Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from May 27 through May 30.


May 27, 1958 – The first flight of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. In our modern military, the multi-role fighter aircraft has become the mainstay of the US Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. During WWII, specialized aircraft had taken on their individual missions, but the 1950s saw a move to aircraft that could be equally effective in the roles of ground attack, air superiority and, for the Navy, fleet defense. But with the adoption of multi-role aircraft came a significant increase in size, complexity, and cost. As the Korean War drew to a close, McDonnell Douglas began an internal project to develop a new fighter that they hoped would be of interest to the US Navy. Using their F3H Demon as a starting point, McDonnell began by adding more powerful engines, fitting two General Electric J79 axial-flow turbojets that would eventually propel the new fighter to speeds approaching Mach 2. The Navy was interested, but they already had two aircraft under development at the time, the Grumman XF9F-9 (F-11) Tiger and the Vought XF8U-1 (F-8) Crusader, both of which could adequately cover their need for a supersonic fighter.

The predecessor to the Phantom, a mock up of the development of the F3H Demon. The classic Phantom lines are apparent, but note the lack of upturned wingtips and downturned horizontal stabilizer.

What the Navy needed was an all-weather fighter-bomber that could attack targets day or night and in any weather, and could also serve as a fleet defense interceptor. So the Navy asked McDonnell to redesign their fighter to take on all of these missions. McDonnell’s initial offering would need some work, and the result was the odd assortment of competing up and down wing angles that made the Phantom instantly recognizable. Wind tunnel testing indicated an instability that could be cured most effectively by a 5-degree dihedral (upward sweep) to the wings. However, changing the design at this point in the Phantom’s development would require a complete redesign of the titanium central section, at the cost of significant time and money. So McDonnell engineers gave just the wingtips a 12-degree dihedral, and the Phantom’s iconic upswept wingtips were born. The Phantom also received another one of its characteristic features, the anhedral (downswept) elevators. These were declined at 23-degrees to improve handling at high angles of attack. For the interceptor role, the Phantom needed a powerful radar, as well as a second crewman to operate it. In the early Phantoms, the rear seat was occupied by a pilot sitting “in the hole,” but later variants replaced the pilot with a radar intercept officer (RIO). Once the Navy accepted the new fighter, it was given the designation F4H-1, and McDonnell delivered 45 of these aircraft, essentially pre-production Phantoms that were eventually reclassified as the F-4A.

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The YF4H-1 prototype on its maiden flight.

The F-4A was followed by the F-4B, which was given upgraded J79 engines and a more powerful radar. By now, the US Air Force was showing interest in McDonnell’s new interceptor, and, as part of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s push to have one fighter serve all the flying branches of the military, the Air Force took 29 aircraft on loan from the Navy before eventually ordering their own. Initially, the Air Force designated the aircraft as the F-110A Spectre, but finally settled on calling it the F-4C. With the Air Force’s adoption of the Phantom, it marked the first time that all three fixed-wing aviation branches of the US military—Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps—flew the same fighter. In a relatively short time, the Phantom began setting records for speed and altitude, eventually garnering 16 world records, all of them set in unmodified production aircraft. The Phantom was soon fighting in the skies over Vietnam, where it became the principal ground attack aircraft and air superiority fighter, with pilots or RIOs of both the Navy and Air Force becoming aces flying the F-4. But despite these victories, the Phantom was hampered by its reliance on guided missiles in combat. When the Phantom was initially designed, the Air Force felt that the age of the gun had passed into the age of the missile, and the Phantom did not have an internal gun for close range engagements. To make matters worse, early missiles were unreliable, and failed to hit their targets. This shortcoming was eventually addressed by the addition of a rotary cannon mounted in a pod underneath the fuselage, though it proved difficult to use in combat, and the F-4E was finally fitted with an internal gun. In addition to its fighter and attack duties, the F-4 proved to be an excellent reconnaissance aircraft as the RF-4, and was also developed into an electronic warfare variant known as the F-4G Wild Weasel, both of which served long enough to see action in the Gulf War of 1990 before being retired for good in 1996, and many F-4s ended their life as QF-4 target drones. The Phantom was widely exported, and a handful of nations still operate the Phantom to this day. By the time production ended in 1981, McDonnell had delivered just under 5,200 Phantoms. (US Navy photos; McDonnell photo) 


