This Week In AFLCMC History – July 1 - 7, 2024

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  • By Air Force Life Cycle Management Center History Office
2 Jul 1926 (Air Force History)
In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Air Corps Act, formally redesignating the Army Air Service as the Army Air Corps. It included a host of other provisions to elevate the stature of the Army’s air arm, including the establishment of an Assistant Secretary of War (Air) and several new general officer positions. One of these commanded a new organization, the Materiel Division, which took the place of the Engineering Division that had been at McCook Field in Dayton (under various names) since 1917, and was the most direct predecessor for the modern Air Force Materiel Command. According to one observer, “At the time the only observable difference this Act wrought at McCook was the need to reprint an awful lot of letterheads on official stationary.”
3 Jul 1949 (Bombers Directorate)
On this date, the US Air Force donated the B-29 Enola Gay to the Smithsonian Institution. Nearly four years earlier, the plane had dropped the first atomic bomb against Hiroshima, Japan. That bomb was the product of the now-famous Manhattan Project, which cost about $2 billion. However, it was only the second most expensive undertaking of the war; the first was the program that produced the airplane that dropped the bomb and cost about $3 billion—the B-29. Conceived even before Pearl Harbor under the assumption that the US might need an aircraft that could reach from North America to Europe if England fell to the Nazis, the B-29 had an extremely difficult development and production program, which was overseen by a program office at Wright Field. After the type was selected to carry the atomic bomb, Wright Field was also where the first prototype modifications were made and tested for what became the “Silverplate” B-29s. The National Museum of the USAF has the B-29 that dropped the second atomic bomb, Bock’s Car.
4 Jul 1987 (Bombers Directorate)
Four USAF crewmembers took the 60th Rockwell B-1B Lancer from the company’s assembly line at Palmdale, California, adjacent to Edwards AFB, for its initial acceptance flight. They headed for the restricted airspace off the coast near Vandenberg AFB, where they subsequently broke four combined speed, range, and payload records held by the Soviet Union for over 25 years. The bomber travelled 1,080 nautical miles carrying a 66,140-pound payload (water, in this case) at an average speed of 670 MPH, according to an Air Force spokesperson. Through 17 September, two other B-1Bs set a total 72 world records, which helped to boost the bomber’s public image at a time when it was under considerable criticism in Congress. For these achievements, Detachment 15, Air Force Plant Representative Office and the B-1B System Program Office won the Mackay Trophy for the Air Force’s most meritorious flight of the year.
5 Jul 1974 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir.)
On this day, the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron moved without personnel or equipment from Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand to Luke AFB, Arizona. The “Triple Nickle” had been one of the most successful F-4 fighter squadrons in the Vietnam over the previous nine years, but was now slated to become the first operational F-15 unit in the US Air Force—though it would not receive its first Eagle until January 1976. Appropriately, it was the experience of units like the 555th in the air war over Vietnam that had had a considerable influence on shaping the F-X program that became the F-15. In the early 1960s, the Air Force expressed interest in obtaining a dedicated, advanced air superiority fighter, which it lacked since the Korean War-era F-86. Instead the Kennedy/Johnson era Department of Defense gave it the Navy’s F-4 and the “joint” TFX program that became the F-111 fighter-bomber. The shortcomings of those, the “Century Series” fighters, and air-to-air missiles in actual combat, paired with the Soviet’s surprise debut of its own advanced fighters like the Mig-25, spurred the F-X through development into production as the McDonnell-Douglas F-15.
6 Jul 1989 (AFLCMC)
Thirty-five years ago, retired Air Force General James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush, making him the only person to have received both that award and the (Congressional) Medal of Honor. Doolittle’s career undoubtedly put him in the running as “the greatest airman of all time.” He missed out on combat during World War I, but proceeded to set a string of “firsts” during the Interwar Period, including: flying across the US in less than 24 hours; completing an “outside loop” aerobatic maneuver thought impossible; and earning a PhD in aeronautical engineering from MIT. He also won nearly every trophy for air racing and notable flights. He spent several stints at AFLCMC’s predecessor, McCook Field, as a student, test pilot, and engineer, before resigning from active duty due to the low pay and other strictures. When a second World War loomed, he went back on active duty as part of the acquisition community and was assigned to Wright Field. Most famously, he volunteered to lead the squad of B-25 bombers off an aircraft carrier in April 1942 for the first air strike against Japan in World War II, the mission that earned him the Medal of Honor. He went on to lead the 8th Air Force, among his other achievements.
7 Jul 1971 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.)
On today’s date, the Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) transferred its last Douglas C-47 Skytrain from operational service to the USS Alabama Monument Commission for display at its Memorial Park. Based on the civilian DC-3 airliner, this series (along with the DC-3) was arguably one of the most important aircraft in World War II, if not aviation history, for its critical role in providing every manner of airlift in every theater of operations during that conflict and afterwards—some are still in operational use today around the world. Over 10,000 “Gooney Birds” were built during WWII, about half of which came out of the massive new Douglas plant at the Oklahoma City air depot that is now part of Tinker AFB. This particular plane was a C-47B delivered to the Army Air Force in February 1945. After the war, it was converted to a VC-47D as an executive/DV transport for SAC. They were one of the last major users of the type in the Air Force, followed by Special Operations Command, which used the C-47 as the first type converted to a “gunship,” an effort managed at Wright-Patterson AFB.

