USAF technological milestones: The 1990s

Missiles, missile warning, missile defense, tactical missiles

Jan. 11, 1981: Boeing delivered the first U.S. Air Force air-launched cruise missiles to the 416th Bombardment Wing at Griffiss Air Force Base, N.Y. Capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to a target 1,500 miles away, the new missiles contained a terrain-contour-matching system that allows extremely low-altitude flight to avoid detection by enemy radar.

May 2, 1981: An airborne laser destroyed an aerial target for the first time when the Airborne Laser Laboratory, a modified KCñ135 aircraft armed with a carbon dioxide laser, shot down a drone over White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Two years later, the ALL successfully shot down five Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, proving its utility as an antimissile system.

Oct. 2, 1981: President Ronald Reagan announced that the M-X missile would be deployed initially in existing missile silos.

Feb. 3, 1983: To modernize Americaís retaliatory capability, Strategic Air Command completed the retrofitting of 300 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles with new reentry systems.

June 19, 1986: All U.S. Air Force Rapier surface-to-air missile units in Europe became operationally ready.

Oct. 10, 1986: The Air Force placed the LGM-118A, also called the Peacekeeper or MX missile, on alert duty. Each of these new intercontinental ballistic missiles could deliver warheads to 10 different targets.

May 5, 1987: Strategic Air Command removed the last liquid-fueled Titan II missile from alert duty at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., ending the operational life of the nationís largest intercontinental ballistic missile and the last one with liquid fuel.

May 4, 1990: The AIMñ120A advanced medium-range air-to-air missile passed its final flight test for use on U.S. fighters.

New aircraft technology

March 17, 1981: McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company delivered the first KC-10A Extender tanker/cargo aircraft to Strategic Air Command. Substantially larger than the KC-135 tanker/cargo aircraft, the Extender not only could carry more fuel and cargo, but also could refuel more types of aircraft, including other KC-10s. On June 21, 1982, Strategic Air Command conducted a successful aerial refueling only 750 miles from the South Pole. During this southernmost in-flight refueling, a KC-10A Extender transferred 67,400 pounds of aviation fuel to a Military Airlift Command transport that was conducting resupply operations in Antarctica. The primary mission of the KC-10A Extender was aerial refueling, but it also carried cargo and passengers.

June 18, 1981: The F-117 Nighthawk, the worldís first stealth combat aircraft, flew for the first time. Hal Farley piloted the revolutionary aircraft, which presented very little radar image, at Tonopah Test Range, Nev.

By 1983, the Air Force declared the system operational, and by 1986, 36 F-117s had been delivered, with the remaining 26 delivered by July 1990. On Nov. 10, 1988, the Air Force revealed the F-117 stealth fighter to the public for the first time. Manufactured by Lockheed, the F-117 could evade most radar detection with its radical shape and radar-absorbent surface.

Constituting less than 2.5 percent of all coalition aircraft in Operation Desert Storm, the F-117A stealth fighter-bomber successfully attacked more than 31 percent of Iraqi strategic targets the first day. More than eight years later, Operation Noble Anvil/Allied Force marked the first time that an F-117 was shot down in combat, on March 27, 1999, over Yugoslavia. Capt. (later Brig. Gen.) John A. Cherrey, an A-10 pilot, earned the Silver Star for locating the downed pilot, who was rescued by helicopter the same day.

Sept. 15, 1981: Strategic Air Command received its first TR-1A reconnaissance aircraft. Built by Lockheed, this improved and enlarged version of the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft could conduct all-weather day-and-night missions at altitudes exceeding 70,000 feet.

Jan. 8, 1986: Military Airlift Command accepted delivery of its first C-5B Galaxy, an improved version of the C-5A, at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. On Oct. 4, 1989, a 60th Military Airlift Wing crew landed a C-5B Galaxy in Antarctica for the first time. With a load of 72 passengers and 84 tons of cargo, including two fully assembled Bell UH-1N helicopters, the huge aircraft landed without skis at McMurdo Station.

Aug. 23, 1990: The 89th Military Airlift Wing received the first of two Boeing VC-25A presidential transport aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The VC-25A was a modified 747-200B commercial transport that replaced the VC-137C for service as Air Force One.


Sept. 1, 1982: The Air Force activated Space Command, redesignated Air Force Space Command on Nov. 15, 1985, following activation of United States Space Command, a joint organizationóat Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., on Sept. 23, 1985. Between April 1 and May 1, 1983, the Air Force transferred 31 units and four installations from Strategic Air Command to Space Command, which took over missile warning and space surveillance systems.

Sept. 13, 1985: The first antisatellite intercept test took place when a weapon launched from an F-15 successfully destroyed a satellite orbiting at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour approximately 290 miles above Earth.

June 14, 1989: On its first launch, the Martin Marietta Titan IV heavy-lift booster, nearly 20 stories tall, successfully lifted a Defense Department satellite into orbit.


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