JANUARY 6 In Texas, General Dynamics begins extensive testing of the F-111A variable geometry (swing-wing) fighter – bomber by shifting the wings for the first time. No ill effects are experienced during the transition.
JANUARY 21 An Air Force Atlas ICBM is launched and carries the Aerospace Research Satellite into Earth orbit. This is also the first satellite slipped into a westward-facing orbit.
FEBRUARY 1 In Washington, D. C., General John P. McDonnell gains appointment as the Air Force chief of staff.
FEBRUARY 4 An Air Force Titan IIIC solid-fuel rocket booster is test fired for the first time, generating 1.25 million pounds of thrust. This output is 25 percent greater than calculated.
FEBRUARY 8 Over North Vietnam, Operation flaming dart unfolds in retaliation for Viet Cong attacks on allied air bases. This day Air Force F-100 Super Sabres make their first appearance in Communist airspace by flying top cover for South Vietnamese warplanes.
FEBRUARY 18 Over An Khe, South Vietnam, Air Force B-57 Canberras and F-100 Suber Sabres make their first aerial attacks on Communist positions.
March 2-October 31, 1968 Over
North Vietnam, the United States commences Operation rolling thunder, a concerted aerial offensive against Communist military and economic targets. The onslaught involves both Air Force and carrier-based Navy aircraft. An F – 100 Super Sabre flown by Lieutenant Hayden J. Lockhart is shot down on the
first day of the offensive; he remains in captivity over the next eight years.
MARCH 23 At Cape Canaveral, Florida, Major Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom becomes the first American astronaut when he blasts into orbit aboard Gemini II, accompanied by Navy Lieutenant Commander John W. Young.
MARCH 30—May 23 On Cyprus, Air
Force C-124s transport 3,000 Danish UN peacekeepers and 76 tons of cargo during a period of unrest.
April 3 Over Southeast Asia, Operation steel tiger commences to interdict the Communist supply line known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This involves bombing targets in Laos and Cambodia for the remainder of the war.
APRIL 3—4 Over North Vietnam, two F – 105 Thunderchiefs are shot down while trying to bomb the Thanh Hoa bridge. The attack fails to bring down any spans. These are also the first Air Force combat losses.
April 20 A milestone is passed after the final production Atlas ICBM is placed in storage for use as a research vehicle, having been largely supplanted by solid-propellant missiles like the Minuteman.
April 23 At Travis Air Force Base, California, the first operational Lockheed C – 141 Starlifter is deployed.
April 29—May 5 At Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, Operation power PACK unfolds as Air Force C-130s and C – 124s transport 12,000 troops and
17,0 tons of supplies during a stabilization and peacekeeping mission in the Dominican Republic. Personnel from the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard are active throughout.
May 1 A Lockheed YF-12A flown by Colonel Robert L. Stephens establishes a new world’s speed record by reaching 2,070 miles per hour in level flight. Consequently, the YF-12A/ SR-71 Test Force receives a Mackay Trophy.
May 12—18 The United States suspends its bombing campaign to gauge North Vietnam’s willingness to negotiate and to end the conflict—the gesture is not reciprocated.
May 22 Once the bombing of North Vietnam resumes, Air Force F-105s strike targets above the 20th parallel for the first time by bombing army barracks.
June 3—7 In Earth orbit, Air Force astronauts and Majors Edward H. White and James A. McDivitt set an American endurance record in space by completing 63 orbits in 97 hours. On June 4, White also becomes the first American to depart his space capsule and drifts on a tethered line with a gas propulsion unit.
June 18 On Guam, B-52s sortie to conduct the first arc light (carpet bombing) missions against Viet Cong positions near Saigon, South Vietnam. This is also the giant bomber’s baptism by fire.
A Titan III rocket launcher lifts a satellite weighing 10.5 tons into orbit by generating 2.5 million pounds of thrust. This system consists of a three-stage liquid-fuel rocket and two strap-on solid-fuel boosters.
June 30 At Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, the 800th Minuteman ICBM becomes operational, being the last ofthis variant deployed.
July 8 Control of NASA satellites Syncom II and Syncom III is assumed by the Air Force Satellite Control Facility for the Department of Defense. These geosynchronous devices relay communications and weather data.
July 10 Over North Vietnam, two Communist MiG-17s are shot down by F-4C Phantom IIs of the 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron. These are the first Air Force victories in Southeast Asia.
July 16 The North American/Rockwell YOV-10A Bronco performs its maiden flight as a COIN (counterinsurgency) light attack aircraft. It serves in Vietnam with distinction as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) vehicle.
July 23 Over North Vietnam, a Soviet- supplied SA-2 surface-to-air missile (SAM) downs an Air Force F-4 Phantom II jet for the first time.
AUGUST 5 The Saturn V first-stage booster is run at a full-power static test, whereby its five engines generate 7.5 million pounds of thrust for 2.5 minutes. The device is subsequently placed on display at the Smithsonian Institution.
AUGUST 21—29 At Cape Kennedy, Florida, the Gemini V space capsule is launched with Air Force astronaut L. Gordon Cooper and Navy counterpart Charles Conrad, Jr., on a week-long mission that completes 120 Earth orbits.
September 15—21 In Southwest Asia, Operation nice way commences as the Air Force evacuates 1,000 U. S. citizens as India and Pakistan fight another war.
OCTOBER 23 In South Vietnam, the 4503rd Tactical Fighter Squadron receives the first Northrop F-5E jet fighters sent to the region.
OCTOBER 31 At Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, the 447th Strategic Missile Squadron deploys the first 10 Minuteman II ICBMs. This weapon is larger and more capable than the first generation Minuteman I, but still squeezes into the same silo.
NOVEMBER 1 In Washington, D. C.,
Colonel Jeanne M. Holm gains appointment as director of the Women of the Air Force.
NOVEMBER 14—16 In South Vietnam, the costly battle of Ia Drang, the Vietnam War’s first conventional encounter, is waged between U. S. and Communist forces. Air Force B-52s play a supporting role by pounding enemy positions; the battle ends with 71 Americans dead and 121 wounded while 2,000 Communists are estimated to have been killed.
December 15 High above the Earth, the Gemini VI space capsule piloted by Navy captain Walter M. Schirra and Air Force major Thomas P. Stafford maneuvers close to Gemini VII under Air Force astronaut Frank Borman and Navy officer James A. Lovell.
December 10 In order to facilitate aerial targeting, the U. S. Pacific Command divides North Vietnam into six “route packages”; those numbered 1, 5, and 6B were assigned to the Air Force and 2, 3, 4, and 6A went to the Navy.
December 22 North of Hanoi, North Vietnam, F-105F Wild Weasels fly their first mission of the war and destroy a Communist Fan Song radar and an SA-2 missile site.
December 23-January 23 At Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, Operation blue light unfolds as Air Force transports move the Army’s 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division to bases at Pleiku, South
Vietnam. They deliver 3,000 troops and 4,600 tons of cargo in a month, which is one of the largest maneuvers of its kind to that point.