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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.

Trump signs defense bill; shutdown stlll looms next week

Published: Tuesday, December 12, 2017 @ 3:14 PM
Updated: Tuesday, December 12, 2017 @ 4:04 PM

            The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base BARRIE BARBER/STAFF
The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base BARRIE BARBER/STAFF

President Donald Trump signed a defense authorization bill into law Tuesday, but that doesn’t settle the prospect of a partial federal government shutdown Dec. 22.

The bill authorizes defense programs for 2018, many of which will impact Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but reaching a funding deal that would pay for the programs has eluded lawmakers so far this year.

“A government shutdown still remains possible,” said Michael Gessel, vice president of federal programs at the Dayton Development Coalition.

Since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, Congress has passed stop gap measures to keep the federal government operating, but cap spending at last year’s levels.

RELATED: Lack of defense budget raising concerns at Wright-Patterson

Two top Wright-Patterson leaders have spoken out against the temporary spending measures recently because they say they have created budget uncertainty and prevented the Air Force from starting new programs and eroded readiness.

Moreover, without a final spending bill that lifts budget caps imposed under the decade-long Budget Control Act of 2011 —- also known as sequestration—baseline defense spending will be capped at $549 billion. Congress has passed a $700 billion defense authorization bill that includes $66 billion in additional contigeny funding not restricted by the budget caps.

Gessel said lawmakers have worked behind the scenes on the possibly of a two-year budget framework to prevent the threat of a government shutdown for at least another year. Disagreements over other issues, from immigration to taxes and domestic spending, have weighed on the budget talks.

But what the final deal will be remains uncertain.

“The congressional leaders have insisted that they want to avoid a shutdown and the Senate majority leader (Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.) has even promised there won’t be a shutdown,” Gessel said. “These are all good signs.”

Ohio lawmakers have added several provisions under the defense legislation that will impact Wright-Patterson.

Some of the provisions were put into place by U.S. Sens, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, or U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and Warren Davidson, R-Troy.

“This law represents hundreds of hours of bipartisan work to ensure our military is fully equipped to handle every threat it may face in the coming year and rebuild our readiness,” Turner said in a statement.

RELATED: General: Spending needed if you want to hire; fly B-52s until 2040

Among the provisions added:

• $6.8 million to build a fire station at Wright-Patterson.

• Preventing a defense production office at Wright-Patterson, which works to boost the domestic industrial base to meet defense needs, from moving to the Pentagon. The office has had roughly two dozen employees and has been at the Miami Valley base since 1987.

• Increases royalty payments to federal researchers who develop new innovations and technology, such as those at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

• Gives the military more flexibility to fund “minor” construction at laboratories, and to buy commercial off-the-shelf equipment for civil engineers.

• Urges more collaboration between the Federal Aviation Administration and the Defense Department to integrate drones into the national airspace system.

Turner co-introduced with U.S. Rep. Nikki Tsongas, D-Mass., the BE HEARD Act, to address issues related to military sexual assault. Both lawmakers are co-chairpersons of the Military Sexual Assault Caucus in the House.

The provision includes expanded training for military lawyers working with sexual assault victims; allowing the military’s highest court to hear victims’ appeals while a trial is ongoing; and permitting military judges to appoint legal representatives to sexual assault victims who are underage or cannot represent themselves prior to an alleged perpetrator facing charges, according to Turner’s office.

Turner also included a provision that prohibits the congressionally chartered National Aviation Hall of Fame, which is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, from leaving the state of Ohio. NAHF officials have said recently they do not intend to relocate the hall of fame which is in the midst of a $5 million fund-raising campaign to update the center.

Retaliatory culture has not changed in military, ex-prosecutor says

Published: Monday, December 11, 2017 @ 4:35 PM

            In this May 15, 2017 file photo, Air Force Academy Cadets pass in review after Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin assumed command of the AFA cadet wing at a ceremony at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In this May 15, 2017 file photo, Air Force Academy Cadets pass in review after Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin assumed command of the AFA cadet wing at a ceremony at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Former female Air Force Academy cadets who withdrew after they said they faced retaliation when they reported they were sexually assaulted shows a need for a culture change throughout the military, a former prosecutor said.

