Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from June 1 through June 4.


(US Air Force)

June 1, 1939 – The first flight of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Though WWI ended in 1918, the formal end of hostilities between Germany and the Allied Powers didn’t take place until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. The treaty, which in many ways made WWII inevitable, was particularly harsh on Germany, and one of its provisions forbade the manufacture or stockpile of chemical weapons, armored vehicles, tanks and military aircraft. But with Adolf Hitler’s rise to uncontested leadership of Germany in 1934, the country began to ignore the provisions of the treaty. Along with renewed production of weapons, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Ministry of Aviation) began work to develop new military aircraft in an effort to rebuild the Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force.

The Fw 190 V1, the birth of the WĂĽrger. (Green and Swanborough)

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In 1933, the Ministry held a competition to develop a new single-engine fighter. That competition was eventually won by the Messerschmitt Bf 109, which went on to become the second-most highly produced warplane in history behind the Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik. But even as the 109 entered development and production, the Ministry indicated that it wanted a second fighter to complement the 109, since it was feared that, as good as the 109 was at the time, future foreign designs might soon outclass it. Kurt Tank, the head of the design department at Focke-Wulf, took on the task of designing the new fighter. But unlike most German fighter aircraft of its era that used inline engines, Tank chose the 14-cylinder twin-row BMW 801 radial engine. Conventional wisdom in Europe at that time was that radial engines were too bulky for fighters, and that the size of the flat disk of opposing pistons at the front of the plane would create too much drag and slow the fighter down. But Tank had seen the success of American radial-engined aircraft and, based on that experience, he chose the radial not only for its power but for its relative ease of maintenance. As it turned out, pilots also appreciated that huge hunk of metal at the front of the fighter, as it afforded an extra measure of protection while attacking Allied bomber formations.

(US Library of Congress)

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To keep the large radial engine cool, Tank initially fitted a vented spinner that covered the entire opening in the engine cowling, with cooling air introduced through a hole in the center of the spinner. This was eventually abandoned in favor of a more conventional spinner and a NACA cowling over the engine that accelerated air flow over the hot cylinders. Tank also sought to make the new fighter as rugged and simple as possible so that it could operate from rough, undeveloped airstrips and could easily be maintained in the field. To counter the problems that often arose from stretched cables that worked the control surfaces, Tank instead used a series of solid linkages that provided excellent control and longevity.

A captured Fw 190A whose pilot mistakenly landed in England in 1942 (Imperial War Museum)

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The Würger (Shrike), as the Fw 190 was known, entered service with the Luftwaffe over the Western Front in August 1941. At first, Allied pilots were confused by the appearance of a radial-engined German fighter. But the 190 soon got their attention, as it proved superior to the British Supermarine Spitfire Mk. V in all regimes of flight except for turning radius. And with superior firepower coming from its two 13mm MG 131 machine guns and two 20mm MG 151 cannons, the 190 soon clawed its way into air superiority over the British. It wasn’t until the RAF captured a 190 that they could analyze it and develop a version of the Spitfire, the Mk. IX, specifically to deal with the Würger. Though relatively evenly matched over Western Europe, Fw 190 pilots on the Eastern Front scored huge victories over less experienced Russian pilots, with German ace Otto Kittel claiming 267 victories, many of them coming at the controls of a 190.

Focke-Wulf Ta 152. Note the elongated fuselage, longer wings, and inverted V 12 engine to improve high altitude performance. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

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As Allied advances in fighter design continued, Focke-Wulf worked to stay ahead of, or at least on par with, Allied fighters. The D model was fitted with a Junkers Jumo 213 V-12 engine in an effort to increase high-altitude performance, while a further development, the Ta 152, was fitted with a Daimler-Benz DB 603 inverted V 12 and had a stretched fuselage and elongated wings. Though the updated fighters proved a match for the most modern Allied designs, both came too late in the war to have a bearing on the outcome. And even though attempts by Allied strategic bombers to eliminate German aircraft factories were relentless, production of the 190 continued throughout the war, and only ceased in 1945 with Germany’s surrender. By that time, over 20,000 of all types had been produced. Despite that huge production run, only one original  airworthy Fw 190A exists, complete with its original BMW 801 engine, owned by the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington. That organization also owns the sole existing Fw 190D to have survived the war. 


