Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from September 28 through September 30.
September 29, 1954 – The first flight of the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo. During WWII, huge formations of Allied bombers ranged the skies over Europe and the Pacific, protected from enemy fighters by a surrounding screen of fighter escorts. In the first few years after the war, and before the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and high altitude surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), that method of penetrating enemy airspace continued basically unchanged, though the fighters were now powered by jet engines instead of piston engines. These fighters were called penetration fighters, and they were intended to protect the bombers from enemy interceptors, fighters purpose-built to fly fast and stop bombers before they could reach the target. In 1946, the US Air Forced issued requirements for a jet-powered penetration fighter, and three manufacturers responded: McDonnell Aircraft presented the XF-88 Voodoo, Lockheed developed the XF-90, and North American built the YF-93. McDonnell won the competition but, following the detonation of the first nuclear bomb by the Soviet Union in 1949, the Air Force turned their attention to creating interceptors,and the penetration fighter project was shelved for a time. With the entry of the US into the Korean war in 1950, the need for bomber escorts was again evident and, in 1951, the Air Force once again issued an operational requirement for a penetration fighter, and they once again tapped McDonnell to build it. But McDonnell responded with a much better airplane. The F-101 was based on the earlier XF-88 Voodoo, and it retained the Voodoo nickname, but the new aircraft was much larger to accommodate three times the fuel capacity of the XF-88 and had a larger radar. The F-101 also received more powerful Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojets, and the horizontal stabilizer was moved to the top of the tail to provide greater stability at high speeds. The F-101A entered service with the Strategic Air Command (SAC), but was only built in small numbers because the need for a penetration fighter soon became secondary to the need for an interceptor. So the F-101A was shifted to the Tactical Air Command (TAC), where its designation changed to strategic fighter, and it was used to carry a single nuclear bomb for tactical strikes against enemy airfields or other important military targets of immediate value. At the same time as development of the F-101 was underway, the Air Force was working on the 1954 interceptor, a project designed to create a dedicated, state-of-the-art interceptor to combat Russian bombers, a project that would eventually lead to the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart. But lengthy delays in that program meant that these aircraft would not be ready on schedule, and the Voodoo was transformed into an interim interceptor as the F-101B. The B model received more powerful J57 engines with significantly longer afterburners, which increased top speed to Mach 1.8.
This variant had a two-seat tandem cockpit for pilot and weapons officer, and was fitted with the Hughes MG-13 fire control radar, along with the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system which permitted controllers on the ground to direct the aircraft to a target remotely. The internal cannons were removed and replaced by four AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missiles. More Voodoos were produced in this interceptor variant than any other. The Voodoo was also developed into the reconnaissance RF-101, which served longer than any of the fighter/interceptor versions, and saw extensive action in the Vietnam War. The RF-101 also took part in reconnaissance missions over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Voodoo was retired by frontline USAF units by 1972, but would go on to serve the Air National Guard for ten more years. The F-101 also flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force as the CF-101, replacing the Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck. The RCAF finally replaced their Voodoos in 1984 on the arrival of the McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet. (US Air Force photos)
September 30, 1975 – The first flight of the Boeing AH-64 Apache. “Soviet ground forces outnumber US ground forces by virtually every criterion: total ground force personnel; number of divisions; and ground force systems, especially tanks (5:1), personnel carriers (2.5:1), artillery pieces (4:1), and heavy mortars (2.5:1).” These words were spoken in 1978 by US Air Force General George Brown, when a large ground war against the Soviet Union was still a very serious possibility, and they spoke to the enormous gap in men and materiel faced by the West in any potential conflict with Russia. Coming so soon after the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War, where the attack helicopter had its baptism of fire, it was clear that the US needed a new, dedicated attack helicopter to face a potential invasion by the Soviet Union that would be spearheaded by huge numbers of tanks and armored personnel carriers. To blunt any possible attack by Russian armor, the US Army initiated the Advanced Attack Helicopter (AAH) program in 1972 to find a more capable replacement