Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting you caught up on milestones and important historical events in aviation from February 18 through February 21.
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 8 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 produced 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 world’s first wide body, the 747, and the 747-8. 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 airlines 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 develop 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 BA both opted for the Rolls-Royce RB211-535C turbofan. Later, when Delta signed on with the 757, they would select 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 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 it’s maiden flight took place one week ahead of schedule, followed by 7 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 as 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. With the halt in 757 production, Boeing now has a significant gap in capacity between the 180-seat 737 Max and the 242-seat 787 Dreamliner. Faced with serious competition from Airbus, Boeing has to decide how to move forward and fill the void left by the venerable 757. (Photo by the author; photo by Steve Fitzgerald 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 weren’t fielded for the first time until 1959 with the Soviet R-7 Semyorka. Before that time, large strategic bombers were still the vehicle of choice to deliver nuclear weapons against one’s enemies. These bombers were designed to be increasingly faster and able to fly higher than the interceptors sent to stop them in an aeronautical arms race run between the Cold War adversaries. 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 on their way to American targets. Canada and the US were longtime allies, and committed to mutual defense against the Soviet Union since the early 1950s. So, for any nuclear-armed bombers coming to attack the US, Canada would be 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 Avro 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, 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, and the aircraft went supersonic for the first time on its third flight.
But as with so many big budget military programs, politics started throwing roadblocks into the development of the Arrow. Many pointed to the extreme 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 large 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 5 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; photo by EyeNo via Wikimedia Commons)
February 21, 1945 – The first flight of the Hawker Sea Fury. During WWII, the British Royal Navy operated aircraft carriers in both the European and Pacific theaters of war. In Europe, they served as far north as the Arctic Circle, where they harassed German shipping and U-boat operations, and carried out operations throughout the Mediterranean Sea against Axis forces in Europe and North Africa. In the Pacific, the British Pacific Fleet, consisting of 6 fleet carriers and 15 smaller carriers, was one of the largest British fleets ever assembled. Flying from the carriers was a wide mix of aircraft, from the biplane Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber to a more modern mix of American- and British-built aircraft. Two of the dominant land-based British fighters, the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire, had been adapted to naval use, but the results were mixed. Neither aircraft had been designed specifically for the specialized needs of carrier operations. But what would eventually become the best British carrier aircraft to come out of the war had its basis in a design for the Royal Air Force. Development of the land-based Hawker Fury began in 1942, as the RAF sought a successor to the Hawker Typhoon fighter bomber and the Hawker Tempest fighter. By 1943, the Air Ministry formalized the work already done by Hawker by issuing Specification F.2/43 which called for a fighter with a high rate of climb, good maneuverability and a maximum speed of at least 450 mph at 22,000 feet. The new fighter would be armed with four 20mm Hispano V cannons in the wings and would also be capable of carrying two bombs of up to 1,000 pounds each. Around the same time, Hawker had also received a request for a new carrier-based fighter, and famed Hawker designer Sydney Camm saw an opportunity to develop the Fury into both a land-based and carrier-based fighter. The RAF version would be called the Fury, while the Royal Navy version would be called the Sea Fury. With the end of the war in 1945, the RAF was putting their efforts into the development of new jet fighters, so they pulled out of the project. The Navy, however, had fought the war with a combination of lend-lease aircraft that would need to be returned or purchased outright, and the Supermarine Seafire, a carrier-based version of the Spitfire that never quite worked out, as it had been designed first as a land-based fighter and had significant structural weaknesses that were never completely rectified. So development of the Sea Fury went ahead, and its introduction in October 1945 made it the last piston-powered fighter to enter Royal Navy Service. Since the Sea Fury had begun as a fighter for the RAF, the first prototype was fitted with an arrestor hook but did not have folding wings necessary for carrier storage. This was rectified in the second prototype, and a new five-bladed propeller was added. Production Sea Furies were powered by a Bristol Centaurus 18-cylinder twin-row radial engine that produced 2,480 hp, and its top speed of 460 mph made it one of the fastest piston-powered fighters ever produced.
