Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from June 27 through June 30.
June 30, 1968 – The first flight of the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy. It’s unclear as to whether it was Napoleon Bonaparte or Frederick the Great who made the famous observation on military logistics that “An army travels on its stomach,” though it is a truism that continues from the earliest days of war into our modern jet age. However, an army doesn’t only need beans; it needs bullets, all manner of materiel, and it also needs to get soldiers to the battle. WWII, fought in two theaters on opposite sides of the planet, demonstrated the need for truly global logistics, and the US Air Force joined the age of strategic jet transport following the war when the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter entered service in 1965. But even before the Starlifter took flight, Lockheed was working on a larger hauler, and what they ended up with was one of the largest aircraft in the world at the time.
Work on a bigger hauler began in 1961 when manufacturers took part in a program to develop an aircraft that would serve as both a replacement for the Douglas C-133 Cargomaster turboprop cargo aircraft and as a complement to the C-141. The Air Force needed something that could carry larger vehicles and equipment and have a maximum takeoff weight (MOT) of 600,000 pounds, but could still operate from the same runways used by the Starlifter. That requirement was then amended to an aircraft that could deliver a payload of 125,000 pounds at a distance of 8,000 miles, essentially doubling the payload for half the distance of the original requirement. Boeing, Douglas, and Lockheed all submitted proposals in 1964, and General Electric began work to develop an engine that was capable of moving a plane with a 700,000 pound MOT. Though Boeing’s design was deemed better than Lockheed’s, Lockheed won the contract, in large part because they were the lower bidder. The Air Force awarded a production contract to Lockheed in 1965, and the GE TF39 high-bypass turbofan was chosen at the same time.
Following the Galaxy’s maiden flight, the first production aircraft were delivered in December 1969, and 81 C-5As were delivered by the end of 1973. The new heavy lifter immediately showed its mettle by carrying personnel and materiel to Europe and Southeast Asia, and provided logistical support in the waning years of the Vietnam War. The Galaxy played a major role in transporting soldiers and materiel during the Gulf War, and it continues to support operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The C-5 is also the largest aircraft to fly to the Antarctic. It’s low cargo deck, with doors in both front and back, allows drive-through loading, and its wide girth meant that the Military Airlift Command could now transport any vehicle in the US inventory and twice as much payload as the C-141. The Galaxy can accommodate two M1 Abrams main battle tanks plus two Bradley Fighting Vehicles, or up to six Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. The main deck can transport up to 270 troops.
The Galaxy has proven to be a cargo workhorse, but all that heavy lifting meant that the wings needed replacing by the 1980s to extend their service life, and the C-5 AMP program will refit existing aircraft with modern avionics, and Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program (RERP) will fit new General Electric CF6 turbofans and make other upgrades to the airframe. These new aircraft are dubbed the C-5M Super Galaxy, and the updated aircraft are expected to serve until at least 2040.
June 27, 1976 – The hijacking of Air France Flight 139. Air France Flight 139, an Airbus A300 (F-BVGG), departed Tel Aviv, Israel carrying 246 passengers and flew to Athens, Greece where hijackers secretly boarded the plane along with other passengers. After departing for Paris, the hijackers took over the plane and flew it first to Libya, then Entebbe, Uganda. The hijackers demanded $5 million and the release of Palestinian militants, many of who were held in Israeli jails. On July 4, following unsuccessful negotiations, Israeli commandos stormed the airport where the hostages were being held and killed the hijackers, along with three hostages who were caught in the crossfire. One commando was killed by Ugandan soldiers as the hostages boarded planes to be flown out of the country.
June 29, 2011 – KLM is the world’s first airline to operate a flight using biofuel. Aviation currently represents 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, a number that is expected to rise significantly in the coming years, having already accounted for an 87% rise in greenhouse gas emissions in Europe alone between 1990-2006. One method sought to reduce these emissions is through the use of aviation biofuel, and NASA research has shown that a 50/50 mixture of aviation biofuel can cut air pollution caused by air traffic by as much as 70%. Following successful aviation industry tests which began 2007, KLM was the first to fly revenue passengers from Amsterdam to Paris in a Boeing 737-800 powered by used cooking oil. Work is continuing in the field in the hopes of producing a sustainable source of fuel that does not compete with the production of food or consume too much agricultural land.
