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Technology & Technique Advances

Wernher Von Braun Explains the Saturn Launch System to President Kennedy, Nov. 16, 1963
Wernher Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun (March 23, 1912 – June 16, 1977) was a German and later American aerospace engineer and space architect, but made his greatest contributions as an aerospace program manager. He was one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology in Germany and the United States and is considered one of the "Fathers of Rocket Science". He was also a member of the Nazi Party and the SS.

Science and technology assumed paramount importance during World War II. Effective coatings for everything from munitions to matches; new metal alloys; carbon monoxide indicators for fighter plane cockpits; and new plastic products and textiles all came about because of the war. A method for making special paper for war maps was invented and used extensively.

War weapons research led to a contractor's development of printed circuits, which substituted printed wiring, resistors, and coils for the conventional discrete components in electronic devices. This technology contributed to a new field of electronic miniaturization.

Synthetic rubber became a precious commodity during World War II when imports of natural rubber from the Far East were cut off. Indeed, natural rubber became so rare in the United States that gasoline was rationed to discourage people from driving cars (which, of course, ran on rubber tires). Ultimately, the nation spent as much on its rubber program as it did on the atomic bomb. Today, the U.S. synthetic rubber industry reports more than $4.5 billion in annual shipments, and the nation exports substantial amounts of these materials.

Early "smart" weapons systems helped the Allies win the war. One was a fuse that exploded a projectile when directly over its target, rather than on impact, making the weapon five to 20 times more effective. The "radio proximity fuse" was a tiny radio transmitter and receiver about the size of a lightbulb, powered by batteries or generators. Variations on the device were designed for rockets, shells, and bombs. Hundreds of workers spent several years perfecting the technology, first tested in early 1941. The fuse, often described as a leading technical advance of the wartime period, was not released for general use until 1944. Mortar shell fuses did not go into full production, but fuses for rockets and bombs went into full production and were used extensively. The first major combat use of the fuse was during the preinvasion bombardment of Iwo Jima in 1945. Some 8.3 million fuses were produced.

Freeman Field

The Arado Ar-234. The Me-163 Komet. The famously fast Messerschmitt Me-262. For any historian or aviation fan of World War II, the names of these airplanes immediately evoke a strong response, What you might find more interesting, however, is how these aircraft and others ended up on a military airfield near Seymour, Indiana following the close of World War II. Investigated for their advanced technologies, they were soon disposed of, and the airfield known as Freeman Field turned over to civilian use in the late 1940s.

However, over the years, stories and rumors persisted that not all of the aircraft were removed, instead, being disposed of by burial on the airfield itself. Were these rumors true? Are there still aircraft remains buried just underneath runways and buildings, still awaiting rediscovery? Let's take a step back in time and learn more about the mysterious Freeman Field.

To learn about Freeman Field, we need to step back to the early 1940s and become aware of the rapid transformation of the United States military. From a slumbering giant in the 1920s and 1930s to the World War II "arsenal of democracy", a huge military buildup was transforming the country. Needing to train pilots as fast as possible for the aircraft that would begin pouring off new production lines, many small to medium airfields soon dotted the countryside from coast to coast. These airfields, and in particular, Freeman Field, would form the primary training wing of the newly expanded United States Army Air Corps.

Freeman Field started in 1942. Consisting mainly of the buildings and many runways that would be the training grounds for the freshly inducted pilots and trainees, the field was like many of the others, hastily put together for a nation at war, but ready to begin the fight.

The airfield contained multiple runways longer than 5,000 feet in length. This provided plenty of room for the more than 200 Beech AT-10 training planes that would soon be located there. Nicknamed the "Wichita" because of where they were built, these aircraft and over 5,000 servicemen and women found Freeman Field their wartime home.

However, this airfield would soon be remembered for more than just a place to go for flight training, with occurrences foreshadowing the new postwar world of the 1950s. The first was that the airfield would become a temporary home for the first ever helicopter training base in the United States. June 1944 saw the Sikorsky R-4's being used there for instruction in this new and then unusual form of aviation.

There were wartime events that soon would over-shadow, as captured wartime aviation trophies radically changed the scope and purpose of Freeman Field. For that, let's take a closer look at wartime aviation and what the Allies soon came to find out.

From training field to the battle-field, many of the aircraft fielded by both the American and British forces during the war were considered "best in breed", particularly fighters such as the North American P-51 Mustang or bombers such as the British de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito.

However, at the close of the war, the Allies learned that this was not always necessarily the case. Learning about Germany's advanced aviation research from captured personnel, airfields, and research laboratories, the Allies soon became aware of fantastic inventions such as swept wings, rocket propulsion and other advanced jet technologies used by German researchers and military scientists. In the book, American Raiders: The Race to Capture the Luftwaffe Secrets, we find out that, "...the true scope of German scientific progress became increasingly visible and in many respects awe inspiring."

