Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from June 13 through June 15.
June 15, 1945 – The first flight of the North American F-82 Twin Mustang. When the airwar against the Japanese Empire began in the early stages of WWII, the only way for the Allies to attack Japanese targets was by flying over the Himalayas from Burma and India. But as the war progressed, the Allies carried out their island hopping campaign to seize Japanese-held islands in the Pacific Ocean, bringing them closer and closer to the Japanese homeland and making it easier for long-range bombers to reach their targets. However, the US still did not have a fighter that was capable of escorting the bombers on long over-water missions, some of which could last up to eight hours. Even fighters that proved to be excellent long-range escorts in Europe, such as the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and North American P-51 Mustang, were unable to accompany the bombers on these long flights. And, even if the fighters were able to make the flight, such long missions put an enormous strain on a single pilot. What the US Army Air Forces in the Pacific needed was a fighter with extreme range, but also one with excellent maneuverability, and a second pilot to help with navigation over vast expanses of open ocean.
Beginning in late 1943, North American tackled the problem and began working on a fighter with an unrefueled range of 2,000 miles, and they used the remarkable P-51 Mustang as the starting point. North American Design Chief Edgar Schmued began with two P-51H fuselages that had been lengthened behind the cockpit to allow for the installation of additional fuel and other equipment. The fuselages were then connected by a central wing section that housed six .50 caliber machine guns for heavy concentrated fire, and the outer wings were strengthened to carry additional ordnance. The vertical stabilizer was also enlarged to improve single-engine handling. Both cockpits were outfitted with full controls, an arrangement that allowed the two pilots to take turns flying on long missions. A night fighter variant, the F-82F, was fitted with a large radome under the center wing section, and the right cockpit became the radar operator’s station.
The F-82 was originally powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engines, but the Air Force wanted the Twin Mustang to be powered by American engines, so the Merlins were replaced by less powerful Allison V-1710 engines for full production, and the earlier Merlin-powered aircraft were converted to trainers, creating the unique situation where the trainer aircraft were actually faster than the production fighters. The F-82 was finally adopted by the Air Force in the summer of 1945, but when WWII ended soon after, orders were cut dramatically and the F-82 entered service too late to see action in the war. The true long-range capability of the Twin Mustang was dramatically demonstrated in February 1947 when an F-82B named Betty Jo flew from Hawaii to New York without refueling, covering 5,051 miles and setting a record for piston-engined fighters that still stands.
But the end of the war didn’t mean the end of the F-82. It’s design made it well-suited to escort early Cold War bombers of the Strategic Air Command, and its 1,400-mile range meant that would have been able to take of from London, fly to Moscow, loiter for 30 minutes, and then return. The F-82 was also one of the first American fighters to see action in the skies over Korea, and was responsible for downing the first three enemy aircraft of the war. The Twin Mustang was retired in 1953 after production of 272 aircraft. While there are only a small handful of survivors in museums, and no airworthy examples, that is about to change. In 2007, work began to restore an exceedingly rare dual-control preproduction prototype XP-82, and it is hoped that the restored aircraft will be ready for flight in 2018.
June 15, 1943 – The first flight of the Arado Ar 234. In many ways, German military technology was far ahead of the Allied powers, particularly in the area of jet-powered aircraft. The British eventually caught up with the turbojet-powered Gloster Meteor, but it was the Germans who fielded the world’s first operational jet fighter in the Messerschmitt Me 262, and also the world’s first operational jet-powered bomber, the Arado Ar 234 Blitz.
The history of the Blitz (Lightning) began in 1940, when the German Ministry of Aviation (Reichsluftfahrtministerium, or RLM) requested designs for a high-speed, jet-powered reconnaissance aircraft that would have a range of 1,340 miles. Arado Flugzeugwerke was the only company to respond, and they offered their E.370 project. Though the range was less than what the RLM requested, the Ministry was still impressed with the design and ordered two prototypes. The Blitz featured a high, straight wing with one engine suspended underneath each wing. Similar to the Heinkel He 111, the cockpit was placed directly at the front end of the fuselage, offering the pilot no rearward visibility. Initial designs had rearward-firing defensive machine guns that were aimed by a periscope, but the system was considered useless in practice and the guns were omitted from production aircraft. The periscope, however, was retained.
Original plans also called for the Ar 234 to take off from a three-wheeled trolley which was jettisoned after take off, with the aircraft landing on retractable skids. This allowed the entire fuselage to be filled with fuel, but it also meant that returning bombers would be strewn around the airfield with no easy way to move them. Therefore, production aircraft were fitted with a traditional tricycle landing gear at the sacrifice of fuel capacity. With the fuselage crammed with fuel and landing gear, the Blitz carried one bomb under each wing, or a single bomb recessed under the fuselage
Though the airframe was ready by the end of 1941, problems in development of the Jukers Jumo 004 engines delayed the first flight until July of 1943. Later models replaced the Jumo, which was needed for the Me 262 jet fighter, with four BMW 003 engines. This increased the power and speed, but only a handful were built before the war ended. The Blitz finally entered service in 1944 as the world’s first operational jet bomber and, with a maximum speed of 459 mph, the Blitz outpaced all Allied piston-powered fighters of the time. It’s first combat mission was a reconnaissance flight over the Normandy beachheads in August of 1944, flying unmolested over the Allied positions and gaining valuable information on the landings. The Ar 234 also participated in attacks on the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, where the Allies secured a crossing of the Rhine. However, the attacks were ineffective, and a number of bombers were lost to antiaircraft fire. Though the Ar 234 was used sparingly, it proved nearly impossible to intercept, and it was the last Luftwaffe aircraft to fly over England during the war. Fortunately for the Allies, only 210 aircraft were produced and, like the Me 262, the Ar 234 came too late in the war to have a significant impact on its outcome.
