Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 1 through November 3.


November 2, 1947 – The first flight of the Hughes H-4 Hercules. There’s no question that Howard Hughes was an eccentric man. Known for his reclusive behavior, he was also one of the wealthiest people of his generation. Through his varied interests and investments, Hughes managed to grow a $1 million inheritance into a billion-dollar empire that encompassed interests in investing, film making, real estate and philanthropy. But to some, he is best known for his efforts in aviation, first with the formation of Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932 and later with his purchase of a controlling investment in Trans World Airlines in 1939. Hughes had a fascination with speed and air racing, and built the Hughes H-1 Racer, in which he set numerous speed records. The H-1 was also the last privately-developed aircraft to set a world speed record. He developed other aircraft for the US military, none of which were particularly successful, but ironically, Hughes is best known for his greatest failure, the H-4 Hercules.

Popularly known as the Spruce Goose, the Hercules was conceived early in WWII by shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser and built by Hughes Aircraft in the hopes of providing the US Army with a transatlantic cargo plane that would be capable of carrying either 150,000 pounds of cargo, 750 fully equipped troops, or two M4 Sherman tanks weighing 30 tons each. Hercules was an apt name for the plane, because it was a true behemoth and the largest flying boat ever built, and its wingspan of 320 feet 11 inches remains the longest in the history of aviation. In an effort to save weight and conserve metal, the Hercules was constructed almost entirely of birch (not spruce, but that doesn’t have quite the same poetic ring to it), and was powered by eight Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major radial engines each producing 3,000 horsepower. The H-4 was constructed in Hughes’ Los Angeles factory, then a house moving company transported the disassembled aircraft to Long Beach, where it was reassembled for flight testing.

The first and only flight of the Spruce Goose

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With Hughes at the controls, the Hercules made two uneventful taxi runs, then, on the third, Hughes lifted the Spruce Goose off the surface of the water. The giant aircraft rose to about 70 feet, flew at 135 mph for about a mile, then settled back onto the water—and never flew again. It is impossible to know if the Spruce Goose would have met its design objectives. Its first flight came more than two years after VJ Day and the US government was no longer interested in such a huge, propeller-powered cargo plane. The Spruce Goose was maintained in a climate-controlled hangar for 30 years, and eventually acquired by the Disney company, who had plans to develop a theme park around it, and placed on display in 1980. It was later transferred to the Aero Club of Southern California and now resides at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. (FAA photo; Los Angeles Times photo)


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November 2, 1943 – The first flight of the Grumman F7F Tigercat. During WWII, the piston powered fighter reached the zenith of its development. Unfortunately for the war effort, however, some of the greatest propeller planes ever produced came too late make a difference in the outcome of the war, and were soon displaced by jet-powered aircraft during the Korean War. Such was the fate of the Tigercat, one of the fastest piston-powered fighters ever built and, in the words of Navy test pilot Frederick Trapnell, “...the best damn fighter I’ve ever flown.”

Grumman has a rich history of providing warplanes for the US Navy, but the aircraft that became the Tigercat actually started out as a project by Grumman to build a twin-engine interceptor for the US Army Air Corps, the XP-50, which itself was a development of the radical XF5F Skyrocket. But when the XP-50 prototype was lost in a crash, funding was shifted to a new design, the XP-65, and development of the Army interceptor, as well as a Navy version, designated XF7F-1, took place simultaneously. The new interceptor kept the twin engines of its predecessor, but was otherwise a traditional design, albeit with a very narrow fuselage to reduce its frontal area.

The extremely narrow fuselage is evident in this view from the front

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The main difference between the Army and Navy versions was that the Army’s XP-65 was equipped with superchargers. But, as development continued, it became clear that the Army and Navy had very different requirements, and those needs could not be met by a single airplane (a situation that would plague the development of the General Dynamics F-111 twenty years later). So Grumman, based on their experience building fighters for the Navy, focused entirely on the XF7F and the Army stopped pursuing the XP-65. The Navy envisioned their new aircraft both as a fighter and as a ground attack aircraft, and the Tigercat had a serious bite, and was armed with four 20mm cannons and four .50 caliber machine guns firing forward, as well as hardpoints on the wings and fuselage for bombs and torpedoes. And not only could the Tigercat hit hard, it was fast. With a top speed of 460 mph, it outpaced the Grumman F6F Hellcat by 80 mph, and was even a bit faster than the Vought F4U Corsair, one of the fastest fighters of WWII. However, the early models were not able to pass carrier qualifications and Tigercats were relegated to land bases to be used as night fighters and for photo reconnaissance. By the third variant, the Tigercat was finally cleared for carrier operations, but by this late stage only 12 were produced.

