Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from September 24 through September 27.
September 24, 1949 – The first flight of the North American T-28 Trojan. The career of any military pilot starts out with primary flight training carried out in a two-seat trainer, with one seat for the student and one for the instructor. The North American T-6 Texan, one of aviation history’s truly great airplanes, served in that role since before WWII, and became the primary trainer for no less than 61 nations and served for 60 years. But even a great plane like the Texan would need to be replaced one day. When that time came, though, the US military wasn’t looking for just a trainer. They hoped to adopt an aircraft that would also work well in the ground attack role. Based on the success of the T-6, the US Navy and Air Force once again turned to North American Aviation, and the aircraft they came up with proved to be every bit as effective as the one it was meant to replace. Like the T-6, the Trojan was a simple, rugged, straight-wing aircraft, and it was powered by a Wright R-1820 Cyclone nine-cylinder supercharged radial engine, the same one that powered many of the great warplanes of WWII such as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, and a host of other military aircraft and helicopters. The engine provided a top speed of 343 mph and a rate of climb of 4,000 feet per minute, and the pilots were housed under a frameless canopy that provided excellent visibility for both instructor and student. The T-28A entered service with the US Air Force, and was quickly adopted by the US Navy and Marine Corps in two variants: the T-28B, which was similar to the Air Force version but with a more powerful engine, and the T-28C, which was designed for carrier operations with a smaller propeller and added arrester hook. While the Air Force phased the Trojan out of service by the 1960s, it continued to serve the Navy and Marines well into the 1980s before being replaced by the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor, which was powered by a turboprop engine. Along with its service as a trainer, the Trojan also proved to be an effective combat platform. During the Vietnam War, both the US Air Force and the South Vietnamese Air Force flew an armed version of the Trojan known as the T-28D Nomad for the counterinsurgency (COIN) role, as well as reconnaissance, search and rescue, and forward air control. For dedicated ground attack missions, the AT-28D provided a sturdy, flexible platform with six underwing hardpoints that could carry bombs, rockets or napalm for ground attack missions and was also fitted with an ejection seat. Trojans also served as an armed escort for attacks by Douglas A-26 Invaders or attack helicopters. And, like its predecessor, the Trojan was widely exported, serving a total of twenty-eight international customers, with nearly 2,000 produced from 1950-1957. The last T-28 was retired by the US Navy in 1984, but the aircraft served for another ten years with the Philippine Air Force, and it remains a popular performer on the air show circuit. (Photo by the author)
September 26, 1965 – The first flight of the LTV A-7 Corsair II. Throughout the history of military aircraft development, there have been a handful of aircraft that were named after successful predecessors, such as the Fairchild Republic Thunderbolt II and the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. And while the jury is still out on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, the others have more than lived up to the fame of their namesakes. And, when Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) needed a nickname for their new hard-hitting ground attack aircraft, they found inspiration in the rugged, effective and deadly Vought F4U Corsair of WWII and Korea, one of the preeminent fighters of the piston era. The US Navy began a search in 1962 for a new attack aircraft to replace the venerable Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, and they hoped to improve both the range and payload provided by the diminutive Skyhawk. The new attack aircraft also had to show improvements in target accuracy in order to reduce the costs associated with bombs that missed their mark. By 1963, the Navy finalized their requirements and announced the VAL (heavier-than-air, attack, light) competition and, to save money, the Navy stipulated that the aircraft be based on an existing design. Vought turned to their F-8 Crusader, a supersonic air superiority fighter that entered service with the Navy in 1957. But the Crusader was built for speed, with a long narrow fuselage and afterburning turbojet engine. Ground attack missions call for subsonic speeds closer to the ground,so Vought shortened and broadened the fuselage, and removed the variable incidence wing that helped lower the Crusader’s landing speeds. They also increased the wingspan, and replaced the Crusader’s afterburning turbojet with an Allison TF41 turbofan that had no afterburner, since there would be no need for the A-7 to fly at supersonic speeds. Vought fitted the A-7 with an AN/APQ-116 radar that offered better targeting than the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, and also installed a head-up display (HUD), the first for a US fighter. The Navy selected the A-7 as the winner of the VAL competition in 1964, and it received the nickname Corsair II a year later and, within three years, Navy A-7s were in action over Vietnam.
