12 Things You May Not Know about AFRL
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has for the past 100 years historically impacted the Air Force’s goal of being the world’s best fighting force. In recognition of the upcoming 75th Anniversary of the Air Force, the below list highlights some of AFRL’s achievements, following in line with the Air Force’s mission statement of “fly, fight, and win.…airpower anytime, anywhere.”
1. Pressure: For a century, the pioneering research of the United States Air Force
has made high-altitude air travel safe and comfortable. The research conducted at
Wright Field led to many developments. One of them is the first operational
bomber with a pressurized cabin, the B-29 crew; the pressurized cabin created for
the B-29 crew is in modern airliners allowing for sustainable long-term travel.
2. Speed: When designing the X-1, AFRL engineers focused on modeling it after the
50-caliber bullet because of its stability at supersonic speeds. This combination of
stable body shape, thin wings, a powerful engine, and an all-moving tail allowed it
to move faster than the speed of sound.
3. Spectrum: Air Force electromagnetic research began with the establishment of
McCook Field, utilizing the first aerial cameras and airborne radio equipment.
AFRL also created the targeting, tracking, and focusing system in the
Demonstrator Laser Weapon System (DLWS), tracking and defeating targets such
as ground vehicles, rockets, mortars, and missiles.
4. Sense: Air Force engineers at McCook Field and Wright Field, took on the task of
sensing and communicating with the aircraft, and its environment. Developing
instruments inside the plane that still hold the standard today allows pilots insight
into their machines, nearby aircraft, and allies on the ground.
5. Precision: Due to the lack of accurate bombs faced by bombers in WWII and the
Vietnam War, civilian casualties were unavoidable. Research conducted by AFRL’s
predecessor lead to development of the first laser-guided bomb allowing for more
precise ammunition and fewer losses.
6. Thrust: The twisted airfoil propeller designed by the Wright Brothers was the
building block for all modern propellers. The U.S. Army Air Corps and the U.S. Navy
conducted their propeller testing at Wright Field. In May 1917, the U.S.
commissioned an engine that would rival the world’s best-known as the “Liberty
Engine” causing a whirlwind of engine development, including a supercharged
version of the “Liberty Engine.”
7. Speed 2: In 1954, the X-15 was a project conducted through a combined effort
between the U.S. Air Force, NACA, and the U.S. Navy to continue to study
hypersonic and space flight. Wright Air Development Center, an AFRL
predecessor, would focus on the early stages of the development. While the
NACA concentrated on the later stages, the U.S. Navy served as a junior partner in
8. Calculate: The AFRL has a long history of helping engineer many technological
advancements we still use today. In 1958, Jack Kilby demonstrated the first
functional integrated circuit (IC) using funding from the Air Force Office of
Scientific Research (AFOSR). The IC was in the Minutemen and Apollo Space
Mission’s guidance computers.
9. Labs: In October 1997, the 80th Anniversary of the founding of McCook Field, the
Air Force combined its four super labs (Wright, Phillips, Rome, and Armstrong) to
become the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
10. Speed 3: Due to the research developed on the X-30, two projects came from
this effort. The first was “High Tech,” an AFRL program that produced a functional
ground testable scramjet engine for flight above Mach 5. The second is “Hyper-X,”
a NASA project that was the first vehicle to be propelled by a scramjet engine.
11. Materials: When thinking of the point of the spear, materials are what make it
possible. One of the ways researchers approach current problems is through AI;
and robot researchers. Autonomous Researcher System (ARES) can conduct
experiments, review results, send the data off to an artificial module and create
potential outcomes of what experiments to perform next. This product will be able
to improve not only materials but the entire research process.
12. Performance: The high volume of crashes occurring during early aviation due to
the extreme stressors pilots faced created a need for research and helped
develop standards for flight surgeons. Today, the 711th Human Performance Wing is the center of AFRL’s research activities related to Human Performance.