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May 27, 1955 – The first flight of the Sud Aviation Caravelle. Air travel officially entered the Jet Age in 1949 with the first flight of the de Havilland Comet. Though the Comet was a relatively large aircraft but the standards of its day, its early configurations carried only 36 passengers, due in part to very few seats being placed in the spacious cabin, a luxury by today’s standards. But soon after its introduction, the Comet suffered a series of high profile crashes due to the square shape of its cabin windows, and it was removed from service until the problem could be solved. The aviation industry was ripe for a challenger, and the Sud Aviation Caravelle was waiting in the wings. In 1951, a year before the Comet entered service, the French Comité du matériel civil (civil aircraft committee) announced specifications for a new medium-range airliner that could accommodate 55-65 passengers, have a cruising speed of 370 mph and a range of 1,200 miles, though they did not specify the type or number of engines to be used. They received no less that 20 proposals of varying designs, most of which employed the new turbojets that were coming into use at the time. By March 1952, the committee had winnowed the list down to three entrants, one of which was proposed by Société national des constructions aéronautiques du Sud-Est, better known as Sud-Est or SNCASE. The SNCASE design was originally powered by three engines, but with the arrival of more powerful Rolls-Royce Avon RA.7 engines it became clear that two engines would be sufficient and the tail-mounted engine was removed. The other two engines were left on the rear fuselage rather than moved to the wing, with the benefit of making the passenger cabin quieter during flight. The nose section of the Caravelle was a direct copy of that of the Comet, which Sud licensed from de Havilland. After the experience of the square windows in the Comet, the Caravelle was given its distinctive teardrop shaped windows, which maintained the strength of the fuselage while also allowing passengers to look downward. The lack of engine pods under the wing resulted in an aerodynamically clean wing which was given a 20-degree sweep. Unwittingly, the Sud designers had created the template for almost all future, rear-engined aircraft to come. Air France placed the first orders for the new airliner in 1956, followed by SAS a year later, and the Caravelle entered service with both carriers in 1959.

A SE-210 Caravelle Type VI R belonging to United Air photographed in 1965 at Atlanta

The Caravelle became an instant success, and eventually served air carriers in forty-seven nations, as well as the militaries and governments of twelve nations. United Airlines was the sole US operator of the Caravelle with the purchase of twenty airliners which entered service in 1961. As the Caravelle became more and more popular, Sud Aviation (as it became known following the merger of Sud-Est and Sud-Ouest in 1957) continued development of the airliner with eight variants following the original production model, mostly with improved engines. By the sixth variant, the Caravelle 10R, the Rolls-Royce turbojets had given way to Pratt & Whitney JT8D low-bypass turbofan engines, the same ones used at the time on the comparable Douglas DC-9 and larger Boeing 707. By the final variant, the Caravelle 12, the length of the fuselage had been stretched thirteen feet and passenger capacity had grown to 140. A total of 282 Caravelles were produced between 1958-1972, and the last Caravelle was retired in 2005. (Photo by RuthAS via Wikimedia Commons; photo by John Proctor via Wikimedia Commons)

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May 29, 1940 – The first flight of the Vought F4U Corsair. In the world of a fighter pilot, speed is life. So when the US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) requested proposals for a new single-engine fighter in early 1938, they stipulated that the fighter must provide the maximum speed obtainable, and that meant that it would have to be fitted with the most powerful engine available, along with the biggest propeller. Following the unsuccessful Vought V-141/V-143 (which were actually developed from an aircraft originally designed by Northrop), Vought design team leader Rex Beisel took the same basic design of the earlier aircraft but made it considerably larger, and gave the prototype XF4U-1 a prototype 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney XR-2800 Double Wasp twin row radial engine, marking the first time that the Double Wasp was fitted in an aircraft, an engine that would go on to power some of the most iconic military aircraft in history. In the early Corsair, the Double Wasp provided 1,805 hp and, when mated with the largest propeller ever fitted on a fighter up to that time, the Corsair became the first single-engine US fighter to exceed 400 mph in level flight. And it was that large propeller that gave the Corsair its iconic inverted gull wing. The shape of the wing actually had nothing at to all do with aerodynamics or performance; rather, the bend in the wing was to provide clearance for the huge propeller and to allow for shorter landing struts. The fully retractable oleo struts were also a first for a US Navy fighter, and the anhedral center portion of the wing housed the Corsair’s oil coolers. By the time the F4U-1 entered production, some significant changes had taken place in the design. The original armament of two .30 caliber machine guns mounted in the engine cowling and two .50 caliber machine guns in the wings gave way to six .50 caliber guns in the wings. To make way for the guns, the cockpit was moved aft and the wing fuel tanks were relocated to a larger self-sealing tank ahead of the cockpit. This arrangement gave the Corsair its recognizable long nose while preserving the aircraft’s center of gravity. A more powerful Double Wasp engine now provided the Corsair with 2,000 hp. Later production models added water injection for still more power, a plexiglass canopy, and a raised seat to aid visibility over the long nose. But even with the improved visibility, Corsair pilots still had trouble seeing over the nose during carrier landings, and this led to the US Navy’s initial refusal to accept the Corsair for carrier operations. Since the Navy already had the Grumman F6F Hellcat, which was powered by the same Double Wasp Engine, the Corsair became the primary weapon of land-based US Marine Corps units, who flew the F4U with devastating effectiveness in the Pacific Theater, where it became known to the Japanese as “Whistling Death.” It wasn’t until the British devised a turning landing procedure that allowed the pilot to see the deck until the last part of the landing pattern that the Navy accepted it as a carrier fighter. Marine Corps pilots also proved that the Corsair could be an effective ground attack platform, particularly in the close air support mission (CAS) in support of Marine landing forces.

