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.

Puerto Rican group leading ‘Convoy of Hope’ for relief aid to U.S. territory

Published: Wednesday, October 18, 2017 @ 7:08 PM
Updated: Wednesday, October 18, 2017 @ 8:28 PM

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employees collected hurricane relief aid for Puerto Rico. CONTRIBUTED
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employees collected hurricane relief aid for Puerto Rico. CONTRIBUTED

Members of PACO, who are Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employees, and several businesses have gathered 120 pallets of hurricane relief aid items to ship to Puerto Rico, still reeling from Hurricane Maria, an organizer says.

“The Dayton community came through big time,” said Tony Ortiz, an organizer for the Puerto Rican, American Caribbean Organization (PACO) who coordinated with area businesses and base employees to roll out a “Convoy of Hope” -- semitrailers filled with aid.

“This is a great feeling,” said Ortiz, who also is an employee with the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

RELATED: Ohio National Guard deploys more troops to hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico

The Convoy of Hope is hoping to meet with trucks in Cleveland, Youngstown and Moraine, he said. People in those cities are continuing to work with the convoy project, but their participation has not yet been confirmed.

The need remains great: Less than 20 percent of island residents have had their power restored since the storm and the death toll has climbed to nearly 50.

RELATED: Wright Patt hurricane relief flights expected to fly for weeks

As many as one million Puerto Ricans do not have clean water to drink and many hospitals continue to operate om generator power as the tropical heat soars.

-- WHIO-TV’s Kate Bartley contributed to this report.

Middletown soldier killed in Fort Jackson military accident to be laid to rest

Published: Saturday, October 07, 2017 @ 7:26 PM

Private Timothy Ashcraft was a 2017 graduate of Amelia High School in Clermont County.

UPDATE @ 11 a.m. (Oct. 16):

A Middletown U.S. Army soldier killed in a military accident early this month at Fort Jackson in South Carolina will be laid to rest Monday.

Funeral services for Pvt. Timothy Ashcraft will be held at 2 p.m. in Middletown at Wilson-Schramm-Spaulding Funeral Home, 3805 Roosevelt Blvd.

A visitation will be held prior to the funeral from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

According to his obituary, Ashcraft attended Mayfield Elementary and Middletown Middle School in Middletown. He then went to West Clermont school district to finish his education. Timothy also attended Live Oaks, where he was studying to be a welder. 

Interment will be held at Woodside Cemetery.


A U.S. Army soldier from Southwest Ohio was killed Friday after he was struck by a military vehicle while in formation.

Pvt. Timothy Ashcraft, was one of two soldiers who died in the incident that injured six others at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, according to the military. The other killed was identified as Pvt. Ethan Shrader of Prospect, Tenn.

Ashcraft was a 2017 graduate of Amelia High School in Clermont County, our news partner WCPO-TV in Cincinnati reported.

“We are thankful for his dedication and service to our country,” according to a statement released by the West Clermont Local School District. “His impact ... will not soon be forgotten.”

U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson Commander Maj. Gen. Pete Johnson said the Army will thoroughly investigate what caused the military vehicle to crash into the pedestrians.

“We are continuing to support everyone affected by this tragic event,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the Army will thoroughly investigate the cause of the fatal crash.

The six injured were privates Emmett Foreman of Daleville, Alabama; Hanna new of Cartersville, Georgia; Benjamin Key of Cookville, Tenn.; Alan Kryszak of Clarksville, Tenn.; Cardre Jackson Jr. of Laurel, Maryland; and James Foster of Macon, Ga.

DoD: Springboro soldier killed in Niger in attack by Islamic extremists

Published: Saturday, October 07, 2017 @ 1:35 AM
Updated: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 @ 5:39 PM

More details revealed about Niger attack where local solider was killed

UPDATE @ 5:45 p.m. (Oct. 11): Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson of Springboro and the other U.S. soldiers killed in Niger were victims of an attack by Islamic extremists, the Department of Defense tells the Associated Press.


Family and friends of 39-year-old Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson remember the Springboro soldier after he was killed in a terrorist ambush in Niger. 

