Stealth bombers, UFO rumors, test pilots among Wright Patterson’s past 100 years

Published: Thursday, September 07, 2017 @ 8:42 AM

Air force Research Laboratory celebrating 100 years at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

For a century, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s legend was being the birthplace of the military test pilot, where foreign aircraft and missile technology secrets were discovered, and of long denied rumors of space aliens and UFO captivity.

But what marks Wright-Patterson’s history in the Miami Valley more than anything else as it celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, is the military installation’s decades-long output of discoveries and inventions that have had a revolutionary impact on the aerospace industry and technology used worldwide.

From stealth technology that turned military jets nearly invisible to radar to heat shields that protected a space capsule’s scorching plummet toward Earth, Wright-Patterson and its predecessors were the places where it happened, observers say.

“If you’ve ever flown on an airline or a commercial airplane there’s almost nothing on that airplane that was not affected by the labs or the technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” said Timothy Gaffney, a Dayton area aviation history author and expert.

The cradle of aviation

The genesis of Wright-Patterson traces to 1917, when the Army carved out two Dayton airfields, Wilbur Wright Field and later McCook Field, to push the boundaries of the new science of aeronautics and flying. Wright-Patt encompasses Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where Orville and Wilbur Wright perfected the airplane.

RELATED: On the cutting edge: Wright-Patt reaches a century of innovation

Today, the base has targeted cutting-edge hypersonic research to developing wearable bio-technologies for soldiers on the battlefield with a push to commercialize technology produced in Air Force Research Laboratory shops.

“It’s one of the important centers for aeronautical research in the United States,” said Janet Bednarek, a University of Dayton professor who teaches aviation history. “All throughout its history, very important, fundamental research and testing work has happened at what is now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the surrounding area.”

Wright-Patterson has evolved into the state’s largest single-site employer, with more than 27,000 employees and a more than $4 billion estimated impact.

“The base I think certainly has provided a lot of stability and carried us through those times where there has been a lot of upturns and downturns in industry,” said John Leland, vice president of research and the executive director of the University of Dayton Research Institute, which has a long history of joint technology development with Wright-Patt labs.

Thousands of inventions and research discoveries have bubbled over from Wright-Patterson for decades.

According to AFRL, among the most significant are advanced gas turbine engines, aircraft electronic controls, stealth, advancements in radar and composites, precision-guided bombs, advanced telescopes, and fuels.

The B-2 Spirit stealth bomber made one pass at the 2009 Vectren Dayton AIr Show on Saturday, July 18.(Staff Writer)

Golf clubs to cell phones

Technology spin-offs out of Wright-Patterson research hubs have touched millions of people every day.

Wright-Patterson developed rare earth magnets that are in everything from cell phones, audio speakers, headphones to computers and cordless power tools, said Charles E. Browning, a retired Wright-Patt employee who once led the Materials & Manufacturing Directorate.

Composites, such as carbon fibers, discovered at Wright-Patterson form aircraft wings and shape sports equipment, he said.

The advancement of jet engine technology adapted in both military and civil aviation and laser-and satellite-guided bombs and missiles were two important technologies developed at Wright-Patt, said Morley O. Stone, chief technology officer at AFRL, headquartered at Wright-Patterson.

And to ggain an edge in war, Wright-Patt scientists helped create and perfect precision bombing to overcome an adversary’s advantage of more troops, tanks, planes and ships in combat.

“This is really the (Department of Defense) strategy that we had for closing the numerical superiority that this nation (faced) when we were looking at things like the Soviet Union on the battlefield of Eastern Europe,” Stone said. 

Radar-evading stealth allowed the U.S. “to maintain air superiority for decades,” Stone said.

Parachute testing at Dayton’s McCook Field, a forerunner of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, circa 1918. DAYTON HISTORY(Staff Writer)

Birthplace of the right stuff

McCook Field was the “birthplace” of the earliest test pilots and “cradle of aviation” experiments that pushed the frontiers of early powered flight in the military.

Along with new airplane designs and engines, the field supported a U.S. Army Air Service around the world flight in 1924 and developed free-fall parachutes.

“Airplanes were new, they were brand new, and they were still just learning about the fundamentals of how to … fly higher, faster, farther,” Bednarek said.

Earliest test pilot pioneers Jimmy Doolittle at McCook Field and Chuck Yeager at Wright Field practiced the art of “the right stuff” in Dayton.

Both later gained international fame. Doolittle led the U.S. B-25 Mitchell bombing raid against Japan in April 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Yeager was the first pilot to break the sound barrier in level flight in the Bell X-1 rocket plane over California’s Mohave desert in October 1947.