Though originally a Navy design, the Corsair II was also pressed into service with the US Air Force, when they found they also needed a robust subsonic ground attack aircraft. Reluctant at first to take the Navy airplane, the Air Force relented under pressure from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, with the stipulation that their version would have a still more powerful engine and an M61A1 rotary cannon rather than the two single-barreled 20mm cannons on the Navy version. This aircraft would be designated the A-7D, and was later adopted by the Navy as the A-7E. By the end of the Vietnam War, the Air Force began passing the Corsair II over to the Air National Guard (ANG) in favor of the F-4 Phantom II, but the Navy continued flying theirs, and they saw action over Grenada, Libya, and even limited use in the First Gulf War. The ANG finally retired their Corsair IIs in 1993, but the Greek Hellenic Air Force flew the A-7 until 2014. (US Navy photo; US Air Force photo)
September 27, 1964 – The first flight of the BAC TSR-2. By the 1950s, the general doctrine of aerial bombardment, either nuclear or conventional, was to penetrate enemy territory by flying as high and as fast as possible, beyond the reach of enemy fighters. In England, the English Electric Canberra, which first flew in May 1949, had a service ceiling of 48,000 feet, which meant if could fly with relative impunity into enemy territory without the fear of interception. But the arrival of the surface-to-air missile changed that doctrine overnight, and a new breed of attack aircraft would come the fore, known as interdictors. Since radar-guided missiles of the time worked on line of sight to track incoming targets, the solution was to fly as low as possible, under the radar, and using terrain features to further mask the attacking aircraft. These aircraft would carry either conventional or nuclear weapons and, at the time, their role was to fly deep behind enemy lines and destroy logistics targets to prevent the enemy from bringing troops and supplies to the front lines. To that end, the British government issued Operational Requirement 399 (GOR.399) in 1956, an extraordinarily ambitious list of requirements for a new light bomber that could fly at supersonic speeds in all weather conditions, be capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons, have either short takeoff and landing (STOL) or vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities, and also be able to perform reconnaissance missions. In January 1959, the Ministry of Supply announced that a consortium of Vickers-Armstrongs, along with English Electric, would produce what would be called the TRS-2 (Tactical Strike Reconnaissance, Mach 2). The new aircraft would be designed around the strengths of each company, with Vickers-Armstrongs building the front half of the aircraft and wings, while English Electric built the rear. The TSR-2 was powered by two Bristol-Siddeley Olympus afterburning turbojets developed from those used on the Avro Vulcan, and which would later power the Concorde. It was capable of a sustained cruise of Mach 2.05, with a dash speed of Mach 2.35, and a theoretical top speed of Mach 3. In an effort to save money, no prototypes were built. The first tranche of aircraft were supposed to be finished production aircraft, and testing commenced with the first two completed aircraft. Despite some early difficulties, test pilots reported that the TSR-2 flew well.