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F4U-4 Corsair over Korea in 1951

While many WWII fighters were retired at the end of the war in favor of new turbojet powered fighters, the Corsair’s speed, power and range ensured its continued Navy and Marine Corps service. The Corsair saw extensive action in the Korean War, where it was used primarily in the CAS role and, though outclassed by the new Russian jet fighters, Marine pilot Capt. Jesse Folmar still managed to shoot down a MiG-15 while flying a Corsair. The Corsair proved to be a robust yet flexible platform, and no less than 16 variants were developed throughout its service life, including the addition of cannon armament, a wing-mounted radar pod for night fighting, and the addition of superchargers. Over 12,500 Corsairs were built between 1942-1953, the longest production run for any American piston-powered fighter, so many that Vought had to enlist the aid of Goodyear and Brewster to help build the fighter during the war. Of that number, roughly 45 remain airworthy or under restoration. (Photo by the author; US Navy photo)


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May 29, 1935 – The first flight of the Messerschmitt Bf 109. In the years leading up to WWII, Germany was working all out to rebuild its air force following the harsh restrictions placed on the country by the Treaty of Versailles that ended WWI. Though Germany was technically restricted from creating any new weapons of war, civilian designers nevertheless forged ahead with new aircraft that could easily take on fighting roles, and, by the time the Bf 109 took its first flight, it heralded the end of the biplane era and the ascendancy of the monoplane fighter. The first truly modern fighter of its day, the Bf 109 featured the first operational use of all-metal monocoque construction, retractable landing gear, and an enclosed cockpit. The Bf 109 (often erroneously called the Me 109) was developed as one part of a four-part requirement for new military aircraft put forth by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Ministry of Aviation) in 1933. The requirement called for a single-seat fighter with a top speed of 250 mph and a rate of climb that would allow the fighter to reach 20,000 feet in a minimum of 17 minutes. Arado, Heinkel, Focke-Wulf and the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bf), led by Willy Messerschmitt, all submitted designs, with the Messerschmitt aircraft declared the winner due in large part to its higher speed, better rate of climb and superior diving characteristics. Messerschmitt’s new fighter was powered by the new Junkers Jumo 210 inverted V-12 engine but, not without a touch of irony, the prototype’s first flight was powered by a British-made Rolls-Royce Kestrel mounted vertically, since the Jumo was not yet ready. In the production models, the use of inverted engines provided certain benefits over the more traditional mounting, such as improved visibility over a narrower nose, greater ease of maintenance in the field, and a lower center of mass that improved handling. It also allowed for the placement of a cannon that fired through the propeller spinner, while the propeller itself was turned by a series of gears. The Bf 109 was an immediate success, setting numerous speed records in the years prior to the war, and a specially prepared Bf 109 set a speed record for piston aircraft that stood until 1969.

