Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from June 20 through June 22.
June 22, 1954 – The first flight of the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. The 1950s was a period of transition for military aviation, as new jet-powered warplanes began to take the place of older, propeller-driven aircraft in large numbers. Douglas had already provided the US Navy and US Marine Corps with a large number of bombers, fighters, and naval attack aircraft aircraft during WWII, and they followed those up with the remarkable piston-engine attack plane, the AD (A-1) Skyraider, which came too late to see service in the war but served with distinction in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Best known as a hard-hitting and rugged ground attack aircraft, the AD-4B variant of the Skyraider was modified to carry nuclear weapons, but the Navy requested a jet-powered aircraft to take its place.
Bucking the trend towards larger and larger aircraft with multiple engines, Douglas engineer Ed Heinemann designed a diminutive, tailed delta wing fighter powered by a single jet engine. In fact, the A4D, later redesignated A-4, was so small that its wings did not need to be folded for carrier storage, and the final aircraft weighed half of what the Navy specified for the new airplane. In fact, the A-4 weighed even less than the Skyraider it replaced. The first A-4s were powered by a Wright J65 turbojet, but starting with the A-4E, Douglas moved to a Pratt & Whitney J52 turbojet that gave the little fighter a top speed of 670 mph. With such a powerful jet engine in its small airframe, the Skyhawk was a favorite among its pilots for its speed and performance, earning it the nicknames Heinemann’s Hot Rod, Bantam Bomber, Mighty Mite and Scooter.
And, though it was small, the Skyhawk packed a heavy punch. In addition to its two 20mm cannons, the A-4 could carry nearly 10,000 pounds of external ordnance, a greater load than a WWII-era Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress strategic bomber. The Skyhawk also pioneered the concept of “buddy refueling,” where one aircraft could refuel another of the same type in flight, removing the need for dedicated tanker aircraft. Following delivery to the Navy and Marine Corps in 1956, the A-4 first saw combat with the Navy during the Vietnam War, launching air raids on North Vietnam in August 1964. Skyhawks also found distinction with the Israeli Air Force in the Yom Kippur War and with the Argentine Air Force during the Falklands War. Other international customers included Kuwait, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brazil.
After the Skyhawk was retired from US Navy fleet duty, it found a new lease on life as an adversary aircraft at the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School (commonly called Top Gun). The A-4 was chosen as the aggressor aircraft because of its small size, excellent maneuverability and smokeless trail, similar to a MiG-17, and it served in this role until 1999. In 1974, the the Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration squadron chose the Skyhawk as their new demonstration aircraft when they transitioned from the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, a plane that was much larger and more costly to operate. The smaller and lighter aircraft, with a tighter turning radius, allowed for a more dynamic flight demonstration, and the Blues flew the Skyhawk until 1986. The A-4 had a remarkable production run of 25 years, and Douglas turned out nearly 3,000 aircraft. The US Navy retired the last of its operational A-4s in 2003, but it served with the Israeli Air Force until 2015, and still remains in service with a handful of export countries.
June 20, 1983 – The first flight of the Bombardier Dash 8, the first in a series of twin-turboprop, medium-range airliners that were originally known as the de Havilland Canada (DHC) Dash 8. Developed from the four-engine DHC Dash 7, the Dash 8 is built in four variants capable of accommodating from 39-78 passengers. It entered service in 1984 with the now-defunt NorOntair airline, and was extremely successful as a regional airliner. Despite challenges from newer small regional jets, the lower operating costs of the turboprop engine on shorter flights at lower altitudes have allowed the Dash 8 to remain competitive. The Dash 8 remains in production, and nearly 1,200 have been built to date.
June 20, 1966 – Sheila Scott completes the first of three circumnavigations of the globe. Born on April 27, 1922 in Worcester, England, Scott was a record-setting aviatrix and she made her first round-the-world flight in a Piper Comanche 260B. Departing from London Heathrow on May 18, she flew approximately 31,000 miles over the course of 34 days and 189 flying hours. Scott topped that in 1971 with a “world and a half” flight of 34,000 miles, becoming the first person to fly over the North Pole in a single-engine aircraft. Scott was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1968 for her exploits, and died in 1988 at the age of 66.
