Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from February 19 through February 21.
February 19, 1982 – The first flight of the Boeing 757. For whatever reason, February is a very busy month in the history of the Boeing Company. Many of their most iconic aircraft took their maiden flight in the second month of the year, and the list includes the 247, perhaps the world’s first truly modern airliner, 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.
By the early 1970s, Boeing had to decide what to do with the 727. The tri-jet had become Boeing’s biggest seller but, with the increasing popularity of air travel, air carriers were now 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 modify 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, Boeing decided to go ahead with the new airliner in 1978.
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, engine production returned to the US when Delta signed on with the 757 and 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 trained 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 roughly 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. Months of testing following, and 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 to be a useful and powerful workhorse and, in 1991, in a display of the 757's short field prowess as well 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. The 757 has also 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.
With the arrival 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 Boeing now finds itself lacking any offerings in the size and range of the 757, and under intense competition from Airbus with their A321LR. Boeing revealed plans in June of 2017 for their yet-to-be named “new midsize airplane,” or NMA, which would fill the gap left by the 757 and likely be named the 797, but those plans have since been shelved, and Boeing has yet to reveal their future plans. It is very possible that the best replacement for the 757 would be the 757.
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 and fear today were still 15 years away. Until the arrival of the ICBM with the Soviet R-7 Semyorka in 1959, large strategic bombers remained the only method of delivering nuclear weapons into enemy territory, and an aeronautical arms race developed to create bombers that could fly higher and faster than the fighters sent to intercept 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 served as America’s first line of defense.
In 1952, Avro Canada introduced the CF-100 Canuck, Canada’s first domestically produced jet interceptor. But the Canuck was incapable of reaching the latest jet-powered Russian bombers, so Avro Canada began work on a truly supersonic interceptor, one that would be built in Canada and eliminate Canada’s reliance on fighters produced outside the country. 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. 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. The first CF-105 was rolled out on October 4, 1957, and 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. Detractors 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, along with the development of the high-powered Orenda Iroquois turbojet engine.
Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker cited high costs, and questioned of the need for an interceptor in the age of the ICBM. Within two months of the announcement, all aircraft, engines, tooling and technical data were destroyed, ostensibly for reasons of national security. More than 15,000 workers lost their job, and many of the top engineers on the Arrow project left Canada to work for NASA on its manned space program. 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.
February 21, 1945 – The first flight of the Hawker Sea Fury. While many history books tend to focus on the role of American aircraft carriers in the Pacific during WWII, the British Royal Navy also operated carriers in both the European and Pacific theaters of war. In Europe, the British carriers sailed as far north as the Arctic Circle to harass German shipping and counter U-boat operations, and also carried out operations throughout the Mediterranean Sea against Axis forces in southern Europe and North Africa. The British Pacific Fleet, consisting of six fleet carriers and 15 smaller carriers, was one of the largest British fleets ever assembled. Flying from these 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, as neither aircraft had been designed specifically for the specialized needs of carrier operations.
Development of the land-based Hawker Fury began in 1942 as the RAF sought a successor to both the Hawker Tempest fighter and the Hawker Typhoon fighter bomber. By 1943, the Air Ministry formalized the development 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 specification also called for an armament of four 20mm Hispano V cannons set in the wings, along with the capability of carrying up to 2,000 pounds of bombs. 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, rather than convert an existing fighter for naval use. The RAF version would bear the name the Fury, while the Royal Navy version would be called the Sea Fury.
With the end of the war in 1945, the RAF began putting their efforts into the development of new jet fighters and pulled out of the Fury project. The Royal Navy, however, had fought the war with a combination of lend-lease aircraft that would need to be returned or purchased outright, as well as 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 and became 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.
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.
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, and borrowed heavily from their Cessna 180 in its design. The single-seat 188 is constructed primarily of aluminum with a strut-braced wing 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 to pull advertising banners.
February 19, 1936 – The death of William “Billy” Mitchell. Born December 29, 1879 in France, Mitchell grew up in Wisconsin and joined the US Army in 1898 as an infantryman before transferring to the Signal Corps. By the end of WWI, he had risen to command all American air combat units in France and, following the war, Mitchell was a major and vocal proponent of air power. 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, and Mitchell’s views had a profound influence on American strategic bombing practices during WWII. He resigned from the Army in 1926 rather than face a court martial for accusing senior commanders of incompetence, though he continued to preach about the power of military aviation, albeit to a less influential audience. Mitchell succumbed to influenza and other ailments at his home in Virginia at age 56.
(NASFebruary 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 and, once completed, was the largest artificial satellite ever placed into Earth orbit until the construction of the International Space Station (ISS). Mir primarily served 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.
February 20, 1942 – Lieutenant Edward “Butch” O’hare becomes the US Navy’s first fighter ace of WWII and the first American ace in US service. 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.
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 as the R3D in US Navy and Marine Corps service. 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, and only 12 were ever built.
February 21, 1999 – The death of Eino Imari Juutilainen, 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 (he claimed 126) in 437 sorties, making him the leading non-German ace of WWII. 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. Juutilainen served in the Ilmavoimat until 1947, then flew as a professional pilot until 1956. His final flight was in 1997 in a two-seat McDonnell Douglas F-18D Hornet of the Finnish Air Force.
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 Boeing could manufacture the fighter more economically. Despite serious teething problems with the new fighter, the MB-3 served as the primary fighter of USAAS squadrons from 1922-1925, and a total of 265 were built before the type was retired.
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