“What it says about the climate is that despite all the military’s promise that they are taking this seriously and they are there to support survivors, the reality is that when a person is sexually assaulted in the military and then (reports it), whether they are at the academy or whether they are on active duty, the odds are that their career is going to be over,” said Don Christensen, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders and a retired colonel who was a chief Air Force prosecutor.

“They’ll be subjected to pervasive retaliation both by their peers and by their superiors,” he said.

During a six-month investigation, CBS This Morning reported Monday it interviewed more than a dozen current or former cadets who said they faced retaliation after they reported sexual assaults to the academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Two of those interviewed Monday were women who were cadets but dropped out, and two current cadets whose identities were disguised. One of those interviewed said while she was subject to continued harassment after filing a report, her alleged attacker graduated at the prestigious school that produces Air Force officers.

Wright-Patterson assaults rise

Last month, the Defense Department released data for every major U.S. military installation in the world that showed Wright-Patterson Air Force Base had 30 reports of sexual assaults in 2016, nearly double the number from the previous two years. The Miami Valley base, which has an estimated 27,000 employees, recorded 17 assaults in both 2013 and 2014 and 19 cases in fiscal year 2013.

RELATED: Sexual assaults reported at Wright-Patt doubles in the past two years

The Defense Department data also showed the Air Force Academy had a higher number of sexual assaults than any other Air Force installation. The service academy had 44 reports in 2016, the Pentagon reported.

“Number one, they need to change the culture,” Christensen said. “This isn’t just the Air Force Academy, this is all the service academies.

“The military, as with anything they address (about) this issue, is more empty promises,” Christensen said. “On the one hand, they tell Congress that they’ve got it. On the other hand, behind the scenes, they support the people that have committed the rapes and force out the survivors.”

Meade Warthen, an Air Force Academy spokesman, told this outlet academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria’s would give a response to the investigation Tuesday on CBS This Morning. Warthen also sent this statement:

“What I can tell you in the interim, is that the Air Force Academy is deeply concerned by the allegations regarding the treatment of sexual assault victims at the Academy,” the statement said. “Dozens of professionals like Special Victims Counselors, Mental Health Professionals, Victim Advocates and more dedicate themselves day in and day out to the service of caring for the victims of this horrible crime. But the Academy is also focused on the root cause and believes creating and sustaining a climate of dignity and respect is absolutely essential to ending the scourge of sexual assault. One assault is too many and we will never rest until the number is zero.”

Retaliation complaints

Christensen cited a Department of Defense investigation that showed one in three women who have filed a sexual assault report leave the military within a year. Further, he said, about 60 percent of those who have said they experienced harassment or assault reported instances of retaliation since 2010.

RELATED: 32 sexual assaults reported at Wright-Patt AFB in 4-year period

“It’s not getting any better,” he said. “It’s probably getting worse and the retaliation is as bad as ever. The leadership knows about the retaliation and does nothing about it. That to me is their inability to speak out strongly and to hold people accountable. It sends a clear message to survivors, report at your own peril.”

In a statement last month, Wright-Patterson responded to the sharp increase in reported assaults.

“We cannot identify any significant trends in the increase,” spokeswoman Marie Vanover said in a Nov. 20 email. “While each case has its own unique attribute, the number is not indicative of the number of assaults that occurred at Wright-Patt. There are many factors that go into the numbers; including some cases accounting for more than one incident.

“We’re dedicated to fostering an environment of respect by standing against anyone who commits sexual assault and supporting survivors, whenever and wherever it may have occurred,” the statement said.

Christensen has said in his more than two decades of military judicial experience the “vast majority” of reported assaults occurred on or near the installation where they were first recorded.

2016 Air Force installation sex assault cases

U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.: 44

Kadena Air Base, Japan: 37

Ramstein Air Base, Germany: 36

Travis Air Force Base, Calif: 34

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.: 33

Wright-Patterson: 30

Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas and Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.: 27

Source: Department of Defense

A return of flying sergeants? Air Force says no despite too few pilots

Published: Monday, December 11, 2017 @ 5:00 AM

Could dual-track pilot careers save Air Force pilots?

The Air Force will launch a high-tech training experiment testing both officers and enlisted airmen to prepare pilots for the cockpit faster.

