DAYTON, Ohio – Military leaders from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base joined with local community leaders, elected officials, base personnel and the public Oct. 6 at the site of what was once known as McCook Field to mark the 100th anniversary of Air Force aviation and technology development in the Miami Valley.
Now mostly open field areas used for baseball and soccer, the US Army Signal Corps Airplane Engineering Department opened facilities here in 1917. If not for the newly unveiled Ohio historical marker at the site, many park visitors may not know of the location’s importance to aviation research and development. Since then, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, its Engineering Directorate, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and their predecessor organizations have conducted or managed the research and engineering development of every military aircraft ever flown.
The ceremony began with retired Lt. Gen. C.D. Moore, former commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and now chair of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance, welcoming those in attendance as a team of tandem skydivers from Team Fastrax, the largest professional parachute demonstration team in the world, delivered the United States flag.
“It is fitting for us to start our ceremony with a parachute jump,” Moore said. “Nearly a century ago, the first freefall manual bailout parachute was developed and tested here at McCook Field. The parachute was the first practical means of escaping from a disabled aircraft in flight and soon became standard equipment for early military aviators,” he said.
Col. Bradley McDonald, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, commented on the achievements of today’s 27,000-plus civilian, officer and enlisted Airmen and their families from the base.
“The difference that we’re making today for the nation could not happen without the great support that we continue to have, and all of that started 100 years ago here at McCook Field. We continue to break barriers today and a lot of that is because of the work that’s being done at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” McDonald said.
In the summer of 1917, efforts by the Dayton community led to the selection of the site for a temporary experimental station that would eventually become McCook Field. There were many significant developments in aviation and aeronautics made here which established the location’s reputation as the ‘Cradle of Aviation.’ From materials, fuels and lubricants, to high-altitude flight, aerial photography, propulsion, navigation, armaments, lighter than air flight and aerodynamics, the tradition continues at today’s Air Force Research Laboratory.
“The lab has been as it now stands for only 20 years, but we trace our heritage back to the founding here at McCook Field in 1917, and so this is our 100th anniversary and it’s a big deal for AFRL because we trace our heritage in terms of science and technology and research and development back to this very spot,” said Maj. Gen. William Cooley, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Cooley highlighted a few innovations developed at McCook Field in the early years, including synchronization of machine guns and propeller blades. He related that in 1918, Adolph Nelson, a branch chief, developed what would be called the Nelson Gun with a synchronization mechanism that would allow the weapon to be fired while not losing the propeller – something that sounds basic enough today, but was a huge breakthrough at the time.
Cooley said that another interesting area was the area of materials.
“The area of materials science and research did not exist, certainly not in the form it does today. It was because of the need for high performance materials that we really got into it and that forms the basis and heritage for what is today, AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing directorate,” Cooley said.
“Think of this field through the generations,” said Lt. Gen. Robert McMurry, commander, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. “Generation to generation, it took on a new life. In every generation it did something that the previous generation thought was impossible. Just a year or so before the Wright Brothers flew, there were people in the press saying vehemently, ‘It will never happen.’”
“Within about a decade, we had taken what the Wright Brothers did in meticulous development of controlled flight and brought it to genuine applications. During World War II we built thousands and thousands of aircraft, based on the research that was done here. From the B-17 and the B-24, to the P-38, P-40, P-51, just amazing numbers of aircraft and pilots to fly them.”
McMurry spoke of other advancements, built on generational knowledge learned since the McCook Field success stories, including precision attack capability, the integration of GPS and space capabilities, and pilot-vehicle integration.
“All of that came because of the work done here at Wright-Patterson, based on its history and lineage at McCook Field. None of that would have been possible were it not for the professional and strong relationships that developed between this field, this Air Force base, the workers here and the community that surrounds it,” he said.