Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from February 24 through February 27.
February 24, 1940 – The first flight of the Hawker Typhoon. The Hawker Hurricane was one of two British fighters that beame a symbol of the Battle of Britain, a 1930s-era fighter design that fought with great effectiveness throughout the war. Though it wasn’t able to tussle with the high-flying German fighters, it proved devastatingly effective against low-flying German bombers. The Hurricane took its maiden flight in 1935, but even before it entered production in 1937, Hawker and engineer Sydney Camm, who had designed the Hurricane, had already begun work on a more powerful successor. During the development of the new fighter, Camm worked with two basic designs, both bearing a family resemblance to the Hurricane, though somewhat larger. One reason for the increase in size was to accommodate a massive engine, the Napier Sabre. The Sabre produced up to 3,500 hp in its later versions, and would become one of the most powerful inline piston engines in the world. By 1938, Hawker was ready to proceed with the development of a prototype following the receipt of Air Ministry Specification F.18/37 which called for a fighter with a top speed of at least 400 mph at 15,000 feet using a British-built engine, and accommodations for twelve .303 Browning machine guns.
While bearing an outward resemblance to the Hurricane, and using many of the same construction techniques, the Typhoon also shared a relatively thick wing with its predecessor. While the wing provided excellent strength, its thickness led to significant drag at high speeds, and also affected high altitude performance and climb rate. All of this led to a fighter that was ultimately unable to counter the high-flying German Focke-Wulf Fw 190. As a result, the mission of the Typhoon changed from that of a high-altitude interceptor to a low-level interceptor, a switch which played to the strengths of the Typhoon. Like the Hurricane before it, the Typhoon became a specialized bomber killer, flying high enough to attack the bombers from above, and having the speed and hitting power to knock them out of the sky.
As the war in Europe progressed, the Typhoon matured as well, and truly became a work in progress. As the needs of the RAF changed, the Typhoon changed with it, and many new features and redesigns made their way into production or as retrofits in the field. The original solid cockpit with side door and cranking window gave way first to a clear canopy with added rearward visibility, then to a bubble canopy. The 12 machine guns gave way to four 20mm cannons, and provisions were made to carry greater external loads. Having proven itself an effective interceptor, the Typhoon found its true calling as a ground attack aircraft. Already potent with its cannons, the Typhoon was capable of carrying two 1,000 pound bombs, earning it the nickname “Bombphoon.” The addition of rockets to the Typhoon’s arsenal made it a potent tank killer in the hands of a skilled pilot, and switching between the two loads in the field was expedited by exchangeable racks. With the addition of drop tanks, Typhoons could fly as far as 1,000 miles from bases in the Netherlands and Belgium to hit enemy targets deep in France. All of this totaled up to make the Typhoon one of the most potent ground attack aircraft of WWII.
Following the war, the Typhoons were quickly relegated to the scrap pile, and it was thought that not a single example of the more than 3,300 aircraft produced survived the axe. However, a single aircraft was discovered in a crate in the collection of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Following a trade for a Hawker Hurricane, the sole remaining Typhoon now resides in the collection of the Royal Air Force Museum London. (UK Government photos)
February 24, 1935 – The first flight of the Heinkel He 111. At the end of the First World War, Germany was saddled with the the Treaty of Versailles, whose many provisions were designed to prohibit Germany’s future capability to wage war (ironically, it was that very same treaty that many point to as the main cause for the Second World War). Among the treaty’s provisions was one that forbade Germany from producing military aircraft. But once Adolf Hitler assumed the office of German Chancellor in 1933, he immediately set about rebuilding the German Luftwaffe, though he did so in secret. New pilots were trained in Russia, and new bombers were designed ostensibly as civilian airliners.
One of the more famous aircraft to come out of this skirting of the rules was the Heinkel He 111, and it traces its development back to the early 1930s, when Ernst Heinkel, head of Heinkel Flugzeugwerke, was working to build the world’s fastest passenger plane. He had two of his designers, the twin brothers Siegfried and Walter Günter, develop the Heinkel He 70 Blitz, a 4-passenger, single engine aircraft with elliptical wings, and the Blitz, as its name implies, was indeed fast and set numerous speed records. But in order to compete with American designs such as the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-2, Heinkel needed a larger aircraft. So he had the Günter brothers develop a twin-engine version of the Blitz, which was called the Doppel-Blitz (Double Blitz), and it was this aircraft that became the wartime He 111. Though the wartime bomber would be known for its sleek, bullet-shaped nose, the original He 111 had a traditional stepped canopy. Nevertheless, the He 111 had the appearance of high speed even with sitting still. Development of the He 111 continued under civilian registrations, and the first prototype of the He 111 received recognition as “the fastest passenger aircraft in the world” when its speed exceed 250 mph. Ultimately, Lufthansa operated 12 He 111s on routes throughout Europe and even as far as South Africa.