The Tu-144 parked on the tarmac at Le Bourget the day before the accident. (P.L. Thill)

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June 3, 1973 – The first production Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic airliner crashes at the Paris Air Show. The Cold War, which lasted from 1947 to 1991, never became a direct shooting war between the Soviet Union and the West. Nevertheless, the two sides in the ideological divide waged a continuing battle with each other in the areas of sports, technology, aviation, and space travel. There was significant prestige to be garnered by having more Olympic gold medals, being the the first to orbit the Earth or to step on the Moon, or the first to offer commercial supersonic air travel. Both the Soviets and Europeans had begun work on a supersonic transport (SST), and Russian the Tupolev Tu-144 managed to beat the Anglo-French Concorde into the sky by about three months when it took its maiden flight on December 31, 1968. While the Tu-144 bore a significant resemblance to its Anglo-French competitor, it was different in a number of ways, most notably the use of forward canards behind the cockpit to increase lift at lower speeds. Though it was the first SST to fly, the Tu-144 didn’t enter service until 1977, almost two years behind Concorde.

With its “mustache” canards extended, the Tu-144 performs at the 1973 Paris Air Show the day before it crashed. (RuthAS)

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But at the time of the Paris Air Show in 1973, the Russians had a lot to prove about their new SST, and wanted to display their technological prowess to the world. The Paris Air Show is one of the largest events of its kind in the world, where millions of dollars can be made in sales of civilian and military aircraft. It was paramount for Tupolev, and the Russian government, to put on a good show. After all, they had already won the race to be the first into the air, and both competing SSTs were being displayed and demonstrated at Paris. On the final day of the show, Concorde flew first. Observers said that the demonstration was not terribly exciting, and perhaps the Russians saw their opportunity to one-up the British and French. Before taking off, Soviet pilot Mikhail Kozlov reportedly said, “Just wait until you see us fly....Then you’ll see something.” After taking off, Kozlev, appeared to be making a landing approach to Le Bourget Airport, with landing gear down and canards extended. Suddenly, Kozlev moved the engines to full throttle and climbed rapidly, and the Tu-144 appeared to stall. As the aircraft pitched over, Kozlev tried to regain control, but the Tu-144 broke up and hit the ground, killing all on six on board as well as eight people on the ground.

Video of the crash of the Tu-144 at Le Bourget

The cause of the crash remains hotly debated to this day. One theory is that the crew of a French Dassault Mirage fighter, hoping to photograph the Tu-144 and its innovative canards, got too close and required Kozlev to take evasive action which caused him to lose control of the airliner. A second theory is that Tupolev officials enabled experimental controls to increase the SST’s maneuverability, possibly without telling the flight crew. A third theory is that Kozlev, hoping to outperform the Concorde, simply flew beyond the limits of the aircraft as he tried to show up his rivals. Despite the crash, and continuing problems with manufacturing and operation, the Tu-144 continued flying, though unreliability and economic factors ultimately lead to the project’s cancellation in 1983.

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US Navy Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Hornet fly over the burning Japanese cruiser Mikuma during the Battle of Midway (US Navy)

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June 4, 1942 – The Battle of Midway begins. Though World War II didn’t officially come to the Pacific until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japan had already seized portions China ten years earlier, and by 1937 had begun a full-scale invasion of the country in what is known as the Second Sino-Japanese War. Despite the capture of large swaths of Chinese territory, Japan still needed natural resources to continue its conquests. So their strategy shifted to the south, with the Japanese invading French and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia in hopes of forming what they euphemistically called the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. At the beginning of their advance, the Japanese were almost unstoppable. Facing spirited yet futile resistance, they captured Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, along with numerous islands that they garrisoned with troops and aircraft.

The Midway Atoll, looking westward. Eastern Island, with the airfield, is in the foreground, with Sand Island behind. (US Navy)

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But with America’s entry into the war, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander in Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, knew that it was only a matter of time before the tide of Japanese victories would be stemmed. Speaking to Japanese cabinet minister Shigeharu Matsumoto and prime minister Fumimaro Konoe, Yamamoto famously said, “In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” The American Pacific Fleet, though bloodied at Pearl Harbor, was not destroyed as the Japanese had hoped. Many ships had been sunk or damaged, but not the all-important aircraft carriers, which were out to sea on that fateful December morning. Six months later, on May 7, 1942, the US and Japan fought the Battle of the Coral Sea, an ultimately indecisive battle that nonetheless set the stage for the pivotal Battle of Midway a month later, a battle which, like the Coral Sea, would be fought entirely between aircraft of the opposing fleets. No large battleships or cruisers would ever bring a gun to bear on their opponent.

