This Week In AFLCMC History – June 24 - 30, 2024

  • Published
  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
24 Jun 1914 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir./Engineering Dir.)

In 1911, Glenn Curtiss leased a portion of North Island in San Diego for a training school for his airplane customers, including the US Army and Navy, both of which established their own schools there the following year. The Army’s meager aircraft fleet consisted mostly of Curtiss and Wright “pusher” airplanes, with the propeller in back, which by 1914 were significantly outdated and dangerous: 13 of its 48 pilots perished in accidents. That spring, the Army’s first aeronautical engineer, Grover Loening, and the Inspector General recommended scrapping the pushers and buying only “tractors,” with a prop in front. On 24 June 1914, Curtiss delivered the Army’s first J-model, the forerunner of the ubiquitous JN-4 “Jenny” that became the primary American trainer for World War I and the mainstay of post-war “barnstorming” and civil aviation.

25 Jun 1929 (Wright-Patterson AFB)

Major Henry H. “Hap” Arnold became Commanding Officer of the Fairfield Air Depot Reservation, now part of Wright-Patterson AFB Area A. It was established in 1917 to provide the pilot, mechanic, and armorer schools at the adjacent Wilbur Wright Field (WWF; also Area A) and other Army aviation fields in the Midwest with the spare parts and supplies for the massive First World War buildup and remained one of the primary logistics centers in the Interwar Period. Arnold was no stranger to the area, having learned to fly from the Wright Brothers at their school on Huffman Prairie that became part of WWF in 1917, and having made many official visits since, but this was his first actual assignment in Dayton. As depot commander, he lived in one of the old farmhouses on base, which is now memorialized in his honor. After a year, he became the Materiel Division Executive Officer at Wright Field before leaving Dayton for his next assignment in February 1931.

26 Jun 1994 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Directorate)

On this date, 30 years ago, a C-5 assigned to the 60th Airlift Wing (today the 60th Air Mobility Wing), Travis AFB, California, arrived in Chernobyl, Ukraine, carrying a 34-ton, $1.1 million Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine. The mission followed a report from the World Health Organization that showed a sharp increase in infant mortality and cancer among children living near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster—a 1986 powerplant disaster which resulted in the deaths of 30 people (two in the explosion and 28 from radiation poisoning during cleanup) and the evacuation of around 350,000 area residents. The MRI was loaded aboard the C-5 at Dover AFB, Delaware, by the 436th Aerial Port Squadron, and paid for by the Ukrainian National Women’s League and the Children of Chernobyl Relief Fund. It was valuable to treatment efforts because it could be used for detecting cancerous tumors without exposing patients to additional health risks.

27 Jun 1972 (Tinker AFB/Armament Directorate)

On this date, Tinker AFB’s Oklahoma City Air Materiel Area was given system management responsibility for the AGM-86A subsonic cruise armed decoy (or SCAD) missile. The SCAD program came out of the 1960s—beginning in 1968 and running until 1973, when it was cancelled—with the idea behind it being to replace the existing decoy missile, the aging ADM-20 Quail, with an improved, armed version. Those in favor of arming the SCAD made the argument that doing so would make the decoys credible threats—requiring that they all be taken out by enemy air defenses even if the enemy was aware that they were not the airplanes they were supposed to be imitating (namely, the B-52s that launched them). Ultimately, this argument was taken further as costs began to rise, and the Air Force realized that getting rid of the “decoy” element entirely was the most economical route—resulting in the AGM-86B, or ALCM (Air-Launched Cruise Missile).

29 Jun 1994 (Wright-Patterson AFB)

Thirty years ago, the 4950th Test Wing at Wright-Patterson AFB inactivated, transferring its mission and assets to the 412th Test Wing at Edwards AFB. This ended over 75 years of continuous military flight testing in Dayton, or 90 years going back to the Wright Brothers at Huffman Prairie in 1904. Since World War I, the base’s predecessors saw countless first flights of aircraft types and new technologies, as well as tragic accidents in the name of progress, and was the home of legendary test pilots: the 1918 crash of Frank Stuart Patterson for whom the base is named; the Barling Bomber in 1923; the B-17 prototype; the first flight of a jet aircraft by a female pilot; Chuck Yeager, Al Boyd, and Bob Cardenas; the first flight of a radar-absorbing material-covered “stealth” airplane; second American in space, the Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom; and the C-131/KC-135 “Vomit Comet” zero gravity aircraft. In 1970, these activities, conducted for AFLCMC’s predecessor, the Aeronautical Systems Division, coalesced as the 4950th TW.

