Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from February 20 through February 22.
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. Before 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 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. 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, along with the development of the high-powered Orenda Iroquois turbojet engine.
Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker cited high costs, and there was also a question 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 aircraft 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 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 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 also 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 22, 1987 – The first flight of the Airbus A320. By the mid-1960s, the international airliner industry was dominated by American companies Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed. European manufacturers had developed some innovative aircraft, but production runs were small, and there was no sign of European companies making a significant entry into the airliner market. But by the end of the decade, airliner manufacturers in France, England and West Germany, with critical government backing, dedicated themselves to challenging American dominance, and Airbus Industrie was formed in 1970. (The name Airbus is a generic term for an airliner, and it was first coined by Hawker Siddeley in 1959 for a passenger version of the Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosy.)
The first aircraft to come out of the partnership was the A300, which took its maiden flight in 1972. The A300 was the world’s first twin-engined widebody airliner and seated up to 266 passengers. But with relatively slow sales, it was clear that the burgeoning European airliner industry required a smaller, short- to medium-range airliner with reduced seating capacity to feed passengers into larger airports as part of a hub-and-spoke system. Airbus began work on a new airliner that could compete directly with the widely popular Boeing 737 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9.
After considering a myriad of different configurations, Airbus focused on an airliner powered by a pair of efficient CFM International high-bypass turbofan engines and targeted at the 125- to 180-seat market. But the company didn’t have their sights set on a single airliner. They envisioned a family of three separate narrow-body, single-aisle airliners. The first to be developed was dubbed the A320. With accommodations for 150 passengers, it was in the midsize airliner in the family and had a range of 3,280 miles. Looking at the competition, Airbus designed the A320 to be just under one foot wider than the Boeing 707 and 727 to increase its chances of competing successfully with the 737. The A320’s overall shape was also more aerodynamically efficient than the 737 and McDonnell Douglas MD-80, and also slightly faster. At its launch, the A320 was one of the world’s most advanced airliners and the first to employ digital fly-by-wire technology, something that had up to that time been been reserved for military aircraft. In another nod to military aircraft design, the A320 traded the traditional pilot’s yoke for a side joystick control.
When the first A320 was rolled out of the final assembly facility in Toulouse, France on February 14, 1987, Airbus already had more than 400 orders on the books before the first aircraft even took to the skies. Air France took delivery of the first A320 on March 26, 1988, and the airliner entered service soon after. With the launch of the A320, Airbus had firmly solidified its position as a major world-class developer of commercial airliners.
Adhering to the original plan, the A320 was subsequently stretched into the A321 with accommodations for up to 236 passengers in a single-class configuration, and then shortened into the A319 and the A318, with capacity for 156 and 132 passengers respectively. Further developments include the A320neo (new engine option) with more efficient engines and the addition of blended winglets (called Sharklets by Airbus) which increase range and decrease fuel consumption by as much as four percent. The Sharklets were then retrofitted to older airliners. In February 0f 2018, Airbus completed the 8,000th airliner of the A320 family an have added more than 600 more since then, and the the airliner is in service with more than 330 airlines worldwide.
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 and once completed, Mir was the largest artificial satellite ever placed into Earth orbit until the construction of the International Space Station (ISS). Mir’s 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 MB-3s were built before the type was retired.
February 22, 1993 – The first flight of the McDonnell Douglas MD-90. Following the success of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series of airliners which were based on the earlier Douglas DC-9, the MD-90 was the next stage of the airliner’s development and featured a further stretched fuselage and more fuel-efficient engines. The MD-90 is five feet longer than the MD-88 and is powered by quieter International Aero Engines V2500 high-bypass turbofan engines which provide greater range and decreased fuel consumption. The flight deck was also updated with an electronic flight instrument system and LED displays. The MD-90 entered service in 1995 with Delta Air Lines and seats up to 172 passengers in a single-class configuration. Production of the MD-90 ended in 2000 after a total of 116 were built, with the last airliner delivered to Saudi Arabian Airlines.
February 22, 1978 – The launch of OPS 5111 (also known as Navstar-1), the first satellite in the Global Positioning System. The Global Positioning System (GPS) is made up of 24 satellites positioned in six Earth-centered orbital planes, each orbiting the Earth twice a day. Available in all weather conditions, the system provides geographic location within two meters and time information at any point on the Earth’s surface where there is unobstructed line of sight to any four satellites. GPS is based on the US military program called NAVSTAR (Navigation System Using Timing and Ranging) that was initially intended for military use only, but the system was opened to the public by President Ronald Reagan after Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by the Soviet Union in 1983 after straying off course.
February 22, 1975 – The first flight of the Sukhoi Su-25, a close air support aircraft developed in the late 1960s to support Soviet ground forces. Inspired by the Ilushin Il-2 Sturmovik tank buster of WWII, the Su-25 (NATO reporting name Frogfoot) is analogous in mission to the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II and entered service in July 1981 during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Armed with a single GSh-30-2 30mm cannon and capable of carrying 8,800 pounds of external stores, the Su-25 has seen action in many conflicts during its 35 years of service, including recent missions in support of the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War. The Su-25 has been produced in numerous variants, including a two-seat trainer version, and has received continuous upgrades in avionics and weapons capabilities since its introduction. Over 1,000 have been built to date, and the Su-25 remains in production.
February 22, 1974 – US Navy LTJG Barbara Ann Allen becomes the first female aviator in the US Armed Forces and the first woman to be qualified as a military jet pilot. The first group of seven women entered US Naval Flight Training School on March 2, 1973 and Allen was the first in her class to be awarded her wings. She was first certified to fly the Grumman C-1 Trader, then became the first jet-qualified female pilot when she qualified to pilot the North American T-39 Sabreliner. After marrying, Allen (now Rainey) entered the Naval Reserves, where she qualified on the Douglas R6D (DC-6). Due to a shortage of instructor pilots, Rainey returned to active duty in 1977 as an instructor on the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor, but was killed in a training crash on July 13, 1982 while practicing touch-and-go landings with a student pilot.
February 22, 1954 – The first flight of the Convair R3Y Tradewind, a turboprop-powered flying boat developed by Convair to take advantage of postwar advances in aircraft construction and engine technologies. The Tradewind featured a laminar flow wing and was powered by four Allison T-40 turboprops turning six-bladed contra-rotating propellers. With a hinged nose that allowed loading of large cargo, the Tradewind served as a strategic airlifter and performed transport duties for the US Navy. Six aircraft were converted to aerial refuels as the R3Y-2 and were capable of refueling four aircraft at once. Only 13 Tradewinds were built, and the program was canceled after continued problems with the Allison engines caused a number of fatal crashes caused by engine failure. All the remaining aircraft were grounded in 1958 and eventually scrapped.
February 22, 1925 – The first flight of the de Havilland DH.60 Moth, a two-seat touring and training biplane developed by Geoffrey de Havilland from the larger, three-seat de Havilland DH.51 biplane. The DH.60 was the first in a long line of derivative aircraft and was operated extensively by British flying clubs, a popularity due in large part to its folding wings which allowed the Moth to be stored in smaller hangars. The Moth also served as a military trainer, with the RAF eventually flying a total of 124 DH.60M (Metal Moth) variants that featured a metal fuselage. The Moth was widely exported to foreign air forces, where it served as a primary flight trainer in 31 countries. With the addition of a more powerful de Havilland Gipsy 4-cylinder engine, it became known as the Gipsy Moth, and others were fitted with floats for use as a seaplane.
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