But, despite a growing shortage of aviators, it won’t be a return to the wartime days of flying sergeants – at least for now, according to the Air Force.

The six-month initiative at a military reserve center in Austin, Texas will reportedly include 15 commissioned officers, and five enlisted airmen who have recently graduated boot camp.

RELATED: Air Force facing growing crisis in pilot shortage

The initiative, dubbed “Pilot Training Next,” will use virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, bio-metrics and data analytics to determine if aviators can be trained faster and cheaper using technology, an Air Force spokeswoman said in an interview.

The Air Education and Training Command’s latest training experiment, set to begin next February, is meant to find out if technology can help airmen of different educational backgrounds learn faster in the pilot-training pipeline, the Air Force said.

“We are going to use immersive technology to see how we can help people learn more effectively,” Lt. Col. Robert Vicars, Pilot Training Next director said in a statement. “This is an initiative to explore whether or not these technologies can help us learn deeper and faster.”

The Air Force, the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve, confront a shortage of about 2,000 aviators – and of that about 1,300 were fighter pilots. Many have been drawn out of the cockpit by an airline industry hiring binge or may have tired of a high number of deployments overseas.

RELATED: Wright Patt,defense firm, work to protect weapons from cyber threats

Training military pilots takes time and money: Two years of undergraduate fighter pilot training costs taxpayers more than $1 million for each aviator.

Still, despite the unusual move of including enlisted airmen in the experiment, they will not advance to undergraduate pilot training, according to Air Force spokeswoman Erika Yepsen.

For decades, the Air Force has reserved jobs for pilots to fly aircraft to commissioned officers who are college graduates.

However, to fill a gap of a shortage of aviators in wartime, enlisted pilots flew in World War I and World War II, historical documents show. Thousands flew in World War II alone, but still made up only about 1 percent of pilots, documents show.

RELATED: House defense leader at Wright Patt, says AF pilot shortage is growing

The Air Force has opened the door for enlisted troops in one area: Flying drones, which the service branch calls remotely piloted aircraft.

Since last year, the Air Force has trained enlisted airmen to fly the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a high-flying spy drone.

So far, 11 enlisted airmen have earned their wings as drone pilots, and that number could reach 100 by 2020, Yepsen said.

Kenneth E. Curell, 65, a former Air Force and Air National Guard fighter pilot who became an airline and corporate pilot, said in an email he did not believe enlisted airmen should be pilots of manned aircraft yet.

“If the objective is to proactively address pilot shortages, then the Air Force needs to experiment with and implement other options to entice prospective pilot candidates into the (Air Force) and promote initiatives that directly address areas pilots have identified as retention barriers,” the Centerville resident said. “Air Force leadership has not institutionally affected areas pilots perennially identify as retention barriers.”

Consequently, he added, pilots have “lost confidence” initiatives put in place to address the pilot shortage will stay beyond the next round of senior level leadership.

An F-22 Raptor demonstration pilot in the cockpit of the stealh figther before flying in the Vectren Dayton Air Show in 2008. TY GREENLEES/STAFF FILE PHOTO(Staff Writer)

Air Force Marathon chooses drone as ‘official’ aircraft of 2018 races

Published: Sunday, December 10, 2017 @ 10:13 AM

            The MQ-9 Reaper drone will be the “official” aircraft of the 2018 Air Force Marathon. CONTRIBUTED
The MQ-9 Reaper drone will be the “official” aircraft of the 2018 Air Force Marathon. CONTRIBUTED

The MQ-9 Reaper drone has been chosen as the “official” aircraft of the 2018 Air Force Marathon, a series of races that draw thousands of runners across the nation and other countries to the Miami Valley.

This marks the second time the Air Force has chosen an unmanned aerial vehicle as the aircraft for the contest.

RELATED: Hypersonic research could lead to future spy drone

In 2009, the MQ-4 Global Hawk, a reconnaissance drone, was the first, according to the Air Force.

The Air Force marathon has drawn more than 15,000 runners in recent years, who compete in full- and half-marathons, and a 10K race at Wright-Patterson and a 5K race at Wright State University.

RELATED; Drones, lasers, hypersonic weapons will be ‘game-changers’

The Reaper will be featured on runners’ medals and T-shirts. The marathon is scheduled for Sept. 15, 2018.