Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 15 through November 17.
November 16, 1970 – The first flight of the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. As passenger jet aviation gained popularity through the 1960s, it became clear that the commercial airliner needed to grow in size to match demand. Aircraft such as the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 set the standard for single-aisle aircraft, but following Boeing’s development of the Boeing 747, Lockheed, long a producer of military aircraft, began development of their own wide-body airliner, hoping to stay relevant in the area of civilian transport. American Airlines approached both Boeing and Lockheed in their search for an airliner that was smaller than the 747 yet still capable of transatlantic operations from American’s hubs in Dallas and New York.
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 rules restricting transoceanic flight by twin-engined aircraft were still in place, 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. For power, Lockheed entered into a partnership with Rolls-Royce to provide the 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. A twin-aisle interior allowed the L-1011 to carry up to 400 passengers in a single-class configuration, and 256 passengers in a traditional mixed-class layout, more than its DC-10 competitor.
The TriStar entered service with Eastern Air Lines in 1972, but it was not a smooth ride 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 first. The original L-1011 also came in overweight, limiting 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, and 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. After their experience with the L-1011, and even with some L-1011s converted for military use, Lockheed left the civilian airliner market for good, and only one L-1011 remains operational today, the Stargazer, a modified aircraft flown by Orbital Sciences as a mothership for the launch of the Pegasus rocket. (Photo by RuthAS via Wikimedia Commons; Jon Proctor via Wikimedia Commons; NASA photo)
November 17, 1956 – The first flight of the Dassault Mirage III. In the early years of the Cold War, before the advent of the intercontinental ballistic missile, defense against nuclear-armed bombers centered around the interceptor, an aircraft that sacrificed maneuverability in favor of straight line speed and high climb rates to intercept high-flying bombers before they could loose their nuclear payload. Beginning in 1952, the French government initiated the procurement of a supersonic interceptor, one that would be capable of all-weather operations and be able to climb to 59,000 feet in just six minutes. This led to the Mystère Delta, subsequently renamed the Dassault Mirage I, an all-delta-wing interceptor that was powered by two afterburning turbojets augmented with rockets that pushed it to Mach 1.6. However, due to the small size of the fighter, its armament was restricted to a single air-to-air missile and the project was eventually scrapped.
Dassault considered a larger version of this hybrid powered fighter, but that program was also abandoned in favor of a still larger interceptor, which would be called the Mirage III. The Mirage III was powered by a single SNECMA Atar 09C afterburning turbojet engine and, while provisions were also made for a rocket engine, this configuration was never put into production. The Mirage III’s fuselage was redesigned to take advantage of the area rule, and it reached Mach 1.52 on its tenth test flight. Later variants attained speeds exceeding Mach 2, making it the first European aircraft to fly at twice the speed of sound. This aircraft was designated Mirage IIIA and led to an initial order for 10 aircraft. The Mirage IIIC, armed with two 30mm cannons, became the first production model, and had five external hardpoints for weapons and an aerodynamic centerline fuel tank that could also house a bomb. This version was developed into the Mirage IIIE, specialized for ground attack, and the Mirage IIIR, specialized for reconnaissance.
The Mirage III entered service in 1961, and, despite its original mission as an interceptor, it proved to be an excellent all-around fighter and attack aircraft. It was widely exported, and saw combat service with the Israeli Air Force (IAF) during the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, with the South African Air Force in the South African Border War, and with devastating effectiveness by the Argentine Air Force against British naval forces during the Falklands War. Numerous variants have also been produced, including the Mirage 5, which was eventually developed into the Kfir by the Israel Aircraft Industries. A total of 1,422 Mirage IIIs were produced, and the type remains in service. (US Air Force photo; Argentine Air Force photo)
November 17, 1947 – The first flight of the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar. World War II was the first international war to be fought on a truly global scale, with major theaters of war in both Europe and the Pacific. The geographical extent of the conflict required aerial resupply of armies on a scale that had never been imagined before, and combatants were hard-pressed provide materiel to their troops with existing aircraft. For the most part, cargo aircraft of the time had been developed from passenger aircraft, and had no special design considerations for loading and unloading cargo except for larger doors on the side of the fuselage and reinforced floors. What was desperately needed was a purpose-built cargo aircraft to address these shortcomings.
In 1944, Fairchild Aircraft developed the C-82 Packet, which featured a cargo-carrying fuselage centered between a twin-boom tail. This arrangement allowed vehicles and supplies to be driven directly into the cargo hold, greatly simplifying and speeding up loading and unloading. The Packet entered service in June 1945, just one month before the end of the war, too late to make a significant contribution. The Packet also had some serious shortcomings, particularly with underpowered engines and a relatively flimsy airframe. But the overall design had great promise.