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The island of Midway, so named because of its location halfway between California and Asia, was not particularly important to the Japanese. For the Americans, however, it was an vital strategic foothold in the Pacific, and home to an airfield and a submarine base. By invading Midway, the Japanese hoped to draw out the entire American fleet so it, or at least its carriers, could be destroyed by the larger Japanese fleet. However, the Japanese mistakenly believed that they had sunk two American carriers, USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Yorktown (CV-5) in the Coral Sea. In reality, only Lexington had been lost, and Yorktown survived to join forces with USS Hornet (CV-8) and USS Enterprise (CV-6).

The attack on Midway began as US soldiers were in the middle of the morning flag-raising ceremony. (US Navy)

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The battle began on June 4 with a combined Japanese naval and army invasion of the Aleutian Islands, a string of islands that thrust westward from Alaska into the northern Pacific Ocean and forms the westernmost part of the United States. Though the Japanese had initially planned to build an airbase from which to attack the US mainland, the Americans, who had intercepted and decoded Japanese transmissions, knew that the invasion was a feint and that the brunt of the attack was aimed at Midway. The Japanese opened the main battle by bombing Midway Island, but even though the Americans were badly mauled, the defenders held, and the Japanese had to rearm their planes for a second land attack. While the rearming was underway, the first wave of planes from the American carriers were sent to attack the Japanese fleet but were unable to locate it. A second wave consisting of obsolete American Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers dispatched from Hornet located the Japanese fleet, but without fighter cover the attackers were completely destroyed without scoring any hits. Land based B-17 Flying Fortress bombers sent from Midway also failed to hit any Japanese ships.

The Japanese carrier Akagi, trailed by a cruiser, turns to dodge the bombs dropped by American B-17s. (US Air Force)

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The unsuccessful American attack alerted the Japanese to the presence of the American fleet, and they struggled to switch their armament from land bombs to armor-piercing anti-ship bombs. While the decks of the Japanese carriers were covered with planes, fuel and ordnance, Douglas DBD Dauntless dive bombers and Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters from all three US carriers arrived over the Japanese fleet. In a matter of minutes, the carriers Kaga, Akagi, and Sōryū, all three of which had taken part in the Pearl Harbor attack, were sent to the bottom of the ocean. Japanese planes from Hiryū counterattacked and struck Yorktown with three bombs, severely damaging the carrier. Yorktown was later sunk by a Japanese submarine while salvage efforts were underway. American planes then attacked Hiryū, which was heavily damaged and scuttled the next day.

Yorktown, on fire and listing after being struck by three bombs and two torpedoes. Yorktown was eventually sunk by torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-168, which was in turn sunk by the destroyer USS Scamp on July 27, 1943 (US Navy)

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In the course of roughly 24 hours of aerial punch and counterpunch, the Japanese had lost four heavy carriers against the loss of just one American carrier. The tide of the Pacific War was irrevocably changed, and the initiative passed to America and her Allies for the rest of the war. Coming just six months after Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway proved Yamamoto’s words to be eerily prophetic. Though the war would continue to drag on for three more bloody years, the Japanese had suffered losses in ships, planes and pilots that they could never replace, and there was no longer any realistic hope of a Japanese victory in the Pacific.


The essentially intact Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 fighter of Flight Petty Officer Tadayoshi Koga lies upside down on the island of Akutan (US Navy)

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June 4, 1942 – The crash of the Akutan Zero. In the early days of WWII, the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 fighter ruled the skies over the Pacific. Faster and more agile than anything the Allies could put in the sky at the time, Zero pilots enjoyed a 12-1 kill ratio over Allied aircraft. In one battle in April of 1942, 36 Zeros attacked the British naval base at Columbo, Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka). Roughly 60 RAF aircraft rose to meet them, a mix of different types, some obsolete. After the battle, almost half of the RAF planes were shot down: 15 Hawker Hurricanes, 8 Fairey Swordfish, and 4 Fairey Fulmars. The Japanese lost just one Zero. When the Americans entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, they fared little better. Though tactics were developed that would help level the playing field against the Japanese fighter, the Allies still had no operational fighter that could go toe-to-toe with the nimble Zero. They sorely needed to get their hands on one of the elusive fighters in the hopes of divining its secrets and finding a weakness they could exploit.

