Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 24 through November 27.


A US Navy Grumman F9F-2 Panther of fighter squadron VF-71 flies over Task Force 77 in 1952 during the Korean War (US Navy)

November 24, 1947 – The first flight of the Grumman F9F Panther. The turbojet engine first appeared over the battlefield of WWII with the Messerschmitt Me 262, and the British soon followed with the Gloster Meteor. America’s first operational jet fighter, the rather disappointing Bell P-59 Airacomet, took its maiden flight in 1942, but never made it into battle. The jet engine was clearly the power of the future of aviation, and the US Navy fielded its first jet fighter with the Vought F6U Pirate, an abysmally underpowered and underperforming fighter that turned out to be an unqualified failure. Grumman, which had provided some of the best naval aircraft of the war, turned their sights on a jet-powered carrier plane with a four-engine night fighter, the G-75, but ultimately 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.

Two Grumman F9F Panther prototypes in flight in 1948. The front Panther is the XF9F-3 with an Allison J33-A-8 engine, the rear plane is a XF9F-2, powered by a Pratt & Whitney J42-P-6 engine, a licence-built Rolls-Royce Nene. Note the lack of wingtip fuel tanks. (US Navy)

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. Since early attempts at jet engine manufacturing in the US were not producing sufficiently powerful engines, the Panther was equipped with a Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet, built under license in the US by Pratt & Whitney and given the US designation J42. 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.

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F9F-2 Panthers fighters of fighter squadron VF-93 Blue Blazers launch for a mission over Korea from the aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea (CV-47) during the Korean War. (US Navy)

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 during 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.

F9F-5 Panthers flown by the US Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron. The Panther was the first jet flown by the Blue Angels, serving from 1951-1954. (US Navy)

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(Author unknown)

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 innovative and advanced aircraft of all types. By the 1930s, the world’s fascination with air racing reached a fever pitch, and the MacRobertson Air Race from England, to Australia, billed as the world’s greatest air race, presented an opportunity for de Havilland to showcase their knack for building light yet powerful aircraft. To save weight, their entry, the DH.88 Comet, featured a wooden frame covered with spruce plywood, and the team of Comet pilots were the outright winners of the race with an elapsed time of just 71 hours. De Havilland further refined their wood-working skills with the DH.91 Albatross, a four-engine passenger plane with a pioneering monocoque fuselage constructed from a sandwich of two pieces of plywood encasing a layer of balsa wood, creating a very strong, yet very light, aircraft.

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A de Havilland Mosquito IIF of No. 456 Squadron RAAF in flight. A wartime censor has scratched out the wingtip antennae of the Airborne-Interceptor radar. (RAF)

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 Manchesterand 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 idea was similar to the German Schnellbomber concept, which proposed that fast medium bombers would be capable of outrunning enemy fighters and would not need defensive armament or extra crewmen.

A Mosquito banks low over the city of Copenhagen, Denmark during Operation Carthage on March 21, 1945. While the target of the mission, the Gestapo headquarters, was destroyed by 20 Mosquito bombers, 125 civilians, including 86 schoolchildren, died when their school was mistakenly bombed. (Author unknown)

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Drawing on its previous experience with the Comet and Albatross, 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 design ethos of putting the most powerful engine possible with the lightest airframe possible. Powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, the Mosquito made its first flight just 11 months after detailed design work began, and further tests proved that the “Mossie” was indeed as fast as promised. 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, and was one of the fastest aircraft in the world at the time.

Forty Canadian-built Mosquitos were flown by the US as the F-8. (NASA)

Even though the Mosquito showed promise, and certainly lived up to its billing as a fast bomber, some in the RAF were hesitant to accept such a radical aircraft. So the Mosquito was initially adopted for reconnaissance missions to test its mettle, then developed into a high-speed fighter with the addition of forward-firing armament. Ultimately, 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, and the “Wooden Wonder” ended the war with the lowest loss rate of any aircraft in the RAF Bomber Command. Over 7,700 were built before production ended in 1950, including over 1,100 in Canada, and the Mosquito served the air forces of 21 countries. Forty Canadian-built reconnaissance Mosquitos were flown by the US Army as the F-8. The Luftwaffe was 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.

