In this edition of Heritage Hangar
, you'll learn about old and new airplanes and tidbits of what happened this week many years ago.
22 Nov 1998 (Bombers Directorate)
The Northrop B-2 Spirit bomber made its public debut when it rolled out of Air Force Plant 42 at Palmdale, California. The so-called “stealth” bomber originated as the Advanced Technology Bomber in the late 1970s. It leveraged low observable technologies, enhanced by its flying wing configuration. That design had been pioneered by Jack Northrop in the 1940s and was now practical thanks in part to computerized flight control systems. The high cost and end of the Cold War lim-ited the program to just 21 airframes.
23 Nov 1947 (Mobility & Training Aircraft Dir.)
The Consolidated-Vultee (Convair) XC-99 made its first flight in San Diego, California. The plane was a single prototype derivation of the massive B-36 Peacekeeper bomber that was a mainstay of Strategic Air Command in the early Cold War. The XC-99 was the largest land-based piston-engine cargo plane (bested only by the infamous Spruce Goose seaplane), powered by six pusher-type (propellers in the back) radial engines. It could carry 400 troops or 100,000 pounds of cargo. Though the B-36 was a success, the Air Force never put the XC-99 into production due to a lack of need. The one example flew for a decade before being retired, ultimately to the Davis-Monthan AFB “boneyard.”
24 Nov 1951 (Fighters & Advanced Aircraft Dir.)
The Air Force decided to build the “1954 Interceptor Program”— the Con-vair F-102 Delta Dagger. This interceptor was notable from an acquisition perspective for several reasons. It was the first to use what became known as “concurrency,” or running development and production simultaneously, which got to production quicker but made faults more expensive to fix. It was also the first to use the Weapons System Concept. From a technical standpoint, the F-102 prototype was America’s first delta wing aircraft and it was the first fighter/interceptor to be equipped with-out a gun.
25 Nov 1940 (Bombers Directorate)
Test pilot W. K. Ebbel made the first flight of the Martin B-26 Marauder (not to be confused with the later B-26 Invader of the early Vietnam era) at the Glenn L. Martin facility in Maryland. Over 5,000 of these twin-engine medium bombers were produced during World War II. Though they were regarded as particularly unforgiving to fly, they had low combat losses during the war. The first B-26 crashed at Patterson Field (WPAFB Area A) in August 1941.
26 Nov 1961 (Big Safari)
The Big Safari program (645th Aeronautical Systems Squadron) credits its origins to equipping a YC-97 with a massive aerial camera under the PIE FACE program in the early 1950s. The first of its follow-on programs was the SIDE KICK photo-intelligence KC-97 delivered on 26 November 1961. It was used both in the Berlin aircraft corridor and the Pacific, then was subsequently converted for three similar programs and used until 1975.
27 Nov 1993 (Propulsion Dir. & C-17)
Propulsion performance flight testing was completed on the Pratt & Whitney F117 engine for the C-17 Globemaster III. The engine is the military derivation of the commercial PW2000 that powers the Boeing 757. The F117 engines are high bypass turbofans, meaning almost six times as much air passes through the fan’s outer bypass duct as goes into the engine for combustion — a design owed to Air Force technology investment in the 1960s. Pratt built 1,313 F117 engines, with the last delivered in 2016.
28 Nov 1995 (Hill AFB)
The Air Force announced the sale of Air Force Plant 78, located approximately 30 miles northwest of Brigham City, Utah, to Thiokol Corp for $6.45 million. Plant 78, in the Blue Creek Valley, originated when the Air Force awarded Thiokol the production contract for the Minuteman first stage on 27 Nov 1959. They expanded their existing facilities by 1500 acres and 108 structures at a cost of $30 million. Ground breaking was on 15 Nov 1960.
AFLCMC Installation Spotlight: Maxwell-Gunter AFB
The Gunter Annex of Maxwell-Gunter AFB in Montgomery, Alabama, is home to AFLCMC’s Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate (AFLCMC/HI). While that mission dates to the 1960s, the fields were originally separate installations going back decades earlier. Maxwell Field’s link to aviation started in 1910 as the Wright Brothers’ fairer-weather counterpart to their flying school in Dayton (that became WPAFB Area A). Both of those schools were taken up by the Army Air Service during World War I as depots and training facilities. Maxwell Field became home to the Air Corps Tactical School (later Air University) in the 1930s
Gunter Field began as Montgomery’s municipal airport in 1929. It was swept up in the massive expansion of the Air Corps in the lead up to World War II. Its proximity to the newly created and growing Southeast Air Corps Training Center headquartered at Maxwell made it an obvious target for incorporation. After months of negotiations with the local government, private land-owners, and Eastern Air Lines, the government signed a lease of the airport with options up to 99 years for $1 per year on 6 August 1940. It constructed a basic pilot training facility there and the first class arrived in November. Just days later, long-time Montgomery mayor and aviation advocate William A. Gunter died. He had been instrumental in establishing the airport and leasing it to the government, which lead the Air Corps to stray from policy and name the new facility “Gunter Field” on 14 February 1941.
After WWII, the flight training mission ceased and Gunter AFB (re-named in 1948) focused on education, as an extension of Maxwell. In the later 1950s, Gunter became associated with computer systems and the electronic systems managed by Hanscom AFB as a site for the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) computerized air defense network.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the Defense Department expanded its use of computer systems (generally the size of a small room) beyond command and control and research into automated data processing for its missions and facilities around the world. The Air Force Data Systems Design Center (AFDSDC) was established in October 1967 to develop and manage these systems. Originally at Bolling AFB, the AFDSDC moved to Gunter in 1971. While the names and scope of the mission have changed in the ensuing decades, the basic mission has remained. Today, AFLCMC/HI manages the “business side” computer systems for accounting, personnel, logistics and acquisition. While the bulk of its personnel are at Gunter, the team also includes Wright-Patt and Randolph.
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