For the United States, and under the direction of the Army Air Corps, ATI (Air Technical Intelligence), teams of investigators, engineers and military units began impounding and utilizing these aircraft and related technologies, taking them back to the United States for further investigation. As noted in United States Air Force historical documentation, these operations weren't always easy and, in many cases, needed to be disguised from the public. With various names, such as Operation Lusty (LUftwaffe Secret Technology) or Operation Paperclip, German scientists for aviation and aerospace were brought back to the United States. The race to find out more about the technology was on!

Many of the captured aircraft were transported to various airbases around the United States, including Freeman Field and Wright Field, which we know today as Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Middletown Air Depot was sometimes used as a way station for these German aircraft, but soon became known as the home airfield for captured Japanese aircraft and related technologies.

The end result of this all this hard work and investigation? According to official military histories, the statistics included over 16,000 captured items/technologies and related aircraft. Capturing the equipment and shipping it back to the United States was only the first step. The real work would be in extracting the technology and the science behind it. Freeman Field, home to these strange, yet wonderful aircraft, would soon become a beehive of work.

The process of extracting needed aeronautical and aerospace technologies involved a whole host of military and science personnel that had to be moved to the airfield. This also included flight tests, evaluation of the science behind the aircraft and more. As reported in various newspapers and other accounts at the time, this also included demonstration events for the public, which helped to build public awareness of both the captured enemy aircraft as well as to pave the way for America's next generation of jet fighters and space technologies.

Even the storied Chuck Yeager played a role at Freeman Field, flying to the airfield to examine the amazing Dornier 335, a unique fighter with propeller engines in both the front and the back! Considered by many to be uniquely dangerous, this was one of the fastest propeller-driven aircraft ever, even though it never made a widespread appearance in the war and many pilots, Axis and Allied both, refused to fly it!

The end result of all the investi-gation and flights at Freeman Field was a bonanza of technical information, knowledge, and in many cases, practical application of captured German technologies that would be transferred and used in many parts of the United States armed services in the years to come.

This can actually be seen in the much-vaunted North American F-86 Sabre. As written in the February 4, 1952 issue of LIFE magazine, this aircraft was transformed from a straight wing aircraft into the swept-wing hero of the Korean War by using airfoil technology found in the wing design of the Me-262, of which many examples were flown and used at Freeman Field.

However, there were limits to what could be extracted from the captured aircraft, and by the latter stages of 1946 and early 1947, the war was already a distant memory. The work at Freeman Field began to wind down, with equipment and air-frames being shipped to other military installations for training or sent to museums for storage. Eventually, Freeman Field was deactivated in 1948.

However, a curious thing happened at the airfield. Not all of the captured aircraft and technologies were removed. In fact, what happened, in many cases, was that the captured aircraft was dismantled locally and then buried in locations on and near the airfield - casualties of a war gone by.

With the passage of time, the knowledge of the important post-war work that had been done at Freeman Field in the years following World War II, while not completely forgotten, was diminished. However, here and there, stories and memories persisted about the captured aircraft that had once existed at the airfield, particularly about their disposal. Rumors and interviews persisted about many of the aircraft being buried at the base and not shipped off as commonly thought.

People soon began investigating these stories a bit closer, many groups and individuals spent both time and money looking for bits and pieces of aircraft still thought to be buried there. The stories persisted, and today there is still hope of finding more aircraft remains so carelessly discarded years ago.

Recovered pieces, so far, have included, "...engine parts, fuse-lage panels, landing gear parts, propeller blades and hubs, weapons parts, cockpit items, and many yet-unidentified parts, including German, Italian, British and Japanese parts. Known aircraft parts include Junkers Ju-88, Heinkel 111, Focke-Wulf Fw 190, Messerschmitt Bf-109 and Me-262, and Supermarine Spitfire Mk-9."

From playing a role in the war to having a direct effect on American airpower in the post-World War II era, Freeman Field, and the remarkable stories contained within it, is history we should all know about. Even today, the Freeman Field legacy continues to reveal to us information and stories that have been shrouded in time and mystery.

The first fully automated guided missile ever used successfully in combat was called the Bat. The 1,000 pound missile emitted shortwave radiation and was guided by the radar echoes of the enemy target. In addition to its self-guidance capability, the Bat was known for its long range, high accuracy, and high payload. It was used in the Pacific theater.

As the Allies prepared to invade occupied Europe in 1942, a truly nutty idea swept through the British military hierarchy: build giant aircraft carriers made of ice. The ships could be made cheaply, they figured. And, maybe, they could be constructed tough enough to withstand bullets and torpedoes.

With Churchill's blessing, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, began the task of developing "berg-ships" up to 4,000 feet long, 600 feet wide and 130 feet in depth. His task seemed to get easier when, in early 1943, two American professors discovered that a very tough material could be produced by adding a small amount of wood pulp to water before freezing. They called this material pykrete, in honour of (Mountbatten's scientific advisor) Geoffrey Pyke.

