Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from July 5 through July 7.
July 5, 1917 – The first flight of the Fokker Dr.1 Dreidecker. When war broke out in Europe in 1914, aviation was still in its infancy. The Wright Brothers had made their First Flight just 11 years earlier, but the remarkable pace of aviation development meant that early airplanes were ready to join the fray, though they were first used only as observation planes, called scouts, that performed the same reconnaissance duties of their horse-borne predecessors. But it wasn’t long before the crews started taking pistols and rifles into the air, and the friendly wave between opposing pilots was was replaced with rather inaccurate gunplay. Dedicated fighter planes armed with machine guns followed, and the aerial dogfight was born. But in an arms race that continues to this day, belligerents worked feverishly to produce ever more powerful and maneuverable fighters in an effort to gain control of the skies over the battlefield. In 1916, the first British Sopwith Triplanes began to appear over the Western Front, and the new fighter was immediately superior the older, slower German Albatross fighters then in use by the Deutsche Lufstreitkräfte (German Air Force). Dutch aviation pioneer Anthony Fokker immediately began work to develop a triplane for the Germans that could counter the Sopwith, and he started by converting one of his biplane designs already in development. The new fighter was designated the Fokker V.4, but initial results were poor. So Fokker revised the design by altering the ailerons and elevators and using a longer wing span to help improve roll control. The new aircraft was designated V.5, and though only three of these intermediate designs were produced, one was evaluated by Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron, in September 1917. Despite its the V.5's shortcoming, Richthofen claimed his 60th victory. The Fokker V.5 (also called the Fokker F.1) incorporated struts between the wings to minimize the wing flexing that hampered the performance of the earlier triplane. The final production version, which was called the Dr.1 Dreidecker (triplane), was very similar to the V.5, but now incorporated stepped wings, giving the aircraft its iconic shape. Two prototypes were ordered and delivered to Belgium in late August 1917 for evaluation by Richthofen. Within the first two days, he downed two enemy planes, and reported that the Dreidecker was clearly superior to the Sopwith Triplane.
Richthofen recommended that all fighter groups be outfitted with the new plane as soon as possible, and he scored his last 19 victories in a Dr.1 before his death in April 1918. Despite continuing difficulties with the fighter, including wing failures and problems with visibility, 320 aircraft were built, and the new plane was used to good effect. The Dr.1 was inherently unstable, and while that trait could prove difficult for novice flyers, it also lent to the fighter’s exceptional maneuverability in the hands of a skilled pilot. Though it was slower than contemporary fighters, the Dr.1 made up for that with excellent climb and roll rates. Towards the end of the war, shortages of castor oil for the engines hampered the fighter’s readiness rate, and the use of synthetic oils resulted in numerous engine failures. Only three aircraft are known to have survived the war, one of which was known to have crashed during testing, and one of the aircraft flown by Richthofen was held in a German museum until it was destroyed by Allied bombs during WWII. Only a few artifacts remain today, though many replicas and reproductions have since been built and are flown today. (Photo of replica Dr.1 by Alan Wilson via Wikimedia Commons; photo author unknown)
July 5, 2016 – NASA’s Juno spacecraft enters orbit around Jupiter. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, a series of missions designed to investigate the planets of our Solar System that seeks principal investigators to help fund and administer the exploratory missions. A second spacecraft in the program is New Horizons, which launched on January 19, 2006 to study Pluto. Juno was launched on August 5, 2011, and is the second probe to orbit the Solar System’s largest planet after Galileo, which orbited Jupiter from 1995-2003. Juno’s mission is to study Jupiter’s gravity and magnetic fields, its polar magnetosphere, and will search for clues on how the planet formed and what the planet is made of. Following its scientific missions, NASA planes to deorbit Juno into Jupiter’s atmosphere in 2018. (NASA illustration)
July 5, 1979 – The death of Émile Dewoitine, a French industrialist who designed fighters and airliners for France before and during WWII. Dewoitine was born in Crépy-en-Laonnais on September 26, 1892, and worked for aircraft manufacture Latécoère before founding his own company in 1920, though with little success. After moving to Switzerland, where his Dewoitine D.27 fighter was accepted for service, he returned to France to found Aéronautique Française (Avions Dewoitine) in 1931, where he produced the Dewoitine D.500, France’s first all-metal monoplane fighter, as well as the Dewoitine D.338 airliner. During WWII, the Dewoitine D.520 fighter proved to be France’s best domestic fighter, and was nearly a match for the Messerschmitt Bf 109. When Dewoitine tried to start a company in America in 1940, he was tried in absentia by the Vichy government and found guilty of treason, so he moved to Spain to continue his work, eventually returning to Toulouse after the statute of limitations expired on his sentence. (Dewoitine photo via Airbus; D.338 photo author unknown; D.520 photo via Century of Flight)
