Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting you caught up on milestones and important historical events in aviation from February 6 through February 9.


February 8, 1933 – The first flight of the Boeing 247. William Boeing founded the Boeing Airplane Company in 1916, and the first airplane he produced with his business partner George Westervelt was the Boeing Model 1, a sea-going biplane. They only built 2. But since then, Boeing has grown into the world’s largest airplane manufacturer, producing all types of aircraft and spacecraft. But for most people, they are best known for the commercial jetliners, and that long heritage of excellence and design innovation began with the Boeing 247. The period between the World Wars was the Golden Age of Aviation, and with it came the rise of commercial aviation. To feed the emerging market for passenger aircraft, Boeing drew on what it learned with their earlier Monomail and YB-9 bomber to create an airliner that was truly advanced for its day, employing an all-metal semimonocoque construction of anodized aluminum, a cantilevered wing and retractable landing gear. Advances in flight control included trim tabs, an autopilot, and de-icing boots to prevent dangerous ice accumulation on the wings. The need for the 247 was such that it was ordered off the drawing board, with the first production aircraft going solely to the new United Air Lines, who received the first 60 aircraft of the 75 total built. Powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engines, the 247 was faster than contemporary biplane fighters, and was the first twin-engine airplane capable of flying with just one engine. When variable pitch propellers became standard on the 247D, the airliner could fly at over 11,000 feet, fully loaded, on just one engine. The relatively small cabin accommodated 10 passengers, five to either side of the aisle, and they flew in the relative comfort of a thermostatically heated, soundproofed cabin. In order to promote the new airliner, Boeing entered it in the MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia, a grueling race of over 11,000 miles. The production 247, piloted by the flamboyant Roscoe Turner, now hangs in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, TX. But Turner didn’t win the race. The 247 came in second to a Douglas DC-2, which served as an omen for the 247. The Boeing plane was an excellent aircraft, and it could cross the country in around 20 hours. Passengers no longer needed an overnight stop when flying coast to coast. But the 247 was small, and the newer aircraft coming from Douglas could hold more passengers, fly more economically, and thus were built in much greater numbers. The 247 was mostly done with its passenger flying by WWII, but a number were drafted into US Army Air Corps service as the C-73. But if you look closely, you will see a strong resemblance to another Boeing aircraft, the B-17 Flying Fortress. And Boeing built almost 13,000 of those. (Photo author unknown)


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February 9, 1969 – The first flight of the Boeing 747. Like Boeing’s 707 airliner, which grew out of a US Air Force program to develop a jet-powered aerial tanker, the 747 also traces its genesis to a military development program. In 1963, the Air Force wanted to develop a new, high-capacity cargo aircraft as part of the CX-Heavy Logistics System(CX-HLS) program, and they received proposals from Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed and Martin Marietta. One of the requirements for the new freighter was that it have the means to load cargo through a door in the nose, and each designer solved that problem in different ways. Boeing’s solution was to house the cockpit in a bubble over the cargo bay and have a full double deck the length of the aircraft. While Lockheed eventually won the competition with the C-5 Galaxy, some of what Boeing learned was transferred to their new airliner, though ultimately, the 747 would be a completely new design. But they maintained the high cockpit and forward cargo doors. By the 1960s, commercial aviation was becoming ever more popular, and airlines began pushing for larger aircraft that could carry more passengers. Boeing responded to that demand with the 747, an airliner that would be the first wide-body in the world, and would be capable of carrying twice the passengers as the 707. From the CX-HLS program, Boeing carried over the cargo capabilities as a hedge against what they saw as the looming takeover of supersonic transports. If the market for the 747 dried up, they could easily be converted to freighters. In fact, Boeing believed that the 747 would be obsolete after only 400 aircraft were sold. Pan Am would be the launch customer for the new “jumbo jet,” and Boeing managed to develop the 747 in a mere 28 months. Boeing ditched the full double-decker idea, and moved the wing from the shoulder of the fuselage to the bottom. But they kept the cockpit above the cargo space, and used the rest of the bubble for a first class lounge. The prototype was rolled out of Boeing’s factory in Everett, Washington on September 30, 1968, and on January 15, 1970, First Lady Pat Nixon christened the first Pan Am 747 at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, DC. That aircraft entered service on January 22, 1970 with inaugural service from New York to London. Fortunately for Boeing, the era of the SST never materialized, and Boeing had a monopoly on the wide-body airliner market until the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 arrived in 1971, but even then, the DC-10 did not have the passenger capacity of the 747. The initial 747-100 accommodated 366 passengers in a 3-class configuration, but in a single-class configuration it could hold 480, or even up to 550. Later developments of the 747 increased the aircraft’s size and payload. The 747-400, which is the most common variant in service today, has room for 412 passengers in a 3-class arrangement, but can carry as many as 660 at maximum. The latest version, the 747-8, shares the same modern cockpit and engines as the Boeing 787, hence the “8" suffix. The fuselage bubble was extended, and it is the longest passenger aircraft in the world. In its passenger configuration, the 748 boosts 3-class accommodation up to 467 passengers, and as a freighter, it has a total payload capacity of 308,000 pounds. Just this month, the US Air Force contracted with Boeing to develop the next Air Force One from athe 747-8. Though the 747 has proven to be extremely successful, the era of the four-engine airliner is coming to a close. Production of the 747-8 has been scaled back to six aircraft per year, with only 20 orders outstanding. Most of those are for the cargo variant. After surpassing 1,500 deliveries in 2014, the future of the Jumbo Jet almost certainly lies as a cargo aircraft. Boeing is currently working on what they call the Yellowstone Project, with an aircraft designated Y3 in the works to replace the 777 and 747. (Photo by the author)