Bf 109E with desert camouflage off the cost of North Africa in 1941

The 109 saw its first action in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), which the Luftwaffe used as a dress rehearsal for the coming invasion of Poland. Development of the 109 continued throughout the war, with refinements of the design to increase handling and the fitting of ever more powerful Jumo engines to increase speed. Though more advanced fighters, such as the radial-engined Focke-Wulf Fw 190, were introduced throughout the conflict, the Bf 109 remained the backbone of the Luftwaffe throughout the war, and proved to be a very effective fighter, particularly against more poorly trained Russian pilots on the Eastern Front. Bf 109 pilots accounted for more aerial victories than any other aircraft in the war, with the highest scoring ace in history, Erich Hartmann, claiming an astonishing 352 victories, most against Russia, and Hans-Joachim Marseille, fighting against significantly better opponents in North Africa, scoring 154 victories. The 109 was widely exported to countries allied to Germany, and though most German aircraft were retired after the war, the 109 continued to serve foreign air forces, particularly the Swiss and Finnish air forces, who flew their 109s into the mid-1950s. By any metric, the Bf 109 was a remarkable fighter, but perhaps most telling is the sheer number of aircraft built. By the end of production, nearly 34,000 Bf 109s of all types had been produced, making it the second-most produced combat aircraft in history behind the Russian Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik. (Photo by D. Miller via Wikimedia Commons; Australian government photo)

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May 30, 1958 – The first flight of the Douglas DC-8. By the end of WWII, the turbojet engine was clearly the future of aviation. But Douglas Aircraft, who had a commanding lead in the production of piston-powered airliners reaching all the way back to the early 1930s with the DC-2 (DC stands for Douglas Commercial), still saw no need to rush headlong into the new technology. Douglas was still well-placed in the airliner market with their extremely successful DC-6, and the DC-7, its final piston airliner, was still in development and didn’t take its made flight until 1953. De Havilland had produced the world’s first turbojet-powered airliner with the Comet, but a series of fatal crashes led airlines to shy away from the jet airliners, even though the Comet crashes were traced to metal fatigue around its large, square windows and had nothing at all to do with its turbojet engines. But in 1949, Douglas sensed the need to develop their own jetliner when Boeing rolled out the 367-80 (Dash 80), an aircraft that was designed for the US Air Force as a jet-powered aerial tanker that would eventually be adopted as the KC-135 Stratotanker. Despite its military designation, the implications for the future of airliner design were clear. In 1952, Douglas began their own studies for the development of a four-engine jetliner, also hoping to compete for a lucrative defense contract. Ultimately left out of the tanker competition, Douglas moved ahead with their airliner design, and announced the DC-8 in 1955. Following consultations with the airlines, they modified their prototype to allow for six-abreast seating and offered four different versions of the jetliner, though in a fateful decision, the variants only offered options for different engine or fuel loads. Douglas refused to offer the DC-8 in any other fuselage lengths, a decision that ultimately hampered sales when pitted against the Boeing 707.

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DC-8-63F freighter

The DC-8 entered service with Delta Air Lines and United Airlines in 1959, though Douglas’ decision to limit production to a single fuselage size led the airlines also to purchase similar but more flexible offerings from Boeing, and Convair, who offered their 880 airliner. It wasn’t until 1965 that Douglas began offering a stretched DC-8, called the Super Sixty. The lengthened airliner now accommodated up to 269 passengers, a mark that was not surpassed until the arrival of the Boeing 747 in 1970. And even though the 707 is by far the most well-known airliner of the era, Douglas (now McDonnell Douglas following the merger of the two companies in 1967) would have the last laugh. While nearly twice the number of 707s and 720s were produced by Boeing, just 80 remained in service by 2002. The DC-8, however, which proved to be an excellent cargo aircraft after its passenger-carrying days were over, could boast 200 aircraft still in service. And by 2013, 36 DC-8s were still in service worldwide. (Photo by Richard Vandervord via Wikimedia Commons; photo by Montague Smith via Wikimedia Commons)


Short Takeoff


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May 28, 2017 – The first flight of the Irkut MC-21, a narrow-body twin-engine airliner developed by the Yakovlev Design Bureau and produced by the Irkut Corporation, a subsidiary of Russian state-owned United Aircraft Corporation, the same company that produced the Sukhoi Su-30 family of multi-role fighters. Developed as a replacement for the aging Tupolev Tu-154 trijet, the MC-21 features a carbon fiber reinforced polymer wing and is powered by either Pratt & Whitney PW1000G or Aviadvigatel PD-14 turbofan engines. Irkut plans to produce the airliner in two lengths that will accommodate up to 165 (MC-21-200) or 211 (MC-21-300) passengers in a single-class configuration, and touts its new airliner as being more efficient than its Boeing or Airbus counterparts. As of June 2016, 175 orders had been placed for the new airliner, with Aeroflot announced as the launch customer. The MC-21 is expected to enter service in 2018. (Photo by Denis Fedorko via Wikimedia Commons)


