Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 26 through November 29.


November 27, 1944 – The first flight of the Boeing XF8B. In the Pacific theater of WWII, the US Navy was faced not only with conquering the Japanese, but also conquering the ocean’s vast distances. Small by necessity, carrier aircraft had relatively short range, and that limited the extent to which they could reach out and attack land targets or Japanese ships. But the Navy knew that the closer they got to the Japanese homeland, the closer the fleet, with its vulnerable carriers, would be to land-based bombers. What they needed was an aircraft that would have enough range to reach Japan while leaving the carriers at a safe distance. And, once over the target, the aircraft had to be capable of many different missions. So the Navy told Boeing that it wanted a five-in-one solution: a fighter/dive bomber/interceptor/level bomber/torpedo bomber all in one package. Boeing had already made a name for themselves building large warplanes like the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Stratofortress, and they set to work on what they designated the Model 400. The massive fighter, indeed the largest piston-powered, single-seat US fighter developed during WWII, would 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 would power the B-50 Superfortress. The Wasp Major turned a huge, contra-rotating, six-bladed propeller that pulled the XF8B through the air at a top speed of 432 mph.

The XF8B packed a heavy punch, with either six .50 caliber machine guns or six 20mm cannons in the wings. Utilizing underwing hard points and an internal bomb bay, it could carry 6,400 pounds of bombs or two 2,000 pound torpedoes. To put that into some perspective, the four-engine B-17 carried 8,000 pounds of bombs on a short-range mission, and 4,500 pounds of bombs on a long-range mission, and the XF8B’s range was 2,800 miles, almost than twice that of the Vought F4U Corsair. Its wingspan was also greater than the Corsair’s by 13 feet. Boeing received an order for three prototypes in May of 1943, and, since the Navy perceived an urgent need for the XF8B, the testing and evaluation process was expedited by the addition of a second cockpit to the first two prototypes to allow a flight engineer to accompany the pilot and collect data. There was no shortage of space for a second seat. Despite the urgency, the war ended before the second and third prototypes could be completed. With the advent of the jet fighter following the war, and Boeing’s continued emphasis on building large bombers and transports for the looming Cold War, the XF8B was canceled after the Navy only wanted to buy a handful of them and the Air Force simply wasn’t interested in a piston-powered fighter. Like so many other warplanes that almost were, the project was canceled, and the three XF8B prototypes were consigned to the scrapyard. (US Air Force photos)

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November 29, 1999 – The first flight of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. When the US Navy introduced the F/A-18 Hornet as its new multi-role fighter in 1984, they knew they had a winner on their hands, and the Hornet quickly became the Navy’s primary fighter and attack aircraft. But as the Navy began phasing out the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, and the high-tech stealth McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger II flying wing attack plane never materialized, the Navy realized that it needed a larger aircraft, similar in size to the Tomcat or the Air Force’s McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, to fill the roles of both fleet defense fighter and ground attack. Back in the early 1980s, McDonnell Douglas pitched the idea of an enlarged Hornet to the Navy, originally designated Hornet 2000. They suggested that a larger aircraft derived from the F/A-18 could carry more weapons, more fuel, and have more powerful engines than its predecessor, and the program was officially announced in 1988. And while the single-seat F/A-18E and two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet bears an understandably striking resemblance to its older sibling, it is, in fact, an entirely new aircraft, and not just a scaled-up variant. The Super Hornet is roughly 20 percent larger than the Hornet, and weighs 7,000 pounds more. It carries 33 percent more fuel, which increases the range by 41 percent over the Hornet. The Super Hornet is also equipped with a “buddy store” refueling system that allows it to act as an airborne tanker, taking over the aerial refueling mission of two other retired Navy aircraft, the Grumman KA-6D Intruder and the Lockheed S-3B Viking. But despite its larger size, the Super Hornet actually contains 42 percent fewer structural parts than the Hornet. The engines for the Super Hornet also share a lineage with the Hornet. It is powered by a pair of General Electric F414 afterburning turbofans, which are more powerful derivatives of the Hornet’s F404 engines and also the engine that was developed for use in the canceled Avenger. The F414 engines give the Super Hornet a 35 percent boost in thrust and provide a top speed of Mach 1.8. The engines are fed by distinctive, box-shaped intake ramps similar to those seen on the F-15.

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Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet of the Royal Australian Air Force

