Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 16 through November 19.
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.
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, rules which were 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.
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.
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.
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 destroy high-flying bombers before they could loose their nuclear payload. Beginning in 1952, the French government initiated the procurement of their own supersonic interceptor, one that could operate in all-weather conditions and be able to reach 59,000 feet in just six minutes. This project 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 the interceptor reached Mach 1.52 on its tenth test flight. Later variants attained speeds exceeding Mach 2, making the Mirage III the first European aircraft to fly at twice the speed of sound. This variant 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 subsequently developed into the Mirage IIIE which was specialized for ground attack, and the Mirage IIIR which took on a reconnaissance role.
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 with the Pakistan Air Force.
November 17, 1947 – The first flight of the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar. World War II was the first war to be fought on a truly global scale, with major theaters of operations on opposite sides of the world in Europe and the Pacific, as well as North Africa. The geographical extent of the conflict required aerial resupply of armies on a scale that had previously never been imagined, and nations that fought in both theaters were hard-pressed to supply 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 aircraft designed specifically for handling heavy loads of cargo.
In 1944, Fairchild Aircraft developed the C-82 Packet, a cargo hauler that featured a large 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. Though the Packet also had some serious shortcomings, particularly with underpowered engines and a relatively flimsy airframe, the overall design concept showed great promise.
Based on their experience 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 supplement Fairchild’s production of the C-119 and to provide aircraft in the large numbers, the Air Force awarded a contract in 1951 to industrialist Henry Kaiser 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 constructed 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 with 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.
November 18, 1978 – The first flight of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. In the 1970s, the US Navy faced a situation where they had an excellent fleet defense fighter in the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, but needed a new multi-role fighter to replace their aging fleet of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs and Douglas A-4 Skyhawks. However, developing a new fighter to fit their requirements was sure to be an enormously expensive endeavor at a time of congressional pressure to rein in defense spending. In an effort to reduce costs, Grumman offered a stripped down version of the F-14, and McDonnell Douglas suggested a naval variant of their F-15 Eagle. But to modify both aircraft would have cost roughly the same as developing a brand new aircraft. So the Navy turned its attention to the two fighters that had recently competed for the US Air Force Lightweight Fighter (LWF) contract, the General Dynamics YF-16 and the Northrop YF-17.
General Dynamics had won the Air Force contract, but the Navy felt that the F-16 would not make a suitable carrier fighter. Its landing gear was too narrow for operations from pitching carrier decks, and the Navy preferred multi-engine aircraft for added safety for long missions over open waters. The F-16 had just a single engine. Despite having lost the LWF competition, the YF-17 offered features that were appealing to the Navy, and they decided to adopt a carrier-modified version which became the F/A-18 Hornet. Northrop teamed with McDonnell Douglas, who had an extensive history of developing aircraft for the US Navy, and together they worked to make the unsuccessful Air Force fighter suitable for Navy carrier operations.
First, the airframe, undercarriage and tailhook were all strengthened, the landing gear was widened and given catapult attachments, and folding wingtips were fitted to allow for carrier storage. For long overwater missions, the fuel capacity was increased, giving the F/A-18 its distinctive dorsal hump, and additional fuel storage was added to the wings. The partial fly-by-wire system of the YF-17 was modernized and replaced by a quadruple-redundant, complete fly-by-wire system. And, where the F-14 was primarily an air superiority fighter, the Hornet was planned as a multirole fighter, and was given the prefix F/A to denote its dual role as fighter and ground attack aircraft.
Production of the F/A-18 began in 1978, and the new fighter entered service with the Navy and Marine Corps in 1983. It wasn’t long before the Hornet began combat operations, taking part in action against Libya as part of Operation Prairie Fire and Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986. When the Navy started phasing out the Grumman A-6 Intruder the 1990s, the Hornet took over the Intruder’s ground attack mission and, as a testament to its truly multirole design, it was not uncommon for Hornets to shoot down Iraqi aircraft and then drop bombs on ground targets during the same mission in the Gulf War of 1990. The Hornet has seen numerous upgrades during its service life, and almost 1,500 have been built for service with the Navy and Marine Corps, plus numerous export countries, and 138 CF-18 aircraft built for the Royal Canadian Air Force. McDonnell Douglas used the F/A-18 as the basis for the larger and more advanced F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, but while it bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor, the Super Hornet is actually an entirely new aircraft, and not a true variant.
Thirty-five years after first entering service with the US Navy, the F/A-18A through F/A-18D models, the so-called Legacy Hornets, are being phased out of US Navy service. In April 2018, F/A-18s of VFA-34 “Blue Blasters” completed their final cruise aboard the carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) as the Navy works to transition completely to the Super Hornet. Most of the Legacy aircraft will be sent to the aviation boneyard in Arizona, where parts will used to support the remaining Legacy Hornets of the US Marine Corps. The US Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron, which has been flying some of the oldest Hornets in the fleet, will also transition to the Super Hornet by 2021.
