Military Requirements in the Jet Age

March 1, 1956
This morning, I want to outline the US Air Force requirements in the second decade of the Jet Age. I want to talk about two broad areas–first of all, what we need in the way of air bases, and how we plan to use them. Secondly, I want to talk to you about air traffic control, because it is a real problem. These are not new problems for the Air Force or the Civil Aeronautics people either. They are old problems and they are pressing in on us much more vigorously than before. The Air Force recognized it, and a couple of years ago it appointed a committee headed by Maj. Gen. Herbert B. Thatcher. They worked on the problem, and they came out after a year with this paragraph:

“The committee has been impressed throughout its study by the pervasiveness of two basic influencing considerations. First, the conflict between communities and air bases operations is not simply an Air Force problem. It is a problem affecting national policies and the national economy as well as national defense. It applies to the civil populace, to Congress, to the other armed forces and to industry, as well as the Air Force. United States Air Force air base utilization is a national problem and there must be a national solution. Second, the answer to the problem must be effective in resolving present conflicts as well as effective in preventing future ones. An effective long-range solution will be cheaper and will give better defense and will be more acceptable than a series of temporary solutions.”

With this much background, let us jump of the deep end into a discussion of the air base problem and the chief offender–the airplane. First of all, let us look at this airplane to see what kind of performance we are talking about.

The turbojet aircraft we are about to have and the ones we have now are of extremely high performance. They are of high speeds, and we are going to be dealing with speeds of Mach Two, and we already have two supersonic fighters in the inventory. The take-off speeds of these types of aircraft is increasing as the years go by. At the present time, the fighters are touching down at 150 knots at least. They fly the pattern at 200 knots and above, and even when they are coming over the fence, they are using a lot of power in their approach; they are making better than 175 knots. In other words, l they come over the fence at about 175 and might hit going about 150. These aircraft are essentially high-altitude aircraft. They take off, climb to altitude, do their mission and descend swiftly. They must climb in the shortest possible time because the fuel consumption is very high. These aircraft have a very high rate of ascent and descent. The fighters we have coming along will climb subsonically to 35,000 feet. After that, they will go to Mach One, Two or Three, whatever it is to carry out their mission–40,000 feet a minute or better. This is eight or nine miles a minute straight up.

Let’s take the B-52 for an example. When you put the gear down and the flaps u, and so forth, the airplane comes down in a very steep angle. You would fall out of the seat if you were not strapped in. The speed is 275 knots or thereabouts. This B-52 is a big airplane, and, in the descent, the rate-of-climb indicator is no good at all. It only goes to 6,000 feet a minute, and you are making 12,000, 15,000 or 18,000 feet a minute on an angle.

In addition to that, the airplanes are getting heavier. Our fighters are weighing 25,000 to 40,000 pounds heavier and the weights are going up. The B-52 weighs about 400,000p pounds and it is still growing. The performance of the airplane is made possible by the very great power available to us in turbojet engines. We are not satisfied with that, however; we must couple on the back of the engines an afterburner. Even when you have a single engine with an afterburner, you have a terrific controlled explosion.

We really do not have any good measures for evaluating the sound or conveying from one person to another the level of sound to be expected. We are talking about decibels, which is a measure of sound as it appears to the human ear, the sound which you can distinguish as increasing or decreasing. … It would take a Rip Van Winkle to sleep through . . . the forty to eighty decibel area. [It is] the forty to eighty-six area that wakes up people on the end of the runway, but when you get to the F-86G with its afterburner, you are up almost to 140 decibels. The F-102 is slightly over 140, and the B-52 is up over 150. It is intolerable to the human ear when you get close to that.

In addition to the noise we get out o the engines, we also get some noise out of the aircraft itself. … Flights at low altitudes at supersonic speeds are not only noisy, but they are dangerous for things on the ground. You will probably recall the exhibition flight put on at Palmdale, Calif., which damaged glass and so forth. Real damage can be done on the ground, so we have to deep the planes up in the air. The sound comes back to the ground even through the flight is made at very high altitude.

There is one other aspect of the hazard. Thus far, we have talked about performance, high speeds, high weights, nuisance, noise, and hazard. But we have not talked about the munitions.

