Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 14 through November 16.


Eastern Airlines was the launch customer for the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. (RuthAS)

November 16, 1970 – The first flight of the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. As passenger jet aviation gained popularity in the decade of the 1960s, increasing passenger numbers meant that the commercial airliner needed to grow in size to match demand. Aircraft such as the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 had set the standard for single-aisle airliners, and Boeing created the wide-body market with the development of the twin-aisle 747. Despite the range and capacity of the 747, American Airlines was interested in a smaller airliner that would still be capable of transatlantic operations from bases in Dallas and New York. American approached both Boeing and Lockheed, and Lockheed, long a producer of large military aircraft, saw an opportunity to stay relevant in the area of civilian transport with the development of their own wide-body airliner.

The L-1011 prototype on display prior to its maiden flight in 1970 (John Proctor)

Lockheed hadn’t produced a civilian airliner since the turboprop L-188 Electra in 1957. Nevertheless, they were keen to reenter the commercial market, and originally proposed a twin-jet design, a so-called “Jumbo Twin.” But longstanding safety rules prohibited transoceanic flights that took airliners more than 60 minutes from the closest airport, and were only waived for three-engine aircraft in 1964. So Lockheed augmented their design by adding a third engine mounted in the tail and fed by S-duct air intake in front of the vertical stabilizer. Compared to the similar McDonnell Douglas DC-10, which housed its third engine entirely in the tail above the fuselage, Lockheed’s arrangement reduced drag and simplified maintenance, and allowed the center engine to be serviced or replaced more easily. Lockheed entered into a partnership with Rolls-Royce to provide RB.211 high-bypass turbofan engines which gave the L-1011 a top speed of Mach 0.95 and a cruising speed of 600 mph. The TriStar’s twin-aisle interior accommodated up to 400 passengers in a single-class configuration, and 256 passengers in a traditional mixed-class layout, more than its DC-10 competitor.

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An L-1011 of All Nippon Airways takes off from Osaka International Airport (Spaceaero2)

The TriStar entered service with Eastern Air Lines in 1972, but it was the beginning of a turbulent history for the new widebody. After helping to initiate the entire project, American opted instead to purchase the DC-10, using their reported interest in the L-1011 as leverage to force McDonnell Douglas to lower their prices. Engine supplier Rolls-Royce went into receivership in 1971, largely as a result of the enormous costs of developing the RB.211 engine. Ultimately, the British government agreed to subsidize the production of the engines, but the delay put the TriStar a year behind schedule and allowed the DC-10 to enter the market unopposed ahead of Lockheed. The original L-1011 also came in overweight, which limited its range and carrying power. And, to add yet another strike against the TriStar, a major scandal broke when it was discovered that Lockheed had bribed Japanese government officials to purchase the new airliner, leading to the arrest of the Japanese prime minister. Sales to Russia were also blocked by the Carter Administration over Soviet human rights issues. The L-1011 was also more expensive than the DC-10.

Lockheed L-1011 Stargazer mothership releasing a Pegasus rocket for testing (NASA)

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Despite variants meant to make the L-1011 more marketable, Lockheed ended production in 1984 after building only 250 aircraft, needing sales of at least 500 just to break even. Though a handful of L-1011s were converted for military service with the RAF, Lockheed gave up on the TriStar and left the civilian airliner market for good. Today, and only one L-1011 remains operational, the Stargazer, a modified aircraft flown by Orbital Sciences as a mothership for the launch of the Pegasus rocket. 


Short Takeoff


(The Herald Dispatch; Marshall University)

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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 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, during poor weather conditions, the airliner had descended below minimum altitude for unknown reasons, possibly due to a malfunctioning altimeter or the pilot’s improper interpretation of instrument data. The crash ended the school’s football program, but it was reconstituted the following year by a Marshall coach who wasn’t on the plane and fielding 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.


Conrad standing next to Surveyor 3, with the Lunar Module in the background. (NASA)

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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 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, 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.


(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, but 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.


(US Library of Congress)

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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.


(NASA)

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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 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. 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, 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.


(US Navy)

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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. 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.