June 29, 2007 – The first flight of the Piasecki X-49, an experimental compound helicopter designed to provide increased range and speed over traditional helicopters. Because of the limitations of their design, traditional helicopters are limited to about 260 mph, and the US Army’s Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, its standard utility helicopter, has a top speed of only 183 mph. The X-49 is a Sikorsky YSH-60F Seahawk that has been fitted with a vectored thrust ducted propeller (VTDP) and short swept wings in the hopes that the helicopter can reach speeds of up to 230 mph or more. The X-49 has made more than 80 test flights, and the concept remains under development.
June 29, 1995 – The first flight of the Bell 407, a civil utility helicopter that was derived from the extremely successful Bell 206 LongRanger. Where the earlier 206 employed a two-bladed rotor, the 407 employs a four-bladed rotor and hub that was developed as part of the US Army’s OH-58D Kiowa Warrior program. The rotor blades and hub, constructed from lightweight composites, have no life limits, and a more powerful Rolls-Royce/Allison 250/C47 engine increases the maximum takeoff weight and improves performance in hotter temperatures and at higher altitudes. Over 1,000 have been built, and the 407 remains in production, proving popular with civil authorities, offshore transport, and as an air ambulance.
June 29, 1963 – The first flight of the Saab 105, a two-seat training aircraft that began as a private venture by Saab in hopes that the Swedish Air Force would select it to replace the de Havilland Vampire. Adopted by the Swedish Air Force in 1967 as the Sk 60, the 105 features side-by-side seating for better communication between the pilots and, though originally designed as a trainer, the 105 can be outfitted with either ground attack or air-to-air munitions depending on the mission. In addition to the crew of two, a small bench behind the pilots can accommodate two passengers. Following an engine upgrade, the 105 remains in service with Sweden and Austria, though Sweden is currently investigating a replacement for their older aircraft. Just under 200 were built between 1963-1972.
June 29, 1962 – The first flight of the Vickers VC10, a long-range airliner that was developed to operate on long-distance routes while still having the capability to operate from shorter runways and in hotter temperatures than contemporary airliners. The VC10 was powered by 4 Rolls-Royce Conway turbofan engines mounted on the tail and, with a top speed of 580 mph, the VC10 holds the record for the fastest atlantic crossing by a subsonic airliner. The VC10 was introduced with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) in 1964, and proved enormously popular for its load capacity, speed, and relatively quiet operation compared to other airliners. The VC10 also served the RAF as a transport, VIP and aerial tanker. A total of 54 were built, and it was retired from RAF service in 2013.
June 30, 1977 – President Jimmy Carter cancels the Rockwell B-1 Lancer. Following the cancellation of the North American XB-70 Valkyrie program to develop a supersonic successor to the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, the process was restarted under the Nixon Administration and work on a new supersonic bomber began anew. But with the arrival of the MiG-25, and its MiG-31 successor with look-down shoot-down radar, the viability of the new bomber was put into question, and the program was canceled by the Carter Administration in the face of spiraling budgets and the development of cruise missiles. The program was subsequently restored by the Reagan Administration in 1981, with the development of the more advanced B-1B which first flew in 1974 and remains in service today.
June 30, 1956 – Two airliners collide in midair over the Grand Canyon. At approximately 10:30 am, TWA Flight 2, a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation en route from Los Angeles to Kansas City collided in midair with United Airlines Flight 718, a Douglas DC-7 Mainliner flying from Los Angeles to Chicago. The wreckage rained down on a remote part of the Grand Canyon and resulted in the deaths of all 128 passengers and crew on both flights. Evidence indicates that at least one of the airliners spotted the other and initiated unsuccessful evasive maneuvers before the aircraft collided, and investigators indicated that the pilots likely did not see each other in time due to clouds, poor cockpit visibility, and high cockpit workload. The crash was the deadliest to date on US soil, and led to the creation of the Federal Aviation Agency (later the Federal Aviation Administration) in 1958 to give the office total authority over American airspace. The disaster also helped spur the modernization of air traffic control.
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