Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from January 10 through January 12.


January 10, 1990 – The first flight of the McDonnell Douglas MD-11. Passenger aviation entered the jet age with the de Havilland Comet, and aircraft that followed, such as the four-engine Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8 helped usher in global air travel. But, in many ways, the history of the big jet airliner became a race for bigger and bigger aircraft that could carry more passengers to farther destinations. In the early era of the jet airliner, those range and capacity goals could only be met by stretching the length of current, single-aisle airliners to their limit. Thoughts turned to a double-decker airliner, something that had been done with modest success in the piston era, but the ultimate solution lay not in lengthening the airliner but in widening it to allow for a second aisle. The first of what came to be known as the wide-body class of airliners arrived in 1969 with the Boeing 747, an aircraft that was also a partial double-decker.

American Airlines DC-10. Note the shorter fuselage and lack of winglets.

While the majority of airliners of the early jet era featured either two or four engines slung under the wings, the idea of using three engines was first put to use commercially in the Hawker Siddeley Trident and the Boeing 727, which took their maiden flights in 1963 and 1963. With the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, the idea of mating the trijet concept to the wide body airliner had certain benefits. With one engine on each wing and a third centered on the tail, the airliner’s wing can be moved farther aft, along with its center of gravity. Having more room in the center of the airliner allows for quicker loading and unloading of passengers, and the rearward COG improves efficiency, though it does introduce some handling difficulties.

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MD-11F cargo variant

Though it suffered some early difficulties in its development, including some high profile crashes, the DC-10 eventually became a reliable people hauler and cargo aircraft, but, by 1976, McDonnell Douglas began work on developing a more advanced version of the wide-body tri-jet. They considered stretched versions of the existing DC-10, but when customers showed no interest, they continued their search for a new airliner. By 1984, they had settled on two versions of what would be called the MD-11. The first was called the MD-11X-10 and was based on a DC-10-30 with a range of 6,500 miles. The was the second MD-11X-20, which would have a longer fuselage to accommodate up to 331 passengers with a range of 6,000 miles. By the end of 1986, McDonnell Douglas had 52 firm orders from 10 airlines in three different versions: passenger, combined passenger and freight (combi), and freighter. While based on the DC-10 and bearing a strong resemblance to its predecessor, the MD-11 has a stretched fuselage and increased wingspan with winglets that improve the wing’s efficiency. A combination of newer, more efficient high-bypass turbofan engines and an increased use of composites help to reduce weight and extend range. The advanced cockpit has a crew of two, removing the need for a flight engineer. It also employs what McDonnell Douglas called the Advanced Common Flightdeck (ACF) that it shares with the Boeing 717 (the final variant of the DC-9 series following the merger of McDonnell Douglas and Boeing in 1997).

An MD-11 of KLM, the last commercial airliner to operate the type in passenger service

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Finnair received the first MD-11 into service in 1990, and the 200th and final MD-11 was delivered to Sabena in April 1998. Though the trijet configuration had its benefits, advances in jet engine technology eventually outweighed the benefits of three engines, and airlines began to switch to more efficient twinjets. Ultimately, the MD-11 was a victim of a lack of sales caused by competition with other aircraft in the Boeing line, particularly the Boeing 767 and 777, as well as competition from the Airbus A330 and A340, and only 200 were built. KLM was the last airline to operate the MD-11 as a passenger carrier, and the company sold their last two airliners to a Russian cargo company in by 2009. Though retired as a passenger airliner, the MD-11 remains in service today as a freighter. (Photo by Aldo Bidini via Wikimedia Commons; photo by Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons; photo by Papas Dos via Wikimedia Commons; photo via Wikimedia Commons)


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January 11, 1947 – The first flight of the McDonnell F2H Banshee. With the arrival of the jet engine during WWII, the US Navy was keen to take advantage of the new technology. Having been impressed by the work by the fledgling aircraft designer James McDonnell and his work on the XP-67, the Navy enlisted his company to develop a jet fighter that could operate from the decks of Navy carriers. The aircraft that came out of this work was the McDonnell FH Phantom, a twin-engine, straight-wing fighter that, while only built in small numbers, proved that jet operations were feasible. But even as the Phantom was making a name for itself as the first true jet aircraft to operate from an aircraft carrier, McDonnell was already working on a successor before the Phantom even entered production.

