Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from December 6 through December 8.


December 6, 1957 – The first flight of the Lockheed L-188 Electra. Lockheed has a long and rich tradition of building fighters and military transport aircraft, and the mention of the company immediately brings to mind the brilliant P-38 Lightning and the graceful, world-spanning Constellation. The Constellation was Lockheed’s most successful large civilian airliner, but the airliners that followed marked a decline of Lockheed in the civilian market which eventually ended with the L-1011 TriStar and Lockheed’s departure from the civilian airliner market entirely.

A Lockheed L-188 Electra of launch customer American Airlines in 1960

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Following the arrival of the jet engine in the closing stages of WWII, airlines began to show interest in turboprop-powered airliners in the 1950s. Lockheed was caught between the competing interests of American Airlines, who wanted accommodation for 75 passengers and a 2,000 mile range, and Eastern Air Lines, who wanted longer range, a cruising speed of 350 mph, and room for up to 90 passengers. Lockheed had originally designed their turboprop-powered CL-310 to meet American’s specifications, but then responded to Eastern’s requirements by lengthening the fuselage and mounting four Allison 501 turboprops, the civilian version of the Allison T56. Lockheed fitted enormous propellers to the engines and gave the CL-310 very short wings, which provided the new airliner with performance that rivaled contemporary jet-powered aircraft. Large Fowler flaps also gave the CL-310 excellent performance on short airfields and at airports in higher elevations. The new airliner, now dubbed the L-188 Electra and the last in the line of Lockheed aircraft to bear the name, was the first large turboprop airliner produced in the United States.

Lockheed L-188 Electra of Pacific Southwest Airlines at Burbank Airport in 1962

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The L-188 entered service with Eastern Air Lines in January 1959, but three fatal accidents in the first year of service raised serious doubts about the safety of the new airliner. As a result of the crashes, the Federal Aviation Administration mandated lower speeds for the L-188 while they investigated the accidents. The cause of two of the crashes was traced to problems with the engine mounts, specifically a condition known as “whirl mode flutter” in the outboard engines which caused oscillations in the wings that eventually led to the wings shearing off from the aircraft. Lockheed was able to fix the problem by modifying the engine mounts and strengthening the wings, but the L-188 was never quite able to overcome the perception that it was a dangerous aircraft.

A 1958 promotional film produced by Lockheed touting the engine performance of the L-188

Coming at the same time as the arrival of the turbojet engine in the civilian airliner market, sales of the L-188 plummeted, and production ended in 1961 after the construction of just 170 aircraft. Lockheed ultimately lost over $100 million on the L-188 in development and modification costs and lawsuits. Though not flown in large numbers, some Electras continued carrying passengers into the 1980s, and many were converted into freighters. And, while Lockheed didn’t find great success with the Electra in the civilian market, the aircraft eventually found a home with the military. In response to a 1957 request for a new maritime surveillance and antisubmarine aircraft to replace the Lockheed P2V Neptune and Martin P5M Marlin, Lockheed developed the L-188 into the P-3 Orion, and ultimately built nearly four times as many Orions as its civilian counterpart. (Photo via Lockheed; photo by Jon Proctor via Wikimedia Commons; photo by Jon Proctor via Wikimedia Commons)

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December 7, 1941 – Japan launches a sneak attack on US military bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As part of a strategy to neutralize the American Pacific fleet to facilitate further Japanese conquest in east Asia and the western Pacific, six Japanese aircraft carriers launched a sneak attack on American military facilities at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack killed 2,403 Americans and, while it was ultimately a strategic failure, it gave American President Franklin Roosevelt the justification he needed to bring the US into World War II.

For the complete story of the attack on Pearl Harbor, please see This Date in Aviation History: December 7, 1941.

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Short Takeoff


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December 6, 1993 – The first flight of the Bombardier 415, an amphibious water bomber used to fight fires. The 415 is a scooper aircraft, meaning that it can land on the surface of the water, scoop up a planeload of water, then take off and drop it where needed. A development of the Canadair CL 215, an earlier radial-engine powered aircraft, the 415 is powered by two turboprop engines and can scoop up to 1,620 US gallons of water at a time. The 415 is known as the Super Scooper, and has entered service in nine countries, with 90 delivered worldwide. Older CL 215 aircraft are also being retrofitted with new turboprop engines as the CL-215T. (Photo by Maarten Visser via Wikimedia Commons)


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December 6, 1991 – The first flight of the Dornier 328, a turboprop commuter airliner originally produced by Dornier Flugzeugwerke and later by Fairchild Dornier after Fairchild Aircraft acquired the company in 1996. The international consortium produces the 328 in Germany, but conducts sales from their offices in San Antonio, Texas. The 328 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW119B turboprops and entered service in 1993. It currently flies for small airlines in 15 countries, serves in the military surveillance and search and rescue roles, and is flown by the US Air Force Special Operations Command as the C-146A Wolfhound. A jet-powered derivative, known as the Fairchild Dornier 328JET, first flew in January 1998. (Photo by Marek Ślusarczyk via Wikimedia Commons)


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December 6, 1944 – The first flight of the Heinkel He 162. In 1944, Germany launched a desperate program to develop jet powered fighters to combat the waves of Allied bombers flying over Germany. The Emergency Fighter Program produced a number of prototypes, one of which was the Heinkel 162, named the Volksjäger, or People’s Fighter. Built primarily of wood and powered by a single BMW 003 axial flow turbojet mounted on the top of the fuselage, the He 162 was the fastest of the early jet designs of the war and found success against both bombers and fighters. However, like most of the German jet fighters, it was a case of too few aircraft coming too late to have a significant effect on the war’s outcome. (Photo via San Diego Air and Space Museum)


