Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from August 17 through August 20.


(PHAN J. Mason, US Navy)

August 19, 1958 – The first flight of the Lockheed P-3 Orion. The modern carrier battle group is one of the most potent assemblages of warships ever put together. But in spite of all that firepower, it remains vulnerable to attack from submarines. Since U-Boats prowled the seas in WWI, navies have struggled to find the subs before the subs find them, and aircraft have come to play a vital role in submarine detection and defense. Following WWII, the US Navy fielded its first dedicated antisubmarine warfare (ASW) aircraft with the hunter-killer team of the Grumman AF Guardian. That two-aircraft system was followed by the Grumman S-2 Tracker, the first purpose-built carrier-borne ASW aircraft that was large enough to carry both the equipment to detect submarines and the weapons to counter them.

The Orion prototype, a converted Lockheed Electra (US Navy)

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In August 1957, the Navy issued a call for design proposals to meet Type Specification 146 for a new land-based aircraft to perform the ASW role, an aircraft that would complement the Lockheed P-2 Neptune and replace the Martin P5M Marlin flying boat. To meet their needs as quickly as possible and to reduce cost, the Navy encouraged manufacturers to modify an aircraft already in production. Concurrent with the Navy request, Lockheed was working on the L-188 Electra, a four-engine turboprop airliner that carried about 100 passengers and was the first large turboprop airliner in the US when it made its maiden flight in December of 1957. Lockheed proposed adapting the Electra for the ASW role, an idea that was accepted by the Navy, and a contract was awarded in May 1958. Production began immediately on a flying prototype, and the first Orion was fitted with a simulated weapons bay and carried a mock-up of the Magnetic Anomaly Detection (MAD) boom in the rear of the aircraft. While by no means a production-ready aircraft, and still looking very much like an Electra, the mock-up of what would become the Orion gave the Navy a good idea of the feasibility of the design.

A P-3B Orion of Patrol Squadron 9 (VP-9) armed with four Bullpup air-to-ground missiles in 1969. (PH2 D.T. Isenberg, US Navy)

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While the P-3 retains the wings, tail, basic structure, and engines of the Electra, the fuselage was shortened, a weapons bay was added, and upgrades were made to the avionics. Four Allison T56 turboprop engines take the Orion to a top speed of 411 knots (about 466 mph) with a combat radius of over 1,500 miles. Once on station, the Orion can loiter for up to three hours at 1,500 feet. If an enemy sub is detected, ten wing stations and eight internal bomb bay stations can hold up to 20,000 pounds of air-to-surface missiles, depth charges, mines, torpedoes, or sonobuoys. The Orion was also designed to carry the B57 nuclear bomb, though that capability was retired in 1993.

A P-3 Orion from Patrol Squadron 10 (VP-10) flies over a Soviet Victor III class submarine. (US Navy)

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The P-3 was introduced in 1962, and its primary mission was to track Soviet submarines lurking around US fleets and destroy them if the Cold War suddenly became hot. But even with the end of the Cold War, patrolling Orions are often shadowed by opposing aircraft and, in one high-profile incident on April 1, 2001, an Orion operating near China collided with a Chinese Shenyang J-8 fighter, leading to the loss of the fighter. The Orion was forced to land on the Chinese Island of Hainan, leading to an international incident that was eventually resolved with the release of the Orion and its crew and the return of the aircraft.

A pair of WP-3D Orion hurricane hunters. (NOAA)

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The P-3 has shown a remarkable adaptability, and Lockheed has produced a host of variants, including the WP-3D Orion hurricane hunter for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A total of 757 Orions have been produced, a number which includes 107 aircraft built under license by Kawasaki in Japan. They are operated by a number of export countries, including Iran, who received its aircraft when Iran was still allied with the US. After more than 50 years of service, the Orion soldiers on, but it is in the process of being replaced in US Navy service by the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, another sub hunter derived from a civilian airliner, in this case the Boeing 737.