Grumman F7F-3N night fighter of Maine Corps Squadron VMF(N)-532 over Korea in 1950

Too late for WWII, the Tigercat did see limited action in Korea as a night fighter, shooting down two Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes. But this would be its only combat success. Most Tigercats were eventually sent into storage and later scrapped, though some were bought as surplus and used as firefighting water bombers. Of the 364 aircraft produced, seven remain airworthy, and two currently are being restored, one to airworthiness. Interestingly, Grumman had originally intended to call the F7F the Tomcat, but that name was considered too risqué for the era. The name Tomcat would famously appear later on the Grumman F-14. (Photo author unknown; photo by Dziban303 via Wikimedia Commons; US Navy photo)

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Short Takeoff


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November 1, 2007 – The death of Paul Tibbets. Tibbets was born in Quincy, Illinois on February 23, 1915, and enlisted in the US Army in 1937, qualifying as a pilot a year later. As the commanding officer of the 97th Bombardment Group, Tibbets flew the lead Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in the first daylight heavy bomber mission over occupied Europe in July 1942. After returning to the US to assist with the development of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Tibbets became commander of the 509th Composite Group which was tasked with dropping the nuclear bombs on Japan, and piloted the Enola Gay when it dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Tibbets was also involved in the development of the Boeing B-47 Stratojet, and retired from the US Air Force in 1966 with the rank of brigadier general. (US Air Force photos)


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November 1, 1957 – The de Havilland Comet returns to service. When the de Havilland DH 106 Comet entered service with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) in 1952, it was the world’s first commercial jet-powered airliner. However, two Comets broke up in midair in 1954 with the loss 56 passengers and crew. The fleet was grounded and, after extensive water tank testing, the Comet was found to be susceptible to metal fatigue from repeated pressurizations, particularly around its large windows. All remaining and new Comets were fitted with strengthened fuselages and new oval windows, solving the problem. Though sales never completely recovered, the Comet went on to a successful 30-year career and was finally retired in 1997. (Photo by Ralf Manteufel via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 2, 1992 – The first flight of the Airbus A330. One of a number of derivatives of Airbus’ original A300 wide-body, the A330 has a range of up to 8,300 miles and can carry as many as 335 passengers or 150,000 pounds of cargo, depending on the variant and cabin configuration. The A330 was developed alongside the four-engine A340, and shares a common airframe, though the A340 has a centerline wheel bogey. To accommodate different customers, the A330 was the first Airbus airliner to offer a choice of three different engines. Still in production today, over 1,200 A330s have been built, and they serve numerous civilian carriers, cargo companies, and militaries. (Photo by Alf van Beem via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 2, 1929 – The founding of The Ninety-Nines, an international organization of woman pilots that helps to provide professional opportunities for women in aviation and “promotes advancement of aviation through education, scholarships, and mutual support while honoring our unique history and sharing our passion for flight.” Founded at Curtiss Field in New York by 99 of the then-117 licensed female pilots, the organization counts Amelia Earhart among its charter members, and includes such notables as Jackie Cochran, Patty Wagstaff, Jeana Yeager, Sheila Scott and astronaut Eileen Collins. (Photo via The Smithsonian)


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November 3, 1957 – The launch of Sputnik 2, the second spacecraft to be launched into Earth orbit and the first to carry a live animal into space. Launched atop a modified R-7 Semyorka ICBM just 32 days after Sputnik 1, Sputnik 2 carried a dog named Laika to provide data on how spaceflight would affect a living organism. Laika survived the launch, but, by the third orbit, the temperature in the cabin rose to 109ºF and telemetry data indicated that Laika was most likely dead by the third day in orbit, either from the heat or a carbon dioxide buildup. The manner of Laika’s death caused some controversy, but the dog would have died anyway, as it was 162 days before Sputnik 2 returned to Earth and burned up on reentry. (Hungarian postage stamp)


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November 3, 1952 – The first flight of the Saab 32 Lansen, a two-seat transonic fighter-bomber developed by Saab for the Swedish Air Force. Originally designed as one of the first dedicated ground attack jets, Saab produced three principal variants: the A 32A for ground attack, the J 32B for aerial combat, and the S 32C for reconnaissance. Plagued by a rash of fatal crashes early in its operations, the Lansen was phased out beginning in 1971 in favor of the Saab 37 Viggen, though some continued operations into the 1990s as a target tug and as an electronics warfare platform. A total of 450 Lansens were produced from 1954-1960, and it was the last purpose-built ground attack aircraft developed for Sweden. (Photo by Alan Wilson via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 3, 1944 – The first Japanese Fu-Go balloon bombs are launched against North America. The Fu-Go (balloon bomb) was a hydrogen-filled balloon launched from Japan and intended to travel to North America carried by the Pacific jet stream. The first ever weapon designed with an intercontinental range, the balloons were armed with either a small antipersonnel bomb or multiple incendiary devices, or both, and were intended to kill civilians or start forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. Over 9,000 were launched, but only one Fu-Go attack resulted in fatalities when a group of picnickers discovered one on the ground in Oregon. One of the bombs detonated, killing a pregnant woman and five children. (US Army photo; US Navy photo)


Connecting Flights


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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, aviators and airplane oddities at Wingspan.

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