30 Jun 1964 (Hanscom AFB/Digital Directorate)

On today’s date, 60 years ago, the Nuclear Detonation Detection and Reporting System (NUDETS) Regional Data Processing Center, an initial test-run prototype, was completed. It went into operation the next day. Deployed out of the Baltimore, Maryland/Washington, D.C. area, the data processing center was fed information from four sensing sites located in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They were designed to “automatically and rapidly detect and report nuclear bursts miles from a sensor,” with the idea being that dozens of these sites might be placed around the country to immediately detect any nuclear attacks by the USSR or other Cold War-era adversaries. The program was cancelled in April 1965, however, as its data was not reliable in testing and it was not considered cost-effective to move forward on it—the technological capabilities of the day just did not warrant the price tag of building them.
70 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History:
28 Jun 1954 - First Flight of the RB-66A

In service with the Air Force, Navy, Marines, and foreign partners, the F-35 is just the latest entry in a century’s worth of joint air-plane acquisition. Of that checkered history, the now largely-overlooked Douglas RB-66 Destroyer, which first flew 70 years ago this week, perhaps best typified those programs.

In the early Cold War, the Air Force prioritized the acquisition of intercontinental nuclear bombers, while relying on its surplus World War II aircraft for most other missions. However, these WWII-era planes were quickly made obsolete by the advent of jet engines and electronics. The start of the Korean War in 1950 exposed the consequences of neglecting the modernization of the tactical fleet, and left the Air Force scrambling to fill its capability gaps; gaps which included a need for a fast, medium tactical bomber and a tactical reconnaissance plane, each capable of operating at night and in adverse weather, from high and low altitudes.

In the summer of 1951, the USAF issued requests for proposals (RFPs) for these, with a projected in-service date just 3-4 years away, effectively excluding entirely new designs. That limitation, and the Air Force’s tendency to repurpose bombers for reconnaissance (due to their similar payload capacities and ranges), led companies to propose their same aircraft types for both contracts. Of those, Douglas’ A3D Skywarrior offered the best “bang-for-the-buck” and was announced as the combined winner on 12 January 1952.

From the Air Force’s perspective, the A3D, which it dubbed the RB-66 Destroyer, had a few issues. First, it wasn’t actually a tactical bomber or a recon aircraft: It was one of only two (ever!) carrier-based, nuclear-capable strategic bombers procured by the Navy, which had little overlap with Air Force needs. Secondly, it was still in development and hadn’t even flown, which raised concerns about its actual capabilities and the time and money required to get it into service. On the other hand, its proto-type status simplified the process of deleting carrier-imposed equipment and modifying it for Air Force requirements. Finally, service rivalry aside, the poor track record of joint aircraft gave justifiable pause. Through WWII, there were no combat aircraft that had successfully either been developed in cooperation between the (Army) Air Force and Navy or built by one and adopted by the other for the same role.

The Air Force awarded Douglas $570 million for the first four years of the program to cover development of four different variants, but the company ran 35% over budget and 6 months behind in just the first year. The program was run by the B-66 Weapon System Program Office, under the Wright Air Development Center, at Wright-Patterson AFB.

On 28 June 1954, an RB-66A made the type’s first flight, a ferry trip from the Douglas Long Beach, California, plant to Edwards Air Force Base. Flight testing revealed even more issues with the aircraft. Two years later, the first of fewer than 300 B-66s of all types be-came operational, most notably for weather, electronic, and photo reconnaissance, while conducting very little bombing. They did serve effectively in the Vietnam War in providing tactical jamming (electronic countermeasures) before the type was retired in the mid-1970s. The Navy had a much better experience with its A3D, which stayed in service until the mid-1990s, though also in various reconnaissance roles, not as a bomber.

A survey of broadly-defined “joint” aircraft shows that most moderately successful examples fit the B-66’s mold: designed for one service; adapted by another for a marginally-related mission; required significant modifications that ended up minimizing commonality and reducing any perceived savings; and, finally, the original user retrofitting some of those changes into its type because of the obvious improvements.