for the Bell AH-1 Cobra that entered service during the Vietnam War. Bell Helicopter, Boeing Vertol/Grumman, Hughes, Lockheed and Sikorsky all submitted proposals, with Bell and Hughes selected to build prototypes of the YAH-63 and YAH-64 respectively for further evaluation. In 1976, the Army named Hughes the winner. Both helicopters were similar in capability and design, but the Army cited the YAH-64's four-bladed rotor that could withstand greater battle damage, and the greater stability of its tail-dragger landing gear as two of the main reasons for their selection. The AH-64 was powered by two General Electric T700 turboshaft engines for added survivability over the Cobra’s single engine and, like the Cobra, the Apache had a tandem cockpit, with pilot in the rear and co-pilot/gunner in the front. The AH-64 was armed with the new AGM-114 Hellfire missile (an acronym for “Helicopter launched, fire-and-forget missile”), as well as a single 30mm Hughes M230 chain gun holding 1,200 rounds of ammunition mounted in a swiveling in a chin turret. Two small wings were fitted with hardpoints for air-to-ground rockets, missiles, or Stinger AIM-92 air-to-air missiles for defense. The weapons load can also be tailored to the needs of the mission, whether it is anti-armor, ground support, or helicopter escort. The Apache entered service with the US Army in 1986, and saw its first combat action during Operation Just Cause when the US invaded Panama. It has since seen extensive action in the Gulf War, and in the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq, where it performed admirably in the anti-tank, counterinsurgency (COIN) and close air support (CAS) roles. By 2011, the Apache had acquired over 3 million flight hours since its maiden flight, and it has been continuously upgraded throughout its service life. The AH-64D model features the addition of the AN/APG-78 Longbow fire-control radar and Radar Frequency Interferometer to detect enemy radar emission, both of which are housed in a radome mounted above the main rotor. This variant has overtaken the scout role once held by the Bell OH-58 Kiowa. Export version of the AH-64 serve with Israel, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Egypt, and in smaller numbers with ten other nations. Over 2,000 have been built, and the Apache remains in production by Boeing. (US Army photo)
September 30, 1949 – The Berlin Airlift officially ends. Following the D-Day landings in France on June 6, 1944, Germany found itself squeezed on two fronts. The Allies were pushing eastward on a broad front throughout Europe, while the Russians were moving westward at a breakneck pace to reach the German capital ahead of the Western allies. Berlin fell to the Russians on May 2, 1945 and, as had been decided at the Yalta Conference held in February of that year, the city was divided into four zones. The Russians controlled the eastern quarter of the city, with the rest was divided between the French, British and Americans. As a result of the division, Berlin ended up deep eastern Germany, which was fully controlled by the Russians. Though the shooting war was over, the Cold War between the Western Bloc (the US and its future NATO allies) and Russia had begun. The fragile wartime alliance between the West and the Soviet Union ended, and both sides sought to influence the political makeup of Europe, and the world, through economic and political policies and proxy wars. On June 24, 1948, in an effort to make the city of Berlin entirely their own, Russia cut off the western sectors of the city from the outside world, severing water connections and halting all vehicular and river traffic into or out of the Allied sectors. West Berlin was effectively cut off from the rest of Western Europe, and it became an island inside Communist East Germany. But while the Russians could effectively wall off the city by blocking the roads and bridges, they could not put a roof over the city, and the Western allies began the the greatest airlift of supplies in history to support the beleaguered city. Though the Russians controlled all ground access to Berlin, they had agreed prior to the blockade to let the Western allies use three air corridors from western Germany into Berlin. These corridors would form the supply route. Starting haphazardly at first on June 26, 1949, the operation was taken over first by US Brigadier General Joseph Smith, who had commanded Boeing B-29 Superfortresses under General Curtis LeMay during the war. But Smith had no airlift experience, and he was soon replaced by Major General William Tunner, a veteran of airlift operations over the Himalayas during the fight against Japan. Tunner cobbled together an aerial armada of Douglas C-47 Skytrains and British C-47 Dakotas, Douglas DC-3 airliners, and Douglas C-54 Skymasters and started round-the-clock flights. He instituted strict new rules to streamline the operation, such as requiring IFR landings regardless of weather and the elimination of aircraft stacking while planes awaited landing. If an aircraft missed an approach, the crew was required to return to their starting point, fully laden, and try again. Tunner also required air crews to stay with their planes at all times, and refreshments were brought out to the crews on the tarmac so they could take off immediately after unloading. West Berlin citizens pitched in to help unload the planes.