Staff Sgt. Johnson was killed during a joint operation between U.S. and Nigerian forces near the border of Mali. The Associated Press reported that he and three others were killed by enemy fire after an ambush. Around 40 and 50 extremists ambushed in vehicles and motorcycles, attacking the patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. 

RELATED: Remembering 43 area servicemen who died on active duty since 2002

Jeff and Teena Baldridge are neighbors of where Staff Sgt. Johnson’s family used to live, and saw soldiers outside, looking for Johnson’s mother. 

"We knew when they said that -- we knew who it was and we knew where he was," Teena Baldridge said. 

"Jeremiah was doing what he really wanted to do, he really wanted to be an NCO (non-commissioned officer) in the United States Army," Jeff Baldridge said. Baldridge is also a retired Air Force veteran. 

CRIME: Clark County animal shelter burglarized, supplies stolen

Political leaders also shared their condolences, including U.S. Rep. Mike Turner and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. Gov. John Kasich tweeted “My heart goes out to Jeremiah’s family. Rest in peace, Staff Sergeant.”

Staff Sgt. Johnson is survived by  a wife and two children. His funeral service will be held sometime within the next week at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 

Group spent $1.5M on drone plan

Published: Thursday, February 06, 2014 @ 9:48 PM
Updated: Thursday, February 06, 2014 @ 9:48 PM

Our reporters have provided the most comprehensive coverage of Unmanned Aerial Systems research and its importance to the region’s economic development. The newspaper closely followed the area’s proposal for an FAA test site and continues to gather records that shed light on how well public money is being spent to develop the technology.

The Dayton Development Coalition spent more than $1.5 million in taxpayer money for the failed effort to win federal designation as an Unmanned Aerial Systems testing site, according to Rob Nichols, spokesman for Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Jeff Hoagland, coalition chief executive and president, confirmed the coalition used $1.5 million in state funds to pay a Virginia consultant to write the joint Ohio/Indiana proposal submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration. Indiana, which did not have as central a role in the planned test site as Ohio, reimbursed the state for $250,000 of the cost of the joint proposal, Nichols said.

Hoagland, in an email response to questions, said the consultant worked with coalition staff and that the coalition was paid an additional amount beyond the $1.5 million for its staff time in 2013. He wouldn’t specify the amount, but Nichols said he did not believe it was significant.

The Dayton Daily News for weeks has sought information on the contents of the 6,000-page application to the FAA and how much it cost taxpayers to prepare. The $1.5-million figure is the first time the cost of the failed effort has been disclosed.

Hoagland said the consultant was Arlington, Va.-based Strategic Growth Partners LLC, which lists aerospace, aviation and Unmanned Aerial Systems among its areas of expertise. Company officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The FAA in January announced the six sites nationwide that had been picked as official testing sites for unmanned aircraft, known as drones. Ohio, which paired with Indiana to submit one proposal, was not picked.

Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, New York and Virginia each landed one of the coveted test sites, which are expected to attract both aerospace industry investment dollars and new jobs to those regions.

The FAA has a target date of 2015 to integrate unmanned drones into civilian airspace. The agency did not release data on how many pages the competing sites submitted; nor did it have information on what the other teams spent.

Nichols said the consultant wrote the drone proposal, and also handled front-end preparations for the FAA’s proposal request process and did planning for the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex in Springfield — an essential piece of the state’s plan, according to Nichols.

Even though Ohio’s proposal was rejected, Nichols said the money was well-spent, in part because the UAS Center was launched and continues to operate.

“To understand the industry and how it’s going to grow we would have to have the information anyway,” Nichols said about the research gathered for the proposal.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said she was disappointed the region wasn’t chosen for a drone site but “we needed to be as aggressive as possible” in the attempt to land one of the test locations.

“I think it’s still an important opportunity for the region that we have the opportunity to grow this technology to create jobs,” she said.

Tom Franzen, Springfield assistant city manager and economic development director, said his city will continue to focus on the potential of the UAS industry. The FAA selection process was helpful to gather data on the region’s strengths in academia, industry and government, he said.