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February 9, 1963 – The first flight of the Boeing 727. Boeing had a true hit on their hands with the large, four-engine 707, an airliner that successfully opened up the world with transoceanic passenger service. But by the 1960s, what the airlines really needed was a short- to medium-haul aircraft that would be capable of operations from smaller airports with shorter runways. Different airlines had different specific needs, and the 727 was Boeing’s attempt to cater to each. United Airlines wanted a new four-engine airliner that could operated from high-altitude airports. After all, their hub in Denver, Colorado sits a mile above sea level. American wanted an airliner with just two engines that would be more economical to operate. And Eastern Air Lines wanted an airliner with three engines (or at least more than two) because federal regulations at the time limited overwater flights to aircraft with more than two engines (ETOPS). To satisfy these competing needs, an airliner with three engines was the obvious solution. To save development costs, the 727 shares the upper fuselage design and cockpit with the 707. The three engines were mounted on the rear of the aircraft, with the third engine on the aircraft centerline and fed with air through a distinctive S-duct air inlet in the vertical stabilizer. Boeing powered the 727 with three Pratt & Whitney JT8D low-bypass turbofan engines. These engines were much louder than newer high-bypass turbofans, and the 727 was one of the loudest airliners in service. It was classified as a Stage 2 by the US Noise Contol Act of 1972, while newer, quieter engines were classified as Stage 3. This meant that operation of the 727 was limited in some high-population areas to certain times of the day or not allowed at all at some airports. Boeing investigated the possibility of modifying the 727 to accept quieter Stage 3 engines, but it would have meant an entire redesign of the aft fuselage. Instead, the JT8Ds were outfitted with hush kits, and other changes to the wings, including the addition of winglets, help reduce the noise. The original 727-100 accommodated up to 131 passengers, and the later stretched 727-200 increased capacity to as many as 189 passengers in a single-class configuration. Upgraded engines increased range and payload. Eastern Airlines took delivery of the first 727 on February 1, 1964, and the new airliner became very popular worldwide. The third engine allowed for longer flights over water and internationally, and the extra lifting power of the third engine made the 727 popular among freight carriers. The 727 was also capable of landing on shorter runways, making it ideal for smaller regional and more remote airports. The 727 was operated by airlines of 45 nations, and as the 727 was popular with start up airlines, many more purchased the airliner second hand. Boeing produced the 727 from 1963 to 1984, building over 1,800 aircraft. As more economical twin-engine airliners began to take over the market, most airlines began phasing out the 727. Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines both retired their last 727s in 2003, though some still fly as cargo freighters. (Photo by Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons)


Short Take Off


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February 6, 1971 – NASA astronaut Alan Shepard drives 2 golf balls on the Moon. Apollo 14 was the eighth manned mission of the Apollo program, the third manned mission to land on the moon, and the first after the near-disaster of Apollo 13. Mission Commander Alan Shepard and Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell spent two days on the lunar surface, while Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa remained in orbit around the Moon. While on the Moon, the astronauts collected moon rocks and carried out several experiments, but the TV highlight was when Shepard struck two golf balls in the reduced gravity of the Moon using a makeshift golf club he had brought from Earth. Shepherd said the ball traveled “miles and miles and miles,” though it’s unlikely that his shot traveled much more than one mile. Had he struck the ball perfectly, though, it could have traveled 2.5 miles and stayed aloft for 70 seconds as the Moon’s gravity is only 5/6 of the Earth’s. (NASA photo)