By the end of August 1948, 1,500 flights per day—one landing every minute—were delivering more than 5,000 tons of food, coal and other supplies, enough to keep the city fed and powered in spite of the blockade. On Easter Sunday, 1949, the airlift managed to deliver 13,000 tons of cargo, including the equivalent of 600 railroad cars of coal. The airlift continued for 11 months, making more than 189,000 flights totaling nearly 600,000 hours of flying that covered more than 92 million miles. Faced with this herculean effort, the Russians finally conceded and lifted the blockade one minute after midnight on May 12, 1949, though the flights would continue for four more months. West Berlin remained a free city, and it stood as a powerful symbol of the West’s resolve to fight the spread of Communism in Europe until the reunification of Germany in 1990. (Top photo US Air Force; second photo author unknown)
September 28, 2007 – The first flight of the Kawasaki P-1, a domestically produced maritime patrol aircraft designed to replace the Lockheed P-3C Orion. The P-1 entered service with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in 2013, and is outfitted with a magnetic anomaly detection boom, sonobuoys, bombs and missiles. Thirty-three aircraft have been produced to date, and Kawasaki are in talks to sell the P-1 to the RAF to replace their aging fleet of Hawker Siddeley Nimrods. Unlike many other maritime patrol planes that were developed from existing airliners, the P-1 was purpose-built for the maritime reconnaissance role, and is the first production aircraft to use “fly-by-optics” technology. (Photo by Toshiro Aoki via Wikimedia Commons)
September 28, 1988 – The first flight of the Ilyushin Il-96, a long-haul, widebody, four-engine airliner that entered service with Soviet flag carrier airline Aeroflot in 1992. The Il-96 is a development of the Soviet Union’s first wide body airliner, the Ilyushin Il-86, which first flew in 1976, and features a shortened fuselage, supercritical wing, winglets, glass cockpit and fly-by-wire control systems. Twenty-nine airliners have been produced as of 2015, and the largest variant, the Il-96-400, can accommodate up to 436 passengers in a single-class configuration. (Photo by E233renmei via Wikimedia Commons)
September 28, 1952 – The first flight of the Dassault Mystère IV, the first transonic fighter to enter service with the Armée de l’Air. The Mystère IV was an evolutionary development of the earlier Mystère II and, though sharing an outward resemblance to the earlier fighter, was a completely new design featuring improvements in aerodynamics and a more powerful Hispano-Suiza Verdon turbojet engine. The Mystère IV served from 1953 until the mid-1980s, saw action in the Suez Crisis of 1956, and also served in the air forces of Israel and India. (Photo author unknown)
September 29, 1988 – The launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on ST-26, the first flight following the Challenger Disaster. After the loss of the Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, STS-26 was declared the “Return to Flight” mission after an almost three-year hiatus in Shuttle missions. It was the first flight to have all crew members wear pressure suits, and the first with a crew bailout contingency since STS-4. It was aslso the first mission since Apollo 11 where all crew members had been on at least one previous space mission. Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida and spent 4 days in orbit where it deployed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS). It was also the first spacecraft to fly with a Voice Control Unit (VCU), a computer capable of interpreting and acting on voice commands. (NASA photo)
September 29, 1964 – The first flight of the LTV XC-142, an experimental vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) transport and cargo aircraft developed for the US Army, Navy and Air Force. The goal of the XC-142 was to provide an aircraft with helicopter-like performance but with greater range and speed than possible with a helicopter. The XC-142 was powered by four General Electric T64 turboshaft engines linked by a common drive shaft that also turned a small horizontal propeller on the tail to control pitch during hover. Yaw during hover was controlled by the ailerons. In testing, the XC-142 completed all phases of hover and transition to level flight, but the project was canceled after 5 prototypes were built, and the aircraft are turned over to NASA for testing. One remains today at the National Museum of the US Air Force. (NASA photo)
September 29, 1948 – The first flight of the Vought XF7U-1 Cutlass. Allegedly based on design concepts captured from the German Arado Flugzeugwerke at the end of WWII, the Cutlass had a short, checkered career with the US Navy. A radical tailless design with twin vertical stabilizers, the Cutlass suffered from serious handling problems and underpowered engines, and its long nose gear caused difficulty with carrier landings and lead to numerous crashes and pilot fatalities. The Cutlass was introduced in 1951 and served for only eight years before being replaced by the extremely successful Vought F8U Crusader. (US Navy photo)
September 29, 1940 – The Brocklesby mid-air collision. During a training flight over Brocklesby, Australia, two Avro Ansons collided in midair and became locked together. The pilot of the lower Anson bailed out, along with the navigators of both aircraft, and the collision caused the engines to stop on the upper aircraft. However, the engines on the lower Anson continued to run at full power, and the pilot of the upper Anson found he could control the connected aircraft using his ailerons and flaps. After flying 5 miles with the planes connected, the pilot made an emergency landing in a pasture. Only one member the crews suffered minor injuries. The upper aircraft was subsequently repaired and returned to service. (Australian Government photo)
September 30, 1943 – The first flight of the Northrop XP-56 Black Bullet, an experimental fighter developed in response to the US Army Air Corps’ 1938 R40-C proposal which was intended to stimulate new, radical aircraft design to stay ahead of European advances in aircraft design. The Black Bullet was designed around the Pratt & Whitney X-1800 engine, which ultimately never entered production, and it was essentially a flying wing design with bent wings and no vertical stabilizer, though a stabilizer was added later to improve handling. Flight tests were disappointing and showed little promise for challenging the performance of traditional fighters, and the project was canceled after ten test flights. However, Northrop pioneered the use of magnesium in the airframe, and patented a process for Heliarc magnesium welding. (US Army photo)
September 30, 1942 – The death of German Luftwaffe ace Hans-Joachim Marseille. Marseille was born on December 13, 1919, and joined the Luftwaffe in 1938. He fought his first battles during the Battle of Britain, but his wild lifestyle away from battle caused him to be transferred to the Mediterranean theater. Flying from North Africa, and fighting his entire career in the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Marseille scored 158 victories, all but seven against experienced British pilots, including a remarkable 17 victories in one day. Marseille perfected the method of deflection fire, aiming in front of the enemy fighter rather than chasing it from the rear. Nicknamed the Star of Africa for his tally of victories, Marseille was killed when he struck the tail of his Bf 109 while bailing out following engine failure. (Photo author unknown)