“It’s been extremely helpful in fostering those relations and giving us a better understanding of each other’s strengths and capabilities,” he said.

‘Not a lot of money’

Loren Thompson, a noted aviation and defense analyst with the non-profit Lexington Institute in Virginia, said in an email: “$1.5 million is not a lot of money to spend on attracting a federal facility that could have created hundreds of local jobs and generated sizable other economic benefits. Whether it was a wise investment comes down to the odds of winning. If Ohio and Indiana had won, we would be praising the work of the development coalition.”

Although some have questioned why anyone would submit a several-thousand-page application, Thompson said it was necessary to comply with hundreds of regulations on federal contract awards, much of it “boilerplate” paperwork.

“This is the nightmare that federal contracting has become,” he said in an email.

The FAA barred teams from partnering with federal agencies, such as the Air Force Research Laboratory, which is headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and is a national leader in UAS technology.

Daniel Stohr, an Aerospace Industries Association spokesman, said other states not chosen, including aerospace powerhouses California and Florida, have opted to move ahead on their own.

“The thing to remember is this is a major growth opportunity for the aerospace community,” he said. The FAA’s snub of the Ohio and Indiana proposal was “not the end of the world for a place like Dayton. There’s going to be a great deal of (UAS) research done in Dayton.”

Shifting money from job training

Money for the proposal came from a $10 million allocation the Ohio Legislature transferred out of an Ohio Board of Regents workforce job training fund and placed in the current biennial budget. The state awarded the $10 million to the Dayton Development Coalition’s public-contracting affiliate, Development Partners Inc. It was earmarked for the drone proposal, other UAS and defense-related economic development efforts and to prepare for any future federal base realignment and closure (BRAC) plans.

According to the state’s contract with DPI, $2.6 million of the money will be spent on BRAC-related efforts and nearly $3.7 million will pay for UAS projects — including the drone proposal. The contract requires that DPI give $3 million to Wright State University with a goal of building “a nationally recognized research center” focused on human performance technology for the Air Force, the region and the state.

Ohio officials have not released the proposal it made to the FAA and Nichols said it will take an undetermined amount of time for the two states to redact portions that contain proprietary information or are forbidden by law from being released.

In his email response, Hoagland said the “FAA draft submission was prepared by coalition staff, consultants, and about 80 partners in Ohio and Indiana.” State of Ohio officials also reviewed the application before it was submitted to the FAA.

“Different partners reviewed different sections based on their technical expertise and knowledge of the subject,” Hoagland wrote.

Those partners included the University of Dayton Research Institute, Wright State University, Ohio State University, the staff at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport and others. JobsOhio and UDRI were among those who reviewed the economic development part of the proposal, according to Hoagland.

‘Never the cornerstone’

Coalition leaders and state and local officials have downplayed the state’s failure to win the FAA testing site designation, saying research and development efforts in the UAS arena will continue without the FAA designation.

In a statement released last month after the FAA decision, Hoagland said: “An FAA test site — though much desired — was never the cornerstone of the regional UAS strategy.” He said Ohio is a strong aerospace center and innovator in the aerospace industry and those strengths offer more opportunities for job creation than the federal test site designation.

But it was clear before the FAA decision was made that officials had high hopes that winning the testing designation would bring new jobs.

In 2012 the coalition prepared the Dayton Region Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, a document that is necessary to obtain some types of federal funding. It includes a discussion of the effort to win the UAS test site designation and says officials are “in negotiation with a number of large UAS manufacturers who desire to locate in the Dayton Region if access to national airspace for UAS testing and evaluation is secured.”

In his email response this week, Hoagland said, “We are disappointed we did not get designated as one of the six test sites, but the true failure would have been not to apply and simply accept status quo for the region.”

Maurice McDonald, the coalition’s executive vice president for aerospace and defense, used a sports metaphor to make the point.

“Asking whether the money was well-spent is like asking a runner if it was worth the fee to enter a race he didn’t win,” he wrote. “We had a strong chance of winning and competing was worth the effort.”