Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from June 29 through July 2.
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 the logistics of warfare that “An army travels on its stomach,” though it is a truism that lasted 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. Fought in two theaters on opposite sides of the planet, WWII demonstrated the need for truly global logistics and, following the war, the US Air Force joined the age of strategic jet transport when the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter entered service in 1965. But no sooner had that remarkable aircraft made its first flight than the Air Force began looking for something even bigger, and ended up with what was at the time one of the largest aircraft in the world.
Work on a large strategic heavy-lifter 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 smaller C-141. The Air Force needed something that could carry larger vehicles and equipment, 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.
July 2, 1937 – Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappear over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to circumnavigate the globe. The history of aviation has had many important contributors, but for the most part, those contributions were made by men. Not because men were more capable of building or flying aircraft, but simply because society didn’t believe that flying was an appropriate endeavor for women. The Wright Brothers refused to train female pilots (though their sister Katherine rode with Wilbur and became the first American woman to fly in a plane), and the British aviation pioneer Claude Grahame-White went so far as to say, “...women lack qualities which make for safety in aviation. They are temperamentally unfit for the sport.” The fact that Grahame-White saw flying as a sport is telling, but he was not alone in his views. Still, many women fought for their rightful place in the field, and those pioneering aviatrixes gained notoriety and broke barriers that helped create opportunities for those who followed.
Amelia Earhart was smitten with aviation at a young age, and took her first flying lessons in 1921. Soon after, she purchased her first airplane, a Kinner Airster biplane that she named The Canary. She became a celebrity in 1928 as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, though she was merely a passenger and did no piloting. On arriving in Wales, Earhart told a reporter, “...maybe someday I’ll try it alone.” Four years later she did just that when she piloted a Lockheed Vega from Newfoundland to Ireland and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross as the first woman to pilot a plane across the Atlantic. Earhart made subsequent solo flights and set numerous records, but she had her heart set on the greatest feat that had not yet been accomplished by a female pilot: a flight around the world.
Earhart made her first attempt in March 1937 flying westward, but that flight ended in Hawaii after a takeoff crash damaged her aircraft. For her second attempt, she teamed with experienced navigator Fred Noonan, and the pair began an eastward journey with an unpublicized flight from Oakland to Miami in Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10 Electra. Once in Miami, Earhart publicly announced her intention to fly around the world. On June 1, 1937, Earhart and Noonan departed from Miami and made stops in South America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia before arriving in Lae, New Guinea on June 29 after covering roughly 22,000 miles. The Pacific Ocean was their last big obstacle.
The pair departed from Lae on July 2 at midnight GMT and headed for Howland Island, a tiny speck of land 2,556 miles away. The Coast Guard cutter Itasca was on station at Howland to guide them by radio for the final part of their flight. As they approached Howland, Earhart and Noonan made contact with Itasca, but problems with the radio set meant that the crew of Itasca could hear Earhart, but Earhart and Noonan could not hear Itasca. The ship sent out tracking signals, but the fact that Earhart didn’t home in on them indicates that there may have been a problem with the Electra’s direction finder as well. At one point, Earhart radioed, “We must be on you, but cannot see you—but gas is running low.” She requested that Itasca send voice signals so she could take a radio bearing, and the strength of the signal received by the cutter meant that her Electra was very close, yet could not be seen. Earhart’s final transmission indicated that they believed they were near Howland; however, they had likely missed it by as few as five miles. Unable to contact the plane by radio, Itasca sent up smoke signals from the ship’s boilers in hopes that they would be seen, but to no avail. After those few radio calls, Earhart and Noonan were never seen nor heard from again.
Search efforts lasted until July 19 and, despite the best efforts of the Coast Guard and Navy, no trace of the Earhart or Noonan, or the Electra, was ever found. Some believe that Earhart and Noonan simply ran out of fuel and came down in the Pacific. Another theory is that they landed at Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro, an uninhabited coral atoll in the Phoenix Islands, and were stranded there until they eventually died. Others suggest that photographic evidence places Earhart in the Marshall Islands, a prisoner of the Japanese Army, though those claims have largely been discredited. Searchers have also turned up evidence that they claim are parts of Earhart’s Electra, and even a skeleton and a shoe. But the evidence is circumstantial, and the mystery of their disappearance remains unsolved to this day.
June 29, 2011 – KLM becomes the world’s first airline to operate a flight using biofuel. Aviation currently represents 2% 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 recommenced. 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.
