Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 21 through November 23.


(UK Government)

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 dashing fighter pilots in their flying machines captured the public’s imagination. Iconic 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). 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).

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

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 that 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.

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The officers of No. 85 Squadron, including Major Edward Mannock, gather in front of their Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a scouts at St Omer aerodrome in France in 1918 (Imperial War Museum)

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 power plant. 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 and a number of reproductions for private use and filmmaking.


Wiley Post poses with his Lockheed Vega Winnie Mae at Floyd Bennett Field in 1933 (Smithsonian)

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November 22, 1898 – The birth of Wiley Post. The 20-year period between the World Wars, roughly 1919 to 1939, is widely considered the Golden Age of Aviation. Technological advances in aircraft construction saw the fabric-covered biplanes give way to all-metal monoplanes, and flamboyant barnstormers crisscrossed the United States, kindling a fascination with flying among the public. As more and more civilian pilots took to the skies, aviation ceased to be an entirely military affair, and larger-than-life characters began pushing the boundaries of flight as they strove to set records in altitude, speed and distance while also helping to advance aviation technology. One of the greatest characters to come out of the era was Wiley Post.

Lockheed Vega 5C Winnie Mae on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington, DC. Post advertised the flight records he set by listing them on the Vega’s fuselage. (Smithsonian)

Post 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 returned to work in the oilfields of Oklahoma. At the age of 26, Post finally made it into the air, not as a pilot, but as a daredevil parachutist for a traveling flying circus. When Post lost his left eye in an oilfield accident, he 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. This began a lifelong association of the Vega and and Post, and he 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 nine hours. But still greater fame lay ahead.

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Wiley Post and Harold Gatty photographed at Berlin-Tempelhof Airport before continuing on to Moscow on their round-the-world flight (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)

On June 23, 1931, still piloting Winnie Mae, Post and his co-pilot Harold Gatty set out from Roosevelt Field in New York for a flight around the world. Their route took them to the Canadian Maritimes, then over the British Isles and Europe, across Russia, then on to Alaska and across Canada before landing back in New York. The flight covered 15,474 miles and took Post and Gatty 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. The pair returned to a ticker-tape parade and lunch at the White House with President Herbert Hoover. But records in the Golden Age rarely stood for long, and Post broke his own circumnavigation record three years later, this time flying solo. After three years spent upgrading the Winnie Mae with an autopilot and radio direction finder, Post took off from Floyd Bennett Field in New York on July 15, 1933 and flew roughly the same route as before. When he landed back at Bennet, Post had broken 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.

Post dons his homemade pressure suit prior to one of his high-altitude flights. (Smithsonian)

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But Post was not just a record breaker. Building on the success of his round-the-world flights, he began to investigate long-distance flight at what was considered an extreme altitude for the day. With backing from the Philips Petroleum Company and the B.F. Goodrich Company, Post developed a pressure suit that allowed him to fly in the frigid and thin air at 50,000 feet. In the process, Post also discovered the jet stream, a high-altitude, high-speed current of air that today helps speed jet airliners on routes across the country.

Will Rogers and Wiley Post photographed a short time before their fatal crash (Author unknown)

For such a giant of the Golden Age of flight, it would seem fitting somehow for Post to die in a blaze of glory, trying to break yet another record. However, his 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 often traveled together, with Post flying while Rogers worked at his 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 in Washington, DC.

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Short Takeoff


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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 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.


(Author unknown)

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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 exceptional piloting skills, the crew was awarded the Hugh Gordon-Burge Memorial Award and the Flight Safety Foundation Professionalism Award in Flight Safety.


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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, 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.


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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, but sales were hampered by delays and lack of pressurization and only 47 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.


(Mölders photo via Deutsches Bundesarchiv; Bf 109 photo author unknown)

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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 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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November 23, 1959 – The first flight of the Boeing 720, a short- to medium-range airliner developed from the successful Boeing 707. Launched in 1960 with United Airlines, the 720 was smaller than its predecessor and carried fewer passengers, but was developed to operate from shorter runways at airports that were inaccessible to the larger 707. The 720 became a popular charter aircraft, famously for the British band Led Zeppelin, who named their 720 The Starship. A follow-on variant of the 720, the 720B, replaced the original Pratt & Whitney JT3C turbojet engines with Pratt & Whitney JT3D turbofan engines, and the 720 was eventually superseded by the Boeing 727 and 737.


(US Navy)

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November 23, 1942 – The first flight of the Vought V-173. Nicknamed the “Flying Pancake,” the V-173 was a developmental proof of concept aircraft to create a new fighter for the US Navy that would take advantage of the unorthodox aircraft’s low aspect ratio wing and provide lower take off and landing speeds while preserving maneuverability at high speeds. The V-173 was eventually developed into the all-metal XF5U and, while the design promised excellent performance, the XF5U came at a time when the Navy was transitioning to jet aircraft (it shares a maiden flight date with the Grumman F9F Panther) and the program was canceled by 1947.


Connecting Flights


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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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