June 20, 1951 – The first flight of the Bell X-5, an aircraft that was inspired by the variable-sweep wing Messerschmitt P.1101 and the first aircraft that was capable of changing the angle of wing sweep in flight. The X-5 had three settings for the wings, and a full sweep could be accomplished in 30 seconds. However, the aircraft was so unstable that the second prototype was lost in a crash which killed its test pilot. While the X-5 was ultimately a failure, data on swing-wing technology would be used successfully on later production aircraft such as the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat and the Rockwell B-1 Lancer bomber.
June 20, 1941 – The United States Army Air Forces is founded. The US Army Air Forces (USAAF) was the successor to the US Army Air Corps (USAAC, 1926-1941) and the US Army Air Service (USAAF, 1918-1926). The USAAF was a component of the US Army, and one of three distinct forces, the others being the Army Ground Forces and the Army Service Forces. The USAAF combined the disparate aviation organizations under a single command, which reported to the Army Chief of Staff. The USAAF witnessed extraordinary growth during the Second World War, and boasted 2.4 million personnel and more than 80,000 aircraft by 1945. Drastic cuts in personnel and materiel following the war saw the USAAF dwindle to just 304,000 airmen and less than 30,000 planes. Based on the recommendation of President Harry Truman, Congress passed the National Security Act of 1947 which created the Department of the Air Force, and the USAAF became the United States Air Force on September 18, 1947.
June 21, 2004 – SpaceShipOne makes the first privately-funded human spaceflight. SpaceShipOne is an experimental air-launched spacecraft powered by a rocket that is capable of taking the ship into suborbital flight. Designed by Burt Rutan and built by his company Scaled Composites, SpaceShipOne was the first step in a program to take paying passengers into space, and served as proof-of-concept for the larger SpaceShipTwo which first flew in 2010. Both ships use a unique feathering system that raises the aircraft’s tail boom to slow the ship during reentry. SpaceShipOne was launched from the Scaled Composites White Knight mothership, and the system won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 by reaching an altitude of 100 km twice within a two-week period. SpaceShipOne made 17 test flights, three of which went beyond 100 km in altitude, and the hybrid aircraft/spacecraft is now preserved at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
June 21, 1961 – The first flight of the Aviation Traders Carvair, an aircraft developed from the Douglas DC-4 by entrepreneur Freddie Laker to allow travelers to take their cars with them on holiday. The DC-4 was modified by placing the flight deck in a raised section above the main fuselage to provide room for five cars and 22 passengers, or three cars and 50 passengers. The flexible design of the Carvair meant that the configuration could be changed on the ground between flights in as little as 40 minutes. A total of 21 DC-4s were converted and flown by various airlines in Europe, and one remains in service, based in Denton, Texas, which set a world record in 2005 when it carried 80 skydivers aloft.
June 21, 1936 – The first flight of the Handley Page Hampden, a twin-engine medium bomber flown by the Royal Air Force in the early part of WWII. The Hampden entered service with two other early bombers, the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and Vickers Wellington, though it was the first of the trio to be retired. The Hampden was known as the “flying suitcase” by its crews due to its cramped fuselage, and it carried out the majority of the bombing missions early in the war, and also took part in the so-called “1000 Bomber Raids” against Germany. Though considered modern when it was first built, the Hampden was quickly outclassed by newer designs, and was briefly relegated to night fighter duties before being retired in 1943. A total of 1,430 were produced from 1936-1941.