The Super Hornet, nicknamed Rhino to avoid confusion with the Hornet, reached initial operating capability in September 2001, and quickly became a vital part of the Navy’s strike capabilities, flying its first combat missions over Iraq during Operation Southern Watch. They have since become regular participants in the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. While the Super Hornet has become a stalwart of the US Navy, the US Marine Corps has staunchly opposed adopting the F/A-18E/F, fearing that doing so will compete with their ability to procure the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, the STOVL variant of the new Joint Strike Fighter. The only other nation currently operating the Super Hornet is Australia, which purchased 24 F/A-18Es to replace its fleet of General Dynamics F-111 Aardvarks, though in November of 2016 the Canadian government announced a plan to purchase 18 Super Hornets while they reconsider their decision to purchase the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II as a replacement for their aging fleet of CF-18 Hornets. Boeing has built over 500 Super Hornets, and the aircraft remains in production. As older Super Hornets begin to show their age, the Navy is seeking to buy more F/A-18Es to fill the gap until the arrival of the F-35C scheduled for 2018. Canada also (US Navy photo; Photo by Bidgee via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 29, 1944 – The US Army Air Forces carry out the first incendiary raids against Tokyo. In the closing stages of WWII, as the island hopping campaign brought the Allies closer and closer to the Japanese home island, American forces steadily increased the number and size of bombing raids against Japan’s manufacturing assets. Where manufacturing was generally centered in large factories and industrial centers in the US and Europe, Japan’s war materiel was mostly produced in smaller factories and in homes as a cottage industry, rendering traditional “precision” bombing, which was carried out in daylight and from high altitude, largely ineffective. So the decision was made by General Curtis LeMay, head of all strategic air operations against Japan, to switch to fire raids against Japanese cities. For these missions, the bombers flew at altitudes of 5,000-8,000 feet, and at night, since accuracy was not required. The conventional bombing of Tokyo commenced on November 24, 1944, when 111 Boeing B-29 Superfortresses struck an aircraft factory on the outskirts of the city. This was followed by another conventional bombing mission on the 27th, before the first incendiary raid on the night of November 29-30, which destroyed 2,773 structures. The B-29s were armed with M-69 incendiary bombs, and though a single M-69 munition weighed only 6 pounds, it was dropped inside a canister that held 38 munitions each. Normally, each B-29 carried 37 canisters, totaling 1,400 individual fire-starting munitions per plane. After it was dropped, the container opened automatically and dispersed the smaller munitions, which ignited on contact with the ground and spread a highly flammable jellied gasoline compound. Though conventional bombing missions continued, the fire raids against Tokyo rose to a horrifying crescendo with Operation Meetinghouse on March 9-10, 1945. In a mission that has gained notoriety as the single most destructive bombing raid in history, 346 B-29s left Guam and headed for the Japanese capital. Arriving over the city at 2:00 am on March 10 (Guam time), the bombers dropped almost 1,700 tons of incendiaries on a city built almost entirely of wood. The resulting firestorm destroyed 16 square miles of buildings, or 7% of the city’s urban area.

Aerial photograph of Tokyo after the war, showing the extent of the destruction of the city

The fires burned so fiercely that many of those killed suffocated as the fires consumed all the oxygen. Following the raid, Tokyo police estimated that 83,793 people were killed, 41,000 injured and another 1 million left homeless. Postwar estimates are as high as 100,000 killed. The USAAF lost 14 aircraft, below the 5% loss rate that was considered acceptable. The firebombing raids continued in the belief that the attacks would lead the Japanese government to capitulate. They did not. According to one estimate, the incendiary campaign resulted in the destruction of 180 square miles in 67 cities, and killed more than 300,000 people, a number that exceeds the death toll in both atomic bombings combined. At the time, the US had few moral qualms about destroying such large areas of the cities along with their civilian populations. Military planners believed that these raids would shorten the war and save American lives by preventing a costly invasion of the Japanese home island. It wasn’t until the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 that the war finally ended. But there were still two more firebombing raids after Nagasaki before Japan’s formal surrender. (US Air Force photos)

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November 26, 1985 – The launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis, 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. (NASA photo)


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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 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. (UK government photo)


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November 26, 1925 – The first flight of the Tupelov 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 employed a corrugated Duralumin skin originally pioneered by Hugo Junkers, and the TB-1 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. (Photo by Timofey210696 via Wikimapia)


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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 9 still survive as museum pieces. (US Air Force photo)


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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. (Photo by Oscar Vasquez via Wikiwand)


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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. 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. (Photo author unknown)


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November 28, 2008 – The first flight of the Comac ARJ21, a narrow-body, twin-engine regional airliner built by Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac) as part of an effort to reduce reliance on foreign aircraft manufacturers. The ARJ21 bears a significant resemblance to the McDonnell Douglas MD-80, but Comac says that they did not copy the American airliner, though they did reuse tooling provided by McDonnell Douglas for the construction of license-built MD-80s in China. The ARJ21 also features a new supercritical wing that was designed with the help of Russian engineers. The ARJ21 entered service in June 2016, and Comac currently has over 300 orders for the regional jet, mostly with Chinese carriers. (Photo by Shimin Gu via Wikimedia Commons)


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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, thus allowing crews to easily transition between 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. (Photo by Shimin Gu via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 28, 1979 – The crash of Air New Zealand Flight 901, a sightseeing flight that operated regularly from Auckland, New Zealand and flew over Antarctica. On just the fourteenth flight on the route, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 (ZK-NZP) crashed into Mt. Erebus, the second highest volcano in Antarctica, killing all 257 passengers and crew. Initially, Air New Zealand blamed the crash on pilot error, but a Royal Commission of Inquiry found that the course the pilots usually flew on the return leg had been altered in the flight computer before the plane took off, and the pilots hadn’t been informed. Instead of flying over McMurdo Sound as planned, the plane flew into the volcano. The crash remains New Zealand’s deadliest peacetime disaster. (DC-10 photo by Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons; Mt. Erebus photo by Hannes Grobe via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 28, 1964 – The launch of Mariner 4, the fourth in a series of spacecraft designed for flyby planetary exploration. On July 14-15, 1965, Mariner 4 became the first spacecraft to perform a flyby of Mars, and it sent the first pictures of the surface of Mars back to Earth. With nothing visible but rocks and craters, the photographs changed many scientific opinions on the possibility of life on Mars. After two years without contact from the probe, NASA re-established communications in 1967, and recorded numerous micrometeoroid strikes on the spacecraft, with NASA suspecting that Mariner 4 had flown through the remnants of a destroyed comet. In December 1967, NASA terminated communications with Mariner 4, and the derelict probe remains in a heliocentric orbit. (Illustration via NASA)


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