Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 19 through November 22


November 22, 1916 – The first flight of the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5. The airplane became an integral part of war during WWI, and the exploits of dashing fighter pilots in their flying machines captured the public’s imagination. Iconic aircraft like the Sopwith Camel and Fokker Dr.I Dreidecker came to symbolize the airwar and, as two of the top performing fighters of the war, they remain fixed in our memories and have even found a place in popular culture (Snoopy “flies” his Sopwith Camel doghouse against the Red Baron flying a Dreidecker). But, just as the Supermarine Spitfire overshadowed the workhorse Hawker Hurricane in WWII, the Camel overshadowed its stablemate, the Royal Aircraft S.E.5 (Scout Experimental 5), though both aircraft worked together to gain air supremacy over the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (German Air Force). Unlike the Camel, which was powered by a heavy rotary engine spinning at the front of the fighter, the S.E.5 was developed by Henry Folland, John Kenworthy and Major Frank Goodden around the new, water cooled 150 hp Hispano-Suiza 8 which turned the propeller through a series of gears. The stationary V8 meant that the S.E.5 didn’t have the weight and torque of an entire engine spinning at the front of the plane, and that helped the S.E.5 to be a very stable aircraft to fly, particularly in the hands of inexperienced pilots. It also made it a superb platform for gunnery. But even though the S.E.5 2 was known for its stability, it was still a solid dogfighter, and while it couldn’t quite match the Camel in a tight scrap, the S.E.5 outperformed it at high altitude, and was more effective against the Fokker D.VII when it arrived over the battlefield in 1918. The Royal Aircraft Factory built three prototypes at their Farnborough factory, but two were lost to crashes, one of which claimed the life of Royal Aircraft’s chief test pilot and designer Frank Goodden. The cause of the crashes was traced to problems with the wing construction, so the S.E.5 was redesigned to strengthen the wing, resulting in one of the most rugged designs of the war, and giving the S.E.5 particularly good strength in a high-speed dive.

S.E.5a during WWI. A wartime censor has obscured aircraft serial numbers in the photo.

The S.E.5 entered service in March 1917 and was flown by some of the Allied Powers’ greatest and most decorated pilots, such as top Canadian ace Billy Bishop and leading South African ace Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor. Three out of England’s four top aces, Edward Mannock, James McCudden, and Albert Ball all spent time in the S.E.5. After the production of 77 aircraft, the original Hispano-Suiza 8 engine was replaced with a slightly more powerful Hispano-Suiza 8b which provided a welcome 50 hp boost over the original power plant. This engine was subsequently replaced by a 200 hp Wolseley Viper, a high-compression version of the Hispano-Suiza 8 which also replaced the problematic gear drive of the earlier engine with a direct drive. This became the standard engine for what was now known as the S.E.5a. Over 5,000 S.E.5s were produced during the war, and most were retired soon after the war’s end. A handful continued into civilian life, and two original S.E.5s remain airworthy, along with a number of original aircraft on static display and a number of reproductions for private use and filmmaking. (UK government photos)

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November 22, 1898 – The birth of Wiley Post. The period between the World Wars, roughly 1919 to 1939, is called the Golden Age of Aviation. During this period, fabric-covered biplanes quickly gave way to metal monoplanes, and barnstormers crisscrossed the United States, sparking a fascination with flying. Aviation ceased to be an entirely military affair as more and more civilian pilots took to the skies, and larger-than-life characters began pushing the boundaries of flight ever farther as they strove to set records in altitude, speed and distance while further advancing aviation technology. One of those characters was Wiley Post, who was born in Van Zandt County, Texas and first became fascinated in aviation at the age of 14 when he saw his first airplane at a county fair. With the outbreak of WWI, Post enlisted in the US Army Air Service, but the war ended before he could finish his training, and he went back to work in the oilfields of Oklahoma. At the age of 26, Post finally took to the skies, not as a pilot, but as a daredevil parachutist for a traveling flying circus. When an oilfield accident caused the loss of his left eye, Post used the money from the accident settlement to purchase his first airplane, and he became the personal pilot of a wealthy Oklahoma oilman who purchased a Lockheed Vega and named it Winnie Mae after his daughter. Flying the Vega, Post put his first mark in the record books with a victory in the National Air Race Derby from Los Angeles to Chicago, completing the flight in just over 9 hours. But still greater fame lay ahead. On June 23, 1931, still flying Winnie Mae, Post and his co-pilot Harold Gatty set out from Roosevelt Field in New York for a flight around the world. The pair headed for Canada, then over the British Isles and Europe, then over Russia and on to Alaska, then across Canada and back to New York. The flight covered 15,474 miles and took them just 8 days, 15 hours, and 51 minutes, slashing more than 12 days off the previous record set by the Graf Zeppelin (LZ 127) in 1929. They returned to a ticker-tape parade and lunch at the White House with President Herbert Hoover. But records in the 1930s were meant to be broken, and Post broke his own circumnavigation record three years later, but this time, he did it alone. On July 15, 1933, Post took off from Floyd Bennett Field in New York, once again piloting Winnie Mae after using the intervening three years to upgrade the aircraft with an autopilot and radio direction finder. Covering roughly the same route as before, Post broke the record he set with Gatty and finished the flight just 7 days, 18 hours, 49 minutes. In an era where feats of aviation still garnered the attention of the world, a crowd of 50,000 thronged the airfield on his return. Not content to rest on the laurels of broken records, Post was also an important innovator in aviation technology. In an era before pressurized aircraft, he helped develop the first pressure suit for pilots, and reached an altitude of 50,000 feet, discovering the jet stream along the way.