Following the German design ethos of the time, the He 111 was powered by a pair of inverted, liquid-cooled engines, in this case the Junkers Jumo 211 V-12, which gave the bomber a top speed of 273 mph. In its military guise, defensive machine guns were mounted in the nose and in dorsal and ventral blisters, and up to 4,400 pounds of bombs could be carried internally. Using external hard points, nearly 8,000 pounds of bombs could be carried, but this made the 111 so heavy that it required rockets to assist with takeoff. The 111 flew its first combat missions during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), a conflict in which served as a testing ground for Germany’s budding air force and a means of developing the tactics of combined operations of aircraft and ground troops. Flying in support of the fascist Nationalist government, the He 111 became famous (or infamous) for the bombing of the city of Guernica, one of the first times bombs were dropped on a defenseless civilian population.
Based on experiences in Spain, and the ability of the He 111 to outrun all Spanish fighters of the time, Heinkel believed that the minimal defensive armament on the 111 would be sufficient in the looming war. However, during the Battle of Britain in 1940, the He 111 began to show its vulnerability. Though fast when it was first built, it was no match for the faster British fighters, nor was it very maneuverable. And its light defensive armament made it a relatively easy target for British guns. But, with no new bomber to take its place, the He 111 soldiered on, and served throughout the war on all fronts, though it was essentially obsolete by 1942. Nevertheless, the He 111 was constantly upgraded and modified until production ended in 1944, and it proved to be an extremely versatile aircraft. The 111 served as a torpedo bomber, troop transport, reconnaissance aircraft, pathfinder (target marker), and glider tug. It was even modified to carry out aerial launches of the V-1 flying bomb. Ultimately, more than 6,500 civilian and military 111s were produced and, following the war, an upgraded version of the He 111 continued to be built under license in Spain as the CASA 2.111. Powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, some of these aircraft operated into the early 1970s. (Bundesarchiv photo; photo author unknown; Bundesarchiv photo; UK Government photo)
February 25, 1965 – The first flight of the McDonnell Douglas DC-9. The period following WWII was one of rapid technological development, as piston engine technology began to give way to jet engine technology. De Havilland was the first manufacturer to produce a jet-powered airliner with the Comet, which entered service in 1952, while other companies clung to the proven radial engines of WWII, mostly because the airline industry was still wary of jets, while props were a proven technology. Still others began to implement the turboprop engine, which was, in some ways, the best of both worlds. By the 1960s, de Havilland, Boeing and Douglas were all fielding large four-engine airliners powered by either turbojets or turbofans. Douglas’ entry into that category was the DC-8, which entered service in 1959.
But it soon became apparent that, while high passenger capacity was beneficial for flying between large airports, there was also a need for smaller airliners to carry fewer passengers on short- to medium-range flights while operating from smaller airports. By the early 1950s, Douglas had started work on the Model 2067, basically a smaller DC-8, but the airlines were not interested and Douglas dropped the idea. In 1960, Douglas entered into an agreement with Sud Aviation of France to sell and support the Caravelle in the US, but when orders for the Caravelle didn’t materialize, Douglas decided to forge ahead on its own. Thus, it may not be a coincidence that when the design of the DC-9 was finalized in 1962 it bore such a strong resemblance to the Caravelle. The placement of the two engines on the rear of the aircraft allowed for a clean, efficient wing which was better suited to lower-speed takeoffs and landings, and it also helped limit the ingestion of debris into the engines.
With the DC-8, Douglas had been slow to offer a stretched version of the airliner, a decision that hurt sales in their competition with the Boeing 707, which Boeing produced in several variants to meet the specific needs of their customers. That mistake was not repeated with the DC-9. Douglas planned from the beginning that the airliner would be the first in a series of aircraft, and they quickly followed the initial DC-9-10 with the successively larger -20, -30 and -40 variants, with the final -50 variant taking its maiden flight in 1974. With each successive variant, the airliner gained a longer fuselage, more seats, more powerful engines, and larger wings. The initial production version of the DC-9-10 was powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney JT8D low-bypass turbofan engines and seated 90 passengers in a one class configuration. The -30, -40 and -50 variants saw passenger capacities increase to 115, 125, and 139 passengers respectively. The maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 82,000 lbs for the -10 was steadily increased to 121,000 lbs for the -50. But Douglas wasn’t done yet.