July 1, 1976 – The National Air and Space Museum opens in Washington, DC. Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the NASM holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world and, with 7.4 million visitors in 2016, it is the 2nd most-visited museum in the world and the most visited museum in the US. The NASM was originally established in 1946 as the National Air Museum, and today it displays some of the most important aircraft in the history of aviation, including the Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1, and the North American X-15, as well as spacecraft such as the Friendship 7 capsule and the Apollo 11 command module. In addition to its collection in Washington, DC, the NASM operates the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility in Maryland and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport that houses pieces of the museums’s vast collection that do not fit in the building on the Washington Mall.
July 1, 1973 – The death of Laurens Hammond. Hammond is not a household name in aviation history, as he is best known for his invention of the Hammond Organ, the Hammond electric clock, and the Novachord, the world’s first polyphonic music synthesizer. Born on January 11, 1895, Hammond served as an engineer in WWI and worked as an inventor after the war. During WWII, he developed bomb and missile guidance systems, and was awarded patents for infrared and light-sensing bomb guidance systems. He also developed a new gyroscope that was less sensitive to the cold of high altitude, as well as controls for a gliding bomb, the forerunner of the modern guided missile.
July 1, 1933 – The first flight of the Douglas DC-1, the first model of the DC (Douglas Commercial) airliner series that found its greatest success with the DC-3. Development of the DC-1 began in 1931 after the high-profile crash of a Fokker F.10 trimotor that suffered a structural failure which was traced to its wooden wings. With Boeing selling its successful Model 247 exclusively to United Airlines, TWA approached Douglas to build an all-metal airliner for them. Though only one DC-1 was built, rigorous testing showed it to be significantly superior to the aircraft it was meant to replace, and it formed the basis for the improved DC-2, which entered service with TWA in 1934 and saw nearly 200 built.
July 1, 1912 – The death of Harriet Quimby. Born on May 11, 1875, Quimby became the first woman to earn a pilot’s license in the United States in 1911, and her exploits were an inspiration to many women of her day who railed against male-dominated society. Quimby was hired as a spokesperson by the Vin Fiz Company, and became the first woman to fly across the English Channel in 1912, a feat that was unfortunately overshadowed by news of the sinking of the Titanic just one day later. Quimby was killed during a flight when, for unknown reasons, her Blériot XI monoplane suddenly pitched forward, ejecting both her and her passenger at an altitude of 1,500 feet. Ironically, the plane came to earth relatively undamaged.
July 2, 1959 – The first flight of the Kaman SH-2 Seasprite, an all-weather, high-speed helicopter designed to fulfill the role of anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, light cargo transport, and liaison. The single main rotor was a design departure for Kaman, which was best known for their dual, intermeshing rotor designs that eliminate the need for a tail rotor. The original Seasprite was powered by a single General Electric T58 turboshaft engine with an anti-torque rotor at the tail. But with the SH-2 entered service in 1962, it was quickly found to be underpowered. In response, Kaman added a second turboshaft engine, with both engines housed in external pods. Nearly 200 Seasprites were produced, and they served primarily with the US Navy and the Royal New Zealand Air Force before being retired by the US Navy in 1993.
July 2, 1943 – Lt. Charles Hall becomes the first African-American pilot to shoot down a German plane in WWII. A native of Brazil, Indiana, Hall flew with the 99th Pursuit Squadron and was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. Following the deployment of his unit in support of the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, Hall’s squadron was tasked with escorting a flight of Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers in an attack on Castelvetrano in southwestern Sicily. When the flight was attacked by Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, Hall turned his Curtiss P-40 Warhawk to intercept and downed one, the first of three victories he would score in service with the 99th. After returning to the US, Hall reached the rank of major in the US Air Force before his retirement in 1967. Hall died in 1971.
July 2, 1900 – Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin flies the first rigid airship. Count Zeppelin first expressed his ideas about building rigid airships in 1874, perhaps inspired by his time in the US observing the balloon camp of Thaddeus Lowe during the Civil War. After a stint in the military, Zeppelin devoted all of his time to the development of a rigid airship, and he built and flew the first rigid airship, LZ 1, from a floating hangar on Lake Constance in southern Germany. Constructed using a cylindrical metal framework covered with cotton cloth and lifted by 17 gas cells made from rubberized cotton, the LZ 1 was small by later standards, and carried just five passengers. The first of three flights covered a distance of 3.7 miles in 17 minutes before a malfunction led to a forced landing. But Zeppelin started a revolution of airship design and, by 1914, his airships had transported over 37,000 passengers on over 1,600 flights without incident.
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