The Air Defense Command–in fact, all of the Air Force–is designed to carry munitions on a mission. The Air Defense Command itself, of which I am head, flies all over the country. We have fifty-five different bases with aircraft that are armed. They are ready to shoot on every tactical mission. They are not armed with machine guns; they are armed with rockets which are 2.75 inches in diameter and each explosive blast is equal to a .75 mm shell. In the F-86D, we have twenty-four of these; in the F-89 you have 104, and we must store these on the base in our normal operations. It must be obvious to you that to you that if we can get better protection for the country by using atomic weapons, we are going to use them. That means in the days that lie ahead–and they are not too far ahead–we will have atomic weapons storage at your various airports, and the various warplanes you see flying around on missions will be carrying atomic weapons. We are going to do as much as we can to make the aircraft, weapons, and procedures safe, but the hazards are still here.

In the light of these hazards and these problems, what kind of an airfield do we have to have? We had the Thatcher Committee and another distinguished group put together by the Assistant Secretary of Defense studying this. They came up with these requirements: For a single-engine jet aircraft, we need a runway 10,000 feet long and 200 feet wide. For multi-engine jets, we need at least 11,000 by 30. The taxiways and parking area as well as the runway must be of heavy pavement and wide in proportion. They must have blast aprons along the sides to keep from blowing away the shoulders. These runways, as long as they are, must have overruns at least 1,000 feet on each end. The British call them overshoots. The figures of 10,000 and 11,000 which I am quoting for you designate only sea-level conditions. If you were to go to high altitude or operate in hot weather, you need longer runways–considerably longer runways.

In addition to the airfield itself, you need a relatively clear zone, one free of communities and industrial facilities, on the extensions of the runway. The ideal situation would be to have one seven miles long and four miles wide on each end of the runway. It must be obvious to everyone here that you could not go to Long Island and buy a strip of land sixteen or seventeen miles long and four miles wide. However, we do think it is possible to have zoning in the extensions of the runways so that we will avoid these congested areas which now form at the ends of the flying field where the danger from a forced landing is grave.

These two committees felt the airfields should be about fifteen miles, at least, from the nearest large community. Fifteen miles is required to get the traffic patterns which are essential to safe flight. It seems a long distance, but that is the distance they recommended. It is obvious to you, I am sure, that these are ideal requirements, and we do not meet them. We have to start with the present situation, and I am sorry to say that I have to operate my fighters on eighteen airports which are shared with civil and municipal operators. There are several airports or municipal airports–eighteen of the fifty-five. Very few of our airfields are 10,000 feet long. Most of them are far less than that, and they lack the clear zones at the ends which are essential for safety and for the elimination of the noise hazard. There is a steady encroachment on these zones at the ends of the fields by the civilians in the adjacent communities.

Recognizing that we cannot go from where we are to where we would like to be, the Air Force has, however, adopted a three-phase program.

We have a scheme of public education. We are working on scientific, operational, technical developments, and we are working on the physical movement of the base to better areas.

Let’s take the physical removal. This is the solution that the communities usually come up with: Get out of here; go somewhere else. But it is an expensive solution and one with which we have great difficulty in adopting, not only from the expense point of view but for other reasons as well. If you pick up a base here and move it over there, you take the problem right along with you, because before you arrive, the real estate people have subdivided all of the land, and they have sold lots all over the place, and you do not have time to zone. They get the word, as the Navy says, before we do. Therefore, the problem of moving out of the community and moving to an adjacent area which is relatively free of civilization is a stop-gap and is not recommended.

We are having better luck, however, with our public relations problem then we have had in years gone by. Throughout the Air Force, instructions to the base commander are such that he must get in touch with the community. He joins the Chamber of Commerce, the Kiwanis Club, and so on, and he gets on the bread-and-butter circuit–he eats chicken and talks to everybody who will listen to him. Some of my base commanders are spending half their time talking to the community. It would be safer if the would come home to their flying, but I ha to go on with this public relations program. We have other meetings. We have some movies.

We work on the press to try to stress the safety angle, the heroism of the pilot who stays with his aircraft, and so on, and we are having good luck, but it is a long-term process which takes a lot of effort–more than we can afford to give to it.

