Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from June 14 through June 16.
June 15, 1945 – The first flight of the North American F-82 Twin Mustang. When the airwar against the Japanese Empire began in the early stages of WWII, the only way for the Allies to attack Japanese targets was by flying over the Himalayas from Burma and India. But as the war progressed, the Allies carried out their island hopping campaign to seize islands in the Pacific Ocean, getting closer and closer to the Japanese homeland and making it easier for long-range bombers to reach their targets. However, the US still did not have a fighter that was capable of escorting the bombers on long over-water missions, some of which could last up to eight hours. Even fighters that proved to be excellent long-range escorts in Europe, such as the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and North American P-51 Mustang, were unable to accompany the bombers on these long flights. And even if the fighters able to make the flight, such long missions would put an enormous strain on a single pilot. What the US Army Air Forces in the Pacific needed was a fighter with extreme range, but also one with excellent maneuverability, as well as a second pilot to help with navigation over vast expanses of open ocean. Beginning in late 1943, North American tackled the problem and began working on a fighter with an unrefueled range of 2,000 miles, and they used the remarkable P-51 Mustang as the starting point. While the F-82 (initially designated P-82) looks like two Mustangs simply joined together, it is actually a completely new design. North American Design Chief Edgar Schmued began with two P-51H fuselages that had been lengthened behind the cockpit to allow for the installation of additional fuel or other equipment. The fuselages were then connected by a central wing section that housed six .50 caliber machine guns for concentrated fire, and the outer wings were strengthened to carry additional ordnance. The vertical stabilizer was also enlarged to improve single-engine handling. Both cockpits were outfitted with full controls, which allowed the two pilots to take turns flying on long missions. A night fighter variant, the F-82F, was fitted with a large radome under the center wing section, and the right cockpit became the radar operator’s station.
The F-82 was originally powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engines, but the Air Force wanted the Twin Mustang to be powered by American engines, so the Merlins were replaced by less powerful Allison V-1710 engines for full production, and the earlier Merlin-powered aircraft were converted to trainers, creating the unique situation where the trainer aircraft were actually faster than the production fighters. The F-82 was finally adopted by the Air Force in the summer of 1945, but when WWII ended soon after, orders were cut dramatically and the F-82 entered service too late to see action in the war. But the end of the war didn’t mean the end of the F-82. It’s incredible range made it well-suited to escort early Cold War bombers of the Strategic Air Command, and its 1,400-mile range meant that would have been able to take of from London, fly to Moscow, loiter for 30 minutes, and then return. The F-82 was also one of the first American fighters to see action in the skies over Korea, and was responsible for downing the first three enemy aircraft of the war. The true long-range capability of the Twin Mustang was dramatically demonstrated in February 1947 when an F-82B named Betty Jo flew from Hawaii to New York without refueling, covering 5,051 miles and setting a record for piston-engined fighters that still stands. The Twin Mustang was retired in 1953 after production of 272 aircraft. (US Air Force photos)
June 15, 1943 – The first flight of the Arado Ar 234. In many ways, German military technology far ahead of the Allied powers, particularly in the area of jet-powered aircraft. While the British eventually caught up with the turbojet-powered Gloster Meteor, it was the Germans who fielded the world’s first operational jet fighter in the Messerschmitt Me 262, and also the world’s first operational jet-powered bomber, the Arado Ar 234 Blitz. The history of the Blitz (Lightning) began in 1940, when the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (German Ministry of Aviation, or RLM) requested designs for a high-speed, jet-powered reconnaissance aircraft that would have a range of 1,340 miles. Arado Flugzeugwerke, the only company to offer an aircraft, responded with their E.370 project. And while the range was less than what the RLM requested, the Ministry was still impressed with the design and ordered two prototypes. The aircraft featured a high, straight wing with one engine suspended underneath each wing. Similar to the Heinkel He 111, the cockpit was placed directly at the front end of the fuselage, offering the pilot no rearward visibility. Initial designs had rearward-firing defensive machine guns that were aimed by a periscope, but the system was considered useless in practice and the guns were omitted from production aircraft. The periscope, however, was retained. Also, original plans called for the Ar 234 to take off from a three-wheeled trolley which was jettisoned after take off, with the aircraft landing on retractable skids. This allowed the entire fuselage to be filled with fuel, but it also meant that returning bombers would be strewn around the airfield with no easy way to move them. Therefore, production aircraft were fitted with a traditional tricycle landing gear.
