Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from February 17 through February 20.
February 18, 1939 – The first flight of the Martin PBM Mariner. From the earliest days of the airplane, the US Navy saw the seaplane and flying boat as vital tools for maritime surveillance, search and rescue, and defense against submarines. (Generally, seaplanes are fitted with both floats and landing gear, making them amphibious, while flying boats can only operate from the surface of the water). With America’s entry into the truly global conflict of WWII, the Navy now had vast reaches of ocean to cover, particularly in the Pacific, a duty that was well-suited to far-ranging flying boats.
The Glenn L. Martin Company had a long history of building large aircraft, and their work with flying boats began with the PM-1, a biplane flying boat they produced for the Naval Aircraft Factory. They followed that with production of the Martin P3M, a parasol wing flying boat that had originally been designed by Consolidated, who called it the P2Y. But the P3M’s design still hearkened back to an earlier era with its fabric-covered wing and parasol design, and Martin knew that there was room for improvement to bring the large flying boat into a more modern era.
Development of the Mariner began in 1937 with the Model 162, which was intended both as a replacement for the P3M and as a complement to the smaller Consolidated PBY Catalina. Where earlier flying boats had employed the parasol wing to keep the engines clear of ocean spray, Martin designed the Mariner with a distinctive gull wing to raise the engines higher above the water while still enjoying the benefits of the more modern cantilever wing. A matching dihedral tail replaced the original flat tail to help reduce tail flutter. To reduce aerodynamic drag during flight, initial Mariners were fitted with retractable wing floats, though later production aircraft reverted to fixed floats, and the final variant, the PBM-5A, was fitted with a retractable undercarriage, making it a true amphibian. Power for the large flying boat came from a pair of Wright R-2600 Cyclone radial engines which gave the Mariner a maximum speed of 210 mph and a range of 2,240 miles. The Mariner bristled with eight Browning .50 caliber machine guns for defense against enemy fighters, and it could carry up to 4,000 pounds of bombs or depth charges or a pair of Mark 13 torpedoes for attacking surface targets.
The Mariner entered service with the Navy on September 1, 1940, where its primary mission was performing Neutrality Patrols in the Atlantic Ocean from bases in the US and Iceland. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into WWII, Mariners performed anti-submarine patrols in the Atlantic and were credited with sinking 10 German U-boats. PBMs were flown widely in the Pacific, where they operated from bases in Saipan, Okinawa, Iwo Jima and throughout the South West Pacific theater of war. The end of WWII did not mean the end of the Mariner’s service. During the Korean War, it performed patrol missions along the Korean Coast, and it became the premiere long-range search and rescue aircraft for the US Coast Guard. The Mariner was also exported to Britain (who eventually transferred their aircraft to Australia), and the Netherlands, where the Royal Netherlands Navy operated them in Netherlands New Guinea. When production of the Mariner ceased in 1949, Martin had built a total of 1,366 PBMs, and its duties were eventually taken over by the more advanced Martin P5M Marlin, which entered service in 1952. (US Navy photos)
February 19, 1982 – The first flight of the Boeing 757. For whatever reason, February has been a very busy month in the history of the Boeing Company. Many of their most iconic aircraft have taken their maiden flight in February, and the list includes the 247, one of the world’s first truly modern airliners, the tri-jet 727, the 737 Classic, the 737 Next Generation, the 747, which was the world’s first wide body, and the 747-8, the largest 747 ever built and the longest commercial airliner in the world. Completing that list of February first flights (though not chronologically) is the 757, Boeing’s largest single-aisle airliner, which first took to the skies on February 19, 1982.
By the early 1970s, Boeing had to decide what to do with the 727. While the tri-jet had become Boeing’s biggest seller, the increasing popularity of air travel meant that air carriers were looking for an airliner with more seats, but also one that didn’t sacrifice the 727's ability to operate from shorter runways at smaller airports. At first, Boeing considered revamping the 727, stretching it further than the already-lengthened 727-200, or developing an entirely new airplane, dubbed the 7N7 at the time. Although it would have been cheaper to develop the established 727, airlines were showing greater interest in aircraft equipped with more efficient high-bypass turbofans which provided significant fuel savings over the older low-bypass turbofans that drove the 727. Eventually, with firm commitments from Eastern Air Lines and British Airways in 1978, Boeing decided to go ahead with the new airliner.
