Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 12 through November 15.


November 12, 2001 – The crash of American Airlines Flight 587. If you’ve seen the movie Top Gun, you remember the accident that that took the life of Maverick’s friend and Radar Intercept Officer, Goose, when their F-14 flies through the “jet wash” of the plane ahead. Maverick loses control, they eject, and Goose is killed. That sort of Hollywood-contrived scenario is very real, but the phenomenon that doomed Goose is actually called wake turbulence. Jet wash just sounds cooler, though, and would probably have left movie audiences scratching their head. It wasn’t until the 196os that aerodynamicists began to understand that it wasn’t the air coming out of the jet engines that was causing turbulence, it was the horizontal tornadoes of air generated the wings of an aircraft that can wreak havoc on airplanes coming behind. All pilots are trained to deal with wake turbulence, and air traffic controllers routinely advise aircraft during landing or takeoff to be aware of wake turbulence from aircraft in the pattern ahead. A number of crashes have been either directly caused, or suspected to have been caused, by wake turbulence, but perhaps the best known, and most tragic, was the crash of American Airlines Flight 587. AA587 was a regularly scheduled flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to the Dominican Republic. Shortly after takeoff, the Airbus A300 (N14053) passed into the wake turbulence left behind by a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747, and the first officer initiated a series of very hard, complete deflections of the rudder to maintain control of the airliner. These actions, lasting approximately 20 seconds, placed roughly twice the amount of stress on the vertical stabilizer than Airbus had designed it for, and resulted in the entire vertical stabilizer breaking off from the fuselage. As a result, the plane entered a flat spin, which caused both engines to shear off the wings. The airliner crashed into a Queens, New York neighborhood, killing all 260 passengers and crew plus five more on the ground, making it the second deadliest crash in New York state and the second deadliest accident involving an A300.

The vertical stabilizer from American 587, recovered from Jamaica Bay

Coming just two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, immediate speculation was that the crash was another act of terrorism. However, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators quickly ruled that out, and focused instead on the joint where the composite tail structure attached to the aluminum fuselage using titanium bolts and composite lugs. These components were found to be sufficiently strong, so attention turned to the first officer’s rudder deflections as the likely cause of the break up. American Airlines blamed Airbus for making the rudders too sensitive, and Airbus blamed American for faulty pilot training, saying that its pilots were trained to handle wake turbulence in an overly aggressive fashion. Ultimately, the NTSB investigation into the crash found that, while both parties shared some responsibility, it was the first officer’s “unnecessary and excessive rudder pedal inputs” that caused the structural failure leading to the crash. American Airlines has since modified its training program. (Photo by JetPix via Wikimedia Commons; US Government photo)

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November 12, 1981 – The launch of Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-2, the second Space Shuttle mission, the second flight of Columbia, and the first time a spacecraft was reused and returned to orbit. It was also the first mission to utilize the robotic arm developed for the Shuttle by Canada. Officially called the Remote Manipulator System, it is more popularly known as the Canadarm, and is used to maneuver payloads out of and into the Shuttle’s cargo bay. STS-2 was originally envisioned as a boost mission to push the Skylab space station into a higher orbit, but delays in the Shuttle program made that impossible, and Skylab fell to earth in 1979, two years before the the launch of STS-2. (NASA photo)


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November 12, 1932 – The first flight of the de Havilland Dragon. Building on the success of the single-engine de Havilland Fox Moth, de Havilland responded to a request by Hillman’s Airways for a larger, twin-engine design. Using the same engine and construction techniques of the Fox Moth, the Dragon had capacity for 6-10 passengers and pilot and a maximum speed of 128 mph. Though production had stopped before WWII, the Dragon re-entered production to serve as a navigational trainer for the Royal Australian Air Force. A total of 2,002 Dragons were built, and it was subsequently developed into the larger and more powerful de Havilland Dragon Rapide. (Public domain photograph)


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November 12, 1921 – The first air-to-air refueling is completed. While the 1923 aerial refueling via a long hose strung between two Airco DH.4 biplanes is considered the first official or somewhat practical aerial refueling of an airplane, a wing-walking daredevil named Wesley May lays claim to the actual first refueling, when he strapped a five-gallon can of gas weighing approximately 36 pounds onto his back and climbed from a Lincoln Standard biplane in flight onto a Curtiss Jenny flying alongside. Certainly, this stunt was not meant to be a practical solution, but barnstorming was never about being practical. (Photo via Peter M. Bowers Collection, Seattle Museum of Flight)


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November 13, 1907 – The first flight of the Cornu helicopter. Built by French bicycle-maker Paul Cornu, many historians credit the twin-propeller helicopter with the first free flight of a rotary-wing aircraft. The Cornu helicopter was controlled by a system that varied the pitch of the propellers, and also employed vanes that directed the downdraft from the rotors. Cornu made several short hops, perhaps as much as six feet in the air, each lasting less than a minute. The brief flights gave Cornu just enough time to determine that his steering mechanism was ineffective and he soon abandoned the project. Modern analysis indicates that Cornu’s machine would likely never have flown successfully. (Photo author unknown)


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November 14, 1970 – The crash of Southern Airways Flight 932, a chartered McDonnell Douglas DC-9 (N97S) flying from North Carolina to West Virginia. While conduction a nonprecision instrument landing at Tri-State Airport in Ceredo, West Virginia, the DC-9 struck trees short of the runway and crashed, killing all 75 on board, including 37 members of the Marshall University football team, including 9 coaches and 25 team boosters. Investigators determined that, during poor weather condition, the airliner had descended below minimum altitude for unknown reasons due to a possibly malfunctioning altimeter or the pilot’s improper use of instrument data. The crash ended the school’s football program, but it was reconstituted in 1971 by a coach who wasn’t on the plane and with many players from the school’s junior varsity squad. The story has been dramatized in the movies Marshall University: Ashes to Glory, and We Are Marshall. (Crash photo via The Herald Dispatch; team photo via Marshall University)


