Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from October 22 through October 25.


October 22, 1955 – The first flight of the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. As the nuclear bomb became the Air Force’s strategic and tactical weapon of choice in the 1950s, the idea of a fleet of high-flying strategic bombers carpeting a target with bombs was replaced by the concept of a tactical bomber or fighter-bomber flying at very high speeds and very close to the ground to penetrate enemy airspace and deliver a single nuclear weapon. Maneuverability would be sacrificed for high speed, low level handling, and range. In response to this doctrinal shift, the design team at Republic, led by Alexander Kartveli, developed the F-105 Thunderchief, the first aircraft designed specifically for this mission. The F-105 began as a private venture by Republic to find a replacement for the RF-84 Thunderflash, the ultimate development of the straight-winged F-84 Thunderjet. The US Air Force was initially interested in the project and had planned to purchase 200. But the realities of the Korean War meant that the number was reduced to just 15 orders. Nevertheless, Republic continued the development of the F-105, and used lessons learned from Convair’s F-102 Delta Dagger program to redesign the fuselage of the Thunderchief to take advantage of the area rule in order to reduce transonic drag. They also developed the F-105’s characteristic forward-swept, variable-geometry air intakes to regulate airflow to the engines at high speeds. This variant would enter production as the F-105B. Further development would lead to the F-105D, the definitive production variant and the one built in the largest numbers. The F-105D also included an all-weather attack capability provided by the AN/APN-131 navigational radar. And the Thunderchief was big. In fact, it was the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history, weighing in at 50,000 lbs. The F-105A, though underpowered like so many fighters of this era, still managed to break the sound barrier on its maiden flight. The redesigned F-105B, with an afterburning Pratt & Whitney J75 axial-flow turbojet, could top out at 1,420 mph, or Mach 2.15. Though the Thunderchief, or “Thud” as it was called by its pilots, was originally designed as a low level tactical bomber, it was pressed into service in the early years of the Vietnam War as the Air Force’s primary ground attack aircraft, capable of carrying a greater bomb load than the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress or Consolidated B-24 Liberator from WWII. And though mainly used for ground attack, Thud pilots still managed to claw 27.5 North Vietnamese aircraft out of the sky. But the F-105 was also vulnerable to antiaircraft defenses, and its combat losses were high, and it became the first US aircraft to be withdrawn due to combat losses. The F-105B briefly served as the platform for the US Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration squadron, but after just 6 shows the team switched back to the North American F-100 Super Sabre after a fatal crash caused by an overstressed airframe. The F-105 was eventually phased out in favor of newer aircraft, particularly the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, though the F-105G Wild Weasel electronic warfare variant served until the end of the war. Ultimately, 833 Thunderchiefs were produced, and the type was finally retired in 1984. (US Air Force photo)


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October 23-26, 1944 – The Battle of Leyte Gulf is fought, the largest naval battle in history, and the first successful organized kamikaze attack. By October of 1944, the Allies had gained considerable territory against the Japanese, drawing ever closer to the recapture of the Philippines and the possible invasion of the Japanese homeland. Japan could not match the industrial might of the US, and the numbers of Japanese ships, aircraft, and trained pilots dwindled while those of the US and her allies only increased. As part of the operation to invade the Philippine island of Leyte, the Battle of Leyte Gulf was fought, the largest naval battle of the entire war and possibly the greatest naval battle in history. The Japanese fleet was numerically inferior to the American fleet, and the outcome of the battle proved to be a devastating loss for the Japanese. By the end of the Battle on October 26, the Japanese had suffered approximately 3,000 casualties, lost 1 light and 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers, and more than 200 aircraft. These loses meant that the Japanese Navy was finished as an effective fighting force. But out the desperation in which the Japanese found themselves, the kamikaze was born. The word kamikaze is usually translated as divine wind in reference to typhoons in the years 1274 and 1281 that helped the Japanese repel Mongol invasions, and the term is not limited to aerial suicide attacks. The units that carried out the missions were called tokubetsu kōgeki tai which means special attack unit. Though not a common occurrence by this point in the war, pilots of both sides had deliberately crashed their aircraft into ships. But the kamikaze attacks during the Battle of Leyte Gulf were the first organized missions of the tokubetsu kōgeki tai under the direction of 1st Air Fleet commandant Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi. Speaking to officers in Manila just days before the battle, Ōnishi said, “I don’t think there would be any other certain way to carry out the operation [to hold the Philippines], than to put a 250 kg bomb on a Zero and let it crash into a U.S. carrier, in order to disable her for a week.” On October 25, five Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters, each armed with a single bomb, attacked escort carriers of the US fleet off the Philippine coast. Four of the kamikaze aircraft were unsuccessful, but the fifth hit the escort carrier USS St. Lo (CVE-63), igniting fires which detonated the ship’s magazine. The carrier eventually sank, and killing about 143 of the 889 members of the crew. Based on this initial success, the kamikaze program was expanded and, by war’s end, the Japanese had undertaken over 4,000 attacks, including missions to ram bombers attacking Japan. Ultimately, all the tokubetsu kōgeki tai achieved was the loss of irreplaceable pilots and aircraft. Only 14% of the kamikaze attackers got through, and only 8.5% of the ships that were hit were sunk, and those that weren’t sunk were quickly repaired. Ultimately, the damage inflicted was no greater than that achieved in 1942 by traditional tactics. (Photo of explosion of USS St. Lo via US Navy)