In the field of research and development, a lot of work has to be done. It is possible to make the jets less noisy. Certainly we can do a great deal about building diversionary fences which divert the sounds upward, and we can do all sorts of things which will get the noise away from the adjacent community. We think there is a lot of work in Research and development for the people who have to work around these planes. You have to have a helmet, where ear plugs or you will become deaf. We can do things with the new aircraft that we could not do before.

In the F-102, for example, it is possible to climb at a steep angle after take-off, but the noise level goes up so we do not make much money on this maneuver, but we are trying it. The F-102 has a noise level at an altitude of 8,000 or 10,000, that will wake up children on the ground underneath.

Here are the three things that the Air Force is doing: Public education, research and development, and movement of bases.

This far, I have been talking solely about the air base problem. We want better fields, and we would like them in a remote area if it is possible to get them.

The other subject I want to mention very briefly is the matter of air traffic control. Once an airplane gets off the ground, it is a projectile. An airplane going at Mach 9–and that is the general area where most of the airplanes are cruising these days–they are going to cruise higher than this–at .9, they are faster than a pistol bullet, yet we are asking the man who rides on this projectile to use voice radio which has certain limitations, interference, and so forth, to tell the people where he is. Our air traffic is based on reports by the man riding in the projectile and using a voice radio. We think that is impossible, and we think it has to be corrected as rapid as possible.

You may think that I am criticizing the CAA; nothing could be further from the truth. The CAA is doing a wonderful job so far as we are concerned. I could not do my business in the Air Defense Command without the complete and wholehearted cooperation of the CAA. All of the basic information that goes into the air defense problem of traffic control comes from the CAA. I am not criticizing the CAA. I am just saying that we have to do better. We have to have a new air traffic control facility. The system, whatever it is, must take the airplane as soon as it leaves the ground, it must take it to altitude and take it to its destination, put it back down on the ground and put it in the traffic pattern with a minimum of moves and delay. It must be perfect every time. We do not think you can do this on voice radio. The aircraft are at high speed. If a jet airplane is going from here to there, even though the distance is short, he goes up and back down.

The system must provide the pilot a statement as to his position somehow or other. A pilot just cannot determine it any more. He is going, say, ten miles a minute. Suppose he is over Washington at 40,000 feet. When he looks over the side, he says that he is over Baltimore. He looks out the other side and he says that he is over Quantico, because it looks that way from underneath him, so his position as reported by him is inadequate at least, and he cannot get the word through to the CAA anyhow.

There is one thing about jet operations that everybody must understand– the pilot is fighting the fuel problem from the time he thinks about the flight. He must do flight planning from the time he starts thinking about going up and he fights that fuel problem until he gets back on the ground again. Fuel consumption is terrific, and if you make a mistake in your let-down, you may find yourself at the wrong airfield and no fuel to climb back up to go to the proper one. You cannot make any mistakes on this decision to let down.

The last thing, regardless of the fact that we are still in the Jet Age, is this: We still have to take care of the people who fly conventional aircraft. So, the system must handle mixed traffic.

So, there are problems. We want a place to fly from and we want somebody to help us get out destination–air traffic control. Up to now, this has been a military problem, but it is going to be a civil problem directly. Just how quickly it is going to be a civil problem, I do not know, but it is going to be a civil problem as well as a military problem as soon as you get your first get transport. …

We have some firm requirements and we do not see how to meet them. I have been intentionally on the pessimistic side–not too pessimistic–but I do not want to give you an optimistic picture of our problems at all. We are not solving them, and we need some help.

I might say one more thing: We are not out there demonstrating our prowess by skipping through the doodle, as we used to say. What we are doing now is flying as conservatively as it is possible for us to fly and accomplish the mission. The Air Force has done a wonderful job in reducing its accident rate. In 1921, it was 461 accidents for 600 flying hours; last year, it was twenty; and it has been going down steadily in the post-war years. We are very proud of this, but we cannot get around the fact that we are causing a lot of commotion; there is a lot of nuisance and hazard involved. Somehow or other, we are going to have to educate the public to the fact that they must accept this annoyance in the interest of national defense.

