Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from November 9 through November 11.


November 9, 1946 – The first flight of the Lockheed Constitution. Throughout aviation history, there have been numerous double-deck aircraft. Some were just very large aircraft with two decks, but others were so-called “double bubble” aircraft. Since a pressurized aircraft is essentially an aluminum tube, a double bubble aircraft stacks one tube atop the other to make more cabin or cargo space. While some aircraft were modified as double-deckers from existing aircraft, the Lockheed Constitution was designed from the ground up to be a double bubble double-decker. Development of the R6V began in 1942 with a joint study by the US Navy, Pan Am and Lockheed to develop a large transport aircraft to supplement the Navy’s aging fleet of flying boats. Pan Am signed on in the hopes that any aircraft coming out of the partnership might also have commercial applications. Design specifications stated that the fully pressurized aircraft would be capable of carrying 17,500 pounds of payload at an altitude of 25,000 feet for 5,000 miles. When it was completed, the Constitution was the largest fixed wing aircraft ever flown by the US Navy. And there were only two. Ship No. 1 was completed in 1946 and took its maiden flight on November 9 of that year. Flight testing showed the engines to be significantly underpowered, so they were replaced by more powerful Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major engines with water injection that offered 3,500 HP. Rockets could also be mounted under the wings to assist in takeoffs with heavier payloads. Ship No. 2 took its maiden flight on June 9, 1948 and had an upper deck sumptuously fitted out for 92 passengers and 12 crew. The lower deck was fitted for cargo, but could also be configured to carry 76 passengers in addition to those on the upper deck. On February 3, 1949, Ship No. 2 flew 74 members of the press from Moffett Field in California to Washington National Airport, setting a record for the most passengers transported on a nonstop transcontinental flight.

To get an idea of the size of the RV6, note the people standing alongside, and the Lockheed Electra

In the end, though, the Constitution couldn’t live up to its billing. It proved to be too underpowered, even with its engine upgrade, and problems with engine overheating led to a reduced operational range. In 1949, the Navy decided that the aircraft were just too expensive to operate and offered to lease them to the airlines. But there were no takers. Both aircraft were eventually sold for $97,785 in a deal that included 13 engines, which is a pretty good bargain when you consider that the contract to build the two aircraft cost the US government $27 million. After the sale, both Constitutions suffered ignominious fates. Ship No. 1 was taken to Las Vegas where it was used as a giant billboard for Alamo Airways. It ended up being scrapped by Howard Hughes when he bought the property. Ship No. 2 was taken to Opa-Locka Airport in Florida and stored at the airfield. It was eventually moved off the airport to a new storage site, and there were plans to use it as a restaurant and museum. But those plans fell through, and the aircraft was finally scrapped in 1978. (Photo by W.T Larkins via Wikimedia Commons; Lockheed photo)

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November 9, 1944 – The first flight of the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter. Historians try to stay away from stating opinions in an effort to remain objective. Regardless, it is probably safe to say that the Boeing B-29 Superfortress was one of the greatest airplanes to come out of WWII. Not only was the B-29 an exceptional bomber, it proved to be such a versatile aircraft that its descendants continued serving long after the war was over, and they did so in many different guises. After its initial use as a long-range bomber, the B-29 was pressed into service as the KB-29 aerial tanker, which helped the US Air Force develop procedures for reliably refueling aircraft in the air, and then the B-29 was developed into the B-50, the last piston-engined bomber produced for the Air Force. Both would be replaced by newer jet-powered designs, but a more radical descendant of the venerable B-29 would serve for more than 30 years and fly into the 1970s.

