Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from June 11 - June 14.


June 11, 1926 – The first flight of the Ford Trimotor. Today, Henry Ford’s name is synonymous with automobiles. But back in the 1920s, Ford also had a brief foray into aircraft manufacturing when he joined a group of investors in the acquisition of the Stout Metal Airplane Company in 1925. Not only did Ford obtain the company, he also took over its intellectual property, which included designs for aircraft that previous owner, William Stout, had been working on. Stout had been influenced by the work of Hugo Junkers, who was a pioneer in the construction of all-metal aircraft in Germany. At the time, Stout was working on the 3-AT trimotor, a development of the earlier single-engine Stout 2-AT Pullman, the first all-metal aircraft to be certified in the US. Where the 2-AT was relatively successful, the 3-AT was such an unmitigated disaster that Stout’s test pilot refused to fly it again after the maiden flight. But when a fire destroyed one of Stout’s hangars, and the 3-AT along with it, Ford was able to make a fresh start on the trimotor, and he began by removing William Stout from the design team. The new aircraft would be called the 4-AT, and it very closely resembled the Fokker F.VII trimotor, though the Fokker design used far less metal in its construction. Ford’s also used Junkers’ wing design, as well as the corrugated metal skin that Junkers had pioneered, which prompted Junkers to sue Ford for patent infringement. Junkers prevailed, and Ford was prevented from marketing his aircraft in Europe. The original Trimotor was powered by three Wright R-790 Whirlwind 9-cylinder radial engines, (later variants received a trio of Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp radials) that gave it a maximum speed of 132 mph and a range of 570 miles, and its accommodation for 8 passengers had an immediate impact on civilian air transport in the US. Shortly after the arrival of the Trimotor, Transcontinental Air Transport (which would eventually become TWA) was founded by financier Clement Keys. On July 7, 1929, TAT inaugurated transcontinental service from New York to Los Angeles, with passengers making the 51-hour journey by alternating between rail and air transportation. A ticket for this service cost $338. Trimotors were also flown by Pan American Airways to Cuba and other destinations in Central and South America. But the Trimotor was not only used for passenger flights. It set numerous distance records, and US Navy Commander Richard Byrd, with pilot Bernt Balchen, made the first flight over the geographic South Pole in 1937 in a Trimotor. The aircraft’s rugged construction also made it a popular cargo aircraft. The rapid advance of aircraft technology quickly surpassed the Trimotor and Ford left the airplane business, though his company did produce aircraft under license during WWII. William Stout purchased the rights to the Trimotor in 1954, hoping to modernize the design and to regain a foothold in the aviation industry. But his Stout Bushmaster 2000 was unable to match the performance of more modern aircraft, and only 2 were built. But even though the Trimotor’s heyday as an airliner was relatively brief, it would fly into the 1960s as a rugged and dependable cargo aircraft. (Photo by the author)


Advertisement

June 12, 1994 – The first flight of the Boeing 777. With the arrival of the Boeing 747 into airline service in 1970, Boeing pioneered the development of the wide-body airliner, carrying large numbers of passengers on world-spanning routes. They followed the 747 with the 757 and 767 in response to new aircraft by their main rival Airbus, and both of those airliners would be immediately successful and go on to long careers. Boeing originally envisioned its next design to be a tri-jet, but with new regulations now allowing aircraft with just two engines to operate on longer transoceanic routes (ETOPS), Boeing now had a problem: a gap in range and passenger capacity in their fleet between their two larger airliners and the 747. McDonnell Douglas was working to upgrade their earlier DC-10 with the MD-11, and Airbus was in the process of developing the A330 and four-engine A340. Boeing responded at first with a stretched 767 called the 767-X, and also proposed a 767 with a larger cross-section while retaining the commonality of the earlier 767 cockpit. But the airlines weren’t interested, saying that they wanted an even wider fuselage with more interior options, intercontinental range, and lower operating costs. So Boeing went back to the drawing board and, using computer-aided design (CAD) for the first time, developed an entirely new airliner and their first to use fly-by-wire controls. Boeing also allowed the major airlines to have a say in the design and development of the aircraft for the first time in industry history. Based on customer input, Boeing designed the 777 with a similar cabin cross-section to the 747 and offered 9-across seating in coach with the ability to accommodate as many as 325 passengers. United Airlines became the 777’s launch customer in 1990, making very specific route requirements for the new airliner. They said the 777 must be able to reach Europe and Hawaii from United’s hubs in Denver and Chicago. Boeing delivered on those demands, and the first 777 entered service with United in 1995 and is now flown by more than 60 airlines and cargo companies around the world. With variants to increase passenger load and speed, it is now the world’s largest twin-jet, able to seat up to 451 passengers depending on configuration with a range of up 9,695 miles. It also sports the largest-diameter turbofan of any aircraft in service today in the General Electric GE90. Boeing has received more 777 orders than any other wide-body airliner with almost 1,300 aircraft currently in service. Boeing also has plans for further development of the 777 with its 777x program, which will see new carbon-fiber-reinforced wings for greater efficiency, and folding wingtips for complete airport gate compatibility. The cabin will also be widened and enhanced based on experience learned from development of the 787. The 777-8X and 777-9X are expected to enter service in 2020. (Photo by the author)