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October 23, 1939 – The first flight of the Mitsubishi G4M. When the Japanese laid their plans for the conquest of the western Pacific, which they grandiosely called the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, they knew that they would have vast stretches of ocean or large swaths of Southeast Asia to cross. Their aircraft carriers would cover the ocean, but any land-based aircraft would have to have exceptional range. Work on the G4M began in 1937 as the Japanese Navy sought a replacement for the G3M, which the Allies called the “Nell,” with particular attention paid to increasing the range and speed over the earlier bomber. The prototype was completed in 1939 and the G4M, Allied reporting name “Betty,” entered service in June 1941, six months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that pushed the United States into World War II. The Betty could fly a little more than 100 miles farther than the Nell, and had a greater maximum takeoff weight, but the increases in range and payload over the Nell were bought at a dear price to its pilots. Mitsubishi had wanted to build a four engine bomber, but they reduced it to two engines under pressure from the Japanese Navy. To save more weight, Mitsubishi chose not to fit the new medium bomber with protective armor plating for the crew or self-sealing fuel tanks. So while the Betty had exceptional range, it was extremely susceptible to gunfire from heavily armed Allied fighters, and often burst into flames with the slightest hit. Allied pilots took to calling the Betty the “one shot lighter,” while the Japanese pilots referred to it as hamaki, which means cigar, a reference to its overall shape but perhaps also an allusion to how readily it burned. The G4M formed the backbone of the Japanese bomber force and served throughout the Pacific theater. In the early years of the war, the Betty fought very effectively when it had sufficient fighter cover, but losses began to mount as the Allies gradually gained air supremacy. Final variants of the Betty did add armor protection and rudimentary sealing for the fuel tanks, but these upgrades came too late for the Betty to have a significant impact on the outcome of the war. By the final stages of WWII, with dwindling numbers of Japanese fighters to protect them, Bettys were mauled by US Navy and US Army Air Corps fighters and many of the bombers were shot down before they could launch their attacks.

G4M carrying Ohka suicide rocket

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In addition to its land bombing duties, the Betty was also used to bomb shipping and as a torpedo bomber, and, late in the war, it served as the mother ship for the Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka suicide aircraft, a rocket-powered, piloted bomb with 2,646 pounds of explosives in the nose used for Kamikaze attacks. The Betty would also take center stage in a pivotal event in the Pacific War, when Japanese General Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack and commander in chief of the Japanese combined fleet, was shot down and killed in 1943 while flying as a passenger in a G4M during an inspection tour of Japanese bases. More than 2,400 G4Ms were produced, but no flyable examples remain today, and only one complete aircraft exists. (Photo authors unknown)