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Prototype YC-97 with original B-50 vertical stabilizer

The B-29 was originally designed with one purpose: to carry a large load of bombs. But, with the end of WWII, what the Air Force really needed was an aircraft that could carry tons of cargo or large numbers of passengers. Starting with the proven B-50 Superfortress, Boeing retained the engines, wings, tail, and half the fuselage, but then added a second, larger tube on top, giving the C-97 a double bubble structure that significantly increased its cargo carrying capabilities. Production models of the Stratofreighter were powered by 3,500 hp Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major engines, the same as those used on the B-50. After the tenth production model, the vertical stabilizer was made taller to compensate for the larger fuselage. Clamshell doors opened under the tail for loading, and a ramp allowed vehicles or other equipment to be driven into the cargo hold. However, these doors could not be opened in flight, so the C-97 was not capable of performing parachute drops of troops. And, like its KB-29 predecessor, the C-97 was developed into the KB-97 aerial tanker. The C-97 was introduced in 1947, and one C-97 did take part in the Berlin Airlift, but a landing accident grounded it until after the crisis ended. The Stratofreighter went on to serve in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and was also converted into an early airborne command post for the Strategic Air Command. And, in a further testament to Boeing’s flexible design, the C-97 was further developed into the 377 Stratocruiser, a double-decker, pressurized airliner that could carry up to 114 passengers on its two decks. But even that wasn’t the end of the lineage that started with the B-29, as the 377 was also developed into the Aero Spacelines Guppy series of super-size cargo aircraft. A total of 888 C-97s were built, with the bulk of them, 811, serving in the aerial refueling role. After finishing its service with the National Guard, the C-97 was finally retired in 1978. (US Air Force photo; photo by Bill Larkin via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 11, 1956 – The first flight of the Convair B-58 Hustler. When the world entered the Nuclear Age following WWII, the problem facing the US Air Force was how best to deliver a nuclear weapon deep into enemy territory, which really meant the Soviet Union. In the era before the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and the surface-to-air missile (SAM), the conventional wisdom held that the best way to complete a nuclear bombing mission was to fly at high altitude above enemy fighters and at the greatest speed possible. In 1949, the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC) issued a Generalized Bomber Study in which numerous aircraft manufacturers submitted proposals to build a new bomber for the Strategic Air Command. The Air Force chose Boeing and Convair to proceed. Boeing proposed their XB-59 supersonic medium bomber, while Convair proposed an aircraft known as the MX-1964. In 1952, the Air Force selected Convair as the winner, and their new bomber, the XB-58, was refined to meet the newly proposed Supersonic Aircraft Bomber (SAB-51) and Supersonic Aircraft Reconnaissance (SAR-51) requirements. Based on experience with their XF-92 interceptor prototype, Convair’s offering was a fully delta wing aircraft, and four General Electric J79 axial flow afterburning turbojets were housed in a pods beneath the wings. The Hustler was capable of carrying five nuclear weapons, with four of them carried on external pylons under the wings and a fifth housed in a large pod under the fuselage that also contained fuel. The Hustler had no internal bomb bay.

Convair XB-58 prototype

The B-58 had a crew of three seated in tandem, and later models featured a clamshell-like ejection capsule that also included the control stick, meaning that the pilot could continue to fly the plane even when “turtled up” so he could eject at a moment’s notice. The ejection system could safely eject the crew at 70,000 feet and at speeds as high as Mach 2, and the ejection capsule could also double as a life raft. When choosing the name for the new bomber, Hustler turned out to be an apt moniker, as the B-58 was the first supersonic jet bomber and could fly as fast as Mach 2. Depending on payload, the Hustler could climb at nearly 46,000 feet per minute, and it set nineteen world speed records during its career. But as fast as the Hustler was, it was expensive to produce, and it carried a relatively light bomb load. It also had a much shorter range than the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Following the introduction of Soviet SAMs, the Hustler’s mission changed to low-level penetration which further limited its range. And the fact that it was designed exclusively as a nuclear bomber meant that it could not carry any conventional weapons, limiting its mission capability. After a relative brief ten-year career, the Hustler was retired in favor of the General Dynamics FB-111A which could match it in speed and could carry a far more flexible weapons load, including nuclear bombs. The Hustler was retired in January 1970 and, of the 116 Hustlers produced, 8 survive today as display aircraft. (US Air Force photos)

