Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 13 through November 15.
No big stories in today’s edition, so I’m posting a few of my favorite airplane photos since today is my birthday. If you’re so inclined, you can see some more of my work here.
All photos © Tim Shaffer
November 13, 1907 – The first flight of the Cornu helicopter. Built by French bicycle-maker Paul Cornu, the twin-propeller helicopter is considered by some historians as the first rotary-wing aircraft to take flight. 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.
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 conducting 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, along with nine coaches and 25 team boosters. Investigators determined that the airliner had descended below minimum altitude for unknown reasons during poor weather conditions, possibly due to a malfunctioning altimeter or the pilot’s improper interpretation of instrument data. The crash ended the school’s football program, but the team was reconstituted the following year by a Marshall coach who wasn’t on the plane and manned by 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.
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 31 hours on the surface of the Moon, while Command Module Pilot Richard F. Gordon, Jr. remained in Lunar orbit. Bean was able to land the Lunar Module at the site of the Surveyor 3 unmanned probe, and he and Conrad retrieved parts of the probe during two moonwalks and returned them to Earth. The pair 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.
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, but the mission was canceled due to budget constraints. Following the Apollo program, Haise worked on the Space Shuttle program and piloted three unpowered landings of the Shuttle Enterprise. He 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.
November 14, 1930 – The first flight of the Handley Page H.P.42, a four-engine biplane 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 derivative 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 had been to mishaps lost by 1940.
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 and attended the US Military Academy. Following graduation, he was commissioned in the US Air Force and served as a fighter pilot in Europe. White was chosen for NASA Astronaut Group 2 and piloted Gemini 4 in 1965, and became the first American to walk in space during that flight. The following year, White was selected as 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 on January 27, 1967, 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.
November 14, 1910 – Eugene Ely is 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. In the second experiment two months later, Ely landed on 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.
November 15, 1981 – The crew of the Double Eagle V completes the first crossing of the Pacific Ocean by balloon. The flight of Double Eagle V was a followup to the first successful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by the balloon Double Eagle II in 1978. Double Eagle V was piloted by Ben Abruzzo and Larry Newman, two members of the original Double Eagle II crew, along with Ron Clark and restaurateur Rocky Aoki, who helped fund the mission. For the Pacific crossing, the team departed from Nagashima, Japan on November 10 and arrived in California after a flight of 84 hours. Despite the historical importance of the flight, it was overshadowed by the return to Earth of the Space Shuttle Columbia following the orbiter’s second launch and failed to receive as much recognition it was due.
November 15, 1979 – The attempted bombing of American Airlines Flight 444. Flight 444 was regularly scheduled Boeing 727 service from Chicago to Washington, DC. Theodore “Ted” Kaczinski, popularly known as the “Unabomber,” had placed a bomb in the cargo hold of the aircraft. Although 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. The attempted bombing was the second of 16 bombings carried out by Kaczinski directed at symbols of modern technology and global industrializations that killed three people and injured 23 before his arrest in 1996.
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 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 airliner 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 14 years of civilian service, and a total of 32 aircraft were produced from 1958 to 1963.
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 merged with Douglas to form 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 innovative leading-edge slats.
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