Flight Petty Officer Tadayoshi Koga (Author unknown)

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As a prelude to the Battle of Midway in early June of 1942, the Japanese army occupied the islands of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians. They planned to set up an airfield for attacks against the American mainland, and also hoped to divert resources away from the invasion of Midway Island. On June 4, 1942, before invading troops came ashore in the Aleutians, a group of Japanese planes took off from the carrier Ryūjō to bomb American positions at Dutch Harbor. During the attack, Flight Petty Officer Tadayoshi Koga, flying an A6M2 Zero, was hit by ground fire and discovered afterward that he was losing fuel. He knew he would not have enough fuel to reach the Ryūjō. Hoping to ditch his plane on what looked like firm ground, Koga instead came down on the soft Alaska tundra of Akutan Island and his fighter immediately flipped over. Standard Japanese procedure called for the other aircraft in his group to destroy the grounded plane, but Koga’s wingmen couldn’t bring themselves to strafe the Zero on the chance that Koga had survived the crash. Short on fuel themselves, they returned to the carrier and left Koga and his Zero behind. Five weeks later, the overturned, mostly intact Zero was spotted by a US Navy reconnaissance plane and a salvage operation was begun. Navy personnel made their way to the plane and found the lifeless Koga still hanging upside down in the cockpit. They buried his body, and the plane was shipped intact to San Diego (the construction of the Zero prohibited the removal of the wings), where it was repaired.

The Akutan Zero, painted with US markings. After limited testing in California, the aircraft was transferred to the East Coast and flown at the US Navy at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland (NASA)

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Flight testing began immediately, and soon exposed weaknesses that could be exploited by US pilots, such as a lack of maneuverability at high speeds, a preference to roll left rather than right, and a propensity for stalling under negative-G maneuvers. Allied pilots learned to dive quickly to take advantage of the Zero’s tendency to stall, then gain separation while the Japanese pilot was restarting his engine. Then, a quick roll to the right put the Zero in the American’s sights. Testing with the captured Zero continued, but the aircraft was destroyed during a taxiing accident when it was rammed by a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver which sliced the fragile fighter into bits with its propeller. Despite the destruction of the Akutan Zero, the Allies had gained critical knowledge of the mythical Zero, and, combined with newer, more powerful US fighters that soon arrived the Pacific, the heyday of the Zero came to an end. Though the Zero was destroyed, several gauges were salvaged and donated to the National Museum of the US Navy, and other small pieces reside in the Alaska Heritage Museum and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.


Short Takeoff


(NASA)

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June 1, 2011 – The Space Shuttle Endeavour lands at Kennedy Space Center after its final flight. Endeavour (OV-105) was the fifth and final Space Shuttle to be built, and took the place of the Shuttle Challenger after the loss of that orbiter claimed the lives of seven astronauts. Named for both HMS Endeavour of Captain James Cook and the Command Module of Apollo 15, Endeavour took its maiden flight on May 7, 1992 on STS-49, a mission to retrieve a communications satellite that had failed to reach its proper orbit. The mission marked the first time three astronauts walked in space at the same time. Over 19 years of service, Endeavour flew 25 missions, spent almost 300 days in space, completed 4,671 orbits of the Earth, and travelled 122,883,151 miles. Endeavour carried the first African-American woman astronaut, Mae Jemison, into space, and flew the first mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. After its retirement, Endeavour was placed on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California.


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June 1, 2009 – The crash of Air France Flight 447, a regularly scheduled flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. The Airbus A330 (F-GZCP) took off on schedule and, due to the length of the flight, there were three pilots—one captain and two first officers—who would take shifts in the cockpit. While the captain was out of the cockpit, the airliner encountered icing conditions which fouled the pitot tubes that fed airspeed data to the flight computers and led to the auto-pilot and auto-thrust being automatically deactivated. The pilot initiated a series of rolling maneuvers, and an eventual unnecessary pitch up, which continued until the aircraft stalled and fell into the Atlantic Ocean. The final report cited inconsistent speed readings from iced pitot tubes, failure of the crew to recognize the attitude of the airplane or to follow proper procedures for loss of auto-pilot, and lack of practical training for manual flight at hight altitude.