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May 28, 2010 – The Solar Impulse 1 solar-powered aircraft makes its first flight powered by solar energy. Solar Impulse 1 (HB-SIA) is a long-range, experimental aircraft developed to demonstrate the viability of solar power for extended flight and to promote clean technologies with the goal of circumnavigating the globe in an aircraft powered only by the sun. Following an 87-minute flight on April 2, 2010, Solar Impulse 1 made its first entirely-solar powered flight, with the aircraft’s batteries charged during the flight. Solar Impulse 1 was followed by Solar Impulse 2, which carries more solar cells and a more powerful engine. Departing Abu Dhabi in March of 2015, pilots André Borschenberg and Bertand Piccard, flying Solar Impulse 2, began a circumnavigation of globe which was completed on July 13, 2016. (Photo by Brussels Airport via Wikimedia Commons)


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May 28, 1997 – Linda Finch completes a recreation of Amelia Earhart’s failed attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Finch, an aviatrix and businesswoman from San Antonio, TX, took off on March 17 in a restored 1935 Lockheed Model 10 Electra that had been prepared identically to Earhart’s plane. Her flight took 10 weeks to complete while flying legs of 8 to 18 hours at a time while stopping at 36 different locations in 18 countries and covering approximately 26,000 miles. Finch’s Electra was acquired by the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington where it will be displayed. (Author’s note: March 17 is the departure date for Earhart’s first attempt at circumnavigating the globe which ended in Hawaii following a takeoff accident. The second attempt, in which Earhart and copilot Fred Noonan disappeared, was begun on July 2, 1937.) (Finch photo by Frank Vargo via Wikimedia Commons; Electra photo via Museum of Flight)


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May 28, 1987 – Mathias Rust lands in Red Square. Rust, an 18-year-old aviator from West Germany with only 50 hours of flying time, hoped to hasten the end of the Cold War by creating what he called an “imaginary bridge” between East and West. Departing from Hamburg on May 13 in a Cessna 172 modified to carry extra fuel, the inexperienced Rust flew first to the Faroe Islands, then Norway and Finland. Departing Helsinki on May 28, he told air traffic controllers he planned to fly to Stockholm, but soon after departure turned his plane toward Moscow and deactivated the plane’s transponder. Rust’s plane was detected on Russian radars, fighters were scrambled and missiles were targeted, but confusion reigned among the Russian air defenses and Rust flew on unmolested until he landed his Cessna on a bridge and taxied into the middle of Red Square. In a way, Rust’s plan to help bring an end to the Cold War was successful, as the veneer of invincibility had been removed from the Russian military, and many of the old, entrenched Russian officers who bungled the interception of Rust’s plane were ousted by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, helping to pave the way for reforms that ultimately led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. (Photo via englishrussia.com)


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May 28, 1971 – WWII hero Audie Murphy is killed in a plane crash. Murphy was one of the most highly decorated American service members in WWII, receiving every combat award possible from the US Army, as well as awards from the French and Belgian governments for his heroism in combat. Following the war, Murphy enjoyed a successful acting career, documenting his exploits in the 1955 film To Hell and Back. On the night of his death, Murphy was a passenger in an Aero Commander 680 Super as the plane flew through rain and fog with zero visibility. The pilot, though experienced, was not rated for instrument flying, and was unfamiliar with the aircraft type. The plane crashed near Roanoke, Virginia, and the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the pilot’s decision to continue flying under visual flight rules (VFR) in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) caused the crash. (Aero Commander—not accident aircraft—photo via stinsonflyer.com; Murphy photo via US Army)


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May 29, 1951 – Capt. Charles Blair makes the first nonstop solo flight over the North Pole. After setting a speed record flying nonstop from New York to London at an average speed of 446 mph earlier in the same year, Blair set his sights on crossing the North Pole. Flying his North American P-51C Mustang named Excalibur III, Blair flew from Bardufoss, Norway to Fairbanks, Alaska nonstop, a flight that covered 3,260 miles. Blair was awarded the Harmon Trophy, as well as the Gold Medal of the Norwegian Aero Club. His aircraft is now on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Blair was killed in 1978 in the crash of a Grumman Goose he was piloting for Antilles Air Boats. (Photo by the author)


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May 29, 1944 – The US aircraft carrier USS Block Island is torpedoed near the Azores. Block Island (CVE-21) was a Bogue-class escort carrier commissioned on March 8, 1943 that entered service as an aircraft ferry and made two trips between New York City and Belfast before WWII. During the war, she operated as part of a hunter-killer group, making four anti-submarine cruises and taking part in the sinking of four German U-boats. While sailing off the coast of the Azores, Block Island was struck by three torpedoes from the German submarine U-549, which was in turn sunk by American destroyers. Remarkably, only 6 sailors were lost in the attack, with the other 951 picked up by members of the battle group. Block Island was the only American carrier lost in the Atlantic during WWII. (US Navy photo)