Following the -50 series, continued development of the DC-9 resulted in the MD-80 series, the MD-90 series and, after McDonnell Douglas and Boeing merged in 1997, the Boeing 717, a variant that was closer in size to the earlier DC-9-30. Production of the DC-9 ended in 1982 after the completion of 976 airliners, but production of the entire series that started with the DC-9 ended in 2006 after 41 years with the final Boeing 717 delivered to AirTran Airways. In addition to its commercial service, the DC-9 was also flown by the US Air Force as a medical evacuation aircraft designated the C-9A Nightingale, and with the US Navy and Marine Corps as the C-9B Skytrain II. (Photo by Sunil Gupta via Wikimedia Commons; photo author unknown via Pinterest; photo by redlegsfan21 via Wikimedia Commons; US Air Force photo)
For plane spotters, it can be difficult to differentiate between the major variants of the series of twinjets that began with the DC-9. But there are some specific characteristics to aid in identification.
- DC-9 series: Short fuselage, no strakes under the cockpit, pointy tail. (The last DC-9 variant, the DC-9-50, was equipped with strakes, but it retained the cone-shaped tail.)
- MD-80 series: Longer fuselage, strakes under the cockpit, pinch tail, skinny engines.
- MD-90 series: Longer fuselage, strakes under the cockpit, pinch tail, fat engines.
- Boeing 717: Shorter body, no strakes under the cockpit, pinch tail, fat engines.
Basically, you can tell the DC-9 from the B717 by the tail cone, and the MD-80 series from the MD-90 series by the size of the engines.
February 27, 1910 – The birth of Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. Throughout the history of aviation, there is no shortage of names that stand out for having a significant impact on the development of the airplane, but the name Kelly Johnson stands out as one of the most influential and successful aircraft design engineers of all time. Best known for his work for the Lockheed Corporation, Johnson was responsible for some of the world’s most iconic aircraft, including the P-38 Lightning, the Constellation airliner, P-80 Shooting Star, the F-104 Starfighter, the U-2, the A-12, and the SR-71 Blackbird. To have just one of those classic aircraft on one’s resume would be enough to fill out a career.
Johnson first showed his interest in aviation at the age of 13 when he won a prize for aircraft design. He began his illustrious 50-year career with Lockheed when he joined the company in 1933 after obtaining a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan. His first job was as a tool designer earning $83 a month. Johnson first caught the eye of Lockheed executives when he brought to their attention an instability in the Lockheed Model 10 Electra which he had discovered while performing wind tunnel tests on the Electra in graduate school. When Kelly proposed a successful fix to the instability problem by suggesting an H tail to replace the traditional stabilizer of the prototype, his bosses took note, and he was promoted to the rank of aeronautical engineer.
As Johnson worked his way up through the company, he served as a flight test engineer, stress analyst, aerodynamicist, and weight engineer, and by 1938 he had become a chief research engineer. During WWII, German advances in the area of jet aviation had the US Army Air Forces on the back foot, and they were hard pressed to develop their own high performance jet fighters. Johnson said that he could develop a jet fighter in just six months, a promise he made good on when Lockheed introduced the Shooting Star, America’s first operational jet fighter, in January of 1944 after only 143 days of development. In spite of the remarkably short development time, the Shooting Star was too late to see actual combat in WWII, though it would go on to serve with distinction in the Korean War.