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December 6, 1928 – North American Aviation is founded. Though not a pilot or aircraft designer, financier Clement Melville Keys originally founded North American Aviation (NAA) as a holding company to manage interests in various other airlines and aircraft companies, but the Air Mail Act of 1934 forced Keys to make NAA its own manufacturing company. During WWII, NAA became one of the preeminent builders of warplanes, including the iconic P-51 Mustang, the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber and the T-6 Texan trainer. In the 1950s, NAA produced America’s first great swept-wing jet fighter in the F-86 Sabre, and worked with experimental aircraft such as the X-15 and XB-70 Valkyrie. For the US space program, NAA manufactured the Apollo Command Service Module and built the second stage of the Saturn V rocket. In 1967, NAA merged with Rockwell-Standard to become North American Rockwell, which changed its name to Rockwell International the following year, and the company ceased to exist in name following a merger with Boeing in 1973. (Photo by the author)


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December 7, 1995 – The Galileo space probe arrives at Jupiter. Galileo was carried into space aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-34 which launched on October 18, 1989. The combination orbiter and entry probe was the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter, and was designed to study the planet along with several other celestial bodies in our Solar System. Galileo’s probe was released six months before Galileo reached Jupiter and, during its descent, the probe collected data on cloud composition and measured winds of 190 mph. Galileo made its own observations, finding ammonia clouds on Jupiter, confirming volcanic activity on Jupiter’s moon Io, and finding evidence of liquid oceans on the moon Europa, among others. Since Galileo may have been carrying bacteria from Earth, the spacecraft was intentionally crashed on Jupiter to avoid any possible contamination of Jupiter’s moons. (NASA Illustration)


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December 7, 1972 – The launch of Apollo 17, the final mission of the Apollo program. Mission Commander Eugene Cernan and Lunar Module pilot Harrison Schmitt spent just over three days on the lunar surface, performing three moonwalks and covering 22 miles in the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), which was left behind on the Moon. Astronaut Ronald Evans remained in lunar orbit as the Command Module pilot. Apollo 17 was the first nighttime launch of an Apollo mission, and the last manned launch of the Saturn V rocket. Apollo 17 also broke the record for the longest manned lunar flight, the longest total time spent exploring the surface of the Moon, the largest return of Moon samples, and the longest time in lunar orbit. Apollo 17 returned to Earth on December 19, 1972. (NASA photo)


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December 7, 1942 – The first flight of the Bell P-63 Kingcobra, a larger and improved version of the Bell P-39 Airacobra. While the P-39 was one of the principal US fighters at the start of WWII, its lack of a turbo-supercharger hampered its high altitude performance. Development of the P-63 was meant to address that deficiency, and the Kingcobra was also redesigned with a second supercharger as well as a laminar flow wing. The US Army Air Forces showed little interest in the Kingcobra, so the majority of the 3,000 aircraft produced were sent to Russia under the Lend-Lease act, where they fought with great effectiveness, and the Kingcobra proved to be one of Russia’s most successful fighters. (San Diego Air and Space Museum photo)


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December 8, 2016 – The death of John Glenn. Born on July 18, 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio, Glenn enlisted in the US Army Air Corps following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Seeing no combat action, Glenn transferred to the US Navy, where he flew the Vought F4U Corsair on 59 combat missions over the Pacific. During the Korean War, Glenn flew 149 combat missions in the North American F-86 Sabre, and became a test pilot after the war, where he completed the first transcontinental supersonic flight in a Vought F8U Crusader. Glenn was selected as one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts in 1959, and became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962 in Friendship 7. He resigned from NASA in 1964 to pursue a career in politics, and served as a US Senator from Ohio from 1974-1999. At the age of 77, Glenn returned to space on October 29, 1998 as a Payload Specialist onboard Space Shuttle Discovery during STS-95, making Glenn the oldest person ever to fly in space. (NASA photo)


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December 8, 1962 – The first flight of the Bell YOH-4, the prototype of the Bell 206 JetRanger. The Bell 206 JetRanger has become one of the most ubiquitous general aviation helicopters in the world, but it began as a failed bid to provide the US Army with a light observation helicopter (LOH). After losing out to the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse for the LOH contract, and with an eye toward civilian sales, Bell redesigned what was arguably an unattractive aircraft, while also enlarging the cabin to carry more passengers in greater comfort. The newly designed, and much more aesthetically pleasing, Bell 206A first flew in January 1966, and 7,300 were ultimately built. The Army also revisited the JetRanger, eventually adopting it as the OH-58 Kiowa. (Photo author unknown)


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December 8, 1945 – The first flight of the Bell Model 47, a single-engine light helicopter and the first helicopter to be certified for civilian operation. The Model 47 was designed by Arthur Young and based on the Bell Model 30. One of the key innovations of the Model 47 was the use of a weighted stabilizer bar under the main rotor that helped improve rotor stability during flight. The Model 47 is instantly recognizable by its bubble-shaped canopy with room for two and open tube construction, but later models received a larger, enclosed cabin with room for four. The Model 47 entered service with the US Army in 1946 as the H-13 Sioux, and saw extensive action in the Korean War, notably as a medevac helicopter. More than 5,600 have been built, a number which includes aircraft built under license in Japan, Italy and England. (Photo by FlugKerl2 via Wikimedia Commons)


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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