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Short Takeoff


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November 9, 1967 – The launch of Apollo 4, the first launch after the Apollo 1 disaster that killed three astronauts. Apollo 4 was the first “all up” test for NASA, which meant that all the rocket stages and the spacecraft were operational at launch. Apollo 4 was also the first launch of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever used operationally. The unmanned Apollo 4 was launched from the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 which had been specifically built for the huge Saturn V, and was the first mission to test all elements of the multi-stage rocket. The flight lasted nine hours before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean. (NASA photo)


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November 10, 1982 – The first flight of the Mil Mi-28, a dedicated ground attack helicopter developed by the Soviet Union to combat tanks and ground targets. Unlike its predecessor, the huge Mil Mi-24, the Mi-28 (NATO reporting name Havoc) has no provisions for carrying troops. The Mi-28 lost out to the more advanced Kamov Ka-50 as the main Russian attack helicopter, but development continued, and the Mi-28 now serves alongside the Ka-50. Comparable to the Boeing AH-64 Apache, though larger, the Mi-28 features a chin-mounted 30mm cannon and small wings for external stores. Introduced in 2009, the Mi-28 remains in production. (Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 10, 1970 – The launch of Lunokhod 1. After the failure of Lunokhod 0 to reach lunar orbit, its successor, Lunokhod 1, landed on the Moon on November 17, 1970 and became the first remote-controlled rover to move across the surface of an astronomical object. The rover operated for ten months and traveled just over 6.5 miles on the lunar surface, returning high resolution photographs and soil analyses. In 2010, photographs of the Moon’s surface provided by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter discovered the final resting place of the defunct rover. (Photo by Armael via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 10, 1949 – First flight of the Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaw, a multi-purpose helicopter and the first dedicated transport helicopter to enter service with the US Army and US Air Force. Developed privately by Igor Sikorsky after WWII, it was known by its civilian designation as the S-55, and was also built under license by Westland Aircraft in England where it was known as the Westland Whirlwind. A single Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp radial engine in the nose drove the main rotor by means of a driveshaft that passed under and then behind the cockpit. Over 1,700 Chickasaws were built, and they served extensively in Korea and the early years of the Vietnam War. (US Army photo)


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November 11, 1983 – The first flight of the CASA/IPTN CN-235, a medium-range transport and cargo aircraft developed as a joint venture between Spain and Indonesia. Powered by two General Electric T700 turboprop engines, the CN-235 was originally designed for the military for use in maritime patrol and surveillance, but it also serves as a civilian regional airliner. Turkey is the largest international operator of the CN-235, flying 50 examples, along with the militaries of 25 other nations. The US Air Force operates 13 examples for use with special forces, and it is also flown by the US Coast Guard as the HC-144 Ocean Sentry. (Photo by Aldo Bidini via Wikimedia Commons)


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November 11, 1946 – The first flight of the Sud-Ouest Triton, the first jet-powered aircraft to be built by France. Development of the Triton by SNCASO (Société nationale des constructions aéronautiques du sud-ouest), which later became known as Sud Aviation, began in 1943 as a clandestine program, hidden from the Germans who had occupied France. The first Triton was powered by a Junkers Jumo 004 turbojet engine, and successive aircraft received the Rolls-Royce Nene centrifugal compressor turbojet. Only five Tritons were produced before the project was abandoned. Note the air intake under the nose, which passed through the cockpit and between the pilots. (Photo author unknown)


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November 11, 1918 – World War I ends. It might be said that WWI was the first war in which 20th century technology came to the battlefield. The machine gun, which was believed to be so horrible as to make war impossible, decimated armies as they advanced from the trenches, and the tank made its first appearance on the battlefield in an attempt to break the stalemate of trench warfare. Starting just eleven years after the Wright Brothers’ famous First Flight, WWI also saw the first widespread use of aircraft in battle. At first, observation planes, known as scouts, reconnoitered enemy lines and opposing pilots passed with a friendly wave. That soon gave way to small arms carried aloft, and eventually dedicated fighters and bombers. By the end of the Great War, the British, French and Americans had suffered roughly 20,000 air crew casualties (killed, wounded, missing or POW), while the German Air Service suffered over 15,000. The airplane had found its place as an indispensable part of modern warfare. (Photo author unknown)


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