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May 29, 1934 – The Collier Trophy is awarded to Hamilton Standard Propeller Company for development of the controllable-pitch propeller. The controllable-pitch propeller (or variabile-pitch) is one in which the blades can be rotated along their long axis to alter the blade’s angle of attack as it passes through the air and increase the propeller’s efficiency. The hydraulically actuated propeller designed by Hamilton Standard allowed the pilot to have direct control over the propeller, a significant advance in aircraft technology. For their work, the company received the Collier Trophy, which is awarded for “the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.” (Photo via the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum)


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May 30, 1972 – The first flight of the Northrop YA-9, the unsuccessful competitor against the Fairchild Republic YA-10 (the eventual A-10 Thunderbolt II) for a dedicated close air support (CAS) aircraft. Both aircraft were designed around the General Electric GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon, though the Northrop prototype was armed with an M61 Vulcan 20mm gun, as the GAU-8 was still under development. While both designs showed promise, the YA-10 was selected after a fly-off between the two designs. Northrop built two prototypes, and both were given to NASA for further flight testing after the competition. One of the prototypes is on display at March Field Air Museum, and the other awaits restoration at Edwards Air Force Base in California. (US Air Force photo)


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May 30, 1971 – The launch of Mariner 9, an unmanned space probe launched by NASA to explore Mars, thus becoming the first spacecraft to orbit another planet. Part of the Mariner program, Mariner 9 was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop an Atlas-Centaur rocket and reached Mars on November 14, 1971, only just beating similar Russian probes by less than a month. Mariner 9's primary mission was to map the Martian surface, and the spacecraft also included a radiometer to detect volcanic activity on the planet’s surface. Before deactivation on October 27, 1972, Mariner 9 returned 7,329 images of Mars, as well as important data on the composition of the Martian atmosphere. Mariner 9 remains in Mars orbit, and is expected to fall from orbit and burn up in the Martian atmosphere sometime in 2022. (NASA photo)


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May 30, 1948 – The first flight of the Martin P5M Marlin, a flying boat developed by the Glenn L. Martin Company as a maritime patrol aircraft based on the earlier Martin PBM Mariner. The Marlin was notable for its use of a gull wing, which raised the engines higher above the surface of the water to keep them clear of the ocean spray. Later production models were modified with a T-tail to place the elevators higher above the water as well, and anti-submarine warfare variants were fitted with a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) boom to detect submarines. The Marlin entered service in 1952, and saw action in the Vietnam War, performing the last flying boat maritime patrols carried out by the US Navy. The Marlin also served with the US Coast Guard and French Navy, and was retired in 1967 after construction of 285 aircraft. (US Coast Guard photo)


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May 30, 1942 – The first bombing mission of Operation Millennium. During WWII, the Allies, particularly the US and Britain, were convinced of the effectiveness of heavy strategic bombing against German cities. Following the principles of Italian general Giulio Douhet, it was believed that heavy bombardment of civilian centers would hasten the end of war by breaking the morale of the population. Gathering together every flyable bomber they could muster, the RAF launched Operation Millennium against the German city of Cologne, putting over 1,000 bombers in the air for a single mission. The streams of bombers flew over the city for 90 minutes, dropping 1,500 tons of bombs into the city center. More so-called 1,000 bomber raids were carried out against other cities, but strategic bombing never had the desired effect on civilian morale, and German factory production actually increased steadily throughout the war. (Illustration via The National Archives UK)


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May 30, 1912 – The death of Wilbur Wright. Following the successful First Flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, the Wright Brothers worked tirelessly to improve their machine, to secure investors, and to protect their intellectual property. They also had to establish the fact that they were first at powered flight against mounting skepticism at home and abroad. The brothers started the Wright Company in 1909, but Wilbur spent many of his final years shuttling between the US and Europe fighting to protect their patents. Perhaps due to the strain of those trips, Wilbur fell ill with typhoid fever in May 1912 and died soon after at the age of 45. Following Wilbur’s death, Orville took over the leadership of their company, and died in 1948 at the age of 76, having lived from the first flight into the supersonic age of aviation. (Photos via the US Library of Congress)


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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. You can also find more stories about aviation and aviators at Wingspan and Planes You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of.

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