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.

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Dayton VA nursing home scores low in quality survey

Published: Monday, June 18, 2018 @ 10:39 AM


            The Dayton VA Medical Center. LISA POWELL / STAFF PHOTO
The Dayton VA Medical Center. LISA POWELL / STAFF PHOTO

The Dayton VA Medical Center nursing home earned one star out of five in the most recent quality rating system, according to the Dayton VA.

Cleveland and Cincinnati received two stars while Chillicothe received a one-star rating, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

Nearly half, or 60 of the VA’s 133 nursing homes received a one-star rating, the newspaper reported.

The results were disclosed after USA Today and Boston Globe obtained the internal VA reports, officials said. On average, VA nursing homes scored worse last year then their private sector counterparts on nine of 11 key indicators, including rates of anti-psychotic drug prescription and residents’ deterioration , officials said.

The VA nursing home system overall compares “closely”with private nursing homes despite caring for typically sicker patients,

VA officials reportedly told USA Today.

Sixty VA nursing homes saw improvements in their ratings over last year, and only one had a “meaningful decline” VA spokesman Curt Cashour told the newspaper.

A request for comment was left with a Dayton VA spokesman Monday.

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This Wright-Patt office helps broker our military sales to foreign countries. Here’s how it’s changing.

Published: Saturday, June 16, 2018 @ 10:12 AM


            A Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II performs at the Vectren Dayton Air Show in June, 2017. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
            Ty Greenlees
A Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II performs at the Vectren Dayton Air Show in June, 2017. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Ty Greenlees)

Foreign military sales at a Wright-Patterson agency are likely trending to a “new norm” of about half of last year, according to the leader of the Air Force Security Assistance and Cooperation Directorate.

Brig. Gen. Greg Gutterman, outgoing leader of AFSAC at Wright-Patterson who retires next month after three years in the top spot, projected sales of about $13 billion to $14 billion – although figures won’t be final until later this year.

In 2017, sales nearly tripled compared to the prior year, reaching $27.5 billion, driven by the $13.4 billion sale of 36 F-15 jets to Qatar.

Overall, the United States expects to deliver $61.4 billion in foreign military sales by the end of the fiscal year, according to the State Department, compared to $41.9 billion last year.

Some of the big ticket pending sales included 34 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Belgium for $6.5 billion, 14 F-16s to Slovakia at a cost of $2.9 billion and six C-130 aircraft to Germany at a cost of $1.4 billion, according to the Defense Security and Cooperation Agency.

Rival adversaries

As China has aggressively expanded its military presence in the South China Sea, and North Korea has — until the most recent Singapore summit-brokered deal — threatened war with the United States, Japan and South Korea, arm sales have spread throughout Asia, Gutterman said.

RELATED: Top Air Force leaders gather at Wright-Patt

In the Middle East, the threat of the Islamic State has fueled sales, also, he said.

“The global environment is certainly creating a little bit of demand,” he said.

Now and in the future, sales to foreign countries of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tanker were expected to be big boosters, he said. So, too, are demands for drone and munitions.

One defense analyst said the United States weapons export process is “slow and bureaucratic” compared to foreign competitors.

“It’s a global market and we have competitors in that global market who are willing to move very quickly,” said Andrew Hunter, director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group and a senior fellow of the International Security Program at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Security.

The commercial market is often a faster alternative for some weapons buyers for items such as small drones, he said.

A leading defense industry organization has called for a speed up in the export “review, approval and advocacy” process to grow the U.S. defense industrial base.

“Our industry is competing against our adversaries in a global defense marketplace where every export opportunity is a zero-sum, time sensitive competition with an enduring impact on American influence, security and our defense industrial base,” a May 29 letter from Aerospace Industries Association officials said to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The State Department recently announced a push to speed up conventional arms transfers as part of a push to tie economic security to national security needs.

Speeding up wait times

AFSAC has been under an Air Force directive to shorten wait times for customers.

“The foreign military sales process is not broken, but it is certainly burdened,” Gutterman said.

The agency’s workforce made significant gains in cutting down wait times in recent years, he said.

RELATED: Outgoing commander says base, communities linked

Gutterman, 52, the second longest-serving AFSAC director who’s next assignment in civilian life will be writing books at his Beavercreek home, focused on improving communication and accountability among different agencies with oversight of foreign sales and reducing customer wait times.

“The way that we communicate has been formalized and in the past it was really the power of the personalities,” he said.

In the most recent statistics released, AFSAC reported the time from when a foreign request is received to acceptance has dropped from nearly 151 days in 2016 to 88.5 days in fiscal year 2017.

In more complex cases, such as the sale of a fighter jet, the time between when an offer is received and acceptance has dropped from 228 days in fiscal year 2016 to less than 203 days in 2017, AFSAC has said.

Delivery of a major weapons system, such as an F-16 fighter jet, may take four or five years.

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Memphis Belle star to appear at Air Force museum

Published: Friday, June 15, 2018 @ 12:12 PM
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2018 @ 4:59 PM


            The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force opened the Memphis Belle exhibit to the public on Thursday after a 13-year restoration. Staff and volunteers worked 55,000 hours to restore the iconic World War II bomber. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
            Ty Greenlees
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force opened the Memphis Belle exhibit to the public on Thursday after a 13-year restoration. Staff and volunteers worked 55,000 hours to restore the iconic World War II bomber. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Ty Greenlees)

An actor in the Hollywood film Memphis Belle will be at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force to see the real Memphis Belle on Saturday.

Matthew Modine, who played a pilot in the film and whose uncle, Wylder Modine, was a World WarII B-17 bomber pilot, will sign autographs between 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

He’ll also speak at 4 p.m. the Air Force Museum Theater before a showing of the 1944 film “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress.”

After 13 years of restoration, the iconic B-17 Memphis Belle was rolled out in a new exhibit at the museum May 17, 2018, the 75th anniversary of the completion of its 25th and final combat mission over Europe. The four-engine Boeing-built bomber was the first to finish 25 missions and return to the United States on a celebrated war bonds tour.

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Top Air Force leaders gather at Wright-Patt

Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2018 @ 9:53 AM


            Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employs more than 27,000 employees and is the largest single-site employer in Ohio. The base has a $4.1 billion economic impact in Ohio. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employs more than 27,000 employees and is the largest single-site employer in Ohio. The base has a $4.1 billion economic impact in Ohio. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The Air Force’s top leadership brass was at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base this week in an annual closed-door gathering known as Corona Top.

Air Force officials were tight lipped on the meeting this year,set to end Thursday, but the event focused on strategy, acquisition, science and technology and innovation, according to Air Force spokesman Michael Martin.

Wright-Patterson is a key hub for the Air Force as headquarters for the Air Force Materiel Command and the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“Wright Patterson Air Force Base is a logical venue because so much of the needed expertise is resident there,” said Loren B. Thompson, a Virginia-based defense industry consultant. “Some insiders consider Wright-Patt the best base that the Air Force owns.

Thompson said the issues debated behind closed doors likely included “plans for ‘multi-domain’ warfare that require coordinated Air Force operations in the air, in space, and on the electromagnetic spectrum; concern about growing threats to U.S. space systems; and the status of major developmental programs such as a new tanker and bomber.”

Maurice McDonald, Dayton Development Coalition executive vice president of aerospace and defense, said having the future of the Air Force strategized at Wright-Patterson makes sense.

“Many of the missions of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base are about the future of the Air Force and that truly corresponds to the activities at Corona,” he said.

The event draws, which draws heavily on support from the base, was at Wright-Patterson in 1999, 2003 and every year since 2006.

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