Advertisement

June 12, 1944 – The first V-1 flying bomb falls on England. The V-1 flying bomb, along with the V-2 ballistic rocket, were known to the Germans as Vergeltungswaffen, or retaliatory weapons. The Allies often referred to them as vengeance weapons, and with their deployment in the last years of the war, the V-weapons are often seen as the last gasp of a desperate Germany as it was losing the war. But the history of the V-1 goes back to 1936, with the work by German engineer Fritz Gosslau to develop remotely-controlled aircraft. In 1939, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry) received a proposal for a flying bomb that could carry a 2,200-pound payload over 300 miles, and even though most of the problems with the guidance system were worked out by 1941, Adolf Hitler did not approve the project until June 1944, soon after the Allied landings on D-Day. The V-1 was constructed with a welded sheet metal fuselage, plywood wings, and was powered by a pulsejet engine, the first of its kind to power an aircraft. The distinctive sound of the pulsejet led to the V-1 being given the nicknames “buzz bomb” and “doodlebug” by the Allies. It was controlled in flight by an internal gyroscope, and once the propeller-driven odometer indicated the target had been reached, explosive bolts disabled the control system and the V-1 would enter a dive towards the target. Though inaccurate at first, refinements in the control system enabled the V-1 to strike with an accuracy of roughly 7 miles around the intended target. This certainly wasn’t accurate enough for a tactical weapon, but as a strategic weapon of terror it was close enough. At the peak of operation, more than 100 V-1s a day were fired at southeast England, but due to continuing problems with guidance systems and poor engine reliability, only about 25-percent of the buzz bombs actually hit their intended targets. Still, over 6,000 British civilians were killed by V-1s. In addition to the ground-launched bombs, about 1,200 V-1s were also air-launched from modified Heinkel He 111s. When the first V-1s appeared over England, the only aircraft fast enough to intercept the low-flying cruise missiles was the Hawker Tempest, though eventually Supermarine Spitfires, North American P-51 Mustangs and Republic P-47 Thunderbolts were modified to increase their speed. De Havilland Mosquitos also proved relatively effective, and the early jet-powered Gloster Meteor claimed a few buzz bombs as well.

A Spitfire tips the wing of a V-1 to knock it off course

The most effective method to stop the V-1s was to fly alongside, put a wingtip underneath the V-1's wingtip, then flip the flying bomb over, which caused it to crash. As the Allies started retaking France and began taking more territory in Germany, they overran the V-1 launch sites and the number of attacks dwindled. Towards the end of the war, V-1s were launched against Antwerp and other sites in Belgium before the final launch site was captured in October 1944. While the bombs themselves weren’t terribly effective, the attacks did cause the Allies to divert about a quarter of their bomber force to attack the launch sites, often without effect. By the end of V-1 operations, 9,521 buzz bombs had been launched against England and Belgium. (V-1 photo by the author; Spitfire vs V-1 photo via the Imperial War Museum)

Advertisement


Short Take Off


Advertisement

June 12, 1979 – The Gossamer Albatross flies across the English Channel. Designed and built by American aeronautical engineer Dr. Paul MacCready and built by his company AeroVironment, the Albatross was the first human-powered aircraft to cross the English Channel, claiming the second Kremer prize and its £100,000 purse. The Albatross was MacCready’s second human-powererd aircraft following the earlier Gossamer Condor, which had won the first Kremer prize in 1974 for completing a one-mile figure-eight course. Powered and flown by amateur cyclist and hang glider pilot Bryan Allen, the Albatross completed the 22.2-mile crossing in 2 hours and 49 minutes at a top speed of 18 mph and an altitude of just 5 feet. (NASA photo)