For the first time, a Boeing airliner would be powered by engines produced outside the US, as Eastern and British Airways both opted for the Rolls-Royce RB211-535C turbofan. Later, when Delta signed on with the 757, engine production returned to the US when they selected Pratt & Whitney engines. Since the 757 was being developed alongside the widebody 767, both jets shared common elements, such as identical, two-person flight decks with computerized glass cockpits, and engine management systems which rendered the flight engineer’s position obsolete. By sharing the cockpit designs between the two airliners, pilots who were rated on the 757 could also be qualified to fly the 767, and vice versa. Similar to the process in place at Boeing’s chief competitor Airbus, Boeing farmed out about half of the aircraft’s components to manufacturers across the US, and final assembly took place at Boeing’s facility in Renton, Washington.
The prototype rolled out on January 13, 1982, and the 757 took its maiden flight one week ahead of schedule, followed by seven months of testing. During tests, the 757 performed better than expected. The aircraft had come out 3,600 pounds lighter than projected, and the Rolls-Royce engines burned 3% less fuel than expected, resulting in an 80% improvement in fuel consumption over the 727. Eastern Air Lines made the first commercial flight on January 1, 1983, with British Airways following a month later. Though sales of the 757 were sluggish throughout the 1980s, development of the 757 continued, first with the 757-200PF freighter, followed by the 757-300, a stretched version that can accommodate as many as 295 passengers in a single class configuration, making it the longest single-aisle twin-jet ever produced. The 757 has proven popular as a flying testbed, and the US Air Force has adopted the airliner as the C-32, a VIP aircraft that, among other duties, is used to transport the Vice President of the United States. The 757 has proven to be a useful and powerful workhorse and, in 1991, in a display of the 757's short field prowess, and in a testament to the power of modern jet engines, a 757 took off from the Gonggar Airport in Tibet at an elevation of 11,621 feet, circled and landed safely, all while flying on a single engine.
With the advent of the latest versions of the 737 and the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing decided to shutter the 757 production line in 2005 after building 1,050 aircraft. However, the cyclical nature of airliner demand has come back around, and finds itself lacking any offerings in the size and rage of the 757. However, Boeing revealed plans in June of 2017 for their yet-to-be named “new midsize airplane,” or NMA, which will fill the gap left by the 757 and likely be named the 797. That aircraft, though, is still at least eight years away. (Photo by the author; photo by emdjt42 via Wikimedia Commons; photo by Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons; photo via Wikimedia Commons)
February 20, 1959 – The Canadian government cancels the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow. Nuclear weapons were used for the first time at the close of WWII in 1945, but the nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles we know today were still 15 years away, when the Soviet Union launched the R-7 Semyorka in 1959. Before that time the arrival of the ICBM, large strategic bombers were still the vehicle of choice to deliver nuclear weapons against into enemy territory. In an aeronautical arms race between Cold War adversaries, these bombers became increasingly faster and able to fly higher than the interceptors sent to stop them. Though the Mercator map that students learn in school seems to show otherwise, the shortest route for US and Russian bombers to attack each other passed over the North Pole, and any Russian bombers headed for the US would first have to pass over Canada. As longtime allies, Canada and the US were committed to mutual defense against the Soviet Union, and Canada would serve as the first line of defense.
Avro Canada had already produced Canada’s first indigenous interceptor, the CF-100 Canuck, which was introduced in 1952. But that fighter was incapable of reaching the latest jet-powered Russian bombers, so the company began work on a truly supersonic interceptor, one that would be built in Canada, meaning that they wouldn’t have to rely on their allies for fighter protection. In April 1953, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) issued Specification AIR 7-3 which called for a fighter with a two-man crew and a Mach 1.5 cruising speed at an altitude of 70,000 feet. It also specified that the interceptor be able to reach 50,000 feet within five minutes of starting the engines. After visiting other aircraft manufacturers, the RCAF determined that no existing aircraft could meet those specifications. Avro submitted their design, a modified CF-104 (itself a delta-winged upgrade of the CF-100), with the wing moved to the shoulder position and provisions for an internal weapons bay. In 1953, the RCAF accepted Avro’s proposal and, in order to save time, prototype aircraft were built on the same rigs that would be used for production aircraft. Employing state-of-the-art control mechanisms, and making use of titanium and stainless steel in portions of the airframe, the first CF-105 was rolled out on October 4, 1957. The new interceptor went supersonic for the first time on its third test flight.
But as with so many big budget military programs, politics started throwing roadblocks into the development of the Arrow. Many pointed to the extraordinary cost of the program, and the fact that the Arrow was diverting funds from other programs. The recent launch of Sputnik, and the advent of ICBMs, meant that bombers would be playing a reduced role in nuclear attacks, and the creation of NORAD in 1957 meant that the US would be playing a larger role in the defense of Canada. On February 20, 1959, a day known as “Black Friday” in the Canadian aviation industry, the Arrow was canceled.
Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker cited costs, as well as threats from ICBMs, as the main reasons for the cancellation. There was also evidence that KGB spies had infiltrated the program. Within two months of the announcement, all aircraft, engines, tooling and technical data were destroyed, ostensibly for reasons of national security. Many of the top engineers on the Arrow project left Canada to work for NASA on its manned space program, and the RCAF ended up procuring American fighters such as the McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo to carry out the mission that had been slated for the Arrow. Ultimately, only five Arrows were completed before cancellation, and only the nose section of Arrow RL-206 and two outer wing panels were saved. They now reside in the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. (Illustration by Dennis Jarvis via Wikimedia Commons; Canadian Government photo; photo by EyeNo via Wikimedia Commons; photo by Ahunt via Wikimedia Commons)
February 17, 1864 – The birth of Hilda Beatrice Hewlett who, in 1911, became the first British woman to earn a pilot license. After attending her first aviation meeting at Blackpool in 1909, Hewlett adopted the pseudonym “Grace Bird” and began studying aeronautics, later opening a flying school at the Brooklands racing circuit with business partner Gustav Blondeau. Among her pupils was Thomas Sopwith, founder of the Sopwith Aviation Company. Hewlett also taught her son to fly, and he went on to a distinguished career in the military and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1915. The company she formed with Blondeau began building Farman, Caudron and Hanriot aircraft, eventually producing more than 800 aircraft and employing 700 workers. Hewlett died in 1943.
February 18, 2010 – Andrew Joseph Stack, III, crashes his airplane into the IRS offices in Austin, Texas. Following a long-running dispute with the IRS, and currently undergoing an audit over the IRS’s claims that he failed to report income, Stack wrote a list of his grievances, set fire to his home, and drove to the Georgetown Municipal Airport north of Austin. From there he took off in his Piper Dakota, which investigators believe may have been loaded with drums of fuel, and crashed the plane into the Echelon I building in north Austin which contained an IRS office with 190 employees. The crash killed Stack and one IRS employee, Vernon Hunter, and injured 13 others, two seriously. The attack cost the IRS nearly $40 million dollars to upgrade security at offices around the country, and led to debate over taxpayer rights and tax protest policies. The Echelon I building was repaired by November 2011. (Damage photo by Jasleen Kaur via Wikimedia Commons)
February 18, 1981 – The death of Jack Northrop, an American industrialist and aircraft designer who founded the Northrop Corporation in 1939. Born in 1895, Northrop is perhaps best known for his work on flying wing aircraft, developing the YB-35 and YB-49 bombers for the US Air Force. Though his flying wing designs were never adopted, Northrop’s concepts were eventually vindicated with the development of the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, which first flew in July 1989. Following the failure of the YB-49, a despondent Northrop took almost no part in his company. But shortly before his death, B-2 designers allowed him to see the plans and hold a scale model for the new bomber. Northrop, ill and unable to speak, reportedly wrote, “Now I know why God has kept me alive for 25 years.” (Photo author unknown)
February 18, 1977 – The first flight of the Space Shuttle Enterprise atop the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). In this, the first of five “captive-inactive” flights, the Shuttle was unmanned, and engineers tested the flight characteristics of the mated aircraft. The rear of the Shuttle was covered with an aerodynamic tail cone to reduce the effects of drag on the SCA’s horizontal stabilizer, which was fitted with tip fins for added stability. The Boeing 747-123 used as the first SCA was originally delivered to American Airlines in 1970 before being purchased by NASA for use in wake vortex studies, and it would eventually receive the official NASA livery. NASA operated two SCAs to transport the Shuttle from landing sites back to the Kennedy Space Center for their next launch. (NASA photo)
February 18, 1944 – The Royal Air Force carries out Operation Jericho, a daring, low-level mission flown by the RAF into German-occupied France in an effort to free prisoners of war, many of whom were members of the French Resistance or political prisoners, as well as two Allied intelligence officers, from Amiens Prison by using bombs to breach the walls. Eighteen RAF de Havilland Mosquito bombers (only nine made it to the target), escorted by 14 Hawker Typhoons, took off from Hunsdon Airfield in southeast England and, despite terrible weather, succeeded in breaching the walls of the prison. Of the 717 prisoners, 37 were killed in the raid and 74 were wounded, but 258 escaped, including 79 Resistance fighters, though two-thirds of the escapees were soon recaptured. Three Mosquitos and two Typhoons were lost, with three pilots killed and three captured. As a reprisal for the raid, the Nazis executed 260 prisoners, and there remains controversy over the necessity of the mission. (UK Government photos)