McDonnell FH Phantom, which formed the basis for the F2H Banshee

The Banshee, as the new fighter was called, was essentially an enlarged Phantom, but the Westinghouse J34 turbojet engines provided almost twice the power of the Phantom’s J30s. Other improvements included the repositioning of the guns to below the nose to avoid blinding the pilot while firing at night, a pressurized air-conditioned cockpit, and bulletproof canopy glass that was heated to prevent frost. Since the Banshee shared a lineage with the earlier Phantom, commonalities between the two fighters allowed McDonnell to complete the prototype just three months after the first Phantoms came off the production line. And, following their experience of the Phantom, the Navy was able to have the Banshee operating with minimal flight testing.

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An early production model F2H-1 Banshee

As with all early turbojet-powered aircraft, range was an issue with the first Banshees. To address this deficiency, McDonnell added a 13-inch section to the fuselage which increased fuel capacity by 176 gallons, and permanent wingtip tanks were installed that added another 400 gallons. This became the F2H-2 and was the most-produced variant of the 895 aircraft built by McDonnell. Eight underwing hard points could hold nearly 1,600 pounds of external stores, and more powerful J34-WE-34 turbojets that pushed the Banshee to 580 mph in level flight.

F2H-2 Banshees of Fighter Squadron 172 (VF-172) “Blue Bolts” returning to the aircraft carrier USS Essex (CV-9) during the Korean War

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The Banshee was introduced into Navy and Marine Corps service in 1948 and became one of the primary US aircraft to be flown during the Korean War, where it was affectionally called “Banjo” by its pilots. Initially employed as a high-altitude escort for American bombers, the destruction of the North Korean air force soon freed up the Banshee to take over low level ground attack missions. Since most of their missions were flown over South Korea, and not near the Yalu River bordering China to the north, the Banshee never had to mix it up with Chinese fighters coming south, and therefore scored no air-to-air victories during the war. As a result, only three Banshees were lost, all to ground fire. In the era before antiaircraft missiles, the speed of the Banshee also made it an invaluable asset as a reconnaissance aircraft, where it could fly high and fast above the battlefield and was practically immune to antiaircraft fire. Despite its excellent service, advances in swept-wing fighters led the Navy to eventually retire the Banshee in 1959 in favor of more modern designs. But McDonnell would soon be back in the fleet, first with the F3H Demon, and then with the remarkable F-4 Phantom II, a more than worthy heir to the Phantom name. (US Navy photos)


Short Takeoff


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January 10, 1967 – The death of Laura Houghtaling Ingalls, a pioneering aviatrix and winner of the prestigious Harmon Trophy for her 1934 flight in a Lockheed Air Express from Mexico to Chile, then across the Andes to Rio de Janeiro, then to Cuba and finally to Floyd Bennett Field in New York. The flight was the first over the Andes by a woman and the first flight by a woman from North America to South America. It also set a distance record for woman pilots of 17,000 miles. In 1942, Ingalls was convicted of serving as a publicity agent for the Nazis by accepting money from the German embassy while encouraging American non-intervention in WWII. Sentenced to up to 8 years in prison, Ingalls was released in 1943 and applied for, but never received, a presidential pardon despite support from WWI fighter ace and Medal of Honor recipient Eddie Rickenbacker. (Image author unknown)


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January 10, 1964 – A Boeing B-52H Stratofortess has its vertical stabilizer sheared off by turbulence but lands safely. The B-52H, on loan from the US Air Force and flying with a 4-man civilian crew, was on a test mission to record sensor data for high speed, low altitude flight. Over New Mexico’s Sangre de Christo mountains, the crew encountered severe turbulence at 14,000 feet, and though it lasted only 9 seconds, it was so severe that the vertical stabilizer was torn off the Stratofortress. In spite of the loss of yaw control from the missing stabilizer, and a center of gravity that had shifted due to the loss of the approximately 2000-pound fin, the crew managed to control the aircraft and call for assistance from chase planes and Boeing engineers on the ground. After flying for five hours, they diverted to Blytheville, Arkansas for more favorable weather conditions and landed the bomber without incident. The Air Force produced a safety film about the incident titled Flight Without a Fin. (US Air Force photo)