Pioneer researchers often invented the technologies needed to reach higher, farther and faster.

McCook Field workers in the 1920s built the “Five-Foot Wind Tunnel,” used to design a new era of all-metal monoplanes from the earliest days of cloth and wood biplanes, according a historical narrative. . In 1995, the machine – then under the ownership of the Air Force Institute of Technology — was declared a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. It ceased operations in 2003.

“Almost every craft that was used during the Second World War and leading up to it was tested in that tunnel,” said Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History. “The basics of aeronautical research and lift and drag and all of that – the core principles of modern aviation, were all conducted on that.”

In World War II, as the base workforce swelled to 50,000, Wright Field made historic progress in pursuit, bombardment, and observation planes and auto giros and helicopters, according to the book, “Splendid Vision, Unswerving Purpose: Developing Air Power for the United States Air Force for the First Century of Powered Flight.”

Operation Paperclip brought German scientists after the end of World War II to Wright Field, among other places in the United States, to advance U.S. air and space science which was in a Cold War contest with the Soviet Union.

Many with jet engine expertise headed to Wright-Patterson after the war, Gaffney said. “It was the go-to place for aviation technology,” he said.

RELATED: Air Force research hits commercial market

From the skies to the stars, Wright-Patterson has a decades-long record in spaceflight. Candidates to become the first Mercury 7 astronauts, for example, underwent a battery of psychological, physiology and biochemical tests at Wright-Patterson, testing the would-be space travelers mettle to withstand noise, vibration and heat and endure exhausting exercises before they were chosen to climb aboard a flaming rocket to be the first Americans launched into space.

Morley Stone Ph.D., Chief Technology Officer, Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Staff Writer)

“When we started to look at what it takes to actually put a human being in space the crew systems support that was required to do that basically all had to be created and invented,” Stone said.

For Ohio native John Glenn, memories of the tests at Wright-Patterson were vivid when Stone met the late Mercury astronaut and former U.S. senator a few years ago.

“He looked at me, pointed that finger at me and says, ‘The worst week of my life was spent at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,’” Stone said.

Wright-Patterson continues to lead U.S. military aerospace medical research. The 711th Human Performance Wing and the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine are headquartered at the base, which is set to launch a $34.4 million centrifuge that will test the limits of military pilots to withstand crushing g-forces.

Uncovering adversaries secrets

The dissection of adversaries technology in secret labs fell to the Foreign Technology Division, a forerunner of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson

Under Project Blue Book, Wright-Patterson was immersed in the 1950s and 1960s in investigating reports of Unidentified Flying Objects – or flying saucers. The Air Force has long denied aliens or UFOs were hidden at Wright-Patt or that investigators found credible evidence of alien technology or life on Earth.

More commonly, Wright-Patt scientists and engineers reversed-engineered foreign missiles and planes – a task that continues today at NASIC — to discover what made them work. In recent decades, researchers dissected Soviet-era missiles and a MiG-29, one of which stands outside the secretive agency.

“They weren’t chasing aliens,” Gaffney said. “They were worrying about whether these things were threats to national security.”

Wright-Patt: A century of innovation

Technology gains over the past century at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and its predecessors likely number in the thousands. But here are some of the biggest during the past seven decades since the Air Force was born, according to the Air Force Research Laboratory.

• Advanced gas turbine engines

• Fly-by-wire and electronic controls for aircraft

• Stealth aircraft, or “low-observable” technology

• Phased-array radar

• Precision-guided munitions

• Advanced composites for aircraft and missiles

• Adaptive optics (advanced telescopes) and space situational awareness

• Aerospace fuels and lubricants

• Manufacturing technology

• New and non-destructive ways to inspect and evaluate aircraft

SOURCE: Air Force Research Laboratory

Keeping you informed on Wright-Patt for a century

For a century, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base researchers have pushed the boundaries of flight with advancements in aerospace and technology. Through the decades to today, the Dayton Daily News has been your reliable source to tell you the latest news at the Miami Valley base, a key part of the region’s identity, history and economic development.

Trending - Most Read Stories

Top Gun pilot to speak at film screening

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 @ 6:04 PM

            The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. BARRIE BARBER/STAFF
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. BARRIE BARBER/STAFF

A real-life Top Gun is scheduled to be at a screening of Top Gun 3D at the Air Force Museum Theatre.

Retired Navy Capt. Ken Ginader, a former Top Gun instructor and F-14 pilot, was set to speak at the screening of film, set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Ginader is the first speaker in the 2018 Living History Film Series at the museum.

Tickets cost $12 for audience members, or $10 for members of Friends of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

For more information, click onto .