(US Air Force)

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June 1, 1967 – Two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giants complete the first non-stop transatlantic helicopter flight. In order to demonstrate the long range capabilities of the large Sikorsky rescue helicopters, two HH-3E Jolly Green Giants, each with a five-man US Air Force crew, set out from Floyd Bennet Field in New York on May 31 and arrived 30 hours later at Le Bourget Airport in Paris. The flight followed a more northerly route than the one Charles Lindbergh had flown almost exactly 40 years earlier (Lindbergh had flown from Roosevelt Field) so that the helicopters could divert to Greenland or Iceland if necessary. To make the flight of more than 4,200 miles, the helicopters were refueled in the air nine times before arriving at the 1967 Paris Air Show, where they were greeted by Igor Sikorsky. After the historic flight, both helicopters returned to active duty, and both were lost in action during the Vietnam War.


(US Air Force)

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June 1, 1953 – The US Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team is activated. The Thunderbirds trace their lineage back to the first Air Force demonstration squadron, the Acrojets, which flew the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star, America’s first operational jet fighter, and was based at the USAF Fighter School at Williams AFB in Arizona. With the onset of the Korean War, the Acrojets were disbanded in 1950, but another demonstration team, the Skyblazers, entertained crowds in Europe from their base at Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base in Germany at about the same time. Two members of the Skyblazers went on to form the nucleus of the Thunderbirds, which was formed in 1953 as the 3600th Air Demonstration Team at Luke AFB in Arizona. The team takes its name from a legendary bird found in Native American mythology, and the current livery reflects traditional Native American imagery of the Thunderbird. The Thunderbirds’ first aircraft was the Republic F-84G Thunderjet, and they have since transitioned through most frontline USAF fighters and currently perform in the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.


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June 1, 1948 – The first flight of the Cessna 170, a single-engine general aviation aircraft that was produced by the Cessna Aircraft Company from 1948-1956. Beginning with the four-seat 170, an enlarged version of the popular Cessna 140, the diminutive aircraft was powered by a Continental C145 air-cooled flat-six cylinder engine and featured a high wing and V struts. Development continued into the 1950s with the 305, which was modified with tandem seating and was flown extensively by the US Air Force, Army and Marine Corps for reconnaissance and forward air control as the O-1 Bird Dog. The 170 was later developed into the Cessna 172, which featured a tricycle landing gear and became history’s most successful aircraft. A total of 5,174 170s were built.


(DC-3 photo by Getty via BBC)

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June 1, 1943 – British actor Leslie Howard is killed when his plane is shot down over the Bay of Biscay. Best known to American audiences for his role as Ashley Wilkes in the epic film Gone with the Wind (1939), Howard was a passenger on KLM/BOAC Flight 777 from Bristol, UK to Lisbon, Portugal flown by a camouflaged Douglas DC-3 (G-AGBB). During the nighttime flight, Howard’s aircraft was shot down by a flight of Junkers Ju 88Cs that were on patrol over the bay. The same DC-3 had been attacked twice before but escaped. One theory for the attack is that German intelligence officers believed that Winston Churchill was on the flight, and the airliner was attacked in an attempt to assassinate the British prime minister. Along with Howard, four KLM flight crew were killed, as well as 12 passengers, many of them British business executives or lower-level government employees, as well as two or three children.


(NASA)

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June 2, 1998 – The launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on the final Shuttle mission to the Russian Mir space station. Begun in 1994, the Shuttle-Mir Program was a joint effort between NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) in which Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts shared space on each other’s spacecraft to fly to and return from the Russian space station Mir. The goal of the program was to help the Americans gain experience on long-duration spaceflights in preparation for the transition to the International Space Station (ISS). A total of 11 Space Shuttle missions were flown to Mir and, with the transfer of astronaut Andy Thomas to Discovery, it marked a total of 907 days in space logged by seven different astronauts. Discovery returned to Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 12.


(Author unknown; US Army)

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June 2, 1910 – Charles Rolls makes the first non-stop, double crossing of the English Channel. Charles Rolls is best known to aviation and automotive history as one half of the famed Rolls-Royce engine manufacturing company, which he formed with Henry Royce in 1906. But Rolls was also a pioneering aviator, first in ballooning then in airplanes, when he purchased of a Wright Flyer Model A in 1909. Though he was not the first to cross the English Channel, Rolls was the first to make the trip across and then immediately back again. The return flight also marked the first eastward crossing of the Channel. Rolls was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Aero Club for the flight, but he would also achieve another, more infamous first, when he became the first Briton to die in an airplane accident when he crashed his Wright Flyer in 1910.