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December 4, 1912 – The death of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington. Born on December 4, 1912 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Boyington began his military flying career as an aviation cadet in the US Marine Corps Reserve before resigning his commission to fly with the American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers, fighting for Nationalist China against the Japanese. Returning to the USMC in 1942 at the rank of major, Boyington became famous as the commander of VMF-214, better known as the Black Sheep, a squadron flying the Vought F4U Corsair in the Pacific. In January 1944, Boyington tied the record of famed WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker with 26 victories, but was then shot down and ended the war as a POW. Following the war, Boyington received the Navy Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor. (US Navy photo)


Howard in his P-51. The Japanese victory markings date to Howard’s service with the American Volunteer Group, known as the Flying Tigers, in China.

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January 11, 1944 – USAAF Major James Howard earns the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on a bombing mission over Germany. While on a mission to protect US bombers on a mission over Germany, Howard’s formation was attacked by a large number of German fighters. Finding himself alone after the other elements of his wing had moved to the rear of the formation, Howard saw more than 30 German fighters attacking the lead elements of the formation. Despite being hopelessly outnumbered, Howard pressed the attack in his P-51, eventually shooting down as many as six enemy fighters in a fight that lasted 30 minutes. He continued to swoop at the remaining fighters after he had run out of ammunition and his fuel had run critically low. When he retuned to base, he reportedly discovered just a single bullet hole in his Mustang. For his actions, Howard was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. He survived the war, retired from the US Air Force as a Brigadier General, and died in 1995 at age 81. (Imperial War Museum photo)


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January 11, 1895 – The birth of Laurens Hammond. Hammond is not a household name in aviation history, as he is best known for his invention of the Hammond Organ, the Hammond electric clock, and the Novachord, the world’s first polyphonic music synthesizer. But following service in WWI as an engineer, and working as an inventor after the war, Hammond served the US during WWII by developing bomb and missile guidance systems. He was awarded patents for infrared and light-sensing bomb guidance systems, he developed a new gyroscope that was less sensitive to the cold of high altitude, as well as controls for a gliding bomb, the forerunner of the modern guided missile. Hammond died in 1973. (Photo author unknown)


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January 12, 1953 – The US Navy begins operational flights from the USS Antietam (CV-36). The first aircraft carriers, having been originally built from existing ships, had straight decks that were fine for propeller aircraft, but the higher landing speeds of jet aircraft made such an arrangement much more dangerous. The idea for an angled flight deck was first proposed by Royal Navy Captain Dennis Campbell, but it was the Americans, with the Antietam, who first proved the benefits of this design when a sponson was added to support the overhanging, angled deck. Existing Essex and Midway class carriers were retrofitted with angled decks, while the first purpose-built American angled deck carrier came with the Forrestal class. The first angled deck carrier for the British constructed with an angled deck was the HMS Ark Royal (R09). (US Navy photo)


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January 12, 1912 – The first flight of the Curtiss Model F, a pre-WWI flying boat developed by Curtiss and flown in large numbers by the US Navy, becoming the standard flying boat trainer in 1917. The biplane aircraft had a crew of two and was powered by a single engine powering a pusher propeller. More than 150 Model Fs were produced in a total seven variants, and, in addition to the US Navy, the Model F was flown by Brazil, Italy, England and Russia, who ordered two batches of the flying boat. (US Library of Congress photo)


Connecting Flights


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If you enjoy these Aviation History posts, please let me know in the comments. And if you missed any of the past articles, you can find them all at Planelopnik History. You can also find more stories about aviation, aviators and airplane oddities at Wingspan.

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