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Martin B-26B Marauder A Kay Pro’s Dream in flight during WWII (US Air Force)

November 25, 1940 – The first flight of the Martin B-26 Marauder. During World War II, large, four-engine strategic bombers such as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Boeing B-29 Superfortress ranged the skies over Europe and the Pacific, dropping huge loads of bombs on both civilian and military targets. But not all missions required the biggest bomb load possible, and there remained a need for a smaller, twin-engine tactical bomber that could attack targets at lower levels and with greater accuracy. 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.

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A closeup photo of the crew of the B-26B Marauder Fightin’ Cock. This aircraft was lost to a landing accident in August 1944 after sustaining battle damage during a mission to France. (US Air Force)

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. 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 training or in other similar aircraft. Inexperienced pilots, particularly trainees, discovered that if they dropped under 120-135 mph on landing, depending on the weight of the aircraft, the Marauder 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.

Battle-scarred B-26B Big Hairy Bird of the 599th bomber squadron, sporting a shark’s mouth and D-Day invasion stripes, flies somewhere over Europe in 1944. (US Air Force)

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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 1942, though the bulk of B-26 missions were flown over Europe and the Mediterranean. The US Army Air Forces calling the Marauder “the chief bombardment weapon on the Western Front” and, by the close of WWII, Marauders 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.

Though Marauder crews suffered the fewest combat losses of any American bomber type, bombing missions were still risky business. Here a B-26 suffers a direct hit by flak over Toulon, France in 1944. (US Air Force)

Short Takeoff


(Clipperarctic, FBI sketch)

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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.


(US Air Force)

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November 24, 1959 – The first flight of the Hiller X-18, a vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) aircraft and the first to be designed with a tilting wing. The Hiller Aircraft Corporation was founded in 1942 and worked primarily with helicopters before taking on the V/STOL X-18. In an effort to shorten development time, the X-18 was built from parts scavenged from other aircraft, the fuselage coming from the unsuccessful Chase YC-122C Avitruc transport and the turboprop engines from the Lockheed XFV and Convair XFY. For takeoff, the wing tilted upward, and exhaust from the engines downward at the tail to control pitch. Test pilots carried out a total of 20 test flights, but problems with control plagued the aircraft. However, useful information from the program, particularly the need to cross-link the engines should one fail in hover, was used in the development of the LTV XC-142 tiltwing.


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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 the airliner was soon flying for a host of American carriers and airlines of eight other countries. The upgraded F-27B received more powerful engines, 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.


(US Air Force)

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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, where it awaits restoration.


(San Diego Air and Space Museum)

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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.


USS Enterprise sails alongside USS Long Beach (CGN 9), the world’s first nuclear-powered surface warship (US Navy)

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November 25, 1961 – The USS Enterprise is commissioned. 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 still holds the record as 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. After more than 50 years of service, Enterprise was deactivated on December 1, 2012 and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on February 3, 2017 and now awaits scrapping and recycling. The next Gerald R. Ford-class carrier, CVN 80, will be named Enterprise.


(NASA)

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November 26, 1985 – The launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-61-B carrying Rodolfo Neri Vela, the first astronaut from Mexico. Vela, a professor in the Telecommunications Department in the Electrical Engineering Division at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, flew on board Atlantis as a Payload Specialist, helping to launch three communications satellites and carrying out various scientific experiments, including special experiments for the Mexican government. Vela, the second Latin-American astronaut (after Cuban Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez), logged over 165 hours and in space and completed 108 orbits of the Earth.


(UK Government)

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November 26, 1951 – The first flight of the Gloster Javelin, a twin-engine, delta-wing interceptor and night fighter. It was also the first purpose-built, all-weather interceptor developed for the RAF, and the last in the Gloster Aircraft Company line of jets that began with the Meteor, Britain’s first operational jet fighter. The subsonic Javelin served the Royal Air Force from the mid-1950s through the 1960s, and was eventually replaced by the supersonic English Electric Lightning, though the two served together for much of the Javelin’s operational career. While the Javelin never saw any actual combat, it did serve in a number of global hot spots during its career, and was retired in 1968 after the construction of 436 aircraft.