June 13, 1993 – The death of Donald Kent “Deke” Slayton. Slayton was born on March 1, 1924 in Sparta, Wisconsin and enlisted in the US Army Air Forces in 1942 where he trained as a bomber pilot flying the North American B-25 Mitchell and Douglas A-26 Invader. Following the war, Slayton served as a test pilot and, in 1958, was chosen along with six others to form the Mercury Seven, America’s first group of astronauts. Due to an irregular heartbeat, Slayton was the only member of the group never to fly a Mercury program mission, but he remained in NASA service as the Chief of the Astronaut Office and later as the Director of Flight Crew Operations. Slayton finally went to space as a member of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project that saw a Soviet and an American spacecraft dock together in Earth orbit. Slayton played a managerial role in the Space Shuttle program, and retired from NASA in 1982.
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 to explore Jupiter. Launched on March 3, 1972, Pioneer 10 reached the largest planet in our Solar System in November 1973 and transmitted roughly 500 images as it passed as close as 82,000 miles to the planet. Following its successful flyby of Jupiter, Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to achieve escape velocity from the Solar System. 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 take more than two million years to reach the star at its current velocity.
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 seats up to 366 passengers in a typical three-class arrangement and entered service with launch customer Qatar Airways on January 15, 2015, completing the first commercial flight of the type on a flight between Doha and Frankfurt. Airbus has delivered 167 aircraft to date, with orders on the books for a total of 832.
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 members of the groups Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad who were seeking the release of 700 Shi’ite Muslim prisoners in 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, then flew 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 released 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.
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, and customers showed more interest in the American airliner. Where the DC-4 featured a tricycle landing gear, 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 was never intended for production.
June 14, 1919 – Capt. John Alcock and Lt. Arthur Whitten-Brown complete the first nonstop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. In 1913, the London newspaper Daily Mail offered a prize purse of £10,000 for the first aviators to cross the Atlantic ocean in less than 72 hours. The contest was suspended during WWI, but then restarted in 1918. Flying a modified Vickers Vimy bomber, Alcock and Brown took off from Lester’s Field in Newfoundland and headed for Ireland, the closest point from North America. Flying through thick fog, rain, and snow, and battling equipment failures that left their aircraft unheated and difficult to control, the team nearly crashed twice before a rough landing in Clifden, Ireland some 16-and-a-half hours later after covering nearly 2,000 miles of open ocean. Winston Churchill, the Secretary of State for Air, awarded Alcock and Brown the cash prize, and the pair was also awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) by King George V.
June 15, 1936 – The first flight of the Vickers Wellington, a twin-engine long-range strategic medium bomber designed in the 1930s to provide the RAF with a modern high-performance bomber. The Wellington was designed using the geodetic construction developed by Barnes Wallis that consisted of duralumin beams formed into a lattice then covered with fabric and dope. The construction technique gave the Wellington remarkable strength, maintaining integrity even when entire sections of the lattice were destroyed. Wellingtons carried out the first RAF bombing missions of WWII, and it was eventually converted to a night bomber and maritime patrol aircraft, and was the only British bomber to be produced continuously throughout the war. Vickers built 11,461 Wellingtons before production ended in 1945, and the bomber served until 1953.
June 15, 1936 – The first flight of the Westland Lysander, a high-wing single-engine aircraft originally designed for the roles of liaison and co-operation (delivering messages and spotting for artillery) for the British army. Though soon rendered obsolete in the co-operation role, the Lysander’s excellent short takeoff and landing capabilities made it particularly well-suited for clandestine operations behind enemy lines, and it was often used to insert or extract Allied agents and to support the French Resistance during the German occupation of France. The Lysander also served as a target tug, and was widely exported to British allies around the world. Nearly 1,800 were produced before the type was retired by the British in 1946.
June 15, 1916 – The first flight of the Boeing Model 1, a single-engine biplane seaplane and the first aircraft designed by William Boeing. Known also as the B&W Seaplane in recognition of its co-designer Lt. Conrad Westervelt, the Model 1 was a traditional wood frame construction braced by wire, and it resembled the Martin trainer owned by Boeing, though Boeing’s airplane had improved pontoons and a more powerful engine. Two aircraft were built and offered to the US Navy and, when the Navy chose not to adopt them, they were sold to the New Zealand Flying School, where they set a New Zealand altitude record of 6,500 feet. The aircraft, named Bluebill and Mallard, also became the first airmail planes in New Zealand.
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