Truman “promoted” him in 1949 to a 5-star with the USAF, which had separated from the Army in 1947, Gen Arnold became the first and the only person to hold that rank in two different services. He died less than a year later, in Jan 1950, of a sixth heart attack. 

8 May 1994 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)

On this date, thirty years ago, five C-141 Starlifters from the 315th and 437th Airlift Wings started flying humanitarian relief missions for USEUCOM as part of the then-ongoing Operation PROVIDE PROMISE (1992-1996). Their role was to take supplies from Germany to the war-stricken area of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina following the breakup of Yugoslavia and the start of the Bosnian War. They would ultimately deliver over 7,000 tons of cargo by the time their operations ended on 26 July 1994. Their use was resulting from a recently negotiated cease-fire to allow for larger relief aircraft like the C-141s; though they did not entirely escape harm. On 21 July 1994, Capt Craig A. Breker had to withdraw back to Rhein-Main AB after his C-141 took ground fire near Sarajevo. Pictured is a C-141B in the “Euro One” low-visibility paint scheme established in the 1980s (and which was gradually replaced throughout the 1990s with a solid gray paint scheme). The Lockheed C-141 was retired from the Air Force inventory in 2006.

9 May 1949 (Fighters and Advanced Aircraft Directorate)

Seventy-five years ago today, the Republic XF-91 Thunderceptor flew its first flight at Muroc Field (today Edwards AFB), California. It was the first U.S. fighter to exceed Mach 1 at level flight, a feat accomplished by its mixed power setup: a General Electric J47-GE-17 turbojet engine for primary propulsion, with a supplementary Reaction Motors rocket engine for quick acceleration. It was also Republic’s first swept-wing design, using a unique approach where the wings were wider near the tip than at the root to alleviate the dangerous stall characteristics associated with early swept-wing aircraft. Only two prototypes were built before the project was cancelled, with just one surviving today, which is currently in storage at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

10 May 1944 (Agile Combat Support/Bombers Directorate)

Today in 1944, eighty years ago, the “Chengdu Project” was completed in China. This project, overseen by Gen Claire Lee Chennault (of “Flying Tigers” fame), built five bomber and six fighter fields in China between January and May 1944. This was primarily accomplished in support of Operation MATTERHORN, the planned strategic bombing campaign against Japanese holdings in southeast Asia and Japan using American B-29s flown from new and existing bases in India and China. Because Japan had successfully blockaded China, heavy construction equipment and fuel were unavailable to build these air fields. Instead, nearly 400,000 Chinese laborers employed very basic tools, like the hand-pulled 10,000-pound stone roller pictured here on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

11 May 1964 (Women’s Aviation History)

Sixty years ago today, Air Force Reserve Lt Col Jacqueline Cochran became the first woman to fly faster than Mach 2 when she reached 1,429.3 mph in a Lockheed F-104G Starfighter (s/n 62-12222) at Edwards AFB, California. Lieutenant Colonel Cochran had also been the first woman to break the sound barrier (in 1953) and is shown above in 1962 with then-Col, later Brig Gen, Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager, who was the first man to exceed Mach 1 in 1947. Over the course of her flying career, Lt Col Cochran set more speed, distance, and altitude records than any other aviator, male or female. She also served as the director of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program during WWII. She retired as a Colonel in 1970, and died in 1980.

12 May 1949 (Air Force History/Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.)

On this date 75 years ago, the Soviet Union’s 11-month overland blockade of Berlin ended. Two days after the blockade began, the U.S. and allies started up the “Berlin Airlift,” flying supplies into West Berlin nearly nonstop to feed the people living there. Dubbed “Operation VITTLES” by its commander, Brig Gen Joseph Smith, the airlift was seen as the only real alternative to withdrawing from Berlin or starting a war. Having watched Nazi Germany’s airlift efforts to Stalingrad fail during WWII, the Soviets did not expect the western powers to last as long as they did, and ultimately ended the blockade as a result of an agreement signed a few days earlier. Even after the blockade was formally ended, the airlift continued until 30 Sep 1949 to ensure that the city had enough supplies to weather a potential second blockade that fortunately did not occur.

Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Highlight:
Actor-Turned-Airman Sabu Dastagir

As a child in the Kingdom of Mysore, a nominally independent state of British India, the young Sabu Dastagir  likely never dreamed that he would end his days in California—as a world-famous actor and a decorated war veteran. But through his own charisma, and a little luck, Sabu’s life saw him standing side-by-side with many of his era’s biggest stars; and his war service as a naturalized U.S. citizen ensured his place among America’s World War II heroes.

Born in 1924, Sabu (note: he was primarily known and generally credited only as “Sabu,” rather than “Sabu Dastagir,” on the silver screen, and there is some evidence to suggest that Dastagir may not have been his true birth name, though it was his legal one) worked diligently for his father, who was a mahout (a trainer, driver, and caretaker of elephants) for the local Maharajah (the local ruler), as soon as he was old enough to do so. Tragically, his father died when Sabu was just nine years old. At that time, Sabu became a ward of the royal stables where he worked, likely anticipating following in his father’s footsteps. In 1937, however, when Sabu was thirteen, he was discovered by British filmmaker Robert Flaherty, who needed a young elephant driver for the movie he was working on. While the role was originally a small one, Sabu’s natural magnetism, his ease with the animals, and his athleticism were all so enthralling that the script was rewritten to make him the star of what would become his debut film, Elephant Boy (1937). Because he was to be the protagonist now, the filmmakers decided that Sabu needed to accompany them back to England, where Zoltan Korda was completing the film, and would need him for additional footage. His older brother Shaik Dastagir came along as his guardian and, later, his talent agent. Sabu’s nascent film career soon took him from England to Hollywood, where he starred in a number of films - perhaps most notably in The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and Jungle Book (1942).

On 4 Jan 1944, Sabu became an American citizen. He then enlisted with the U.S. Army Air Forces, trained at Harlingen Army Airfield in Texas as a gunner, and fought in the Pacific Theater. During the war, he served as both a tail gunner and a ball turret gunner with the 370th Bomb Squadron, part of the 307th Bomb Group, on 42 missions. His squadron flew the B-24 Liberator (examples of which are pictured at the right), a heavy bomber produced in the thousands (18,000, in fact, by the end of the war—which was more than any other American airplane), and Sabu was recognized with the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and several other awards for his gallantry, his service, and his achievements during the fight. He was honorably discharged as a sergeant in 1946.

In 1948, he married fellow actor Marilyn Cooper, and had two children with her. Unfortunately, he died young of a heart attack in 1963, a few weeks before his 40th birthday. Three years earlier, in 1960, his name was added to Hollywood’s “Walk of Fame.” His daughter, Jasmine Sabu, was an animal trainer for Hollywood, and his son, Paul Sabu, became a notable musician.