Though the Sea Fury arrived too late for service in WWII, it became the primary fighter/bomber for the postwar Royal Navy, and saw action over Korea as part of the British forces fighting with the United Nations. There, it served as a potent ground attack aircraft and performed combat air patrols. On August 8, 1952, Lt. Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael shot down a Chinese MiG-15, becoming one of the few pilots to destroy a jet fighter while flying a propeller fighter. The Sea Fury was also widely exported, and was flown by Cuban exiles during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. The Sea Fury was eventually phased out by the mid-1950s and replaced with jet-powered aircraft, but its powerful engine and excellent maneuverability made the remaining aircraft popular in the hands of civilian pilots, and a number are still flying today on the air show circuit or as modified air racers. (Photo by Mike Freer via Wikimedia Commons; US Navy photo )
February 18, 2010 – Andrew Joseph Stack, III, crashes his airplane into the IRS offices in Austin, Texas. Following a long-running feud 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 headed 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, 2 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 development of the flying wing, producing the YB-35 and YB-49 bombers for the US Air Force. Though his flying wing designs were never adopted, Northrop eventually would be vindicated for his efforts 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 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. Operation Jericho was a daring, low-level mission flown by the RAF into German-occupied France in an effort to free prisoners, many of whom were members of the French Resistance or political prisoners, as well as 2 Allied intelligence officers, from Amiens Prison by using bombs to breach the walls. Eighteen RAF de Havilland Mosquito bombers (only 9 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. However, two-thirds of the escapees were soon recaptured. Three Mosquitos and 2 Typhoons were lost, with 3 pilots killed and 3 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 E-170, a single-aisle, twin-engined regional airliner produced by Brazilian firm Embraer as part of their E-Jet family of commercial and business airliners. Launched at the Paris Air Show in 1999, the E-170 entered service in 2002 and has been one of the more successful undertakings by Embraer. The 170 features four-abreast seating, and its double-bubble fuselage offers enough headroom for passengers to stand in the aisle. The 170 seats up to 80 passengers in a single class configuration, and the stretched E-195 seats up to 122. As of the end of 2015, Embraer had produced nearly 1,200 E-170s, with a backlog of 249 firm orders yet to be filled. (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 188 features a single seat, 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 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 when aircraft sank 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 space over a ten-year span from 1986-1996 and, until the construction of the International Space Station (ISS), the largest artificial satellite ever placed into Earth orbit. 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 before that record was broken by the astronauts stationed on the ISS. Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov set an endurance record of nearly 438 days in space aboard Mir in 1994-1995. Mir was occupied for a total of 12 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 South Pacific Ocean. (NASA 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 shoulder-mounted wings and tricycle landing gear, and a handful went into airliner service in Europe, and a some were pressed into military service, where it was known as the C-110 in US Army and the R3D in the Navy and Marine Corps. The 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)
February 21, 1999 – The death of Eino Ilmari Juutilainen. Born on the same date in 1914, Juutilainen was the greatest ace of the Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat). By the end of the Finnish wars with Russia (1939–40 and 1941–44), Juutilainen had 94 confirmed victories in 437 sorties, making him the leading non-German ace of WWII (Juutilainen claimed 126 victories). Juutilainen finished the war without a single enemy hit to his airplane, and he never lost a wingman in combat. He also scored the first kill by a Finnish fighter directed by radar when he destroyed a Soviet Pe-2 after being guided to the target by a German radar operator. Juutilainen was twice awarded the Mannerheim Cross, the highest Finnish military decoration. His last flight was in 1997 in a two-seat McDonnell Douglas F-18D Hornet of the Finnish Air Force. (Photo via Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive)
February 21, 1919 – The first flight of the Thomas-Morse MB-3, a biplane fighter manufactured by Boeing for the US Army Air Service. In 1919, the USAAS requested a new fighter to replace the French SPAD XIII that would be powered by the Wright-Hispano H engine, a license-built Hispano Suiza 8. Though designed by Thomas-Morse, the company was underbid by Boeing for the Army production contract because they could manufacture the fighter more economically. Despite serious teething problems with the new fighter, the MB-3 served as the backbone of USAAS fighter squadrons from 1922-1925, and a total of 265 MB-3s were built before the type was retired. (Photo author unknown)
February 21, 1910 – The birth of Douglas Bader, an RAF fighter ace during WWII who was credited with 22 confirmed kills, 4 shared victories and 11 damaged enemy aircraft. In 1931, Bader lost both legs in an aerobatic crash, but, after his recovery, he rejoined the RAF after the start of WWII. Bader scored victories in the air over Dunkirk and took part in the Battle of Britain. In August of 1941, Bader bailed out of his fighter over France and was captured, but, despite of his disability, he made numerous escape attempts. He was then held at Colditz Castle, where he remained imprisoned until the end of the war. Bader continued flying after the war until poor health forced him to quit flying in 1979. For his war service, Bader was awarded the Order of the British Empire, the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross. Bader died of a heart attack on September 5, 1982. (Imperial War Museum photo)
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