July 5, 1942 – The first flight of the Avro York, a four-engine transport aircraft that was derived from the Avro Lancaster bomber. Like other postwar British airliners that were based on bombers, the York borrowed the wings, tail and undercarriage of the Lancaster and was fitted with a larger, square fuselage that could accommodate up to 56 passengers. Powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, the York had a maximum speed of 298 mph and a range of 3,000 miles. It entered service with the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) in 1944, and was also used by the RAF Transport Command. Following the end of mainline service, the York continued to fly with independent airlines for both passenger and freight operations, and was finally retired in 1964. Avro produced 259 Yorks from 1943-1949. (Flickr photo via Wikimedia Commons)
July 6, 2013 – The crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, Boeing 777-200ER (HL77423) service from Incheon International Airport in South Korea to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). On final visual approach to SFO in excellent weather, the main landing gear and tail of the 777 struck a seawall short of the runway before rotating and coming to rest to the left of the runway. Of the 307 passengers and crew, three passengers were killed and 187 were injured. The NTSB investigation cited pilot error, saying that “Mismanagement of Approach and Inadequate Monitoring of Airspeed Led to Crash of Asiana flight 214.” The report also cited the crew’s unfamiliarity with the 777's automatic airspeed control during descent. The accident was the first fatal crash of the 777 since the airliner entered service in 1995, and the first fatal commercial airliner crash in North America since 2001. (NTSB photo)
July 6, 1952 – The death of Maryse Bastié. Bastié was born on February 27, 1898 and became interested in flying after marrying a WWI fighter pilot. Following the death of her husband in 1926, Bastié began performing flying exhibitions to earn money, eventually purchasing her own aircraft, a Caudron C.109 monoplane, in 1927. She set numerous records for women aviators, as well as a record time for a solo crossing of the South Atlantic, and was awarded the Harmon Trophy in 1931. Bastié achieved the rank of Captain in the French Air Force while logging more than 3,000 hours of flying time, and was made a Commander in the French Légion d’honneur. Bastié was killed in a crash at age 54. (Photo author unknown)
July 6, 1819 – The death of Sophie Blanchard. Blanchard (née Armant) was born on March 25, 1778, and took up ballooning when she married pioneering balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard in 1804. Sophie was the first woman to work as a professional balloonist, and continued flying after her husband’s death in 1809 when he fell from a balloon after suffering a heart attack. She made more than 60 ascents after Jean-Pierre’s death, performing flights for Napoleon Bonaparte and King Louis XIII, who named her “Official Aeronaut of the Restoration.” Blanchard was killed when fireworks that she launched from her balloon ignited the balloon’s gas bag, giving her the unfortunate distinction of being the first woman to be killed in an aviation accident. (Blanchard engraving by Jules Porreau; painting via Library of Congress)
July 7, 2003 – The launch of Mars Exploration Rover–B, better known as Opportunity. Opportunity was launched as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover program and landed on Mars on January 25, 2004, three weeks after its sister rover Spirit (MER-A). Spirit became mired in 2009 and ceased communications in 2010, but Opportunity continues to function 12 years later, even though it was designed to function for only 90 days. Launched atop a Delta II Heavy rocket, Opportunity has made significant discoveries on the geology of Mars, and has helped to determine whether the Red Planet was ever capable of sustaining life, looking particularly for signs of water. By January 2017, Opportunity had traversed over 27 miles of the Martian surface, surpassing the previous record for a rover set by the Russian Lunokhod 2 rover that flew to the Moon in 1973. (NASA illustration)
July 7, 1961 – The first flight of the Mil Mi-8, a twin-turbine helicopter that was originally designed as a transport helicopter and can also used as an airborne command post, gunship, and for reconnaissance duties. More than 17,000 have been built since production began in 1961, and it is the most common operational military helicopter in the world. Originally designed by Mikhail Mil as a replacement for the radial-engined Mil Mi-4, the Mi-8 can accommodate up to 16 troops or 3,500 pounds of cargo and has a top speed of 161 mph. The Mi-8 entered service in 1967, is flown by 71 countries worldwide, and remains in production today. (Photo by Aleksandr Markin via Wikimedia Commons)
July 7, 1946 – The first flight of the Hughes XF-11, an experimental reconnaissance aircraft built for the US Army Air Corps by Howard Hughes. Resembling the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, the XF-11 was built to compete with the Republic XF-12 Rainbow for a US Army Air Forces contract and was fitted with such a complex system of contra-rotating, variable-pitch propellers that the second prototype was fitted with traditional propellers. On its maiden flight, a hydraulic leak caused caused the loss of one engine, and Hughes crashed while attempting to make an emergency landing on a golf course, an accident that the Army attributed to pilot error. Hughes was seriously injured, but survived. After he recovered, he successfully flew the second prototype in 1947, but the USAAF had lost interest in both the XF-11 and the XF-12, and both projects were canceled. (US Air Force photo)
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