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Will Rogers and Wiley Post before the crash that claimed their lives

For such a giant of an era, it almost seems fitting that Post should die in a blaze of glory, adding to his fame. However, Post’s death on August 15, 1935 was anything but glorious. Since the early days of Post’s flying career, he had been close friends with American author and humorist Will Rogers, and they would often travel together, with Post flying while Rogers worked at the typewriter. During a flight from Fairbanks to Point Barrow, Alaska in an experimental aircraft cobbled together from parts scavenged from a Lockheed Explorer and Lockheed Orion, Post became lost and and landed to ask for directions. Taking off again, the aircraft suffered engine failure and crashed into Walapka Lagoon, killing both men. Post was just 36 years old. During his lifetime, Post was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1932, the Harmon Trophy in 1934, and was posthumously inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1969. The Winnie Mae is on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, (Photo via Smithsonian Institution; photo author unknown)


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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. (Photo of Long March 2F by DLR via Wikimedia Commons)


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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, with the first flight and hover achieved on November 19, 1960. The P.1127 was subsequently developed into the Kestrel FGA and finally the Harrier Jump Jet, which entered service in 1969. (Photo by Mike Freer via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 20, 1953 – The Douglas Skyrocket flies faster than Mach 2. The Skyrocket was a Navy-funded project to construct a jet- and rocket-powered aircraft to explore supersonic flight. The D-588-2 was the second in a planned series of three aircraft that was to culminate in the mockup of an actual fighter, though the third aircraft was never built. Douglas built three Skyrockets, and between them they flew 313 test missions. The record-breaking flight by test pilot Scott Crossfield’s marked the first time that anybody had exceeded Mach 2 in a piloted aircraft. The final mission of the Skyrocket was flown in August of 1956, and the program gathered important data and understanding about stable, controlled flight of a swept-wing aircraft in both transonic and supersonic flight. (NASA photo)


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November 21, 1952 – The first flight of the Percival Pembroke, a twin-engine, light transport aircraft that was developed from the earlier Percival Prince. Introduced in 1953, the Pembroke replaced the Avro Anson with the RAF for transport duties, where it was known as the Percival C.1, and it followed standard RAF practice of having the passenger seats face aft for safety. In addition to its transport duties, the Percival served as a reconnaissance aircraft with both the RAF and the Finnish Air Force, and production ended in 1958 after 128 aircraft were built. The Percival served the RAF until 1988. (Photo by Arpingstone via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 22, 2003 – A DHL cargo plane is struck by a missile near Baghdad. The Airbus A300 cargo craft was performing a rapid climbout from Baghdad airport when Iraqi Fedayeen fighters struck the aircraft’s left wing with a shoulder-launched 9K34 Strela air defense missile. The missile strike caused the aircraft to lose complete hydaulic control, but the flight crew was able to return to the airport using only engine thrust for steering, making a high-speed landing and departing the runway before coming to a stop. For their extraordinary piloting skills, the crew was awarded the Hugh Gordon-Burge Memorial Award and the Flight Safety Foundation Professionalism Award in Flight Safety. (Photo author unknown)


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November 22, 1982 – The death of Jean Batten. Batten was born in New Zealand on September 15, 1909, and became one of the most famous aviatrixes of her time. She chose to become a pilot after a flight with famed Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith, and took her first solo flight in 1930. In 1934, Batten beat the record for solo flight from England to Australia by 4 days, completing the trip in just under 15 days while flying a de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth biplane. In 1935, she set a record for flight from England to Brazil, and set another record in 1936 flying from England to New Zealand. For her exploits, Batten was awarded the Harmon Trophy three times, and was created Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1936. Her career ended with the start of WWII, when her Percival Gull (pictured) was pressed into military service and she was not permitted to fly it. Batten became a recluse, living in various places around the world, before she succumbed to an infection from a dog bite at age 73 while living in Spain. (Aircraft photo by Ruth AS via Wikimedia Commons; Batten photograph via National Library of Australia)


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November 22, 1946– The first flight of the Martin 2-0-2, a twin-engined passenger airliner that Martin hoped would take the place of the Douglas DC-3. Like the DC-3, the 2-0-2 was not pressurized, and production delays caused many airlines to cancel orders for the 2-0-2 and purchase newer pressurized airliners instead, such as the Convair 240. The 2-0-2 entered service with Pennsylvania Central Airlines in 1945, but the crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 421, killing 33, revealed a serious deficiency in the design of the wing spar. The aircraft was redesigned and re-engined, resulting in the 2-0-2a. With sales hampered by delays and lack of pressurization, only 47 2-0-2s were built, and the airliner was subsequently developed into the pressurized Martin 4-0-4, which proved to be somewhat more successful. A single 2-0-2 survives today, unrestored, at the Aviation Hall of Fame Museum in New Jersey. (Photo by Bill Larkins via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 22, 1941 – The death of Werner Mölders, a German Luftwaffe pilot and the leading fighter ace in the Spanish Civil War. When combined with his victories in WWII, Mölders was the first pilot in history to claim 100 victories in aerial combat, surpassing WWI ace Manfred von Richtofen, better known as the Red Baron. Mölders was a leading figure in the development of aerial combat tactics, and is credited with creating the finger-four formation. For propaganda reasons, Mölders was removed from combat in 1941, in much the same way American aces were flown home to sell war bonds, but he died at the age of 28 in the crash landing of a Heinkel He 111 while flying as a passenger. (Photo of Mölders Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-116-29 via Wikimedia Commons; Bf 109 photo author unknown)


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