Johnson’s rise through the Lockheed Corporation continued after the war, and by 1952 he had become the chief engineer of Lockheed’s Burbank plant, and in 1956 he was appointed Vice President of Research and Development. In 1958, Johnson was named Vice President of Advanced Development Projects (ADP), a position that would garner Johnson his greatest notariety when the ADP became known as the Skunk Works. Here, Johnson and his team of engineers created many of the aircraft for which he is best known: the supersonic F-104 Starfighter, the high-flying U-2 reconnaissance plane, and the untouchable SR-71 Blackbird. For his work on the F-104 and SR-71, Johnson was awarded two Collier Trophies, an individual feat matched only by Glenn Curtiss. His other honors and awards are too numerous to mention. John’s retired from Lockheed in 1975, though he continued to work as an advisor to his successor, Ben Rich. Johnson died on December 21, 1990 at the age of 80. (Photos via Lockheed; US Air Force photo)
February 24, 1989 – The forward cargo door blows off of United Airlines Flight 811 in flight. UAL 811 was a regularly scheduled Boeing 747 flight that took off from Honolulu, Hawaii bound for Auckland, New Zealand. While climbing to cruising altitude and passing between 22,000 and 23,000 feet, the forward cargo hatch, which had been improperly closed, blew off. As the door departed the aircraft, it took a large section of the cabin wall with it, and the ensuing explosive decompression caused the floor to buckle and sucked 10 seats and 8 passengers out of the aircraft. The ensuing investigation found that damaged locking pins on the door gave a false reading of the door’s being shut properly. Both United and the ground crew were faulted, and Boeing redesigned the locking mechanism. (NTSB photo)
February 24, 1955 – The first flight of the CIM-10 BOMARC missile, a long-range supersonic surface-to-air missile fielded by the United States during the Cold War for the defense of North America against attacking nuclear bombers. The BOMARC (an acronym of Boeing and Michigan Aerospace Research Center) had an operational radius of 200 miles, was designed to fly at Mach 2.5-2.8 at 60,000 feet, and could be armed with either a conventional or nuclear warhead. The USAF ultimately set up 16 BOMARC sites armed with 56 missiles each. With the arrival of the intercontinental ballistic missiles, attacking bombers were no longer perceived as a threat, and the BOMARC was retired in 1972. (US Air Force photo)
February 24, 1898 – The birth of Kurt Tank, a German aeronautical engineer and test pilot who headed the design department of Focke-Wulf from 1931-1945. After working for Albatros Flugzeugwerke following WWI, Tank began working for Focke-Wulf when Albatros went bankrupt and merged with Focke-Wulf. In 1931, Tank oversaw the development of the Fw 200 Condor, a long-range airliner that was developed into a maritime patrol bomber, but he is best known for his development of the Fw 190, one of the preeminent fighters of WWII. Following the war, Tank moved to Argentina where he worked at the Instituto Aerotécnico, and later worked in India, where he designed the Hindustan Aeronautics HF-24 Marut, the first jet developed in India and the first Asian jet fighter to enter production. Tank died in Munich on June 5, 1983. (Tank photo: Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons; Fw 190 photo via US Air Force)
February 25, 1990 – Smoking is banned on all US domestic flights. Consumer protection advocate Ralph Nader was the first to call for a smoking ban on US airlines, and United Airlines was the first to implement a smoking section on their airliners in 1971. By April 1988, a smoking ban was instituted on flights of two hours or less and, by 1990, smoking was banned on all domestic flights of six hours or less. Ten years later, the ban was further extended to all domestic and international flights. Smokers who violate the ban face a fine of up to $500 or 10 days in prison. Initially, pilots were allowed to continue smoking on the flight deck due to safety concerns over the effects of nicotine withdrawal in chronic smokers, though the FAA extended the smoking ban to the flight deck in 1992. The use of E-cigarettes, or “vaping,” is also prohibited. (Photo by Kashif Mardani via Wikimedia Commons)
February 25, 1963 – The first flight of the Transall C-160, a twin-turboprop military transport and cargo aircraft designed as a joint venture between Germany and France. “Transall” is an acronym for Transporter Allianz, and the C-160 was developed to satisfy requirements that arose in the late 1950s for a new transport aircraft to replace the Nord Noratlas. The Transall consortium was formed in 1959 and, following a delay in production while Lockheed unsuccessfully marketed the Lockheed C-130 Hercules to Germany, the first production aircraft were delivered in 1967. A total of 214 were built between 1965-1985, and the C-160 has become one of the few aircraft to see over 50 years of service. (Photo by bomberpilot via Wikimedia Commons)
February 25, 1933 – The launch of the USS Ranger (CV-4), the first US Navy ship to be designed from the keel up as an aircraft carrier. Similar to the Navy’s first carrier, the USS Langley (CV-1), which had been converted from a collier, Ranger was not designed with an island superstructure, though one was added later. Since Ranger was too slow to keep pace with more modern carriers plying the Pacific Ocean, she served in the Atlantic and provided air support for the landings in North Africa during Operation Torch in November 1942. In 1943, Ranger participated in raids against German shipping in the North Atlantic as part of Operation Leader, and served as a training carrier late in the war. Ranger was scrapped in 1947. (San Diego Air and Space Museum photo)