February 19, 2002 – The first flight of the Embraer E170, a single-aisle, twin-engined regional airliner produced by Brazilian firm Embraer and the first of the company’s E-Jet family of commercial and business airliners. Launched at the Paris Air Show in 1999, the E170 entered service in 2002 and has been one of the more successful undertakings by Embraer. The E170 features four-abreast seating for up to 78 passengers in a single-class configuration, and its double-bubble fuselage offers enough headroom for passengers to stand in the aisle. A total of 699 E170s, along with its slightly longer E175 variant, have been produced. (Photo by the author)
February 19, 1965 – The first flight of the Cessna 188, the first in a family of agricultural aircraft that includes the AGwagon, AGpickup, AGtruck, AGhusky, and AGcarryall. Cessna began working on an agricultural aircraft in the 1960s, borrowing heavily from their Cessna 180. The single-seat 188 features a strut-braced wing, is constructed primarily from aluminum, and employs a fiberglass hopper for agricultural chemicals. The series has proven to be wildly successful, and nearly 4,000 AG planes were constructed between 1966-1983. In addition to its agricultural duties, the 188 also serves as a glider and sailplane tug, and is often used for pulling advertising banners. (Photo by Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia Commons)
February 19, 1936 – The death of William “Billy” Mitchell. Mitchell was born December 29, 1879, and joined the US Army in 1898. By the end of WWI, he had risen to command all American air combat units in France. Following the war, Mitchell was a major proponent of air power and, in 1921, he organized a landmark demonstration of the effectiveness of air power by using bombers to sink the captured German battleship Ostfriesland, though throughout the orchestrated attacks the Ostfriesland never mounted any defense. As a vehement proponent of strategic bombing, Mitchell espoused the theories of Italian general Giulio Douhet, who advocated that bombers alone would be capable of winning a war by breaking the morale of an enemy’s civilian population. Mitchell’s views had a profound influence on American strategic bombing practices during WWII. (US Army photos)
February 20, 1986 – The launch of the Russian space station Mir. Mir (Peace) was a modular space station that was assembled in Earth orbit over a ten-year span from 1986 to 1996. Once completed, Mir was the largest artificial satellite ever placed into Earth orbit until the construction of the International Space Station (ISS). Mir’s primary purpose was to serve as a research laboratory to gather data and develop technologies for long-term human habitation of space, and crews set a record of 3,644 days of continuous habitation on the space station before that record was broken by astronauts stationed on the ISS. Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov set an endurance record of nearly 438 days in space aboard Mir in 1994-1995, and the station was continuously occupied for a total of twelve-and-a-half years. Following a shift in priority to the ISS, and the loss of funding for Mir, the space station was de-orbited in March 2001, with most of the wreckage falling into the southern Pacific Ocean. (NASA photo)
February 20, 1942 – Lieutenant Edward “Butch” O’hare becomes the US Navy’s first fighter ace of WWII. On February 20, 1942, O’Hare found himself flying alone in his Grumman F4F Wildcat to face nine Japanese bombers attacking his carrier. With limited ammunition, O’Hare destroyed five of the bombers and damaged a sixth. For his actions, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, which recognized his actions as “one of the most daring, if not the most daring, single action in the history of combat aviation.” O’Hare was killed in action on November 26, 1943 while leading a nighttime fighter attack, the first ever launched from a carrier. During the attack, his Grumman F6F Hellcat was shot down and the aircraft was never found. The Navy destroyer USS O’Hare (DD-889) was named in his honor, as was Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. (US Navy photo)
February 20, 1939 – The first flight of the Douglas DC-5, a twin-engine airliner developed by Douglas to operate on shorter routes and complement the better-known DC-3 and DC-4. With the start of WWII, airlines began canceling orders for new aircraft, thus the DC-5 was never widely adopted. Unlike its siblings, the DC-5 had a shoulder-mounted wing and tricycle landing gear, and a handful went into airliner service in Europe. Some were also pressed into military service, where it was known to the US Army as the C-110 and the R3D and to the US Navy and Marine Corps as the R3D. The DC-5 prototype was sold to William Boeing, who had 16 seats installed and used it as his personal aircraft. After the war, Douglas abandoned the DC-5, as there were so many surplus DC-3s and C-47s available. Only 12 DC-5s were ever built. (Photo by Bill Larkins via Wikimedia Commons)
February 20, 1875 – The birth of Marie Marvingt, a French adventurer, athlete and aviatrix who won numerous awards for her achievements in sports and aviation. In 1909, she became the first woman to pilot a balloon across the North Sea and the English Channel and, during WWI, Marvingt became the first woman to fly combat missions and the world’s first trained and certified Flight Nurse. Following the war, Marvingt worked to establish air ambulance services around the world, receiving the Deutsch de la Meurthe grand prize from the Fédération Nationale d’Aéronautique for her work in aviation medicine. Marvingt died on December 14, 1963 at age 88. (Photo author unknown)
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