NASIC wants more space beyond $116M project

Small businesses getting bigger piece of Air Force pie at Wright-Patt

‘We’re not moving fast enough,’ Air Force leader says

Dayton demands Wright-Patt act on water concerns: Five things to know

Trending - Most Read Stories

Wright-Patt training exercise sets off booms

Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 @ 3:22 PM

            Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base(STAFF/File)

If you heard a loud noise today at Wright-Patterson, it was all part of training, a base spokesman says.

The Dayton Daily News and News Center 7 were contacted by residents inquiring what was the cause of the explosion.

A Wright-Patterson Explosive Ordnance Disposal bomb squad was scheduled to set off three explosions between noon and 4 p.m. Wednesday, according to base spokesman Daryl Mayer.

The unit periodically sets off explosions in training which are often heard outside the base.

RELATED:Air Force Marathon tops list of ‘best’ fall marathons

Trending - Most Read Stories

Book chronicles heroism of war correspondents like OSU’s Cecil Brown

Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 4:49 PM

As he scanned the names of the past winners of the Peabody award for broadcast journalism, Reed Smith, a professor of journalism at Georgia Southern University, came across the name Cecil Brown of CBS and admitted he “had never heard of him before.”

It began a four-year effort by Smith that culminated last November in the release of his book, “Cecil Brown: The Murrow Boy Who Became Broadcasting’s Crusader for Truth.” It’s the story of an Ohio State University student from 1929 who reached the pinnacle of broadcast journalism during World War II and the era of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

Smith became fascinated with Brown’s story and it is easy to see why. As a CBS Radio broadcaster in Singapore in December 1941 he nearly lost his life when Japanese torpedo bombers sank the British battlecruiser Repulse in the South China Sea. Brown was a correspondent on the Repulse.

His gripping minute-by-minute account of the disaster for CBS, which also included the destruction of the British battleship Prince of Wales, earned him the Peabody award and transformed him into one of the best-known correspondents of World War II.

“There were upwards of a thousand sailors who died during that attack,” Smith said. “He was not wounded during attack and fortunately was able to get off the ship. A British sailor reached out in the water off a Carley Float and grabbed him. Cecil thought he had just about had it. It was pretty miraculous.”

Brown also was known for his legendary battles with Italian and British censors in World II as they tried to block or alter his broadcasts, prompting Smith to describe Brown as “very feisty. He was a big First Amendment guy and he became quite exasperated when anybody tried to curtail his freedom of the press.”

RELATED: Cecil Brown’s obituary

For Smith, 68, it was a case of one Ohio man meeting another. Smith, a graduate of Ohio University who earned an M.A. from Bowling Green and then a Ph.D from Ohio University, grew up in New Concord. Brown, who died in 1987, was raised in Warren, married a woman from Columbus who is still alive in Los Angeles at age 104.

He left Ohio State nine hours short of a degree in 1929 and worked as a reporter for a number of years before Edward R. Murrow hired him at CBS Radio in 1940 and assigned him to cover the war from Rome.

Brown reported in an entirely different era than today when journalists are under relentless attacks from President Donald Trump and many conservatives.

“It tells us the public view of journalism has changed drastically over the past 70 years,” Smith said. “Murrow and Cecil were seen as heroes. They were brave men in the war zone telling the truth for what was going on and continuing to get in trouble for telling the truth.”

Trending - Most Read Stories

Work to start next month on $10.5 million Wright-Patt gateway

Published: Thursday, February 15, 2018 @ 5:30 PM

            Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Gate 16A, a commercial truck screening checkpoint, will be consolidated with a new Gate 26A in 2019 in a $10.5 million construction project. JIM WITMER | 2011 STAFF FILE PHOTO
            Jim Witmer
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Gate 16A, a commercial truck screening checkpoint, will be consolidated with a new Gate 26A in 2019 in a $10.5 million construction project. JIM WITMER | 2011 STAFF FILE PHOTO(Jim Witmer)

A new $10.5 million gateway that will consolidate two Wright-Patterson entrances into one is set to begin construction next month, a base spokesman says.

A new Gate 26A, a few hundred yards from the current one, would replace a commercial delivery entrance at Gate 16A off Ohio 444, and the existing Gate 26A off Ohio 235 near the entrance to the 445th Airlift Wing headquarters.

The new entrance way off Ohio 235 will be sited between Sandhill Road and Circle Drive, according to Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer.

Work was scheduled for completion at the end of next year, the base said.


NASIC wants more space beyond $116M project

Two-year deal gives big boost to defense spending, Wright-Patt

Dayton demands Wright-Patt act on water concerns: Five things to know

Small businesses getting bigger piece of Air Force pie at Wright-Patt

Trending - Most Read Stories