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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 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. Directed at symbols of modern technology and global industrializations, this was the second of 16 bombings that killed three people and injured 23 before Kaczinski was arrested in 1996.


(FOTO:Fortean)

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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 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.


(NASA)

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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 innovative leading-edge slats.


(NASA Illustration)

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November 16, 2004 – NASA’s X-43 sets a world record speed of Mach 9.68. The X-43 is an unmanned hypersonic aircraft and part of NASA’s Hyper-X program which was created to test the extreme limits of air-breathing engine technology. The X-43 began its flight mated to a Pegasus booster rocket, and both were carried aloft by a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. After separation from the mothership, the rocket motor fired then released the X-43, and the aircraft’s supersonic-combustion ramjet, or scramjet, was ignited. The X-43 reached a top speed of 6,598 mph, or Mach 9.68, at 110,000 feet before expending its fuel and falling into the ocean. Following the successful test program, NASA hoped to produce a two-stage-to-orbit crewed vehicle by 2024, but those plans have been shelved for now.


(NASA)

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November 16, 1973 – The launch of Skylab 4, the third manned mission to the Skylab orbiting space station laboratory and the final crew to man the station. Astronauts Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson and William Pogue, each taking their first and only spaceflight, spent just over 84 days in space, completed 1,214 orbits of the Earth and spent a total of 22 hours outside the station over the course of four spacewalks. During the mission, the astronauts performed intensive photographic study of the Earth (inadvertently photographing the super-secret Area 51 and causing a minor controversy), and also made observations of the Sun and Comet Kohoutek. The crew returned to Earth on February 8, 1974, and Skylab fell from orbit in July 11, 1979.


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November 16, 1965 – The launch of Venera 3, a space probe that was built to explore the surface of Venus. Venera 3 carried radio communication equipment and scientific instruments, along with medallions that bore the Soviet Coat of Arms. The mission was not a success, and the probe most likely crashed on the Venusian surface, though a failure of the radios made it impossible to be certain. However, Venera 3 does have the distinction of being the first man-made spacecraft to reach the surface of another planet. Venera 3 was followed in 1967 by the successful Venera 4.


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November 16, 1959 – The first flight of the Canadair CL-44 Yukon, a turboprop powered airliner and cargo aircraft that was based on the Bristol Britannia and built in Canada. Originally designed to ferry troops and supplies for Canadian forces stationed in Europe (known as the CC-106 Yukon), the CL-44 was powered by four Rolls-Royce Tyne turboprops and had a top speed of 416 mph with accommodations for up to 160 passengers. In 1961, a CL-44 set a world record with a flight from Tokyo to Ontario, a distance of 6,750 miles, and set another record for staying airborne for nearly 24 hours, a record that was unbroken until the arrival of the Boeing 747SP. A total of 39 were built and widely exported, and the type was finally retired by the RCAF in 1971.


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November 16, 1946 –The first flight of the Saab 90 Scandia. As WWII drew to a close, Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (Swedish Aeroplane Company Limited, or SAAB) turned away from producing military aircraft for the time being to create civilian airliners in order to survive financially (the same diversification also led to the Ursaab, the first Saab automobile). The Scandia was developed as a domestically produced replacement for the Douglas DC-3, and it bears a striking resemblance to its American counterpart, though the Saab aircraft featured a tricycle landing gear. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) received the first production aircraft in 1950, and 18 Scandias were built from 1946 to 1954.


(Tim Shaffer)

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November 16, 1920 – Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service (Qantas) is formed. The world’s third oldest airline after KLM and Avianca, Qantas began service in 1920 with an Avro 504 that seated two and now has 127 aircraft in service, from the Boeing 737 up to the giant Airbus A380. Following its nationalization in 1947, Qantas is now the flag carrier airline of Australia and serves 85 destinations in 14 countries from its hubs in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Qantas made headlines in 2014 when it initiated nonstop A380 service between Sydney and Dallas/Fort Worth, the longest nonstop passenger flight at the time at 8,578 miles. With the last fatal accident suffered by Qantas occurring in 1951, the airline is known for its record of safety, and the airline has never lost a jet airliner.


Short Takeoff


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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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