Saturday, May 7, 2011

1947 - Air Force History

July 26: 
The independent Air Force is created. The National Security Act is passed, separating the Army Air Force from the Army and renaming it the United States Air Force. The USAF, Army, and Navy are now equal components of the new Department of Defense, which is to come under the command of the newly-created office of the Secretary of Defense, who in turn directly reports to the President. The USAF itself will be headed by the civilian Secretary of the Air Force and the military Chief of Staff, the latter also serving as one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military posts within the DoD.
   This major revision of the US military structure is being undertaken in order to reconstitute viable fighting forces out of the postwar demobilization quagmire, to clearly define the roles and missions of each service, and to reflect the organizational lessons learned during World War II. The other armed services will each retain some form of air arm, but the USAF will be the organization primarily tasked with air warfare and the development of aerospace technologies for military use.

September 18:  The USAF begins operations. The USAF officially comes into being, taking over the personnel, equipment, and force structure of the former Army Air Force. The first Air Force Chief of Staff is General Carl "Tooey" Spatz, the former AAF Commanding General and a veteran of the strategic air war in Europe, while the first Secretary of the Air Force is W. Stuart Symington.
   USAF combat capability in the United States is for the most part centered around three commands created by the AAF in 1946. The first of these is Strategic Air Command (General George Kenney commanding) which is tasked with long-range bombing and strategic reconnaissance. Tactical Air Command (Lt. General Elwood Quesada commanding) has the responsibility of establishing air superiority over enemy airspace, carrying out tactical air-to-ground strikes, and providing battlefield troop airlift. Lastly, Air Defense Command (Lt. General George Stratmeyer commanding) provides interceptors and early warning capability for the defense of US airspace.

   In addition to these commands, there are also the United States Air Forces in Europe and the Far Eastern Air Forces, representing USAF combat units stationed overseas. Supporting commands include Air Material Command, Air Transport Command, Air University, Bolling Field Command, Air Training Command, the Seventh Air Force, and Alaskan Air Command.

September 23:  A P-80 Shooting Star fighter rendevouses with a B-29 and hooks up with a tow line behind the Superfort. Although the jet is towed for a short time and then released, the unhooking process is troublesome, and no further trials with this system will be carried out.

October 1:  First flight of North American's XP-86, the first US jet fighter to have swept-back wings and tail surfaces to lessen drag and improve high-speed performance. Test pilot George "Wheaties" Welch of North American, a former AAF ace, is the pilot for this flight, staged from the Air Force Flight Test Center at Muroc AFB in California.  Descended partially from the straight-winged NA.140/FJ-1 Fury for the US Navy, the P-86 will be the best overall US fighter design of the early 1950s, its high subsonic speed and maneuverability giving the USAF an effective counter to new Soviet designs. Later given the name Sabre, the P-86 prototypes are first flown under the power of J35 turbojets, although most service aircraft will have the more powerful afterburning General Electric J47. North American will turn out over six thousand Sabres, most of these being air superiority models, although significant numbers of interceptor variants will also be constructed, along with a handful of long-range escort, and trainer prototypes.

October 14:  First Supersonic Flight. A Bell XS-1 rocket-powered test aircraft exceeds the speed of sound, reaching Mach 1.07 over the Muroc test facility. This finally proves that there is no insurmountable aerodynamic "wall" at Mach 1, permitting design of supersonic military aircraft to go toward. Started as early as 1944 in conjunction with the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the bullet-shaped XS-1 (later X-l) is propelled by a four-chamber Reaction Motors XLR-11 "Black Beauty" rocket engine burning liquid oxygen and alcohol. Originally designed to make powered takeoffs, the rocket plane is air dropped from Superfortress motherships to save fuel, the first unpowered drops having been conducted from Pinecastle AFB, Florida in 1946.
   Captain Charles "Chuck" Yeager is the pilot for this initial "Mach busting" flight. Yeager, a wartime ace who is soon to be one of the world's leading test pilots, is a relative newcomer to the project, having only started flying the X-l in August following a military takeover of the flight testing from Bell. Due to security concerns, his flight is not immediately announced to the public, although word of the "sound barrier" being breached is soon being spread unofficially by the aviation media.

October 21:  One of the most controversial aircraft of the late 1940s, Northrop's YB-49, is test flown from Muroc. Using a radically unconventional but aerodynamically efficient "flying wing" design tested on the company's N1M of 1940, the YB-49 has no fuselage or tail surfaces to add drag, and is powered by no less than eight Allison J35s. Converted from an unfinished example of the earlier propeller-driven XB-35, the YB-49 can reach speeds in excess of five hundred mph, and can carry more than eighteen tons of bombs. SAC orders will be cancelled, as funding will instead go to the B-36 and B-47 programs.

November:  The P-84 Thunderjet is now operational with TAC. First flown in 1946, the Thunderjet is Republic's first jet design, and is powered by an Allison J35 centrifugal-flow powerplant. Conceived of as an air-superiority fighter, the straight-winged Thunderjet will spend its operational life as a fighter-bomber, replacing older propellor-driven types and the slower P-80. Hundreds of Thunderjets will give superb service over Korea, while the ultimate F-84G will be fitted for carrying the first tactical nuclear weapons. After ardous service, most survivors will be out of active units by 1960.

November 23:  The Consolidated XC-99, the largest land-based aircraft yet built, flies for the first time. Derived from the B-36 bomber but with a larger cargo fuselage for carrying up to four hundred troops, the XC-99 will soon be rendered obsolete by more economical heavy-lift turboprop designs.

December 1:  The USAF orders a pair of P-86Cs, which are eventually redesignated YF-93As. Designed to fill the same bomber escort role as the all-new XP-88 and XP-90, this Sabre derivative mates the P-86 wings and tail to a new fuselage with a J48 engine (this being a US-built Rolls-Royce Tay) fed through intakes faired into either side of the now-solid nose.

December 15:  The Seventh Air Force becomes the Pacific Air Command.

December 17:  Boeing test pilots fly the XB-47 Stratojet prototype from Seattle. The most advanced type to come out of a 1944 AAF request for jet bombers, the Stratojet has 35-degree swept wings, six General Electric J35 (J47 in service aircraft) turbojets on underwing pods, and bicycle landing gear with outriggers under the engines. Despite the tremendous technological advance that the B-47 represents, it will be bought in huge numbers (from a postwar standpoint) and help transition SAC into a modern force. A crew of three is carried, with the pilot and copilot housed under a bubble canopy. SAC will use the Stratojet in the bomber role until the mid-1960s, although toward "Reflex" basing overseas and support from refueling tankers will be necessary to allow B-47s to effectively reach the Soviet Union.

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