June 21, 1913 – Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick becomes the first woman to parachute from an airplane. Tiny Broadwick (neé Thompson), so named because of her small stature and 85-pound weight, was the adopted daughter of pioneering parachutist and showman Charles Broadwick. Tiny joined Broadwick’s troupe of aerial performers at the age of 15, and was billed as the “Doll Girl,” and began by parachuting from balloons before making her first jump from an airplane piloted by Glenn L. Martin. Though June 21 is recognized as the date of her first jump, she had made two prior jumps during a flight exhibition in Chicago the previous year. While demonstrating a static line jump for the US Army, Broadwick’s line got tangled in the aircraft and she had to cut herself free. Later jumps were made without a static line, making her the first person to perform a free-fall parachute jump. Broadwick retired in 1922 after making 1,100 jumps, and died in 1978.
June 22, 1984 – The first flight of the Rutan Voyager, the first aircraft capable of flying around the world without refueling. The idea to build the world-spanning aircraft was initiated by pilots Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan, along with famed aeronautical engineer Burt Rutan, and the aircraft was built by Burt Rutan’s company Scaled Composites. The Voyager airframe was constructed of fiberglass, carbon fiber and Kevlar, weighed just 939 pounds empty (without engines or fuel, which brought the weight to 9,700 pounds), and was powered by a pair of Lycoming engines in a push-pull configuration. Yeager and Dick Rutan departed from Edwards Air Force Base in California on December 14, 1986 and completed the circumnavigation on December 23, flying 26,366 miles, setting a flight endurance record of just over nine days. The Voyager is now on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
June 22, 1947 – The first flight of the Martin XB-48, a six-engined straight-winged bomber that was developed alongside the swept-wing Boeing B-47 Stratojet as a fallback should the Boeing bomber prove unsuccessful. Displaying its design lineage with the piston-powered Martin B-26 Marauder, the XB-48 was the first jet bomber to employ a bicycle undercarriage with outriggers on the wings, an arrangement that had been tested on a modified B-26. Along with the B-47, the XB-48 competed with the North American XB-45 Tornado and the Convair XB-46, with only the Tornado selected for limited production. Only two XB-48s were built before the program was canceled in 1948.
June 22, 1945 – The first flight of the Vickers VC.1 Viking, a twin-engine airliner developed from the Vickers Wellington bomber. Following WWII, Britain worked to create a civilian airline service after focusing almost solely on military aircraft production during the war. The Viking used the wing and undercarriage of the Wellington, but the fuselage was entirely new and designed to carry 21 passengers. The airliner was introduced in 1946, and British European Airways (BEA) operated the Viking for eight years before it was replaced by more modern pressurized airliners. One Viking was modified by the addition of two Rolls-Royce Nene turbojets and became the world’s first purely jet-powered airliner when it flew in 1948. A total of 163 Vikings were built.
June 22, 1933 – The first flight of the Tupolev ANT-25, a long-range aircraft developed by Pavel Sukhoi, under the supervision of Andrei Tupolev, and built by the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI). The ANT-25 was powered by a single Mikulin M-34 12-cylinder engine, and the aircraft featured a very long wing for efficient fight. The large wing also housed enormous fuel tanks which held more than 13,000 pounds of fuel. The ANT-25 made numerous record-breaking flights, including a non-stop flight from Moscow across the North Pole to the United States. The planned destination was San Francisco, but a fuel shortage required the crew to land in Vancouver. Nevertheless, the 63-hour flight covered a total of 5,670 miles. A subsequent flight went from Moscow to San Jacinto, California, a distance of 7,100 miles. Plans to convert the aircraft into a bomber did not materialize. Three variants were produced, and a replica is on display at the Monino aviation museum.
June 22, 1906 – The birth of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and an accomplished aviator herself. She became the first American woman to earn a glider pilot license in 1930 and, with her husband, she explored and charted intercontinental air routes. For this work, she and Charles were awarded the Hubbard Medal by the National Geographic Society and the US Flag Association Cross of Honor. The mapping trip covered 40,000 miles of flying and included visits to five continents. Lindbergh was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1979, as well as the International Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame. She died in 2001 at the age of 94.
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