Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from February 7 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 two, and Westervelt soon left the fledgling company. But since that somewhat inauspicious beginning, Boeing has grown into the one of the world’s largest airplane manufacturers, producing all types of civilian airliners, military aircraft, and spacecraft. But for most people, they are best known for their commercial jetliners, and that long heritage of excellence and design innovation began with the Boeing 247.
The period between the World Wars is recognized as the Golden Age of Aviation. It was marked not only by rapid technological developments of aircraft and a quest for speed, but also the rise of the commercial aircraft industry. In an effort to capitalize on 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. The Model 247 employed all-metal semimonocoque construction of anodized aluminum, a cantilevered wing and retractable landing gear. Advances in flight controls included trim tabs, an autopilot, and de-icing boots to prevent dangerous ice accumulation on the wings.
The need for the 247 was so great 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.
For its innovative design, the 247 received the Collier Trophy in 1934. 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, a result which served as an omen for the 247.
When Boeing began producing the 247, they sold them exclusively to Boeing Air Transport, their affiliated airline and the precursor to today’s United Airlines. This exclusive contract led TWA executive Jack Frye to turn to Douglas for airliners, and the resulting DC-3 ended up taking the world by storm. Despite the 247's ability to cross the country in around 20 hours, it was small, and the newer aircraft coming from Douglas could hold more passengers and thus fly more economically. Where only 75 247s were produced, Douglas built over 600 DC-3s. 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. However, 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 via San Diego Air and Space Museum (SDASM); photo by Charles M. Daniels via Wikimedia Commons; photo via SDASM; photographer unknown via Wikimedia Commons; photo by the author)
February 9, 1969 – The first flight of the Boeing 747. Boeing was in the forefront of the burgeoning era of commercial jet aviation in the 1960s, and their 707 airliner was the first to take advantage of the swept wing and podded engine design that they had pioneered with the B-47 Stratojet. But even with the 707, and the Douglas DC-8, airlines clamored for even larger aircraft. Juan Trippe, the head of Pan American Airlines, pressed Boeing to develop an airliner that would carry twice as many passengers as the 707, and at greater distances, relying on the newer, more efficient high-bypass turbofan engines. But, just like the 707, which grew out of the Air Force’s requirement for a jet tanker, the 747 finds its origins in a proposal for a military aircraft.
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. One of the contract stated that the aircraft have a door in the nose that could be raised to load cargo. Boeing’s solution was to house the cockpit in a pod above the cargo bay that stretched to the front of the wing, which was set high on the fuselage. Lockheed eventually won the competition with their C-5 Galaxy, but some of what Boeing put into its CX-HLS contender was transferred to their new airliner, though ultimately, the 747 would be a completely new design
In just 28 months, Boeing developed what would come to be known as the Jumbo Jet, and the prototype was rolled out of Boeing’s Everett, Washington facility on September 30, 1968. Boeing had originally considered a fully double-deck airliner, a carry-over from the CX-HLS, but that idea was dropped over concerns for emergency evacuation. However, they retained the idea of the cockpit being placed over top of the fuselage, which allowed the entire length of the plane to be filled with passengers. Thus, the 747 gained its classic and signature hump, and the space behind the cockpit was originally envisioned as a lounge without fixed seats. In a hedge against future airliner developments, including the possibility of supersonic transports supplanting large airliners, Boeing purposely developed the 747 so it could carry both passengers and compartmentalized freight.
On January 15, 1970, First Lady Pat Nixon christened the first 747 for launch customer Pan Am at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, DC, and that aircraft entered service on January 22, 1970 with inaugural an inaugural from New York to London. 747s eventually flew for every major American air carrier, and for many more the world over. The US military flies the 747 as a command and control aircraft in the E-4 Sentry, and as transportation for the President of the United States as the VC -25, known popularly as Air Force One.
Fortunately for Boeing, the era of the SST never materialized, and Boeing held 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 holds the distinction as the longest passenger aircraft in the world, though the Airbus A380 has a wider wingspan. In its passenger configuration, the 747-8 boosts 3-class accommodation up to 467 passengers. As a freighter, it has a total payload capacity of 308,000 pounds. However, production of the 747-8 has been scaled back, and Boeing only expects to build a total of 136, with two-thirds of those being the 747-8F freighter.
Though the 747 has proven to be extremely successful, the era of the four-engine airliner is coming to a close. Advances in jet propulsion, as well as changing economies of air travel, have made the twin-engine airliner more practical and economical. In January 2018, Delta Airlines became the last major carrier to retire its fleet of 747s, and the majority of aircraft still operating are used to haul cargo. Though Boeing’s hedge of making the 747 a cargo hauler wasn’t needed in the 1970s, it has proven to be a savvy move that will keep the 747 in the air for some time to come. (Photo by the author; illustration author unknown, 747 prototype photo via Wikimedia Commons; photo by Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons; Lufthansa and Eva Air photos by the author)
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 Airlines 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, Boeing felt that the obvious solution was to split the difference and develop an airliner with three engines and, to get started, they turned to their tried and true 707. To save development costs, the 727 borrowed the upper fuselage cross-section and cockpit from the 707. The three Pratt & Whitney JT8D low-bypass turbofan 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. These engines were much louder than newer high-bypass turbofans, making 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. The 727-200 Advanced gave both the airliner and its freighter version more powerful engines which increased the maximum takeoff weight and extended range by 50-percent. 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. With its engines mounted at the rear, the entire wing was available for the use high-lift devices. This meant the 727 was capable of landing on shorter runways, making it ideal for smaller regional and more remote airports. And the addition of a built-in retractable stairway at the rear, called an airstair, made it popular at smaller airports with limited infrastructure.
The 727 was operated by airlines of 45 nations and was the first commercial airliner to sell over 1,000 aircraft. It proved popular with start up airlines, though many more purchased the airliner second hand. 727 production lasted from 1963 to 1984, and Boeing built over 1,800 aircraft in three variants. The final 727, a cargo version, was delivered to Federal Express in September 1984. 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 Daniel Tanner via Wikimedia Commons; photo by JetPix via Wikimedia Commons; photo by John Davies via Wikimedia Commons)
February 7, 1906 – The birth of Oleg Antonov. At age 17, Antonov founded an amateur aviation club and designed a glider that won him first place in a design competition. He 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)
February 8, 2006 – Steve Fossett takes off to set an absolute distance record in an airplane. Steve Fossett was a well-known 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 time 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)
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 maritime 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)
February 9, 1977 – The death of Sergey Ilyushin, a Soviet aircraft designer and founder 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)
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. (Photo by Sgt Jack Pritchard, DCC(RAF)/MOD via Wikimedia Commons)
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 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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