Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from July 23 - July 26.


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July 23, 1983 – Air Canada Flight 143 runs out of fuel over Manitoba. Whenever we go for a drive in the car, we rarely give the fuel gauge more than a passing glance. Even if the fuel level is low, we know that we can pull over at any convenient gas station and top up. Driving across the country requires a bit more attention, as gas stations can be spaced farther apart, and perhaps even a little bit of math might be involved to figure out if we’ll make the next town or if we need to fill up now. And even then, running out of gas on the road is generally more of an inconvenience than a life-and-death situation. But calculating the amount of fuel to put in a transcontinental airliner is a much more involved task, one that actually could be a matter of life and death. The pilots must make calculations for the weight of the aircraft at takeoff, taxiing time, the distance and altitude of the flight, the rate at which the fuel burns off, and they must also make sure that they have enough fuel in reserve if they have to divert to another airport. The vast majority of the time, the pilots get it right, with fuel to spare. But in the case of Air Canada Flight 143, which came to be known as the Gimli Glider, they got it completely wrong. Air Canada Flight 143 was a scheduled flight from Montreal to Edmonton when, at 41,000 feet, pilots Captain Robert Pearson and First Office Maurice Quintal were alerted to fuel pressure problem onboard their Boeing 767-233 (C-GAUN). Due to an electronic fault, the airliner’s fuel gauges weren’t working, but the pilots assumed that they had plenty of fuel based on the calculations made on the ground before the flight. In reality, they took off with half the amount of fuel necessary for the flight. Soon after the alarm, both engines had quit, the 767 lost all power and the majority of the instrument panels went dark. The pilots found themselves at the controls of world’s largest glider, a situation for which neither of them had ever trained. With the aid of ground controllers, the crew determined that their best option would be an emergency landing at RCAF Station Gimli. However, the station was no longer active, and had been turned into a racetrack. And there was a race being held at the track at the time. The pilots performed a gravity drop of the landing gear, but the nose wheel failed to lock, and with no hydraulic power and limited electricity being generated by an external turbine, the pilots still managed to land safely at Gimli. A small fire in the nose of the aircraft was extinguished by race safety personnel at the scene, and all passengers and crew exited the plane safely, though some passengers were injured when the safety slides at the rear of the craft weren’t long enough to reach the ground. Investigators found that the fuel exhaustion was caused by a combination of miscommunication between the cockpit crew and maintenance personnel, fuel gauges that were disconnected or not functioning properly, and fuel calculations that had been made in pounds instead of kilograms. The latter factor came into play because Canada was in the process of switching from the Imperial to the metric system. For their role in the incorrect fuel calculation, Captain Pearson and FO Quintal were initially found to be partially at fault for the incident. Pearson was demoted for six months, and Quintal was suspended for two weeks. Maintenance personnel were also suspended. Despite these punitive measures, the flight crew was awarded the first ever Féderation Aéronautique Internationale Diploma for Outstanding Airmanship in 1985, and FO Quintal was eventually promoted to captain.

The Gimli Glider took its final flight on January 24, 2008 and was retired to storage in the Mojave Desert. When no buyers came forward to purchase the 767, it was dismantled, and aluminum from the plane was turned into souvenir keychains. (Photo by Wayne Glowacki, Winnipeg Free Press; C-GAUN photo by Akradecki via Wikimedia Commons)


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July 25, 2000 – The crash of Air France Flight 4590. The first airplane flew past the speed of sound in 1947 and, for the next twenty years, supersonic flight was the realm of the military. But commercial aircraft designers eventually started to investigate the development of a supersonic airliner, work which would culminate in the Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde. In the 1950s, both England and France began developing their own SST, with the two countries eventually signing a treaty in 1962 to begin working together, an agreement that gave the aircraft its name. Ultimately, 20 Concordes were built, six of which were prototypes and used for development and testing. Of the remaining fourteen, Air France and British Airways each received seven. Following its introduction in 1976, Concorde flew regular routes from London’s Heathrow and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle to New York’s JFK Airport, Washington Dulles and Barbados. More cities would follow. Its four Rolls Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 afterburning turbojets provided a maximum cruising speed of Mach 2.04, and cut the flying time between transatlantic destinations in half when compared to traditional airliners. And, for most of its operational history, Concorde had a stellar safety record. Only twice had there been incidents that could have led to a crash. In 1989, a British Airways Concorde suffered a structural failure of the vertical stabilizer, followed by a similar failure on another British Airways Concorde in 1992. On both occasions, the airliner landed safely.