Still, the initial requirements had to be reworked to reflect the realities of the TSR-2's performance. While the first aircraft was supposed to be a finished production airframe, the sophisticated radars and other electronics had yet to be installed, and the costs of the aircraft continued to climb. With some in the British government believing that the TSR was made obsolete by the ICBM, the cost and complexity, as well as delays in development, led to the project’s cancellation on April 6, 1965, the day scheduled for the maiden flight of the second aircraft. Following contentious debate, the British government announced that it would procure the General Dynamics F-111, rather than develop their own interdictor, even considering all the development money already spent. And, ironically, the British later rescinded their order of F-111s when that program ran into it own costly delays. Within six months of cancellation, all uncompleted aircraft, plus all tooling, were scrapped, and only two aircraft survived, neither of which is complete. The two finished aircraft, including the one that took part in testing, were destroyed to test for weaknesses in the airframe to gunfire and shrapnel. Only one completed aircraft survived, and is housed at the RAF Museum, Cosford. A second airframe, much less complete, resides at the Imperial War Museum Duxford. (First photo author unknown; second photo by Mike Freer via Wikimedia Commons)
September 24, 1930 – The birth of John Young, an American aeronautical engineer, US Naval Aviator, test pilot, and astronaut. Young’s retirement from NASA in 2004 marked the end of the longest career of any NASA astronaut. During his time with the space agency, Young made six space flights, including the first manned Project Gemini mission, he became the first man to orbit the Moon alone during Apollo 10, drove the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the Moon during Apollo 16, and is one of only three people who have flown to the Moon twice. Young is also the only person to have piloted four different classes of spacecraft, including the first flight of the Space Shuttle program in 1981. (NASA photo of Young in 1963 during Gemini 3)
September 24, 1918 – US Navy Lt. David Ingalls becomes the first US Navy fighter ace. With six credited victories, Ingalls was the US Navy’s only ace of WWI, which also made him the first fighter ace in US Naval history. Ingalls enlisted in March 1917 as Naval Aviator No. 85, and was sent to Europe six months later. Ingalls was attached to RAF No. 213 Squadron and flew the Sopwith Camel from a base in Dunkirk in northern France. For his service, Ingalls received the US Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the British Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Legion of Honour. Following the war, Ingalls became a director of Pan Am World Airways, and assisted Charles Lindbergh with charting eastern air routes for Pan Am. (Ingalls photo via US Navy; Sopwith Camel photo via UK Government)
September 25, 2015 – The first flight of the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, the newest aerial refueling and strategic airlifter slated to enter service with the US Air Force in 2017. In 2011, the Pegasus was announced as the winner of the Air Force KC-X competion over a Northrop Grumman/Airbus offering in a protracted and often acrimonious debate over which aircraft would replace 100 older Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers. The Pegasus is based on the Boeing 767 widebody airliner, and will have seating for up to 114 people, can carry 65,000 pounds of cargo and will be capable of transferring over 207,000 pounds of fuel. (US Air Force photo)
September 25, 1978 – The midair collision of Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 and a Cessna 172 over San Diego. PSA Fight 182 was a Boeing 727 (N533PS) making an approach to San Diego’s Lindbergh Field when it collided with a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, causing the crash of both aircraft. The crew of the 727 had been alerted to the presence of the Cessna, but had lost sight of it and didn’t notice that it had made an unauthorized change of course. The pilot of the Cessna was under a hood practicing instrument landing system (ILS) approaches, but his instructor had no limitations on his vision. Air traffic control detected a conflict alert, but did not warn the aircraft since they believed that they could see each other. The planes came down in a residential area, killing 142 passengers, including 9 people on the ground. Following a similar mid-air collision in 1982, the FAA mandated that Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) be installed in all jets flying in US airspace. (Photo by Hans Wendt)
September 25, 1945 – The first flight of the de Havilland Dove, a short-haul passenger plane that was designed as a feeder to larger airports and one of the most successful designs to come out of the Brabazon Committee and their search for a domestically produced British airliner following the war. The Dove was a monoplane successor to the pre-WWII de Havilland Dragon Rapide biplane and had accommodations for eight passengers. De Havilland built the Dove from 1946 to 1967, ultimately producing 542 aircraft, and it entered service in 1946, with the first aircraft being purchased by Argentina. The Dove was widely exported, serving airlines around the world and remains in limited service today. (Photo by Andre Wadman via Wikimedia Commons)
September 26, 1951 – The first flight of the de Havilland Sea Vixen, a twin boom, twin-engine, all-weather, carrier-based fighter developed for the British Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. Development of the Sea Vixen began in 1946 as the DH.110, and its twin boom design was borrowed from the de Havilland Venom, though the Sea Vixen was of all-metal construction. The DH.110 was powered by two Rolls-Royce Avon engines, and was the first British fighter capable of supersonic speeds. The Sea Vixen was armed with a mixture of missiles, bombs, or rockets, but no internal gun was fitted. It entered service in 1959 and, while the Sea Vixen never saw any actual combat, it was dispatched to flashpoints around the world throughout the 1960s wherever a show of military power was required. (Photo by Lmgaylard via Wikimedia Commons)