Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from January 3 through January 5.


Short Takeoff


January 3, 1963 – The first flight of the Ilyushin Il-62, a narrow-body, long-range airliner developed by Ilyushin as a replacement for the Il-18 turboprop airliner. At the time of its first flight in 1963, the Il-62 (NATO reporting name Classic) was the largest airliner in the world, and it became the standard long-range Soviet airliner for many years. The Il-62 remains in limited service today. Similar to the Vickers VC10, the Il-62 groups its four turbofan engines in pods at the rear. It was also the first pressurized Soviet airliner without a circular cross section, and the first Russian jetliner with six-abreast seating. A total of 292 aircraft were built before production ceased in 1995. (Photo by Tim Rees via Wikimedia Commons)


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January 3, 1953 – The first flight of the Cessna 310. The 310 was the first twin-engine general aviation aircraft to be produced by Cessna following WWII, and it proved particularly popular with the many air taxi services that arose following the war. Seating six, the 310 was faster and cheaper to operate than its closest rival, the Piper PA-23, and over 6,000 310s were built from 1954 to 1980. The 310 also served the US Air Force as a light utility transport where it was known as the L-27 (later redesignated as the U-3). (Photo by YSSYguy via Wikimedia Commons)


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January 4, 2004 – The Mars Exploration Rover (MER-A) Spirit lands on Mars. Following its launch on June 10, 2003, Spirit was the first of two robotic exploration rovers sent to Mars by NASA. Its sister rover, Opportunity (MER-B), landed on Mars on January 25, 2004. Originally intended to have a 90-day mission, Spirit operated for an astonishing 2,269 Earth days and covered nearly 5 miles of the Martian surface. On May 1, 2009, Spirit became stuck in soft soil, and, after seven months attempting to get the rover moving again, NASA declared that it could not be freed. Spirit continued to make stationary observations until contact was lost on March 22, 2010. (NASA illustration)


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January 4, 1996 – The first flight of the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche. Designed as a stealthy complement to the Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, the Comanche underwent nearly $7 billion of development before being canceled in 2004. The plan was for the Comanche to designate targets for Apache helicopters to destroy, but it would also be armed with missiles of its own to engage enemy targets. Two Comanches were built and tested, but the Army decided the money would be better spent upgrading existing helicopters and developing unmanned aircraft. Both Comanches are on display at the United States Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker in Alabama. (US Army photo)


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January 4, 1989 – For the second time, US Navy fighters shoot down Libyan fighters over the Gulf of Sidra. Contrary to international convention, Lybian leader Muammar Gaddafi had claimed the entire Gulf of Sidra as Lybian territorial waters, rather than the internationally agreed 12-mile limit. The US Navy, in a challenge to that claim, was operating 80 miles north of Libya when two Libyan MiG-23 fighters appeared to engage two US Navy Grumman F-14 Tomcats of VF-32 flying from the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) that were providing air cover for the American fleet. The Tomcats shot down the two MiG-23s, killing both Libyan pilots, though Libya made no attempt to rescue the downed airmen. The Libyan government claimed that the aircraft were reconnaissance planes, but gun camera footage showed that the fighters were armed with missiles and had locked on to the American fighters. (US Navy photo)


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January 4, 1958 – The death of Sir Alliott Verdon-Roe, a pioneering aviator and the founder of the Avro Company (A.V. Roe). Roe was born on April 26, 1877 and first worked as an engineer for the Merchant Navy, where his interest in flight was reportedly kindled by observing albatrosses in flight. He began his work in the aviation industry as a draftsman before working on his own design of gliders, winning a prize in 1907 for one of his aircraft, and he built his first full-sized aircraft, the Roe I Biplane, based on this model. On January 1, 1910, Roe teamed with his brother Humphrey to found the A.V. Roe Company, better known as AVRO. The company’s most successful design of WWI was the Avro 504, of which more than 10,000 were built during a 19-year production run. During WWII, Avro produced England’s principal heavy bomber, the Avro Lancaster, and built the Avro Vulcan jet-powered bomber during the Cold War. In 1948, Roe left the company he founded to join with Samuel Saunders to form Saunders-Roe, which functioned until 1953 and was best known for its flying boats, before it was absorbed by Hawker Siddeley. (Library of Congress photo)


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January 4, 1936 – The first flight of the Vought SB2U Vindicator, the first monoplane dive bomber to serve the US Navy. The Vindicator had an all-metal folding wing, but its fuselage was still of the older fabric-covered tube construction, strengthened by aluminum plate from the nose to the end of the rear cockpit. It carried a single 1,000-pound bomb on a trapeze to clear the propeller, plus additional bombs under the wings. The Vindicator served the US Navy, Marine Corps, the French Navy and the Royal Navy (where it was known as the Chesapeake), but was mostly obsolete by the outbreak of WWII. A few Vindicators fought in the Battle of Midway in 1942, but all were relegated to training duties by 1943. Vought produced 262 Vindicators, and the type was retired in 1945. (US Navy photo)


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January 5, 2018 – The death of John Young, an American aeronautical engineer, US Naval Aviator, test pilot, and astronaut. Young was born in San Francisco, California, on September 24, 1930 and began flying with the US Navy as a helicopter pilot in 1954 before transferring to jets, flying Grumman F-9 Cougars from USS Coral Sea and Vought F-8 Crusaders from USS Forrestal. Young then joined NASA in 1962 as part of Astronaut Group 2 and was the first member of his group to fly in space when he joined Gus Grissom in the first manned flight of the Gemini program in 1965. During his time with the space agency, Young made six space flights including Gemini 3 and Gemini 10, Apollo 10, where he became the first man to orbit the Moon alone, and Apollo 16, where he drove the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the Moon. His flights aboard two Apollo missions made Young one of only three astronauts who have flown to the Moon twice. He made the first of two flights aboard the Space Shuttle as commander of the maiden flight in 1981, making him the only astronaut to fly in four different classes of space vehicle: Gemini, the Apollo Command/Service Module, the Apollo Lunar Module, and the Space Shuttle. Young’s retirement from NASA in 2004 after 42 years of service marked the end of the longest career of any NASA astronaut. His logbook contains more than 15,275 hours of flying time in all manner of powered aircraft (more than 9,200 hours in Northrop T-38 Talon alone), and 835 hours in spacecraft logged over the course of six space flights. (NASA photo)


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January 5, 1995 – The death of Benjamin Robert Rich. Born on June 18, 1925 in Manila, Philippines, Rich began working with Lockheed as a thermodynamicist before succeeding the legendary Clarence “Kelly” Johnson as head of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Programs, better known as the Skunk Works. Early in his career with Lockheed, Rich worked on the A-12 and SR-71 Blackbird programs, but he is best known as the “Father of Stealth.” Rich championed the development of stealth technology at a time when many inside Lockheed, including the retired Johnson, believed that it was a waste of time. Rich’s team first developed the Have Blue stealth demonstrator, and followed it with the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, the world’s first operational stealth aircraft. Rich retired from Lockheed in 1990, and died of cancer in Ventura, California. (Photo via Lockheed Martin)


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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