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June 3, 1975 – The first flight of the Mitsubishi F-1, the first supersonic military jet developed and produced by Japan following WWII. Developed from the Mitsubishi T-2 trainer, the F-1 was a joint project of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Fuji Heavy Industries after the Japanese government decided to build their own aircraft rather than procure aircraft from other countries. The F-1's primary mission is maritime surface attack, but it can also serve in the ground attack role and has limited air-to-air capabilities. The F-1 was flown exclusively by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, and was retired after completion of 77 aircraft. It was replaced by the Mitsubishi F-2, a development of the General Dynamics F-16C/D Fighting Falcon.


(NASA)

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June 3, 1965 – The launch of Gemini 4, the second manned flight of Project Gemini and the eighth flight of the American manned space program. Gemini 4 was flown by astronauts James McDivitt and Edward White, and the pair completed 66 orbits of the Earth over four days. During the flight, White carried out America’s first extravehicular activity (EVA, more commonly called a space walk), when he spent 20 minutes floating in space while tethered to the Gemini capsule. The crew also unsuccessfully attempted to rendezvous with an orbiting Titan II upper stage, and carried out navigational tests with a sextant to explore the use of celestial navigation for future space flights. McDivitt and White returned to Earth on June 7.


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June 3, 1936 – The death of Walther Wever. As Germany worked to rebuild its military forces after the severe restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles that brought an end to WWI, Wever became the Commander of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Ministry of Aviation) in 1933 with the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler. Wever was a proponent of heavy strategic bombing in the spirit of Italian general and theorist Giulio Douhet, though Wever was not a proponent of bombing civilian centers. While flying from Dresden to Berlin, Wever took off in a Heinkel He 70, but the aileron gust locks had not been removed preflight and the aircraft crashed, killing Wever and his flight engineer. With Wever’s death, predominant theory in the Luftwaffe shifted from heavy bombers to an emphasis on dive bombers and close air support for ground troops, and Germany never developed large fleets of heavy bombers in the way that the Allies did.


(ESA)

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June 4, 1996 – The first launch of the Ariane 5, a heavy-lift launch vehicle that can lift payloads of up to 44,000 lbs into low Earth orbit or up to 23,100 pounds into geostationary transfer orbit depending on the variant. The Ariane 5 was originally designed to carry the proposed Hermes spaceplane into orbit, but that project was canceled in 1992. Ariane 5's first launch failed, and the rocket self-destructed after just 37 seconds due to a software problem. The second launch on October 30, 1997 was a partial failure, when a malfunctioning nozzle caused the shutdown of the main engine. The first completely successful flight took place on October 21, 1998, and the first successful commercial launch followed in December 1999. Since then, Ariane 5 has completed a total of 88 successful launches, with 19 more planned through 2022 before the planned introduction of Ariane 6.


(NASA)

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June 4, 1974 – Construction begins on Orbital Vehicle 101, the first Space Shuttle. OV-101, which had originally been named Constitution and was planned to be unveiled on Constitution Day (September 17, 1976), was instead named Enterprise in honor of the Star Trek television series after a huge write-in campaign. Enterprise was built without engines or a heat shield, and was initially used for approach and landing tests (ALT) after being released from the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). It was also used for Mated Vertical Ground Vibration Tests. NASA had planned to convert Enterprise for space flight, but significant redesigns of the Shuttle since Enterprise’s rollout made that plan too expensive, and another test vehicle still under construction later became the Shuttle Challenger (OV-099). Enterprise was restored and is now on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.


(US Navy)

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June 4, 1934 – The US Navy commissions the USS Ranger (CV-4), its first purpose-built aircraft carrier. America’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1), was converted from the USS Jupiter (AC-3), which was originally laid down as a collier. Ranger was the first ship to be designed from the keel up as an aircraft carrier, and was originally designed without an island superstructure, though one was added later. Ranger was too slow to see combat in the Pacific, and served instead in the Atlantic, where it took part in the invasion of French North Africa (Operation Torch), and later in Operation Leader, where she carried out attacks on German shipping off the coast of Norway. Ranger was decommissioned on October 18, 1946 and sold for scrap in 1947.


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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