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October 24, 1953 – The first flight of the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger. Following WWII, Air Force planners became particularly enamored with the guided missile, thinking that all future aerial combat would take place between fighters that lobbed missiles at each other rather than duke it out in aerial dogfights. But firing missiles accurately required a good fire control system (FCS), so the US Air Force decided first to develop the integrated radar, computer, director and missile system, and then to find a plane to put it in. In January 1950, the Air Force requested proposals for a new FCS, and the competition for its development was eventually won by Hughes Aircraft with their AIM-4 Falcon missile, the first operational guided air-to-air missile fielded by the Air Force. With the missile system in hand, the Air Force began seeking proposals in June of that year for what they dubbed the “1954 Ultimate Interceptor” to deal with the threat of waves of Russian strategic bombers flying towards the US, and to make use of their new missile. Convair, Republic and Lockheed submitted proposals, but only Convair was selected to proceed with development. Convair developed the first Delta Dagger from their XF-92, a delta-winged interceptor it had developed in the late 1940s, enlarging the experimental aircraft and mounting a Pratt & Whitney J57 afterburning turbojet. Once the first prototypes were finished, Convair discovered that the YF-102 was unable to break the sound barrier, and the problem wasn’t just the underpowered engine. It was the shape of the fuselage.

YF-102 and YF-102A, showing redesigned area rule fuselage

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Using the new area rule concept developed by NACA engineer Richard Whitcomb, Convair redesigned the fuselage so that it narrowed at the waist over the delta wing. Reducing the aircraft’s cross section dramatically reduced its drag, and other improvements to the wings allowed the redesigned interceptor to pass Mach 1 with ease. The redesigned aircraft was called the YF-102A, and it was this model that first entered production after its maiden flight in December 1954. The F-102A entered service in April 1956, and a total of 889 were built before production ceased in September 1958. The Delta Dagger saw service in Vietnam primarily as a bomber escort, though some ground attack missions were carried out without much success since the aircraft was not designed for that mission, nor were the pilots properly trained. Fourteen F-102s were lost in combat, one of which was lost in air-to-air combat. The F-102 was also exported to Greece and Turkey, where they served into the late 1970s. The F-102 was retired from active service with the US Air Force in 1976, and many Delta Daggers were converted to QF-102A target drones, with the final one being shot down in 1986. (US Air Force photo; NASA photo)


Short Takeoff


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October 23, 2003 – The Concorde makes its final passenger flight. Air France had made its final passenger flights on May 30, 2003, and British Airways ended Concorde service with a flight from from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to Heathrow Airport in London, while two other Concordes made round trips over the Bay of Biscay and to Edinburgh. All three aircraft then circled London before landing. The flights closed the book on the Concorde, the world’s first supersonic passenger airliner, which entered service with British Airways in 1976. Following a crash in 2000, Concorde flights were suspended for a year, but, after returning to service in 2001, the Concorde remained unprofitable and BA and Air France suspended operations. (Photo by Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons)


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October 23, 1967 – The first flight of the Canadair CL-215, also known as the Scooper, the first in a series of amphibious firefighting aircraft developed by Canadair and later Bombardier Aerospace. Powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines, the CL-215 can scoop 1,440 US gallons of water in 12 seconds from lakes or rivers and drop it over wildfires, and special design considerations such as its high, straight wing allow for operations at low speeds or in the gusty conditions often found over forest fires. A total of 125 have been produced, and the 215 was subsequently developed into the CL-215T and CL-415 powered by two turboprop engines. (Photo by Alan Radecki via Wikimedia Commons)


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October 23, 1952 – The first flight of the Hughes XH-17, a super heavy lift helicopter and the first project developed by the helicopter division of Hughes Aircraft. Built from parts scavenged from several different aircraft, the XH-17 was capable of lifting over 10,000 pounds with a maximum takeoff weight of 43,500 pounds. The XH-17 was powered by two turbojet engines that ducted bleed air through the hollow rotor blades to tip-mounted jets, and still holds the record for the world’s largest rotor system. Only one was built before the program was cancelled and the aircraft scrapped. (US Government photo)


