Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from February 13 through February 16.


February 15, 1986 – The first flight of the Beechcraft Starship. What would happen if you owned an aircraft company, spent years developing the most advanced corporate aircraft of its day, but nobody bought it? That’s pretty much what happened to Beechcraft and parent company Raytheon with what is arguably one of the most futuristic-looking aircraft ever built. Development of the Starship began in 1979 as Beechcraft searched for a replacement for its venerable King Air line of twin-engine aircraft. They envisioned an aircraft that could carry 10 passengers at up to 400 mph while weighing less than 12,500 pounds. And they were also out to construct the most advanced private airplane of its time. It wouild be built largely of composites, be the first to have a pressurized passenger compartment built of carbon fiber, and also be the first with a glass cockpit. Developed from a design refined by aviation visionary Burt Rutan, the Starship would be the first civilian aircraft to use a canard, and the first to use a pusher propeller. After Rutan produced a scaled proof of concept aircraft, development of the full sized aircraft began, but major difficulties quickly ensued. Beechcraft had never worked with composites on such a scale, and the first system for fabricating the parts had to be abandoned for a simpler process that ended up adding weight to the aircraft. And as weight was added, two seats were lost. More powerful engines had to be substituted that were not as fuel-efficient as the ones originally intended. Manufacture of various elements of the aircraft were spread around the country, leading to numerous delays in construction, often months at a time. And as the aircraft ballooned in weight, it also ballooned in price. Initially, the Starship was to sell for $2.7 million dollars. But once it hit the showroom floor, the cost had almost doubled to $5 million dollars, about the same cost as a private jet. And once those planes were delivered, they were plagued with reliability problems that proved difficult to quash or expensive to repair. Following the FAA certification of the Starship, Beechcraft sold only 11 aircraft in the first 7 years of sales. The last of only 53 aircraft rolled off the production line in 1995, and in 2003, Beechcraft started buying up all available aircraft and destroying them, as the cost to keep them in the air had become prohibitive. As of 2010, only 9 Starships remained registered as active with the FAA. Evergreen Air, who was overseeing the destruction of the aircraft, sold 24 for only $50,000 each, and most of those were being used for parts, though one was returned to flying status. (Photo author unknown via rps3.com)


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February 15, 1946 – The first flight of the Douglas DC-6. WWII witnessed unprecedented advances in aviation technology, and while the period put the world on the cusp of the jet age, there was still more work to be wrung out of the venerable piston engine. Many of the propeller aircraft that survived the war had begun their life as military aircraft, and for many years, the US Army relied on the C-54 Skymaster, the military version of the Douglas DC-4. First flying in 1942, the C-54 served throughout WWII and beyond, but by late in the war, the Army was looking for something larger, and more imporatantly, something pressurized, as none of the civilian DC-4s or C-54s had pressurized hulls. In 1944, the Army commissioned the DC-6 as the XC-112, a longer, pressurized version of the DC-4, and replaced the Pratt & Whitney R-2000 radial engines of the C-54 with more powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radials. These engines were capable of 2,400 hp each with water injection, and could pull the C-54 at speeds of 315 mph with a range of about 4,000 miles. However, by the time the XC-112 took its maiden flight in 1946, the war had ended and the USAAF rescinded their wartime contract. Although Douglas lost their military contract, they now had a brand new, pressurized airliner they could market to the world. Douglas undertook the task of converting the XC-112 to civilian specifications, and the civilian DC-6 took its maiden flight on June 29, 1946, with deliveries to American Airlines and United Airlines taking place five months later. The new airliner was not without teething troubles, and a series of in-flight fires, one of which led to the crash of United Airlines Flight 608 and the loss of 52 passengers and crew, led to the entire fleet of DC-6s being grounded in 1947. Once the problem was solved, the airliner returned to service four months later, and by 1949, the DC-6 was flying all over the world, with United Airlines providing service to Hawaii, and other carriers making flights to and from Europe and South America. Upgrades in engines provided more power, and the DC-6B was enlarged to accommodate up to 89 passengers. With America’s entry into the Korean War, the Air Force realized that they still needed large transports, and they adopted the DC-6 as the C-118 Liftmaster, buying 100 from Douglas, and the US Navy purchased 65, where it was designated the R6D until 1962. The Air Force also modified one DC-6 into the VC-118, a presidential transport with 25 seats and 12 beds. With the addition of a rear cargo door, the DC-6 also became a popular civilian freighter, and some still serve in this role today, mostly in bush operations in Alaska and Canada, where their rugged construction make them ideal for more primitive operations. One notable flying DC-6 is owned by Red Bull energy drink mogul Dietrich Mateschitz, and the last DC-6 to come off the production line, and the last in the world to still carry passengers, remains in use with Namibia Commercial Aviation. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)