Air France Concorde F-BTSC in 1985

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Only one Concorde ever crashed, but that fatal accident ultimately helped bring an end to all Concorde flights. That single tragic accident occurred on July 25, 2000 when Air France Flight 4590 (F-BTSC), a charter flight from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, suffered a catastrophic fire on takeoff and crashed into a hotel near the airport, killing all 109 passengers and crew on board the airliner and 4 people on the ground. Following the crash, the official investigation was carried out by the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile (BEA), which determined that the crash was caused by a punctured tire which was damaged by a strip of titanium alloy that was lying on the runway after falling from a Continental Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10 which had departed ahead of Flight 4590. A large chunk of the damaged tire struck the wing and ruptured the fuel tank. As fuel poured from the tank, it was ignited by the engine, and led to the loss of the two port engines. Though the crew was able to restore power to one of the failed engines, the extra drag from the landing gear, which could not be retracted, and the reduced engine power on one side, caused a loss of control and the eventual crash. Continental Airlines, and one of its mechanics, were initially found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, but that ruling was overturned. During the trial, however, witnesses questioned the official BEA explanation, saying that a wheel spacer had not been installed on the left landing gear, and that the plane actually caught fire some 1,000 feet prior to passing the metal dropped by the Continental DC-10. The official explanation remained unchanged, though. As a result of the crash, all Concordes were grounded until safety upgrades could be made. Electronic controls were made more secure, the fuel tanks were lined with Kevlar to help shield them from debris, and special burst-resistant tires were fitted to the remaining airliners. After a 14-month hiatus, Concorde flights resumed, but low passenger numbers and a drop in air travel following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as well as rising maintenance costs, led to the Concorde’s complete retirement in November 2003. (Accident photo by Toshihiko Sato; F-BTSC photo by Michel Gilliand via Wikimedia Commons)


Short Take Off


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July 23, 1973 – The death of Eddie Rickenbacker. Born on October 8, 1890 in Columbus, Ohio, Rickenbacker was America’s leading ace in WWI and a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Rickenbacker served in the 94th Aero Squadron, nicknamed the “Hat-in-the-Ring” squadron, where he flew French-made Nieuport 28 and SPAD S.XIII fighters and finished the war with 26 confirmed victories. Rickenbacker eventually commanded the 94th, and after the war he started the short-lived Rickenbacker Motor Company in 1920. But Rickenbacker made his greatest contribution to aviation as the head of Eastern Air Lines from 1938 until his retirement in 1963. Rickenbacker died of a stroke in 1973. (Photo author unknown)


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July 23, 1952 – The first flight of the Fouga CM.170 Magister, a jet-powered trainer built for the French Armée de l’Air to replace the Morane-Saulnier MS.475. The world’s first purpose-built jet trainer to enter production, the Magister is a straight-wing monoplane with a distinctive V-shaped tail, a design element that Fouga borrowed from its CM.8 glider. Fouga also produced a naval version for the French Navy, the CM.175 Zéphyr, which was used as the primary trainer for pilots learning carrier operations. Widely exported and also built under license by then-West Germany, Finland and Israel, a total of 929 CM.170s were produced. The Magister also operated as a light attack aircraft, and could be armed with two machine guns and up to 310 pounds of external ordnance. (Photo by Arpingstone)


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July 23, 1932 – The death of Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aviation pioneer and one of the early inventors of aircraft in France. Santos-Dumont got his start in aviation with ballooning and dirigibles, then constructed his first aircraft, the 14-bis, in which he made the first heavier-than-air flight in Europe in 1906. His final aircraft, the Demoiselle monoplane, became the world’s first production airplane. A national hero in his homeland, where he is considered the “father of flight,” Santos-Dumont committed suicide by hanging himself. He was said to be depressed over his multiple sclerosis, and also upset over the use of aircraft as a weapon of war in São Paolo’s Constitutionalist Revolution. Santos-Dumont was 59 years old. (Postcard artist unknown; Santos-Dumont photo via US Library of Congress)


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July 23, 1930 – The death of Glenn Curtiss. Though often eclipsed in history books by the Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss was one of America’s greatest aviation pioneers, and has been credited with the creation of the American aviation industry. Among Curtiss’ credits are the first officially witnessed flight in North America, victory at the world’s first international air meet in France, and the first long-distance flight in the US. Curtiss also provided the US Navy with its first aircraft, the A-1 Triad, in 1911, heralding the birth of US Naval Aviation. Curtiss’ contributions to military aviation in both World Wars are too numerous to mention here, but some of the most important aircraft built by him or his company include the JN4 “Jenny” biplane, the P-36 Hawk and P-40 Warhawk, the C-46 Commando, and the SB2C Helldiver. (Photo author unknown)


