Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 22 through November 24.
November 22, 1916 – The first flight of the Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5. The airplane became an integral part 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 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, 150 hp Hispano-Suiza 8 water-cooled V8 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 to make the S.E.5 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 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 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 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)
November 22, 1898 – The birth of Wiley Post. The 20-year period between the World Wars, roughly 1919 to 1939, is considered the Golden Age of Aviation. During this period, fabric-covered biplanes gave way to all-metal monoplanes, and barnstormers crisscrossed the United States, kindling a fascination with flying among the public. 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 as they strove to set records in altitude, speed and distance while also helping to advance aviation technology, and one of the greatest characters to come out of the era was Wiley Post.
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, so he went back 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. 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 nine 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 across Russia and on to Alaska before crossing Canada for a landing back in 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. The pair 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 flew to an altitude of 50,000 feet and discovering the jet stream.
For such a giant of an era, it would somehow seem fitting that for Post to die in a blaze of glory. 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 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)
November 24, 1947 – The first flight of the Grumman F9F Panther. With the advent of the jet engine during WWII, the US Air Force fielded America’s first jet-powered fighter with the Bell P-59 Airacomet in 1942, so the US Navy started looking for their own jet-powered fighter to operate from its fleet of carriers. Their first foray into an all-jet fighter, the Vought F6U Pirate, had been an unqualified failure, so work continued to find a suitable aircraft. Grumman began their own studies to design a new fighter, but their first attempt, a four-engine night fighter, lost out to the Douglas F3D Skynight. So, Grumman abandoned their early attempts and focused instead on an entirely new, single-engine day fighter that received the internal designation G-79. Since early attempts at jet engine manufacturing in the US were not producing sufficiently powerful engines, the new fighter was equipped with a Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet, built under license in the US by Pratt & Whitney and given the US designation J42.
The new fighter, now designated XF9F by the Navy and given the nickname Panther following Grumman’s custom of naming its fighters after cats, had straight wings like other early jets of its era, and the engine was fed by air intakes in the wing roots. In a nod to the short range of the early, thirsty jet engines, permanent wingtip fuel tanks were added to the prototype to increase fuel capacity, which had the serendipitous benefit of increasing the Panther’s roll rate. Though still under development, the Panther was cleared for carrier operations on September 1949, and the decision was made to replace the original J47 with a more powerful Pratt & Whitney J48, another license-built Rolls-Royce engine based on the RB.44 Tay. Armed with four 20mm cannons and hardpoints for 2,000 pounds of bombs or rockets, the Panther entered service with the US Navy and Marine Corps in the Korean War, becoming the most widely used Navy fighter and ground attack aircraft of the war.
Over the course of the conflict, Panthers flew more than 78,000 sorties and scored the Navy’s first air-to-air kill of the war when a Panther downed a North Korean Yakovlev Yak-9 piston-engined fighter. But the straight winged Panther proved no match for the swept-wing Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter, so Grumman developed a swept-wing variant of the Panther which was known as the Cougar, though it shared the F9F (later F-9) designation. From 1949-1955, the F9F served as the first jet aircraft to be flown by the US Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron, and nearly 1,400 Panthers were produced for the Navy and US Marine Corps, as well as an export version that was sold to the Argentine Navy. The US Panthers were retired in 1958, but the Argentine fighters served until 1969. (US Navy photos)
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)
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, completing the trip in just under 15 days, shaving four days off the old record, while flying a de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth biplane. In 1935, 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. (Aircraft photo by Ruth AS via Wikimedia Commons; Batten photograph via National Library of Australia)
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)
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)
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 replaced by the Boeing 727 and 737. (Photo by Christian Volpati via Wikimedia Commons)
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. (US Navy photo)
November 24, 2016 – The first flight of the Airbus A350-1000, the longest variant of the A350 airliner with accommodations for up to 366 passengers in a standard 3-class configuration. The A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body) is Airbus’ first aircraft designed using primarily composite construction of the wings and tail, and was developed to replace the four-engine Airbus A340 and compete with the Boeing 787 and 777 by offering better fuel economy. Assembly of three A350-1000 test aircraft, which are essentially an A350-900 stretched by 11 fuselage frames and given a slightly modified wing, began in 2015. The airliner is powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97 engines, the most most powerful turbofans ever produced by Rolls-Royce. The -1000 is scheduled to enter service with Qatar Airways in 2017. (Photo by Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia Commons)
November 24, 1971 – The hijacking of Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305, a regularly scheduled flight between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. The suspected hijacker, Dan Cooper, who has since come to be known as D.B. Cooper, claimed to have a bomb and demanded that $200,000 and four parachutes be given to him when the flight reached Seattle. After the Boeing 727 (N467US) landed, the passengers were released and officials met Cooper’s demands. After refueling, the airliner took off and Cooper ordered the crew to fly to Mexico City. Once in the air, Cooper parachuted from the rear stairway of the aircraft and was never seen again. Authorities believe Cooper perished in the jump, but neither his body nor the money was ever found. The case remains the only unsolved act of air piracy in American aviation history. (Photo of Boeing 727 by clipperarctic via Wikimedia Commons; Cooper sketch via FBI)
November 24, 1955 – The first flight of the Fairchild F-27, a turboprop airliner developed from the Fokker F27 Friendship. The program began in Holland with the Fokker P275, and was eventually built in the US by Fairchild as the F-27. With capacity for up to 40 passengers, the first F-27s entered service with West Coast Airlines in 1958, and was soon flying for a host of American carriers as well as carriers of eight other countries. The F-27 was later given more powerful engines as the F-27B, and Fairchild developed a stretched version, known as the FH-228, which increased seating capacity to 56 passengers and added a cargo compartment between the cockpit and passenger cabin. A total of 128 F-27s were produced, along with 78 FH-227s and, as of 2010, only one remained in active service with the Myanmar Air Force. (Photo by Richard Vandervord via Wikimedia Commons)
November 24, 1947 – The first flight of the Convair XC-99, a double-deck transport aircraft developed for the US Air Force and the largest piston-powered land-based aircraft ever built. Developed from the Convair B-36 Peacemaker, the XC-99 was designed to carry 100,000 pounds of cargo or 400 fully equipped troops over 8,000 miles. A civilian airliner version, the Model 37, was planned but never developed. Introduced in 1949, only one XC-99 was built, and it was retired in 1957 after eight years of service. Today, the aircraft is part of the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, and is currently disassembled and stored at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona while it awaits restoration. (US Air Force photo)
November 24, 1939 – British Overseas Airways Corporation is formed. State-owned British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was created by an Act of Parliament in 1939 with the merger of Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd. The new company started operations on April 1, 1940, and provided vital transport and logistical support to the far flung British Colonies during WWII. After the war, BOAC continued to operate flying boats until 1950, and was the first airline to introduce jet aircraft in May 1952 with the de Havilland Comet. BOAC was eventually merged with British European Airways (BEA) in 1974, and ceased to be an independent organization when it was merged with British Airways on March 31, 1974. Had the final merger not taken place, BOAC would have been one of the airlines operating the Concorde supersonic transport. (Photo via San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives )
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