Short Takeoff


The Double Eagle II; Maxie Anderson, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman (Paul Cyr via Crown of Maine Photography; National Air and Space Museum)

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August 17, 1978 – The crew of the Double Eagle II makes the first transatlantic crossing by balloon. Balloonists had been trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean for more than 100 years, but it wasn’t until 1978 that balloonists Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman reached France after lifting off from Presque Isle, Maine. Newman had planned on hang gliding down to European soil after the crossing, but the glider had to be jettisoned as ballast during flight. After crossing the Irish coast, French officials offered to let them land at Le Bourget Airport, where Charles Lindbergh landed in 1937, but the crew instead chose to land in a field in the suburbs of Paris. The gondola of the balloon is now on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington, DC.


(US Air Force)

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August 17, 1956 – The first flight of the Boeing C-135 Stratolifter, a transport aircraft that was developed alongside the KC-135 Stratotanker. Boeing developed the Model 367-80, better known as the “Dash 80,” in response to a US Air Force request for a jet-powered tanker. Though the vast majority of the 820 aircraft were built as KC-135 tankers, a number were built as transport aircraft, with the C-135A having accommodations for 126 passengers. The C-135B received more powerful engines, and five were designed for VIP transport as the VC-135B. Other variants were flown for weather reconnaissance, and a number were sold to France as tankers. The C-135 received the internal Boeing designation 717, though that number was later assigned to the McDonnell Douglas MD-95 after the two companies merged.


(US Air Force)

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August 17, 1918 – The first flight of the Martin MB-1, a large biplane bomber built for the US Army Air Service and the first purpose-built bomber produced in the United States. Martin designed the MB-1 in response to the similarly-sized Handley Page Type O, and it was powered by two Liberty L-12 twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled engines that gave the bomber a top speed of 105 mph. The MB-1 could carry a total of 1,040 pounds of bombs and was armed with five .30 caliber defensive machine guns. The MB-1 was configured for both reconnaissance and bombing missions, and was also developed as a torpedo bomber variant for the US Navy and US Marine Corps. The US Postal Service also flew the MB-1 as a mail plane. A total of 20 were built.


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August 18, 1965 – The first flight of the Kamov Ka-26, a light utility helicopter that was built in large numbers and has found its most popular use as an agricultural top dresser. The Ka-26 (NATO reporting name Hoodlum) is powered by two Vedenyev M14P nine-cylinder radial engines housed in external pods that drive a set of contra-rotating co-axial rotors, thus eliminating the need for a counter-torque rotor at the rear. A removable pod behind the cockpit can be configured for passengers, medevac or light cargo, and a chemical hopper can also be fitted for agricultural use. A total of 816 were produced from 1969-1985, and it was later developed into the more powerful Kamov Ka-126 and Ka-226.


(US Air Force)

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August 18, 1945 – The US suffers its last air combat casualty of WWII. Though the Japanese government had signaled its surrender three days earlier, some Japanese pilots continued to attack American bombers carrying out reconnaissance flights over the Japanese homeland. Two Consolidated B-32 Dominators, tasked with a photo reconnaissance mission over Tokyo, were attacked by 17 Japanese fighters, heavily damaging one of the Dominators. Three crew members were seriously wounded and 19-year-old Sergeant Anthony Marchione, a photographer’s assistant, was killed. Following the attack, the propellers were removed from all Japanese aircraft to prevent future attacks.


(Octave Chanute, Progress in Flying Machines, 1894)

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August 18, 1871 — Alphonse Pénaud achieves the first flight of a stable model airplane. Though Pénaud is certainly not a household name in aviation history, his pioneering use of a rubber band to power flying model airplanes is still used today by hobbyists and toymakers. In 1871, more than 30 years before the Wright Brothers made their first powered flight, Pénaud built and flew a model airplane that he called the Planophore, with design elements such as a dihedral upturn of the wingtips and a tailplane with a smaller angle of incidence than the main wing that made the design inherently stable. It was powered by a pusher propeller turned by a rubber band that kept the Planophore aloft for 11 seconds in a demonstration flight that covered 131 feet. Despite the success of his model, Pénaud could find no financial backing for what was arguably groundbreaking work, and he committed suicide in 1880 at age 30.


