Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 23 through November 25.


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. The Navy’s first foray into an all-jet fighter, the Vought F6U Pirate, had been an unqualified failure, and 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, Douglas abandoned their early attempts and focused instead on an entirely new, single-engine day fighter that received the internal Grumman 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. And, 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 J48 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.

Grumman F9F Panthers over Korea during the Korean 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 version 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 US Navy and 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)

Advertisement


November 25, 1940 – The first flight of the de Havilland Mosquito. The de Havilland Aircraft Company was founded Geoffrey de Havilland in 1920, and quickly made a name for itself with the development of very fast airplanes, as well as their use of wood to make light yet strong airframes. The company garnered fame with their DH.88, a twin-engine, wooden framed air racer that took top honors at the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race. The wooden skeleton of the DH.88 was covered with spruce plywood, and the dual engines produced an enormous amount of power for such a light, yet strong, airframe. De Havilland further refined their wood-working skills with the DH.91 Albatross, a four-engine passenger plane that was constructed with a skin made from a sandwich of two pieces of plywood encasing a layer of balsa wood, creating a very strong, yet very light, aircraft. In 1936, the British Air Ministry issued Specification P.13/36 calling for a twin-engine medium bomber that could carry 3,000 pounds of bombs, and aircraft designers replied with traditional heavy bombers such as the Avro Manchester and Handley Page Halifax. But de Havilland believed that a lightweight, simple design could carry the same load at even higher speeds, perhaps even outpacing modern fighter planes. The theory was similar to the German Schnellbomber concept, which proposed that fast medium bombers could outrun enemy fighters and would not need defensive armament or extra crewmen. Following this idea, and drawing on its previous experience with wooden aircraft, de Havilland made their new bomber out of wood, which provided a strength to weight ratio that was as good as Duralumin or steel, and also preserved metals in a time of war. They also followed their earlier design ethos of putting the most powerful engine possible with the lightest airframe possible. Though the design showed promise, some in the RAF were hesitant to accept such a radical design, so the Mosquito was initially accepted as a reconnaissance aircraft to test its mettle, then developed into a high-speed fighter with the addition of forward armament.

Advertisement

Powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, the “Mossie” made its first flight just 11 months after detailed design work began, and further tests proved that the Mosquito was indeed fast. Its top speed of 392 mph outpaced the Supermarine Spitfire Mk II by 3o mph, though it was twice as heavy and twice as big. The Mosquito proved to be a jack of all trades for the RAF, fulfilling the roles of reconnaissance, bomber, fighter, night fighter, trainer, torpedo bomber and target tug. Produced until 1950, over 7,700 were built, including over 1,100 in Canada, and the Mosquito served the air forces of 21 countries. Despite the early reluctance over its adoption, the Mossie ended the war with the lowest loss rate of any aircraft in the RAF Bomber Command, and the Germans were so impressed with the British Schnellbomber that they named their own all-wood Focke-Wulf Ta 154 the Moskito, perhaps in homage to the brilliant de Havilland design. (Photo author unknown; Photo by Mike Freer via Wikimedia Commons)


Advertisement

November 25, 1940 – The first flight of the Martin B-26 Marauder. World War II is often associated with the large strategic bomber, such as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress or the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. But even though those bombers could carry a large load, not all missions require the biggest bomb load possible, and there remained a need for a smaller, twin-engine bomber that could take on tactical targets at lower levels and with greater accuracy. For that mission, the US Army Air Forces had the Douglas A-20 Havoc and the North American B-25 Mitchell, but, in 1939, the USAAF issued Circular Proposal 39-640 that called for a new high-speed, twin-engine bomber with a top speed of 350 mph that could carry up to 2,000 pounds of bombs at a range of 3,000 miles. In July of that year, the Glen L. Martin Company proposed their Model 179 to fulfill that requirement, and, with all out war looming, the new bomber was accepted before any prototype flew, and the USAAF ordered 201 aircraft off the drawing board. In 1940, an additional 930 Marauders were ordered, still before the first aircraft ever left the ground. Like the other medium bombers then in service, the B-26 featured a shoulder-mounted wing with two engines slung underneath. It was powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp 18-cylinder radial engines and had a crew of seven: two pilots, bombardier, navigator, and three defensive gunners.

A B-26 in civilian livery after the war

The first production Marauder served as the flying prototype, and soon after it entered service it became clear that the emphasis on speed had an unfortunate side effect for the pilots. The relatively small wing, which was designed for high speed performance, also created particularly high wing loading, which resulted in higher landing speeds than many pilots had experienced in older aircraft. Inexperienced pilots, particularly trainees, discovered that if they dropped under 120-135 mph on landing, depending on the weight of the aircraft, the B-26 would stall and crash. The bomber gained the nickname “Widowmaker,” and pilots training in Florida began to chant, “One a day in Tampa Bay.” Other structural issues beset the early Marauders, and many pilots believed that the bomber could not be flown on one engine, until more experienced pilots, including Jimmy Doolittle, proved that it could be flown safely. Even when these difficulties were solved, including a redesign of the wing, the B-26 remained a demanding aircraft to fly, but it ended the war with the lowest combat loss rate of any US aircraft. The Marauder first saw action in the Pacific Theater in 1941, and eventually served with distinction in every theater of the war. By the close of WWII, the Marauder had flown more than 110,000 sorties and accounted for more than 150,000 tons of bombs dropped while serving with the US, Britain, Free France and South Africa. Production ended in 1945 after more than 5,200 Marauders had been built, and the type was retired by 1947. (US Air Force photo; Photo author unknown)

Advertisement


Short Takeoff


Advertisement

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)


Advertisement

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)


Advertisement

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)


Advertisement

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)


Advertisement

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 8 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)


Advertisement

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)


Advertisement

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 BOAC 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 )


USS Enterprise alongside USS Long Beach, the world’s first nuclear-powered surface warship

Advertisement

November 25, 1961 – The USS Enterprise is commissioned. The USS Enterprise (CVN-65) was the eighth US Naval vessel to bear the name and the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Ordered on November 15, 1957, Enterprise was built at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, and remains the longest naval vessel in the world. After her maiden voyage in 1960, Enterprise saw action during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, as well as the Iraq War. Enterprise was deactivated on December 1, 2012 and is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2016 after more than 50 years of service. The next Gerald R. Ford-class carrier, CVN-80, will be named Enterprise. (US Navy photo)


Recent Aviation History Photos

Advertisement


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.

Advertisement