The significance of the static aircraft displayed outside the Main Gate and Gate 2 of Arnold Air Force Base goes beyond decorative purposes.
The displays symbolize the importance of the work performed across Arnold Engineering Development Complex, headquartered at Arnold AFB. Testing conducted within AEDC facilities played a role in either the development or advancement of each type of aircraft exhibited.
But there is an additional meaning behind the displays. Each serves to honor the memory of those who sacrificed. They are dedicated to members of the U.S. military who gave their lives in service to the country.
The displays are publicly accessible, and it’s not uncommon to see members of the community or other visitors stop for an up-close look at the aircraft. Many have likely taken the time to read the commemorative plaques installed in front of each to learn about those the displays honor. However, others who catch a glimpse of the planes while passing by Arnold on Wattendorf Memorial Highway may be unaware of what the displays represent.
This is the fourth in a series of six stories focused on those to whom the displays are dedicated. Information on work performed at Arnold to field the safest and most effective version of each aircraft displayed will also be provided.
This feature focuses on the F-14D Tomcat displayed at the Main Gate, dedicated in memory of Navy Lt. Kara Hultgreen during a March 30, 2007, ceremony.
Hultgreen died Oct. 25, 1994, when the Tomcat she was piloting experienced engine failure on final approach to an aircraft carrier and crashed into the Pacific Ocean near San Diego, California. Her crewman survived. The flight was part of training operations in preparation for deployment to the Persian Gulf.
The ceremony to dedicate the F-14 at Arnold in memory of Hultgreen was held to coincide with Women’s History Month, observed each March to honor the contributions women have made to history and society. During the dedication, then-AEDC Commander Col. Art Huber commented on the challenges many women in the military faced in the early 1990s.
“This woman, Lt. Kara Hultgreen, had to overcome many obstacles to achieve her goal,” he said. “She volunteered to be one of the first and, in so doing, she had to earn her wings by proving herself worthy every day.”
Huber went on to describe the impact Hultgreen’s service had on women in the military, especially pilots.
“She forged a path forward, setting a new standard and blazing a trail that others could follow,” he said. “Today, in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Global War on Terrorism, for over oceans from east to west, you will find her successors, fellow women aviators, serving their country in a fashion generations before her could only dream of.
“Today, due to the sacrifices and commitment of Kara and her compatriots, you will find selfless and dedicated women in combat roles, charging into harm’s way, doing their jobs for the love of their country. They serve proudly, living up to the oath they took to support and to defend the Constitution of the United Sates against all enemies foreign and domestic.”
Hultgreen was born in 1965 in Greenwich, Connecticut. She earned her degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1987. According to an Oct. 27, 1994, article from the Los Angeles Times, it was during her senior at the university that Hultgreen joined the Navy and, after graduating, went on active duty.
She was among the first group of women pilots to apply for combat training when the restriction that prevented women from flying combat aircraft was lifted by then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin in April 1993, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Hultgreen was assigned to the Blacklions of Strike Fighter Squadron 213 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The F-14 dedicated in her honor was assigned to the same squadron.
Retired Navy Capt. Rosemary Mariner, a close friend of Hultgreen’s and the first military woman to fly a tactical aircraft and command a Navy operational aviation squadron, was the featured speaker for the March 2007 dedication ceremony at Arnold.
“While it is easy to remember Kara for her achievements in the air, she was an equally gifted and effective spokeswoman on the ground for all female aviators,” Mariner said.
Mariner, who herself passed away in January 2019 at the age of 65, recounted during the ceremony how Hultgreen broke the “political impasse” that made it possible for female aviators to fly aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet and A-10 Thunderbolt II in support of military operations.
Like these aircraft, the F-14 was supported by work performed at AEDC. A supersonic, twin-engine strike fighter, the F-14 was deployed in September 1974. AEDC supported the F-14 with both store separation testing for payloads and engine testing of its F110 powerplant.
In April 1990, a model of the F-14 underwent wind tunnel testing at Arnold AFB to ensure the structural integrity of the aircraft/missile match-up and to reduce risks during the demonstration/validation phase. At different points during testing, the aircraft was configured with a separation and control test vehicle, multiple launchers, an airborne track illuminator pod and a drop tank.
Using 1/20th-scale models, engineers performed a series of tests that provided static stability, drag, carriage loads and separation data. A Captive Trajectory System, a computer-controlled system that allows for the positioning of a missile, bomb or any other store in close proximity to the aircraft model, was used to obtain captive trajectory, aerodynamic and freestream data.
The armament of the F-14 was occasionally updated to maintain pace with new technology. In 1995, the Naval Air Systems Command, also known as NAVAIR, asked AEDC to perform wind tunnel tests on the aircraft configured with a missile and bomb to determine if the weapons could be safely separated from the aircraft during flight.
The F110 engine, the powerplant of the F-14, has been thoroughly tested at AEDC over the years.
AEDC employee John Lominac, at the time a Lipscomb University student and intern at Arnold AFB, lobbied for the installation of an F-14 static display at Arnold. Lominac in 2007 commented on his affinity for the F-14, adding his fasciation with the aircraft dated back to his childhood. He even had the opportunity to see the F-14 up-close and meet some F-14 pilots and mechanics during a mid-2000s trip to Fallon Naval Air Station, Nevada, the location of Top Gun.
“Over the years, my interest in the F-14 has continued,” he said in 2007. “I have always appreciated its ability as a fighter.”
Lominac eventually reached out to Navy Cmdr. Frank Moulds. With his background in Navy striking boards at the Naval Air Systems Command, which gives away aged planes to either the scrap yard or to foreign military sales, Moulds was able to acquire the F-14 now on display at Arnold. The plane arrived in 2006.
It is a custom in the Navy to have a plane captain responsible for the maintenance and operation of the aircraft. When the F-14 arrived for display, Moulds made Lominac the plane captain and had his name painted on the side to signify Lominac is responsible for the upkeep of the plane.
During the ceremony to dedicate the plane in Hultgreen’s honor, Lominac performed the duties of unveiling the bronzed plaque honoring the fallen Navy aviator.
“Having my name associated with this magnificent fighter is more than I could have ever hoped for,” Lominac said at the time. “However, it is an even greater privilege to have been a small part in the dedication of this aircraft to Lt. Hultgreen, who helped to change military aviation history.”
Mariner during the ceremony described the Homeric image of Hultgreen.
“The ancient Greeks used to think of heroes of men larger than life; the kind that bards would sing of years after their deaths,” Mariner said. “I often think of Kara that way – larger than life and still very much felt.”
In her closing remarks, Mariner shared what she felt Hultgreen would think of the ceremony.
“Since I was never as witty as Kara, all I could think of was the beautiful symmetry of the situation and how Kara would laugh at the idea of her sainthood,” Mariner said. “Instead, I think she would tell us to have a great time today and buy a round for the Air Force.”
The next article in the series will feature the F-15 Eagle dedicated to Maj. Jim Duricy.