100 Years Ago This Week in AFLCMC History: 1 July 1924 - A New Commander

I’m going to take you off the job of chief test pilot and put you in the design section—you haven’t enough sense to be a pilot.
The man delivering that reprimand was Maj John F. Curry, who became the fourth and final commander of AFLCMC predecessor, the Army Air Service Engineering Division at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, on 1 July 1924—100 years ago today.
The wayward lieutenant receiving it? Jimmy Doolittle.
New Yorker John “Jack” Curry graduated from West Point in 1908 and began his Army career in infantry before switching to aviation in 1915. He was part of the first combat deployment of airmen, the Mexican Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa, in 1916. Curry then set up and commanded the Army’s first aviation unit in Hawaii. America entered the First World War in April 1917, with Maj Curry arriving in France in July 1918 and earning one aerial victory against a German observation balloon.
In 1923, Maj Curry was assigned to McCook Field as a student at the Air Service Engineering School—the predecessor for the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT). Upon graduating in July 1924, he took command of McCook’s Engineering Division, which encompassed most of the research, development, and acquisition done today by AFLCMC and AFRL. However, Maj Curry’s posting was as much political as practical.
The Engineering Division was founded during WWI to manage the vast technical problem of building up an air force from almost nothing. From the beginning it was at odds with the US aviation industry. Instead of relying on American airplane experts, the Army turned to automobile executives and factories, along with European designs and designers, to execute the production programs overseen at McCook. The relationship further deteriorated after WWI when the aviation market collapsed amidst the flood of war-surplus airplanes. To make matters worse, McCook designed and built its own airplanes and engines in-house, which they competed against industry for the few military production contracts available—ones which they also adjudicated in an apparent conflict of interest. Army procurement policies didn’t help: the government owned any design that won a competition, which it then put out for a separate production contract, meaning anyone could bid on and profit from another’s work. As a last straw, the Division also expended millions on in-house R&D that presumably would otherwise go to industry.
This feud continued until 1924 when Army Air Service chief Gen Mason Patrick decided to reform the acquisition process, starting by eliminating McCook’s design shops. While they had actually built just a couple of dozen airplanes, the optics were bad. McCook commander Maj Lawrence McIntosh fought hard against this, resulting in Gen Patrick relieving him and appointing Maj Curry in his place. By all accounts Curry was a technically knowledgeable and able administrator, but without the force of personality to defy Gen Patrick, for whom he had worked after World War I. The resulting change led to a mass exodus of many of the most talented of the government’s engineers. Ironically, the diaspora sent them straight into industry, where they became some of the most notable technical and organizational leaders of the companies that helped win World War II. For the Engineering Division, 1924 marked the end of its “Golden Age” and established the parameters of its functions that AFLCMC still continues.
Despite Maj Curry’s somewhat hasty assessment of Doolittle, he commanded McCook until it closed and transferred to Wright Field in 1927. He ended his career as a Major General after World War II and was the first National Commander of the Civil Air Patrol.