Though the airframe was ready by the end of 1941, problems in development of the Jukers Jumo 004 engines delayed the first flight until July of 1943. The Blitz finally entered service in 1944 as the world’s first operational jet bomber, and with a maximum speed of 459 mph, the Blitz outpaced all Allied piston-powered fighters of the time. It’s first combat mission was a reconnaissance flight over the Normandy beachheads in August of 1944, flying unmolested over the Allied positions and gaining valuable information on the landings. The Ar 234 also participated in attacks on the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, where the Allies secured a crossing of the Rhine. But with only a single bomb to drop on the target the attacks were ineffective, and a number of bombers were lost to antiaircraft fire. Though the Ar 234 was used sparingly, it proved nearly impossible to intercept, and in 1945 it was the last Luftwaffe aircraft to fly over England during the war. Fortunately for the Allies, only 210 aircraft were produced and, like the Me 262, the Ar 234 came too late in the war to have a significant impact on its outcome. (Photo by the author; Photo via National Air and Space Museum)
June 14, 2013 – The first flight of the Airbus A350 XWB, a clean-sheet airliner design developed by Airbus to compete with the Boeing 787 and Boeing 777. The A350 employs a fuselage and wing that were both made primarily of carbon-fiber composites, though to differing degrees than the 787. The new airliner seats up to 366 passengers in a typical three-class arrangement and entered service with launch customer Qatar Airways on January 15, 2015, completing the first commercial flight of the type on a flight between Doha and Frankfurt. Airbus has delivered 81 aircraft to date, with orders on the books for 750 more. (Photo by John Taggart via Wikimedia Commons)
June 14, 1985 – The hijacking of TWA Flight 847, a Boeing 727 (N64339) flight from Cairo to San Diego with scheduled stops in Athens, Rome, Boston and Los Angeles. After taking off from Athens, the flight was hijacked by two members of the groups Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad who were seeking the release of 700 Shi’ite Muslim prisoners in Israeli custody. The hijackers diverted the flight to Beirut, then Algiers, where 20 hostages were released. Then it flew back to Beirut, where more armed hijackers boarded the plane, then flew again to Algiers, and finally to Beirut once more. There, the remaining hostages were released, though one passenger, US Navy diver Robert Stethem, was executed and his body dumped on the tarmac in Beirut. Israel released the 700 prisoners, though they claimed that it was not a result of the hijacking. The incident served as the inspiration for the 1986 film The Delta Force. (Photo author unknown)
June 14, 1945 – The first flight of the Avro Tudor, a piston-powered airliner derived from the Avro Lincoln bomber and Britain’s first pressurized airliner. Though a successful design in its own right, the Tudor was seen by the airlines as nothing more than a pressurized Douglas DC-4, which had garnered much success since its introduction in 1942. Where the DC-4 featured a tricycle landing gear, the Tudor’s tail-dragger arrangement was seen as less desirable. Though the Tudor was continuously upgraded by more powerful engines and greater carrying capacity, only 38 were built, and it served mainly with British carriers. The Tudor did serve as the basis for the Avro Ashton turbojet powered airliner, but that aircraft never entered production. (Photo by RuthAS via Wikimedia Commons)
June 15, 1936 – The first flight of the Vickers Wellington, a twin-engine long-range strategic medium bomber designed in the 1930s to provide the RAF with a modern high-performance bomber. The Wellington was designed using the geodetic construction developed by Barnes Wallis that consisted of duralumin beams formed into a lattice and covered with cloth and dope. The construction gave the Wellington remarkable strength, maintaining integrity even when entire sections of the lattice were destroyed. Wellingtons carried out the first RAF bombing missions of WWII, and it was eventually converted to a night bomber and maritime patrol aircraft, becoming the only British bomber to be continuously produced throughout the war. Vickers built 11,461 Wellingtons before production ended in 1945, and the bomber served until 1953. (Ministry of Defence photo)
June 15, 1936 – The first flight of the Westland Lysander, a high-wing single-engine aircraft originally designed for the liaison and co-operation (delivering messages and spotting for artillery) roles with the British army. Though soon rendered obsolete in the co-operation role, the Lysander’s excellent short takeoff and landing capabilities made it particularly well-suited for clandestine operations behind enemy lines, and it was often used to insert or extract Allied agents and to support the French Resistance during the German occupation of France. The Lysander also served as a target tug, and was widely exported to British allies around the world. Nearly 1,800 were produced, and the Lysander was retired by the British in 1946. (Photo by Hpulley4 via Wikimedia Commons)
June 15, 1916 – The first flight of the Boeing Model 1, a single-engine biplane seaplane and the first aircraft designed by William Boeing. Known also as the B&W Seaplane after its co-designer Lt. Conrad Westervelt, the Model 1 was a traditional wood frame construction braced by wire and resembled the Martin trainer owned by Boeing, though Boeing’s airplane had improved pontoons and a more powerful engine. Two aircraft were built and offered to the US Navy, and when the Navy passed they were sold to the New Zealand Flying School, where they set a New Zealand altitude record of 6,500 feet. The two aircraft, named Bluebill and Mallard, also became the first airmail planes in New Zealand. (Photo author unknown)
June 16, 1984 – The flight of the first all-female commercial airline crew. When Emily Warner was hired by Frontier Airlines in 1973, she was the only woman working as a pilot for a major US airline and, in 1976, the first to be promoted to captain. In the five years following her hire, the number of female pilots rose to 300. By chance, Warner’s name appeared on the pilot rotation for Flight 244, Boeing 737 service from Dever, CO to Lexington, KY with first officer Barbara Cook, marking the first time that an airliner cockpit was crewed by two women. (Photo via Frontier News)
June 16, 1963 – Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman to fly in space. The Soviet Union scored a significant propaganda victory when it put Yuri Gagarin into space in 1961, just three weeks ahead of American Alan Shepherd. To follow that feat, the Soviets thought they could score another victory by being the first to put a woman into space. Valentina Tereshkova, one of five female cosmonauts, launched onboard Vostok 6 and spent nearly three days in space, completing 48 orbits of the Earth. It would be 20 years before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space (and third woman overall) when she launched onboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, just two days after the 20th anniversary of Tereshkova’s launch. (Photo author unknown)
June 16, 1954 – The first flight of the Lockheed XFV, an experimental aircraft developed by Lockheed in an attempt to provide a fighter aircraft that could operate from the afterdecks of conventional warships. The XFV was designed to take off from a vertical position, transition to horizontal flight, then transition back to vertical and land on its tail. For testing, the XFV was fitted with long landing gear for a traditional horizontal take off, and while some transitions from level to vertical flight and hovering were undertaken, the XFV never took off vertically, due in large part to its underpowered engine. Only one XFV was completed before the project was canceled in 1955. (US Navy photo)
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