Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 20 through November 22.
November 22, 1916 – The first flight of the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5. The airplane became an integral instrument of war during the First World War, and the exploits of daring men in their flying machines captured the attention of a public fascinated by aviation. Aircraft such as the Sopwith Camel and Fokker Dr.I Dreidecker became iconic symbols of the war in the air 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). However, just as the svelte Supermarine Spitfire overshadowed the more workmanlike 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, developed by Henry Folland, John Kenworthy and Major Frank Goodden, was designed around the new 150 hp Hispano-Suiza 8 water-cooled V8 turning a geared propeller. As opposed to the rotating engine of the Camel, 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 this helped to make the S.E.5 a very stable aircraft to fly, particularly in the hands of inexperienced pilots. That stability also made it a superb platform for gunnery. But despite its stability, the S.E.5 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 the German fighter 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 aircraft of the war, and giving the S.E.5 particularly good strength in a high-speed dive.
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 that provided a welcome boost of 50 hp over the original powerplant. This engine was subsequently replaced by a 200 hp Wolseley Viper, a high-compression version of the Hispano-Suiza 8 which also did away with the problematic gear drive of the earlier engine. 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. Reproductions have also been built for private use and filmmaking.
November 20, 1953 – The Douglas Skyrocket exceeds 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 fighter was never built. Douglas built three Skyrockets which combined to fly a total of 313 test missions, and the record-breaking flight by test pilot Scott Crossfield 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 swept-wing aircraft at both transonic and supersonic speeds.
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 rearward 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.
November 21, 1783 – Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes perform the first untethered free flight in a balloon. Eighteenth-century France was a hotbed for early ballooning, and it was the Montgolfier Brothers who made and flew the first tethered balloon on October 15, 1783 following tests with animal occupants. One month later, French aviation pioneers François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes took of in a Montgolfier balloon from the outskirts of Paris, rose to an altitude of 3,000 feet, and spent about 25 minutes in the air during a flight that covered a distance of 5.5 miles. De Rozier carried out more balloon flights before his death, along with balloonist Pierre Romain, while attempting a flight across the English Channel in 1785. D’Arlandes died in 1784, possibly from suicide, after his dismissal from the army on charges of cowardice.
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, and made a high-speed landing in which the A300 departed the runway before coming to a stop. For their exceptional piloting skills, the crew was awarded the Hugh Gordon-Burge Memorial Award and the Flight Safety Foundation Professionalism Award in Flight Safety.
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, piloting a de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth biplane, Batten beat the record for solo flight from England to Australia by completing the trip in just under 15 days, shaving four days off the old record. The following year, Batten set a record for flight from England to Brazil, and then another record in 1936 flying from England to New Zealand. For her exploits, Batten was awarded the Harmon Trophy three times, and was named 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.
November 22, 1946– The first flight of the Martin 2-0-2, a twin-engined passenger airliner that Martin hoped would challenge the postwar dominance 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, but sales were hampered by delays and lack of pressurization and only forty-seven 2-0-2s were built. The 2-0-2 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.
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 brought back to the United States to sell war bonds, but he died at the age of 28 as a passenger in a Heinkel He 111 which crashed while attempting to land.
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