November 18, 1964 – The first flight of the Grumman C-2 Greyhound. To those who shipped or received packages in the days before the Internet, “COD” stood for “Collect On Delivery,” a now-outdated way to send a package and have the recipient pay for the shipping. But to the US Navy, “COD” means “Carrier Onboard Delivery,” and it is a vital means for an aircraft carrier and its battle group to receive mail, spare parts, personnel, or any other critical supplies by air, more quickly than can be done by underway replenishment ships. But in order to provide a useful cargo load, the COD airplane has to be big, because there are restrictions on the size of aircraft that can be operated safely from a carrier deck. In 1963, the Navy experimented with a Lockheed C-130 Hercules landing and taking off from the USS Forrestal. While those tests proved that the Herk could carry as much as 85,000 pounds and still land and take off, the Navy decided that it was just too risky and the project was abandoned. It was better to have a dedicated carrier aircraft perform the task.
Before the arrival of the Greyhound, COD had been carried out by the Grumman C-1 Trader, a variant of the Grumman S-2 Tracker, a piston-powered antisubmarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. But limitations in its payload and range meant that a more robust aircraft was needed. So the Navy turned to another large carrier aircraft they already had in their inventory, the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye, which was developed as an airborne early warning (AEW) platform. By removing the radome, widening the fuselage and adding a rear cargo door, the Navy found just what it was looking for, and the new aircraft was designated the C-2 Greyhound. The Greyhound’s powerful Allison T56 turboprop engines provide the lifting muscle, and up to 10,000 pounds of cargo and/or passengers can be carried as far 1,500 miles.
The C-2 proved to be a true workhorse, delivering two million pounds of cargo, two million pounds of precious mail, and 14,000 passengers during just two years of operations in Europe and the Mediterranean from 1985 to 1987. Greyhounds also flew during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm during the Gulf War, as well as Operation Enduring Freedom as part of the war in Afghanistan. However, despite its proven capabilities, the Greyhound’s days appear to be numbered. In 2015, the Navy decided on a controversial plan set to begin in 2021 to replace the C-2 with the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey for all future COD missions, in spite of Grumman’s bid to modernize the fleet of Greyhounds. But the Osprey will not be able to carry the same weight of cargo, and it remains to be seen if the V-22 can offer the same stellar operational capabilities as its venerable predecessor.
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 its fuel was expended and and the aircraft fell 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.
November 16, 1973 – The launch of Skylab 4, the third manned mission to the Skylab orbiting space station laboratory carrying 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 onboard Skylab, 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 and burned up on July 11, 1979.
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.
November 16, 1959 – The first flight of the Canadair CL-44 Yukon, a turboprop powered airliner and cargo aircraft that was built in Canada and based on the Bristol Britannia. Originally designed to ferry troops and supplies for Canadian forces stationed in Europe and 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 for the domestic and export markets, and the RCAF retired the type in 1971.
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 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 strong 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.
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 today boasts more than 125 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, in 2014, served 98 destinations in 22 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. Qantas will reclaim that record when it inaugurates Boeing 787 service between New York and Sydney with a flying distance of 10,200 miles. With the last fatal accident suffered by Qantas occurring in 1951, the airline is known for its record of safety, and the company has never lost a jet airliner.
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.
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), the undercarriage from a Vought F4U Corsair, and was powered by an Allison V-3420 24-cylinder 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 the sole remaining aircraft is on display at the US Air Force Museum in Ohio.
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 tallied 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.
November 18, 1955 – The first flight of the Bell X-2, a joint project between Bell Aircraft, the US Air Force, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to produce a rocket-powered aircraft that could explore flight characteristics between Mach 2 and Mach 3. Nicknamed Skybuster, a name seldom used officially, the X-2 was carried aloft by a Boeing B-50 Superfortress mother ship, and the two X-2s completed 20 test flights before the program ended in 1956. Aircraft No. 2 was lost along with test pilot Jean “Skip” Ziegler on June 27, 1952 after an inflight explosion while still attached to the B-50. Tests continued with aircraft No. 1 and, September 27, 1956, pilot Milburn G. “Mel” Apt became the first person to exceed Mach 3, but he lost control of the aircraft and was killed in the ensuing crash.
November 18, 1930 – The first flight of the Boeing XP-9, a high-wing monoplane fighter designed to fulfill a request from the US Army. Though only a single prototype was built, the XP-9 was a pioneer in the use of semi-monocoque construction where a portion of the loads on the aircraft are carried by its outer skin rather than by a rigid internal substructure or external bracing. The construction set the standard for future aircraft design, and design elements on the XP-9 were transferred to the more successful P-12 biplane. But the XP-9 proved to be unstable in flight and, despite modifications, the aircraft was retired after only 15 hours of flight testing.
November 19, 1999 – The launch of Shenzhou 1, the first launch as part of China’s efforts to develop a manned space program. The unmanned Shenzhou 1 was used mainly as a test for the Long March 2F rocket that would lift future missions into space and, as such, the crew capsule was equipped with minimal systems and did not include any life-support equipment for future crews. The Shenzhou 1 completed 14 orbits of the Earth before re-entering the atmosphere and landing in Mongolia. China’s first manned mission, Shenzhou 5, took place on October 15, 2003.
November 19, 1960 – The first flight of the Hawker Siddeley P.1127. Following the development of the Pegasus ducted fan engine by the Bristol Engine Company, Hawker Siddeley decided to use the new engine to create a V/STOL aircraft to fulfill a NATO specification for a light tactical fighter. With funding and technical assistance from the US, six P.1127 prototypes were built. The P.1127 was subsequently developed into the Kestrel FGA and finally the Harrier Jump Jet, which entered service in 1969.
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