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February 7, 1906 – The birth of Oleg Antonov, one of the best known Soviet aircraft designers. At age 17, Antonov founded an amateur aviation club, and designed a glider that won him first place in a design competition. Antonov worked for a time with the Yakovlev design bureau, and during WWII he continued his work with gliders, designing a glider that could carry a full-sized tank. His interest in large aircraft continued after the war, and Antonov left Yakovlev to lead his own design bureau, which eventually became the company that bears his name. He specialized in very large cargo aircraft and airliners that could operate from unimproved runways. His company has produced approximately 22,000 aircraft, most famously the An-225 Mriya, the longest and heaviest airplane ever produced. Antonov died in 1984. (An-225 photo by Anthony Noble via Wikimedia Commons; Antonov photo by Олег Костянтинови)


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February 8, 2006 – Steve Fossett takes off to set an absolute distance record in an airplane. Steve Fossett was a well-known millionaire adventurer who set numerous records for various feats. As a balloonist, he became the first person to travel across the Pacific Ocean in 1995, then became the first to circumnavigate the globe nonstop in a balloon in 2002. Turning to fixed-wing records, Fossett made the first nonstop solo circumnavigation of the Earth in 2005 flying the Virgin Galactic GlobalFlyer, an aircraft that had been designed and built by Burt Rutan. To top that feat, Fossett again took to the skies in the GlobalFlyer, this flying from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, traveling around the world, passing Florida and landing in Bournemouth, England. The flight covered 25,766 miles and took 76 hours and 45 minutes to complete. Fossett died in 2007 in the crash of his private single engine Bellanca Super Decathlon. (NASA photos)


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February 8, 1967 – The first flight of the Saab 37 Viggen. Developed as a replacement for the Saab 32 Lansen, the Viggen (Thunderbolt) was the first aircraft produced in large numbers to make use of a forward canard for added STOL capability, as Swedish fighter aircraft routinely operate from short runways or prepared roadways. Designed to be supersonic and robust, the Viggen was originally intended as a ground attack aircraft, with subsequent variants produced for aerial reconnaissance and marine patrol. Saab also produced a two-seat trainer variant, and the final variant was the JA37 all-weather fighter-interceptor. The Viggen was introduced in 1971, and 329 a total of 329 were built from 1970-1990. (Photo by Alan Wilson via Wikimedia Commons)


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February 9, 1977 – The death of Sergey Ilyushin, a Soviet aircraft designer and found of the Ilyushin Design Bureau. Ilyushin was born in 1894, the youngest of 11 children and son of a factory laborer. He served in WWI in the infantry before volunteering for an aviation unit, where he worked as a mechanic. In 1921, Ilyushin entered the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy where he received a degree in engineering and went to work at the Central Aerodynamic Institute, known as TsAGI. There he worked with famed aircraft designers Nikolai Polikarpov and Andrei Tupolev, and designed the Il-2 Sturmovik and Il-4 bomber, both of which saw extensive service in WWII. Following the war, Ilyushin concentrated on the development of passenger aircraft, the most successful being the Il-18 turboprop airliner and Il-62 passenger jet. (Photo authors unknown)


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February 9, 1972 – The first flight of the Boeing E-3 Sentry. Better known as AWACS, an acronym for Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C), the Sentry is derived from the Boeing 707 and provides surveillance, command and control of military assets in the air and on the ground, and coordinates communications between the various forces in the combat theater. The Sentry was developed in the late 1960s to replace the Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star, which was based on the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation. After entering service with the USAF in 1977, the Sentry has flown during all major US military conflicts, and has also been exported to France, Britain, and Saudi Arabia. The Sentry also flies under the flag of the North Atlatic Treaty Organization (NATO), with 13 aircraft based in Luxembourg. A total of 70 Sentries were built between 1977-1992, and with continuous upgrades, the Sentry will continue to fly for many more years. (Photo by Sgt Jack Pritchard, DCC(RAF)/MOD via Wikimedia Commons)


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February 9, 1907 – The birth of Charles “Chief” Anderson, a pioneering African American aviator who is known as the “Father of Black Aviation.” By age 20, Anderson decided he wanted to fly but nobody would teach him because of his race. Undaunted, he saved and borrowed enough money to purchase a Velie Monocoupe and taught himself to fly it, eventually earning his pilot license in 1929. Anderson found similar obstacles while trying to obtain an air transport license, but help came from Ernest Buehl, a visiting German aviator, who taught Anderson and helped him earn the license in 1932. In 1940, Anderson was recruited by the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama as Chief Civilian Flight Instructor and, in 1941, he was selected by the US Army as Ground Commander and Chief Instructor of Tuskegee’s aviation cadets for the 99th Pursuit Squadron, which became America’s first all-black fighter squadron and part of the Tuskegee Airmen. After the war, Anderson continued training both black and white pilots, operated an aircraft maintenance and sales facility, and founded Negro Airmen International, America’s first and African-American pilot’s association. Anderson taught until 1989, and died in 1996. (Anderson photo author unknown; P-51C photo by RadioFan via Wikimedia Commons)


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