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February 15, 1932 – The first flight of the Martin B-10. The Glenn L. Martin Company traces its history back to 1912, when founder Glenn Martin started building military training aircraft in Santa Ana, California, and later, during WWI, building bombers for the US Army. This began an affinity for building large aircraft that would continue throughout the inter-war years and through WWII, where Martin’s company produced the B-26 Marauder, as well as large flying boats for the US Navy. But one of his earliest successes was with the revolutionary B-10 bomber, a highly advanced aircraft for the time, and one that would form the template for future bomber design. Development of the B-10 began as the Model 123, a private venture of the Martin Company, a large, two-engine airplane with open cockpits, an internal bomb bay and retractable landing gear. Upon delivery to the Army, the aircraft became the XB-907, and after favorable testing, the Army returned the aircraft to Martin for improvements. The redesigned bomber, now dubbed the XB-10, would be the first all-metal monoplane bomber flown by the Army. Improvements included full NACA cowlings that replaced the Townend rings of the Model 123, more powerful engines, an increased wingspan, and an enclosed nose turret. Already, speeds were approaching 200 mph. Still more changes followed, including canopies for all crew members, upgraded engines, and the reduction of the crew from four to three. The Army now had a truly modern bomber on their hands, one that could outrun contemporary Army pursuit planes. And once the B-10 became operational, it rendered all other bombers obsolete. The B-10 entered service with the Army in 1934, and was soon flying with bomb groups in the US, the Panama Canal Zone and in the Philippines. For coastal patrol duties, a number of B-10s were outfitted with floats for water operation. Once the orders were filled for the US Army, Martin was free to export their bomber, and aircraft were sold to Argentina, China, the Philippines, Russia, Siam and Turkey. The Netherlands purchased 121 bombers. Despite its groundbreaking design, developments in aviation soon outpaced the B-10, and by the start of WWII it was already obsolete. Martin attempted to update the B-10 to compete in a 1934 US Army Air Corps competition for a new long-range bomber. The B-10 lost the competition to the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Douglas B-18 Bolo, which was actually inferior to the older B-10, and its service days were over. (US Air Force photo)


Short Take Off


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February 13, 2002 – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) takes over airport security from the Federal Aviation Administration. The TSA was created as part of the Aviation Transportation and Security Act following the terrorist attacks against the US on September 11, 2001. The TSA employs 47,000 Transportation Safety Officers (TSO) who screen travelers at all types of transportation centers in the US, though their primary mission is airport security. Prior to the TSA, aviation security was handled by private contractors hired by the airports or the airlines. Now, the TSA is housed under the Department of Homeland Security, and in addition to checkpoint screening agents, the TSA employs Federal Air Marshals, Transportation Security Inspectors, and canine explosive detection teams. (TSA photo)


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February 13, 1965 – US President Lyndon B. Johnson authorizes Operation Rolling Thunder, a sustained campaign of aerial bombardment against North Vietnam that lasted more than three years. Following Johnson’s authorization, the first bombs were dropped on March 2, 1965. The prolonged campaign attempted to boost South Vietnamese morale, stop the North Vietnamese government from its support of Communist rebels in the south, destroy the transportation system of North Vietnam, and prevent the flow of war materiel into the south. American and South Vietnamese aircraft faced dogged and sophisticated resistance to the attacks, and over 900 aircraft were lost, resulting in the death of 255 USAF pilots with 222 captured. For the US Navy and Marine Corps, 454 pilots were killed, captured or missing. Despite 864,000 tons of bombs dropped during over 300,000 sorties, Rolling Thunder was ultimately unsuccessful. (US Air Force photo)