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November 26, 1925 – The first flight of the Tupolev TB-1, a large, twin-engine bomber developed by Andrei Tupolev for the Soviet Air Force. The Soviet Union’s first large, all-metal aircraft, the TB-1 employed a corrugated Duralumin skin originally pioneered by Hugo Junkers, and was so large that a wall of the factory had to be knocked down to get it out. Powered by a pair of Mikulin M-17 liquid-cooled V-12 engines (license-built BMW VI), the TB-1 had a top speed of 111 mph and could carry 2,205 pounds of bombs. Following a 13,194 mile promotional flight from Moscow to New York, the TB-1 entered service as the Soviet Union’s standard heavy bomber, and was fitted with either traditional landing gear or floats. A total of 218 were built, and the TB-1 was eventually replaced by the much larger Tupolev TB-3.


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November 27, 2005 – Boeing delivers the 1,050th and final 757. Designed as a larger replacement for the three-engined Boeing 727 while retaining the 727's short field capabilities, the 757 took its maiden flight on February 19, 1982 and entered service with Eastern Air Lines on January 1, 1983. The 757 was developed concurrently with the wide-body Boeing 767, and shares the essentially the same cockpit, allowing crews to transition easily between the two types. Of the 1,050 produced, 913 were built as the 757-200 which seats up to 239 passengers. Production of the 757 ended in October 2004 as Boeing shifted emphasis to further development of the Boeing 737, and 688 757s remained in service as of July 2016.


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November 27, 1969 – The first flight of the IAI Arava, a light short takeoff and landing (STOL) utility aircraft and the first major design by Israeli Aircraft Industries to enter production. In order to achieve IAI’s design goals of carrying up to 20 passengers while maintaining STOL and unprepared runway capability, the Arava has a large central fuselage placed between a twin-boom tail and high wing, and the rear of the fuselage can be opened for cargo loading. The Arava is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turboprop engines, and first saw service in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, though the Israeli Air Force did not buy them in any numbers until 1988. The majority serve primarily in third world countries.


(US Air Force)

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November 27, 1949 – The first flight of the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II. The C-124 was developed from the smaller C-74 Globemaster, and served the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) as the primary heavy lift cargo and passenger carrier throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s before it was replaced by the jet-powered Lockheed C-141 Starlifter. The C-124 could carry 68,500 poulds of cargo, including tanks, bulldozers and other heavy equipment without needing to disassemble them prior to loading. It could also carry 200 fully equipped troops on its two passenger decks. The Globemaster II served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and ended its career with the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. A total of 448 were produced, and nine still survive as museum pieces.


(US Air Force)

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November 27, 1944 – The first flight of the Boeing XF8B, a long-range carrier-based multi-role fighter/bomber initially developed to protect bombers on missions over the pacific while leaving US Navy aircraft carriers at a safe distance from Japan. Boeing designed the XF8B to fulfill the roles of fighter, dive bomber, interceptor, level bomber, and torpedo bomber, and the massive fighter, indeed the largest piston-powered, single-seat US fighter developed during WWII, was be powered by an equally massive Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major supercharged 28-cylinder four-row radial engine, the largest-displacement piston aircraft engine to be developed during the war and the same engine that powered the postwar B-50 Superfortress. Ultimately, the war ended after the construction of a single prototype, and the remaining unfinished preproduction aircraft were scrapped.


(Author unknown)

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November 27-28, 1929 – Richard Byrd and his crew make the first flight over the South Pole. Explorer Richard Byrd began his first expedition to the South Pole in 1928, taking two ships and three airplanes for use in exploration of Antarctica. After establishing a base camp on the Ross Ice Shelf, Byrd and his crew took off in a Ford Trimotor named Floyd Bennett in honor of the recently deceased pilot from Byrd’s previous expeditions. During a round trip flight of 18 hours, in which they jettisoned much of their equipment to maintain altitude, the team crossed the South Pole and returned to base. For his exploits, Byrd was promoted to the rank of rear admiral at the age of 41, becoming the youngest admiral in the history of the US Navy.


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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