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October 24, 2000 – The first flight of the Lockheed Martin X-35, the experimental prototype developed as part of the competition to produce the Joint Strike Fighter that would serve the US Air Force, US Navy and US Marine Corps. The competition for the lucrative contract pitted the X-35 against the Boeing X-32, with the X-35 declared the winner on October 26, 2001 and it entered production in 2006 as the F-35 Lighting II, a single-seat, all-weather, multi-role, fifth-generation fighter with stealth capability. The F-35 is being produced in three versions, one each for the Air Force (F-35A), Marine Corps (F-35B) and Navy (F-35C), with the F-35B capable of vertical takeoff and landing. (US Air Force photo)


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October 24, 1947 – The first flight of the Grumman HU-16 Albatross, a twin-engine amphibious flying boat designed as an improvement over the earlier Grumman G-73 Mallard. The Albatross entered service in 1949 primarily in the search and rescue (SAR) and combat search and rescue (CSAR) role with the US Air Force where it was initially known as the SA-16, and saw extensive service during the Korean War rescuing downed pilots. The Albatross was also operated by the US Navy and US Coast Guard, where it functioned as a coastal patrol and SAR aircraft. The Albatross was widely exported, and many surplus aircraft found their way to private operators. A total of 466 were produced from 1949-1961. (Photo by Alan Radecki via Wikimedia Commons)


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October 24, 1919 – The birth of Frank Piasecki, an engineer and pioneer in the development of tandem rotor helicopters. Piasecki also created the concept of the compound helicopter using vectored thrust from a ducted propeller (VTDP). Piasecki founded the Piasecki Helicopter Corporation in 1940 and produced the PV-2, the second successful helicopter in the US after the Sikorsky VS-300. He followed that with a series of tandem rotor helicopters, including the H-21 Shawnee, which served in Vietnam as a troop transport until 1964. By 1956, Piasecki was ousted from the company he founded, so he started a new company called Piasecki Aircraft (his former company became Vertol, and was eventually sold to Boeing). Currently, Piasecki Aircraft is working on the X-49 Speedhawk, a Sikorsky YSH-60F Seahawk, that was modified to use a VTDP tail to achieve higher speeds than a traditional helicopter. Piasecki died in 2008. (Photo author unknown)


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October 25, 1994 – The death of Kara Hultgreen, the first woman US Naval Aviator to be qualified as a carrier-based fighter pilot. While attempting a landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), Hultgreen overshot the centerline and attempted to correct her approach with left rudder application, leading to a compressor stall in the left engine. She applied full afterburner to attempt a missed approach, but the asymmetrical power caused the Grumman F-14 Tomcat to roll inverted. The radar intercept officer initiated ejection and was shot clear of the aircraft, but Hultgreen, who ejected second in the sequence, was launched straight into the water, killing her instantly. The incident was controversial, as Hultgreen’s death came at a time when both the Navy and US Air Force were working to integrate women fighter pilots into service, and some accused the Navy of promoting women pilots regardless of their of their piloting skills. (US Navy photo)


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October 25, 1991 – The first flight of the Airbus A340, a long-range, wide-body airliner that can seat up to 440 passengers depending on variant and seating arrangement. Aimed at the long haul market that had been dominated by American aircraft manufacturers, the A340 was the largest airliner to grow from the original A300 design, featuring four engines and a twin aisle. Depending on the variant, the A340 is capable of flying routes up to 9,000 nautical miles. Production of the A340 ceased in 2011 after 377 had been built at a time when fuel prices were high and other airliners could provide greater fuel efficiency. (Photo by Anthony Noble via Wikimedia Commons)


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October 25, 1955 – The first flight of the Saab 35 Draken, a dobule-delta winged fighter developed to replace the Saab J29 Tunnan and the first supersonic fighter to be deployed in Western Europe. The Draken (Kite, or Dragon) was introduced in 1969 and was notable for its use of a double-delta wing configuration that aided in performance at both low and high speeds. Contrary to competing aircraft of its era, the Draken was designed for operation from public roadways and with the ability to be serviced by minimally trained crews in a short time. The Draken proved to be a successful Cold War fighter, and was exported to Austria, Denmark, Finland, with 652 aircraft produced from 1955 to 1974. (Photo by Okän fotograh via Wikimedia Commons)


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