The first jets were developed during World War II and saw combat in its last year. Messerschmitt developed the first operational jet fighter, the Me 262. It was considerably faster than piston-driven aircraft, and in the hands of a competent pilot, was practically untouchable.

Street fighting is a unique kind of combat. The front lines are only a street apart, and sometimes not even that. Often the US held one building and the Wehrmacht the next. Sometimes one side held the ground floor and the enemy those above! Street fighting is all about terrain. The buildings, the streets, and the rubble of a city combine to make a unique battlefield. The very density of a city that makes it so different from other battlefields also creates problems. In the open it is difficult to move near the enemy without attracting a hail of fire. Buildings, however, provide plenty of cover making it possible to move and fight from a room with the enemy right next door.

Troops taking part in street fighting are equipped with pick axes, crowbars, and explosives. They can break ‘mouseholes' through walls allowing them to enter rooms without using doors and windows. This apparently innocuous term has sinister connotations. It describes one of the elements of urban warfare in which troops do not enter houses or rooms from the door. These small holes allow them to work their way from room to room without exposing themselves to enemy fire, and to launch surprise assaults into enemy held rooms.

Blitzkrieg (German, literally lightning war or flash war) is a popular name for an offensive operational-level military doctrine which involves an initial bombardment followed by employment of mobile forces attacking with speed and surprise to prevent an enemy from implementing a coherent defense.

The generally accepted definition of blitzkrieg operations include the use of maneuver rather than attrition to defeat an opponent, and describe operations using combined arms concentration of mobile assets at a focal point, armour closely supported by mobile infantry, artillery and close air support assets. These tactics required the development of specialized support vehicles, new methods of communication, new tactics, and an effective decentralized command structure. Broadly speaking, blitzkrieg operations required the development of mechanized infantry, self-propelled artillery and engineering assets that could maintain the rate of advance of the tanks. German forces avoided direct combat in favor of interrupting an enemy's communications, decision-making, logistics and of reducing morale. In combat, blitzkrieg left little choice for the slower defending forces but to clump into defensive pockets that were encircled and then destroyed by following German infantry.

World War II stands as a watershed in the development of psychological science, when social forces and intellectual trends engendered a major shift in the role of the psychologist. As the professional self-image of the psychologist was transformed, public attitudes and expectations about psychology also changed. World War II was the catalyst for expansion into the mental health profession. Psychiatrists were overwhelmed, and psychologists came into their own. Basically the Veterans Administration created the clinical psychologists' profession, which by 1960 had grown to be the largest area in psychology. World War II mobilized an alliance of clinical and experimental psychologists.

The most significant technological innovations that take place during the course of a war will usually have their biggest impact upon the outcome of the next. Air power innovation is no exception in this respect. Using the air as an avenue of attack was a way of reaching even further into enemy terrain whilst maintaining a safe distance. And as German airship and biplane raids on London showed, air power's reach needn't be restricted to targets immediately behind enemy lines. You could strike at your opponent's 'vital centres', such as bridges, ports and factories, as well taking the war directly to the civilian population.

As bombers grew bigger and more capable of flying further and at higher altitudes, their payloads became larger and more destructive. The firestorms that had consumed the cities of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, killing thousands and rendering millions more homeless, were still not enough to bring the much sought Allied victory. It would take the meeting of British, Russian and American ground forces in the burning streets of Berlin to bring an end to the war in Europe.

In the history of warfare, nuclear weapons have been used only twice, both during the closing days of World War II. The use of these weapons, which resulted in the immediate deaths of around 100,000 to 200,000 individuals and even more over time, was and remains controversial - critics charged that they were unnecessary acts of mass killing, while others claimed that they ultimately reduced casualties on both sides by hastening the end of the war. Navy Captain William Parsons armed the bomb during the flight, since it had been left unarmed to minimize the risks during takeoff. The gravity bomb, a gun-type fission weapon, with 130 pounds of uranium-235, performed as expected. At 8.15 local time on the morning of 6 August 1945 in the Japanese industrial town of Hiroshima, another campaign would draw to a close, and a new era of conflict would begin: nuclear stalemate in the Cold War.

Soon after the declaration of war on Germany in 1941, the U.S. Congress authorized the Engineering Science Management War Training Program (ESMWT) for the training and upgrading of technicians in industrial and defense plants. The School of Engineering supplemented its regular program by offering numerous courses for that special purpose.

During and after the war, federal officials came to recognize the importance of supporting the basic research that made useful applications of science and technology possible. At the same time, research costs became so great that government support was critical to the nation.

In the Post-War Era, with the national mandate for research universities to play a prominent role in the federal vision of prosperity and security, the University (Washington University in St. Louis) and the School entered a second phase of development as a national educational and research entity. By the time of the University's centennial, the School was fulfilling its aspirations as a leading center for engineering education and research. The Henry Edwin Sever Institute of Technology, organized as the graduate division of the School of Engineering, was ready for occupancy in the fall of 1948.

Toni Bandy. Rediscovered History: Freeman Field Indiana. History Magazine. August/September 2012.


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