February 26, 1979 – Production of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk ends. With delivery of the 2,960th A-4 to Marine Squadron VMA-331, an A-4M Skyhawk II, Douglas closed the book on 26 years of production of one of the most versatile jet fighters ever to serve the US Navy and Marine Corps. Designed to replace the Douglas AD (A-1) Skyraider, Douglas envisioned a small yet powerful jet capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear weapons. Known to its pilots as the Bantam Bomber, Mighty Mite and Scooter, the Skyhawk also became known as Heinemann’s Hot Rod after its designer Ed Heinemann and, despite its diminutive size, it could carry a heavier payload than a B-17 Flying Fortress. The A-4 entered service in 1956 and saw its first combat over Vietnam in 1964. Until the arrival of the LTV A-7 Corsair II, the Skyhawk served as the Navy’s primary ground attack aircraft. After retirement from fleet duty in 1991, the Skyhawk found a new lease on life as an adversary aircraft at the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School (commonly called Top Gun). The A-4 was chosen as the bandit aircraft because of its small size, excellent maneuverability and smokeless trail, often playing the role of the MiG-17. The Blue Angels also flew the Skyhawk from 1974 to 1986. The last operational A-4s were retired in 2003. (US Navy photo)
February 26, 1937 – The first flight of the Fiat G.50 Freccia, a single-engine fighter flown by the Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) in WWII and Italy’s first single-seat all-metal monoplane. It was also the first Italian aircraft to enter production with retractable landing gear and an enclosed cockpit. The Freccia (Arrow) was powered by a Fiat A.74 14-cylinder radial engine and, with a maximum speed of 292 mph, was considered quite fast for its day. It was also highly maneuverable, but, armed with only a pair of 12.7mm machine guns, suffered from a lack of firepower. The Freccia first saw service in the Battle of Britain, but it was far outclassed by more modern fighters. They were somewhat more successful fighting in the Mediterranean, but the type found its greatest success in the hands of Finnish pilots, who enjoyed a 33/1 kill ratio against Russian fighters. (Photo author unknown)
February 26, 1890 – The birth of Chauncey Milton Vought, an American aviation pioneer, engineer, aircraft designer, and co-founder of the Lewis and Vought Corporation. The company he founded has gone through numerous associations: Lewis and Vought, Chance Vought, Vought Sikorsky, Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) Aerospace, Vought Aircraft Companies and Vought Aircraft Industries. Vought himself was not around to see the tremendous growth of the company he founded, nor did he see any of the remarkable aircraft the company built, such as the F4U Corsair. Vought died of septicemia in 1930 at the age of 40. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1989. (Photo via Frontiers of Flight Museum)
February 27, 1965 – The first flight of the Antonov An-22 Antei, a four-engine cargo and transport aircraft and the world’s largest turboprop-powered aircraft. The An-22, NATO reporting name Cock, is also the first wide-body aircraft developed by the Soviet Union. The An-22 was developed as a strategic airlifter, specifically to deliver airborne troops and their armored vehicles. Powered by four Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprops turning contra-rotating propellors, the An-22 can carry 290 passengers or 80,000 pounds of payload while operating from rough or unimproved airstrips. The An-22 was introduced in 1967 and remains in active service, though it is gradually being replaced by the Antonov An-124. (Photo by Dmitry A. Mottl via Wikimedia Commons)
February 27, 1963 – The first flight of the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse, a small helicopter used by the US Army for personnel transport, escort, attack missions and observation. Developed from a 1960 US Army request for a light observation helicopter (LOH, commonly called “Loach”), the Cayuse was the winner in a competition between Hughes and Fairchild-Hiller, with Hughes awarded a production contract in 1965. When all fixed-wing aircraft were transferred to the US Air Force in 1964, the Cayuse replaced the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog as the Army’s primary reconnaissance aircraft in Vietnam. The OH-6 also set 23 world records for speed, endurance and time to climb and, along with its civilian counterpart, the MD 500, remains in production. (US Army photo)
February 27, 1945 – The first flight of the Curtiss XF15C, a mixed-propulsion prototype US Navy fighter that was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 18-cylinder radial in the front (the same engine used in the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, Vought F4U Corsair and Grumman F6F Hellcat) and an Allis-Chalmers J36 turbojet in the rear (the J36 was an American license-built version of the British Goblin turbojet). Three prototypes were built, and while the arrangement showed promise, rapid advances in jet engine development caused the Navy to lose interest in the mixed-power concept and the project was canceled in 1946. The first airframe was lost to a landing accident, the second was scrapped, and the third resides at the Quonset Air Museum in Rhode Island.(US Navy photo)
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