(Alain Durand; not accident aircraft)

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August 19, 1980 – All passengers and crew of Saudia Flight 163 perish in a fire after the plane made a successful emergency landing. Saudia Flight 163 (HZ-AHK) was regularly scheduled Lockheed L-1011 TriStar service from Riyadh International Airport to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Seven minutes after takeoff, a fire broke out in the cargo hold and the passenger compartment filled with smoke. As the fire spread, it burned through the aft passenger compartment floor and severed the engine control cables for the center engine. Despite this, the crew managed to return to Riyadh and land safely, though it continued to taxi for nearly three minutes before stopping on a taxiway. Rescue crews had to drive to where the plane stopped, but did not open the doors to the aircraft until the engines stopped, a full 23 minutes after the successful emergency landing. By that time, all 287 passengers and 14 crew had died from smoke inhalation. It was the second worst death toll in any single aircraft accident after Turkish Airlines Flight 981, the worst accident ever involving an L-1011, and the deadliest aviation disaster that did not involve a crash or breakup of any kind.


(Embraer)

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August 19, 1969 – Aircraft manufacturer Embraer is founded by Brazil’s Ministry of Aeronautics. Empresa Brasileira de Aeronáutica was created as a government-owned corporation as Brazil sought to gain a foothold in aircraft manufacturing and reduce its reliance on foreign aircraft manufacturers. Embraer’s first aircraft was the EMB 110 Bandeirante, a 21-passenger twin-turboprop developed for civilian and military customers, and the company now produces an entire line of jet-powered regional airliners. In 1994, Embraer became a private company, though the government retains a share of the company, and it has expanded into the third-largest airplane manufacturer in the world behind Boeing and Airbus, with production facilities in the United States and China. In 2018, Boeing took an 80% stake in Embraer to develop smaller regional airliners in a move to counter Airbus’ acquisition of the Bombardier CSeries.


(Republic of Korea Air Force)

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August 20, 2002 – The first flight of the KAI T-50 Golden Eagle, a two-seat supersonic trainer developed in a partnership with Lockheed Martin and the first supersonic aircraft produced by South Korea. One of only handful of supersonic trainers, the T-50 entered service with the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) in 2005 and is currently operated by Korea, Indonesia, Iraq and the Philippines. An armed version has also been developed for light attack. The T-50 was an unsuccessful contender for the US Air Force’s T-X program to procure a new trainer to replace the Northrop T-38 Talon, and .


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August 20, 1963 – The first flight of the BAC One-Eleven, a short-range airliner and the second jet-powered airliner to enter service in Europe after the Sud Avation Caravelle. Also known as the BAC 111 and the BAC 1-11, the airliner was developed to replace the turboprop-powered Vickers Viscount, though early sales were dominated by purchases from US carriers. The One-Eleven was originally designed to carry 89 passengers, while subsequent variants accommodated up to 119 passengers. With a total of 244 aircraft produced in the United Kingdom and Romania, the One-Eleven became one of the most successful British airliners of its day. 


(US Navy)

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August 20, 1923 – The first flight of the rigid airship USS Shenandoah (ZR-1). The first of four rigid airships commissioned by the US Navy, Shenandoah was constructed at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey from a design that was largely based on the German Zeppelin LZ-96. Like its German counterpart, Shenandoah was intended for fleet reconnaissance duties, and she was the first American airship to cross North America in 1924, flying from New Jersey to California. Shenandoah was lost on September 2, 1925 during its 57th flight when the airship was torn apart by a thunderstorm over Ohio, killing 14 members of its 43-man crew.


Connecting Flights


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If you enjoy these Aviation History posts, please let me know in the comments. And if you missed any of the past articles, you can find them all at Planelopnik History. You can also find more stories about aviation, aviators and airplane oddities at Wingspan.

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