Advertisement

June 12, 1965 – The first flight of the Britten-Norman Islander, a light utility aircraft, regional airliner and cargo aircraft and one of the best-selling commercial aircraft produced in Europe. Designers John Britten and Desmond Norman developed the Islander to satisfy a demand for an inexpensive twin-engine transport, and sought to produce an aircraft that was both simple to maintain and capable of carrying heavy loads. The Islander proved to be a tremendous success, with 1,280 being built since 1965, and it remains in production today. The Islander was developed into numerous variants, and serves with the British Army and UK police forces, as well as over 30 military operators and many civilian operators worldwide. (Photo by Roland Nussbaumer via Wikimedia Commons)


Advertisement

June 12, 1934 – The Air Mail Act of 1934 is enacted. As a result of the Air Mail Scandal of the 1930s, and following congressional investigations into the awarding of Air Mail contracts to certain airlines, the Air Mail Act reintroduced competitive bidding for lucrative air mail routes and prevented aircraft manufacturers from operating passenger airlines. The new act canceled the earlier act of 1930, and resulted in the restructuring of the airline industry and new regulations for passenger flight and the modernization of the US Army Air Corps. To circumvent the new restrictions, aircraft manufacturers simply changed their names, resulting in the creation of American Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, Eastern Airlines and United Air Lines. (Image author unknown)


Advertisement

June 13, 1983 – Pioneer 10 becomes the first man-made object to leave the Solar System. Pioneer 10 is a space probe that was developed by NASA Ames Research Center that was launched on March 3, 1972 to explore Jupiter. Pioneer 10 reached the planet in November 1973 and transmitted roughly 500 images as it passed as close as 82,000 miles to the Solar System’s largest planet. Following its successful flyby of Jupiter, Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to achieve escape velocity from the Solar System, and on January 23, 2003, at a distance of 12 billion kilometers from Earth, radio communications were lost when the transmitter ran out of electrical power. If left undisturbed, Pioneer 10 will continue towards the star Aldebaran, more than 68 light years away, though it will require more than two million years to reach the star at its current velocity. (NASA illustration)


Advertisement

June 14, 2013 – The first flight of the Airbus A350 XWB, a clean-sheet airliner design developed by Airbus to compete with the Boeing 787 and Boeing 777. The A350 employs a fuselage and wing that were both made primarily of carbon-fiber composites, though to differing degrees than the 787. The new airliner will seat up to 366 passengers in a typical three-class arrangement. Launch customer Qatar Airways received the first A350s, and completed the first commercial flight of the type in December 2014 on a flight between Doha and Frankfurt. Qatar now operates three A350s, and Airbus has orders for 786 more aircraft. (Photo by John Taggart via Wikimedia Commons)


Advertisement

June 14, 1985 – The hijacking of TWA Flight 847, a Boeing 727 (N64339) flight from Cairo to San Diego with scheduled stops in Athens, Rome, Boston and Los Angeles. After taking off from Athens, the flight was hijacked by two members of the groups Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad who were seeking the release of 700 Shi’ite Muslims from Israeli custody. The hijackers diverted the flight to Beirut, then Algiers, where 20 hostages were released. Then it flew back to Beirut, where more armed hijackers boarded the plane, and again to Algiers, and finally to Beirut once more. There, the remaining hostages were released, though one passenger, US Navy diver Robert Stethem, was executed and his body dumped on the tarmac in Beirut. Israel did release the 700 prisoners, though they claimed that it was not a result of the hijacking. The incident served as the inspiration for the 1986 film The Delta Force. (Photo author unknown)


Advertisement

June 14, 1945 – The first flight of the Avro Tudor, a piston-powered airliner derived from the Avro Lincoln bomber and Britain’s first pressurized airliner. Though a successful design in its own right, the Tudor was seen by the airlines as nothing more than a pressurized Douglas DC-4, which had garnered much success since its introduction in 1942. The DC-4 also featured a tricycle landing gear, and the Tudor’s tail-dragger arrangement was seen as less desirable. Though the Tudor was continuously upgraded by more powerful engines and greater carrying capacity, only 38 were built, and it served mainly with British carriers. The Tudor did serve as the basis for the Avro Ashton turbojet powered airliner, but that aircraft never entered production. (Photo by RuthAS via Wikimedia Commons)


Recent Aviation History Posts


Advertisement


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.

Advertisement