To address the problems with the C-82, the Air Force asked Fairchild to develop a larger and more robust version of the Packet. Starting with the C-82 as a basis, Fairchild enlarged the fuselage and moved the cockpit fully forward rather than on top of the fuselage to make better use of the cargo space. They also gave the C-119 more powerful Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major radial engines, the same engines that powered the Boeing B-50 Superfortress. In a nod to both its shape and mission, the new aircraft received the nickname Flying Boxcar. In order to provide C-119s in the numbers needed by the Air Force, industrialist Henry Kaiser was awarded a contract in 1951 to produce the Flying Boxcar in a factory at Willow Run Airport in Michigan where Consolidated B-24 Liberators had been built during the war. The only difference between the Kaiser C-119s and Fairchild’s was the use of the Wright R-3350 Duplex Cyclone engine, which had previously been used on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Kaiser built 71 of the almost 2,000 Flying Boxcars built, with the limited number most likely owing to political pressure from Fairchild over the loss of revenue.
The Flying Boxcar entered service in 1949 and served with great distinction in Korea and Vietnam. A number of aircraft were converted to flying gunships by the addition of four GAU-2A 7.62mm mini guns and two M61 Vulcan 20mm Gatling cannons. This variant was designated the AC-119G Shadow and the AC-119K Stinger, and was used to complement the Lockheed AC-130 Spectre gunship. Others C-119s served in Europe and the Far East, and the Flying Boxcar was also used to snare film capsules ejected from early Corona spy satellites. Nearly 1,200 Flying Boxcars were produced from 1949-1955 and, after their removal from wartime duties, C-119s continued flying cargo and supply missions into the 1970s. The last operational C-119s were retired by the Republic of China Air Force in 1995. (US Air Force photo; Bill Larkins via Wikimedia Commons, US Air Force photo)
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)
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. (Photo by FOTO:Fortepan via Wikimedia Commons)
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 photo)
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 illustration)
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 performed 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. (NASA photo)
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. (Photo via space.skyrocket.de)
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. (Photo by Ken Fielding via Wikimedia Commons)
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 creating 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. (Photo by RuthAS via Wikimedia Commons)
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 117 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 20 domestic and 21 international 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 famous for its record of safety, and the airline has never lost a jet airliner. (Photo by the author)
November 17, 1965 – The first circumnavigation of the globe passing over the poles. Taking off from Honolulu, Hawaii on November 14 in a Boeing 707 (N322F) nicknamed Pole Cat and leased from Flying Tiger Line, a group of five pilots, three navigators and three flight engineers, led by Captains Fred Austin, Jr. and Harrison Finch, both retired TWA pilots, headed north and crossed the North Pole before a stop in London for fuel. After further stops in Lisbon and Buenos Aires, the crew circled the South Pole four times before a stop in Christchurch, New Zealand to refuel for the final leg back to Hawaii. The flight, which covered 26,230 miles and lasted 62.5 hours, was funded by Willard Rockwell, Sr., the founder of the Rockwell Corporation, who came along on the trip with 27 other passengers. (Photo via Flying Tiger Mechanics)
November 17, 1943 – The first flight of the Fisher P-75 Eagle, a high-altitude fighter developed for the US Army Air Forces by the Fisher Body Division of General Motors. The Eagle was cobbled together from the outer wing panels of a North American P-51 Mustang, the tail from a Douglas A-24 Banshee (the Army version of the Navy’s SBD Dauntless dive bomber) and the undercarriage from a Vought F4U Corsair. It was powered by an Allison V-3420 24-piston engine placed behind the pilot. Problems in testing led to a redesign of the wings and tail, but the performance never met expectations, and the Army canceled the program in 1944. Thirteen were built, and singly remaining aircraft is on display at the US Air Force Museum in Ohio. (US Air Force photo)
November 17, 1941 – The death of Ernst Udet, the second-highest scoring ace of WWI and the highest scoring ace to survive the Great War. Udet served under Manfred von Richthofen in Jagdgeschwader 1 (known as the Flying Circus) where he scored 62 confirmed victories. Following the war, Udet flew as a stunt pilot and barnstormer, then joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and was instrumental in the development of the Luftwaffe, particularly the dive bombing tactics used by the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka. Following the German loss of the Battle of Britain, Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring led Hitler to believe that the loss was Udet’s fault, and Udet committed suicide on November 17, 1941. (Photo author unknown)
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