Jean DuBuque [National Business Aircraft Association]: When military aircraft move in on civil airports on a joint use basis, on many occasions the civil aircraft operators are either forced off the base or are so restricted in their operation that civil aviation in that community does on the vine. Many city fathers have complained, in connection with the problems of joint use, that they do not understand Air Force Regulation 87-7, which is so complex in many of its provisions that it is difficult for them to work with it. What is being done in that connection?

General Partridge: I join the city fathers. I do not understand it either. [Laughter] I am sorry to say that I am not familiar with this particular regulation. I probably know the contents, but not by that number.

Mr. DuBuque: It is a joint use agreement.

General Partridge: The decision to move into the civil airports was taken during the Korean war when it became apparent that we did not have an air defense system. We just had to barge in and get under way. We would like to move off the civil airports, but we do not have the money to do it. In the meanwhile, the base commanders should get together with everyone who operates on that base and, on a day-to-day basis, discuss every single aspect of the operations. If they are not doing that, we can see that they do do it. It is inevitable that if you put more airplanes on the field than the field will accommodate, then somebody has to give, and, up to now, in the urgency of the defense problem, it is the civil aviator who has had to give many times. I regret this, but I cannot fix it. The only way to solve the problem is to discuss it at the field level in detail and try to work out agreements by which we can live together until we get separated.

Harold C. Stuart: I notice in all of this discussion of moving to other locations, nothing is said about the required housing, the recreational facilities, and the things for the comfort of the airmen and the pilots. We spent millions and millions of dollars training these people. They are entitled to some life with their families, and when you move to an isolated area, you have no schools, no churches, no recreational facilities and no houses, so you cannot get the boys to go in. Is that not correct?

General Partridge: This is a very difficult problem for us to solve under our system of government. I do not believe many people appreciate the difficulty of getting a military construction program to agree with the government. There are lots of folks around with red pencils. If you put in a complete base, a package such as we need when we go to a remote area, there are a lot of sharpshooters who go through the items one by one, and they take out the family housing, and take out the gymnasium, the chapel, and the swimming pool, and they say that we can operate a base without all of these thins. We say, “Sure we can, but at the end of four years, the men will get out, and we have lost $15,000 apiece, or something like that, which we have invested in them. They would stay with us if they had some place to have some fun or to live a normal life.”

It is a sad story. The face is, under the current arrangements in government, it is absolutely impossible to get a packaged air base which will come complete with all of those facilities. Something has to be done about it.

Croaker Snow [National Association of State Aviation Officials]: With respect to the eighteen joint use bases, I think it is safe to say that when you r jet fighters are operating in VFR weather, they make what is called a tactical approach, an overhead break, and all of the other airplanes, including the airlines and everybody else, use what is called the conventional approach in landing. Is it necessary to the performance of your mission that fighters make that type of approach to landing

General Partridge: The answer to that is no, in my opinion, and I am going to break the hearts of all of the fighter people in the United States when I say that. This maneuver was developed initially to assist in the spacing of the formation of aircraft. We would bring four or eight fighters in, and you had to have some way of getting separated in the radio pattern, and if the radio is out–radios were not always as reliable as they are now–the pilot had to know ahead of time what runway he was going to use. We developed this wonderful custom of just coming by and peeling off in so many seconds–six, eight, and so on–and forming the t4traffic pattern. It is a lot of fun and you cannot make the mistake that General Doolittle and I once did. We were in the backend of an F-94 up on Goose Bay. The pilot got both hands on the stick and then hauled back on it. The G force is something like eight Gs–more than it should be–and the passenger in the back seat loses oxygen [Laughter]. General Doolittle probably knows what I am talking about. This was seven o’clock in the morning. I do not think this maneuver is necessary. They call me “Square-Pattern” Partridge. Gen. Earle E. Partridge, Commander-in-Chief, Continental Air Defense Command, was born in 1900 at Winchendon, Mass. A graduate of West Point (1924) he earned his wings, and in 1932, attended Command and General Staff School. In 1942, he became a member of the War Department General Staff and later served as Deputy Commander of the 15th AF. He was appointed Deputy Commander of the 8th AF in England and returned to AF Hq. in 1946. He took the 5th AF to Korea in 1950, later returned to the US to command ARDC. In 1955 he took over joint command of ADC and CADC.