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February 13, 1945 – Allied bombers begin the bombing of Dresden. On the first night of the raid, 800 RAF bombers dropped 650,000 incendiary devices mixed with 8,000 and 4,000 pound high explosive bombs. On the second night, 1,300 US bombers, escorted by 900 fighters, attacked the city, to be followed by 1,100 more US bombers the third night. All told, more than 3,900 tons of high explosive bombs and incendiary devices were dropped on the city. The attack resulted in a firestorm that gutted over 6 square miles of the city, killing as many as 25,000 people. 300,000 were injured, and 27,000 homes were destroyed. At the time, the city was filled with refugees fleeing the advance of Russian troops, adding to the civilian toll. The Allies claimed that the bombing of the city was necessary, saying Dresden was a rail and transportation hub, and its destruction was necessary to stop German troops from mobilizing against advancing Russian soldiers. The war would be over just three months later. (Photo from Deutsche Fotothek‎ via Wikimedia Commons)


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February 14, 1955 – The first flight of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21. The MiG-21, NATO reporting name Fishbed, is the most-produced supersonic fighter in history with well over 11,000 built between 1959-1985. The MiG-21 was designed principally as a simple, rugged air superiority fighter, and throughout its service history it was the principal low-level air combat fighter flown by Eastern Bloc nations. Comparable to the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter or Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter, the MiG-21 was continuously upgraded throughout its service life, and was also built under license by the Chinese. The Fishbed was widely exported, serving historically in 45 countries, and it is still flown by the air forces of 17 nations. (Photo by Cristian Ghe. via Wikimedia Commons)


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February 14, 1891 – The birth of Katherine Stinson. At age 21, Stinson was the fourth woman in the US to obtain her pilot certificate, soloing after just four hours of instruction. The following year, she began touring on the exhibition circuit, where she was known as “The Flying Schoolgirl,” and in 1915 she became the first female pilot to perform a loop. In 1917, Stinson set an American record for non-stop flying when she completed a 606 mile flight from San Diego, California to San Francisco. During WWI, Stinson drove an ambulance in Europe, where she contracted influenza and was forced to give up flying. Her brothers, inspired by her feats of flying, started the Stinson Aircraft Company in 1920. Katherine Stinson died in 1977 at age 86. (US Library of Congress photo)


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February 15, 1970 – The death of RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding. During the Battle of Britain, Dowding headed the RAF Fighter Command, playing a vital role in the defense of the British homeland as the Luftwaffe attempted to destroy the RAF ahead of a planned invasion of England. In addition to directing defensive fighters against German bombers, Dowding helped develop the world’s first comprehensive air defense system, incorporating Chain Home radar stations, Royal Observer Corps ground observation posts, telecommunications to coordinate defenses and information processing to handle reports of incoming bombers. Dowding stepped down from his position on November 24, 1940, largely over his unwillingness to adopt the Big Wing system of defense over his own system. (Dowding photo via UK Government, Spitfire photo via RAF Musuem)


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February 15, 1949 – The first flight of the Breguet Deux-Ponts, a double-deck transport aircraft built by Breguet of France after WWII. Deux-Ponts means double-deck, but that was only the nickname of the aircraft, and not its official designation. Designated the 761, 763 or 765 depending on the engines that were fitted, the Deux-Ponts normally accommodated 59 passengers on the upper deck and 48 on the lower, though it was capable of carrying 135 passengers in a high density configuration. A total of 20 were built, but the arrival of the Sud Aviation Caravelle jetliner in 1959 rendered the Deux-Ponts obsolete, though it was not fully retired until 1971. (Photo by Ralf Manteufel via Wikimedia Commons)


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February 15, 1944 – The first flight of the Curtiss SC Seahawk, a scout seaplane developed by Curtiss to replace the Curtiss SO3C Seamew and the Vought OS2U Kingfisher. Even before the prototypes took their maiden flight, the US Navy ordered 500 Seahawks. The planes were armed with two .50 caliber machine guns with hardpoints for for bombs, and accommodation was made for a single stretcher to be carried behind the single pilot. Aircraft were delivered to overseas units with regular landing gear, then had the floats fitted in the field. The Seahawk’s long development meant that it didn’t enter service until 1944, and didn’t see action until June 1945, just two months before the end of the war. The Seahawk was quickly replaced by helicopter scouts, and no examples remain today. (US Navy photo)


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