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November 14, 1969 – The launch of Apollo 12, the second manned mission to the surface of the Moon. Launched only four months after Apollo 11, Mission Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad and Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean spent thirty-one hours on the surface of the Moon, while Command Module Pilot Richard F. Gordon, Jr. remained in orbit. Bean was able to land the Lunar Module exactly at the site of the Surveyor 3 unmanned probe, and, during two moonwalks, he and Conrad retrieved parts of the probe and returned them to Earth. They also carried the first color TV camera to the Moon, but Bean ruined the camera when he accidentally pointed it at the sun. Apollo 12 returned to Earth on November 24. (Photo of Conrad with Surveyor 3 via NASA)


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November 14, 1933 – The birth of Fred Haise. Born in Biloxi, Mississippi, Haise served as a US Marine Corps fighter pilot from 1954 to 1956, but retired from active duty to complete a degree in aeronautical engineering. While serving in the Oklahoma Air National Guard, including an active duty stint during the Berlin Crisis of 1961, Haise was selected for NASA Astronaut Group 5 and flew as the Lunar Module Pilot on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission in 1970. He was assigned as a backup on Apollo 16, and scheduled to fly on Apollo 19, though the mission was canceled due to budget constraints. Following Apollo, Haise worked on the Space Shuttle program, piloting three unpowered landings of the Shuttle Enterprise, and was scheduled to fly in space on the Shuttle before delays canceled that flight as well. Haise left NASA in 1979 to work for Grumman Aerospace, and retired in 1996. (NASA photo)


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November 14, 1930 – The first flight of the Handley Page H.P.42, a four-engine biplane passenger airliner that was built for Imperial Airways. The H.P.42 had an all-metal fuselage with fabric covered wings and tail, and was designed for long-range eastern routes, while the H.P.45, which carried more passengers but less baggage, was designed for European routes. Four of each type were constructed, and were given the mythological and historical names of Hannibal, Horsa, Hanno, Hadrian, Heracles, Horatius, Hengist, Helena. Five of the aircraft were lost to crashes or other incidents, but the remaining three flew long enough to be pressed into service in the early days of WWII, but all were eventually lost by 1940. (Library of Congress photo)


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November 14, 1930 – The birth of Edward White, an aeronautical engineer, US Air Force pilot, test pilot, and NASA astronaut. White was born in San Antonio, Texas, attended the US Military Academy, was commissioned in the US Air Force, and served as a fighter pilot in Europe. Along with 8 others, White was chosen for NASA Astronaut Group 2, and piloted Gemini 4 in 1965, becoming the first American to walk in space. The following year, White was selected to be the Senior Pilot for Apollo 1, the first manned mission of the Apollo program. During a ground test of the Saturn IB booster and spacecraft components, a fire engulfed the Command Module, killing White, along with astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Roger Chaffee. White was buried with full military honors at West Point Cemetery, and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. (NASA photo)


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November 14, 1910 – Eugene Ely becomes the first person to take off from a ship. In 1910, the Secretary of the Navy appointed Ely, along with aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss, to investigate the operation of aircraft from ships. The appointment led to two experiments, the first with Ely piloting a Curtiss Pusher from a temporary runway constructed on the deck of the light cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-2) anchored in Hampton Roads near Norfolk, Virginia, then, two months later, Ely landed on the USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) anchored in San Francisco Bay. While neither ship was a true aircraft carrier, Ely’s achievements helped prove the feasibility of naval aviation. (US Navy photo)


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November 15, 1979 – The attempted bombing of American Airlines Flight 444. Flight 444 was a regularly scheduled flight of a Boeing 727 from Chicago to Washington, DC. Theodore “Ted” Kaczinski, better known as the Unabomber, had placed a bomb in the cargo hold of the aircraft, and, though the bomb malfunctioned and failed to detonate, it still filled the cabin with smoke. The airliner diverted to Dulles International Airport and landed safely, though 12 passengers and crew were treated for smoke inhalation. This was the second of 16 bombings by Kaczinski directed at symbols of modern technology and global industrialization. Three people were killed and 23 injured before Kaczinski was arrested in 1996. (FBI photo; 727 photo—not accident aircraft—by Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 15, 1957 – The first flight of the Tupolev Tu-114 Rossiya, a turboprop-powered long-range airliner with swept wings developed from the Tupolev Tu-95 “Bear” bomber. Powered by four Kuznetsov NK-12 engines turning massive, 18-foot diameter contra-rotating propellers, the Rossiya was the fastest airliner of its day, and still holds the record as the fastest propeller-driven aircraft, which it set in 1960. Capable of carrying up to 224 passengers, the Tu-114 more commonly carried 170 passengers in sleeping berths, and also included a dining lounge. The Rossiya transported over six million passengers in its fourteen years of civilian service, and a total of 32 aircraft were produced from 1958 to 1963. (Photo by FOTO:Fortepan via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 15, 1929 – The first flight of the McDonnell Doodlebug, the first aircraft designed by famed aircraft designer James McDonnell. Built by Hamilton Aero Manufacturing (Hamilton Standard), the Doodlebug was a two-seat, tandem monoplane designed in response to a safety contest sponsored by the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics. Though ultimately unsuccessful (the competition was won by a Curtiss Tanager biplane), McDonnell went on to become one of the great American pioneers of aviation. He founded the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation in 1939 (later McDonnell Douglas), one of the major suppliers of aircraft to the US Air Force and US Navy. The Doodlebug was sold to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) for continued research into the aircraft’s leading-edge slats. (NASA photo)


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