Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from August 24 through August 26.
August 24, 2001 – Air Transat Flight 236 runs out of fuel over the Atlantic Ocean and glides to a landing in the Azores. Flying across the open ocean has always been a risky proposition. Should an emergency arise, it’s likely that the aircraft is too far away from a safe landing spot and, for that reason, transoceanic flying boats plied the long overwater routes. For many years, transoceanic flights were restricted to airliners with more than two engines, until new regulations, known as ETOPS, recognized the safety of modern jet engines. But even an engine that is reliable enough for flights between continents requires fuel to run. Rigorous calculations help prevent an aircraft from running out of fuel, and also include extra fuel to allow for holding patterns and diversions to different airfields. But if those calculations are done incorrectly, an airliner can become starved of fuel and turn into a giant glider, as happened in 1983 to an Air Canada flight known as the Gimli Glider. In that famous case, crews simply didn’t put a sufficient amount of fuel onboard the airliner. But undetected mechanical faults can also lead to fuel starvation, and the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is a terrible place see your fuel gauge reading empty. Air Transat Flight 236 was an Airbus A330-200 (C-GITS) flying from Toronto, Canada to Lisbon, Portugal. The flight, carrying 293 passengers and 13 crew, took off without incident, but a little more than 4 hours into the flight, the flight deck crew received a warning for low oil temperature and high oil pressure in the Number 2 Rolls-Royce Trent engine. Twenty minutes later, they received a warning for fuel imbalance, and the they responded by transferring fuel from the left wing tank to the right wing tank, which was nearly empty. What the crew did not know was that a fuel leak had caused the imbalance, and the fuel transfer caused the remaining fuel to flow through the leaking fuel line and drain out at roughly one gallon per second. The pilots declared a fuel emergency and decided to divert to Lajes Air Base in the Azores, which lies 850 miles west of Portugal. Within ten minutes, and still far from Lajes, both engines flamed out, and the Airbus lost all primary electrical power, as well as its main hydraulic power. The captain of the flight, Robert Piché, an experienced glider pilot, put all his gliding skills to use as he and First Officer Dirk de Jager worked to control the powerless plane with minimal controls. Their skill kept the plane in the air for 19 minutes, covering roughly 75 miles, the longest distance ever flown by an unpowered passenger jet. Military air traffic controllers at Lajes guided the plane to the runway, and the plane touched down at a speed of 200 knots, resulting in a fire in the braking system that caused the loss of all 8 main wheels.
Fourteen passengers and two crew members received minor injuries during the evacuation, and two passengers were seriously hurt. The plane experienced damage to the landing gear and lower fuselage. Investigators traced the cause of the leak in the No. 2 engine to an incorrect part being installed in the hydraulics system by Air Transat maintenance staff, and though pilot error was also listed for the crew’s failure to identify the fuel leak, Captain Piché was awarded the Superior Airmanship Award by the Air Line Pilots’ Association. The French aeronautics board also issued a directive leading to a revision in the flight manual to prevent future incidents. (Photo—not accident aircraft—by Konstantin von Wedelstaedt via Wikimedia Commons; second photo author unknown)
August 26, 1959 – The first VC-137 enters service. In 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt became the first US President to travel on an airplane for official government business when he flew from the US to Casablanca on the Moroccan coast for a war strategy meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. President Roosevelt made the trip in a Boeing 314 flying boat named the Yankee Clipper. Presidents have been flying around the world ever since, but it wasn’t until 1959 that the White House entered the jet age with the arrival of the VC-137, a modified Boeing 707-120 airliner. The story goes that Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was dismayed by the visuals of the President of the United States arriving for a summit with the Russian president in a propeller-driven Lockheed VC-121 Constellation while his Russian counterpart arrived on a jet. In an era of Cold War competition, such one-upmanship could not be allowed. So Dulles (the man for whom the international airport in Washington, DC is named) pressed the Air Force to upgrade the President’s plane to something more modern—and more impressive. Near the end of Eisenhower’s term, the Air Force ordered three 707s for VIP travel, the first being designated Special Air Mission (SAM) 970, and the others SAM 971 and SAM 972. The new aircraft