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July 24, 1978 – McDonnell Douglas completes the 5,000th F-4 Phantom II. One of the iconic aircraft of the Cold War Era, the Phantom II entered service in 1960 with the US Navy and would eventually be one of the few fighters to serve in the Navy, US Marine Corps and US Air Force. Production of the two-seat all-weather interceptor/fighter-bomber began in 1958 and, by the time production ended in 1981, a total of 5,195 were built to serve the US military and 11 export nations. The F-4G Wild Weasel electronic warfare variant served as late as 1991 in the Gulf War and, following the Phantom’s retirement from US service in 1996, remaining F-4s were converted to QF-4 target drones. (Photo author unknown)


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July 24, 1946 – Bernard Lynch becomes the first person to be ejected from an airplane. When Valentine Baker died in an aviation accident in 1942, it spurred his business parter James Martin to begin work on the first production ejection seat. In 1944, the RAF Air Staff approached Martin to develop an escape system for their new jet-powered fighters. Martin designed a seat that was launched out of the aircraft using an explosive charge and, after numerous tests on the ground over the course of a year, Martin-Baker employee Bernard Lynch was successfully ejected from a Gloster Meteor flying at 8,000 ft. Fortunately for Lynch, the seat performed flawlessly, and Martin-Baker is making ejection seats to this day. (Photo author unknown)


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July 24, 1897 – The birth of Amelia Earhart. Born in Atchison, Kansas, Amelia Earhart holds a significant place in the annals of American aviation history, as she was not only a pioneering aviator but also a pioneer in the expansion of societal roles for women in general. Earhart took her first flying lessons in 1921, and set her first world altitude record the next year. In 1928, she was the first woman to cross the Atlantic by plane, albeit as a passenger, but made her own transatlantic solo flight in 1932, a feat for which she received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Earhart set numerous other flying records, but disappeared over the Pacific Ocean with her navigator, Fred Noonan, while attempting a circumnavigation of the globe in 1937. (Photo author unknown)


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July 25, 1984 – Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya becomes the first woman to perform a space walk. Beginning her career as a pilot, Savitskaya set 18 international world records flying MiG fighters and another 3 records in team parachute jumping before beginning her training as a cosmonaut in 1980. She went to space for the first time in 1982 onboard the Soyuz T-7 mission, becoming the second woman in space. On her second trip to space, she performed an EVA outside of the Salyut 7 space station, spending over 3 hours in space tethered to the station. Savitskaya was twice awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, her nation’s highest honor. She retired from the Russian Air Force in 1993 with the rank of Major. (Photo author unknown)


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July 25, 1909 – French pilot Louis Blériot becomes the first person to fly across the English Channel. Blériot was one of the pioneering French aviators in the early days of powered flight, and he set numerous records for flight and formed his own aircraft manufacturing company. The English Channel was seen as one of the great obstacles in the early days of powered flight, and Blériot’s greatest fame came when he took off from France and flew his Type XI monoplane, powered by a 25-horsepower, 3-cylinder Anzani motor, across the Channel. After a 36 minute flight, Blériot landed hard in England, damaging his aircraft. Fortunately, Blériot was unhurt, and he claimed a £1,000 prize for being the first to make the crossing. (Type XI photo author unknown; Blériot photo via US Library of Congress)


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July 26, 1998 – The first flight of the Scaled Composites Proteus, a tandem-wing high-altitude research aircraft developed by Burt Rutan to investigate the use of aircraft as telecommunications relays. The composite aircraft has a 77-foot wingspan that can be increased to 92 feet for high-altitude flight, and holds world records for altitude, setting a record of 63,245 feet in October 2000. One aircraft has been built, and it has carried out numerous experiments in coordination with NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). (NASA photo)


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July 26, 1958 – The death of US Air Force test pilot Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr. Kinchloe was a test pilot, aeronautical engineer and double ace in the Korean War, as well as a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and Silver Star. Kinchloe was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1928 and, after his military career, he became a test pilot for the US Air Force’s Century Series of fighter aircraft. Whle piloting a Bell X-2, Kincheloe was the first pilot to exceed 100,000 feet of altitud, receiving credit as the first man to enter outer space and earning the nickname “America’s No. 1 Spaceman.” Kinchloe was killed when he failed to eject from his crippled Lockheed F-104 Starfighter during a flight over Edwards AFB in California. (US Air Force photo)


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