featured living and working spaces for the president and his staff, as well as modern communications equipment. President Eisenhower was the first US President to fly in the new airliner, visiting 11 Asian nations during his “Flight to Peace” goodwill tour in 1959. But the SAM jets used by Eisenhower, and briefly by his successor, John F. Kennedy, looked nothing like the iconic blue and white jets we see today. The original 707s featured a rather gaudy, bright orange nose and bright orange tail stripe. It wasn’t until the next generation of Boeing C-137 Stratoliners purchased for President Kennedy were decked out in the famous livery designed by Raymond Loewy. SAM 970 served Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and after the original SAM 970 was replaced in 1962 by the newer VC-137C, it continued flying VIPs and the Vice President until 1996, with its last executive passenger being Vice President Al Gore. SAM 970 is preserved and is now on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. (Photo author unknown)
August 24, 1932 – Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly nonstop across the United States. Amelia Earhart is America’s best known aviatrix, and she set many flying records for her day and achieved many firsts for female pilots. Perhaps her greatest feat was her solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20-21, 1932, but she followed that just three months later with another first, becoming the the first woman to fly nonstop across the United States. In doing so, she also set a new transcontinental speed record in her Lockheed Vega 5B, completing the 2,448 mile journey in 19 hours 5 minutes, a record she would break the following year. Earhart, along with navigator Fred Noonan, disappeared on July 2, 1937 while attempting to fly around the world. (Photo via Encyclopedia Britannica)
August 25, 2012 – The death of Neil Armstrong, an aerospace engineer, combat pilot, test pilot, astronaut, and the first man to set foot on the Moon. Armstrong was born on August 5, 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio and, after serving as a fighter pilot in Korea, he received a degree in engineering from Purdue University. Following a stint as a test pilot, Armstrong joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1962 and became the first American civilian to fly in space when he served as command pilot for Gemini 8. His second and final spaceflight took place in July 1969 when he commanded Apollo 11, becoming the first man to walk on the Moon. Armstrong retired from NASA following that flight, and became a college professor and businessman before his death at age 82. (NASA photo)
August 25, 1995 – The first flight of the Airbus A319, a narrow-body, short-to-medium-range airliner that was developed from the Airbus A320. The A319, a shorter version of the A320, was developed based on a request by Steven F. Udvar-Házy of International Lease Finance Corporation (IFLC), and was intended to provide a direct competitor to the Boeing 737. Though it carries slightly fewer passengers than the A320, it has the same fuel capacity, thus the range is extended up to 3,700 nautical miles with the addition winglets (called Sharklets by Airbus). Just under 1,500 A319s have been produced, and it is in service with over 100 operators worldwide. (Photo by the author)
August 26, 2002 – The first flight of the Eclipse 500, a small, six-seat business jet and the first in a new class of Very Light Jet (VLJ). Previously called microjets, VLJs are approved for single-pilot operation and seat 4-8 passengers with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of under 10,000 pounds. The Eclipse 500 is based on the Williams V-Jet II which was designed by Burt Rutan, and is powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F turbofans that give it a maximum speed of 425 mph and a range of nearly 1,300 miles. Eclipse Aviation entered bankruptcy in 2008 due to a lack of funding, and production stopped at 560 aircraft. After liquidation, Eclipse Aerospace took over, and development of a more advanced Eclipse 550 is underway. (Photo by Alan Radecki via Wikimedia Commons)
August 26, 1975 – The first flight of the McDonnell Douglas YC-15, an unsuccessful entrant into the US Air Force competition of procure a jet-powered replacement for the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. McDonnell Douglas competed against the Boeing YC-14 for the Air Force contract, but neither aircraft was selected. The YC-15 featured advances such as a supercritical wing to reduce drag and increase lift, along with externally blown flaps to improve low-speed performance. Only 2 YC-15 prototypes were built and, while it failed to enter production, many elements of its design served as the basis for the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III following McDonnell Douglas’ merger with Boeing in 1997.(Photo by Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons)
Recent Aviation History Posts
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.