Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from October 29 through November 1.
Author’s Note: Historians live and die by the calendar and, in nearly two years of posts, the calendar has always provided for me. Today, my luck ran out. This is the first installation of This Date in Aviation History where I don’t have one or two events, aircraft or personalities that I feel can support an in-depth treatment (deciding what is important in history is, admittedly, a very subjective undertaking). So, enjoy the Short Takeoff segments after the jump, and the long-distance flights will resume on Thursday. In the meantime, here are some photos I’ve selected of important events and aircraft from different eras in aviation history. Since no such collection can be conclusive, and is always open to discussion or even argument (see above), please feel free to add your own contributions in the comments. And, as always, thanks for reading.
October 29, 1998 – Astronaut John Glenn returns to space. Seventy-seven years old and a US Senator at the time, this was Glenn’s second trip to space, having previously piloted Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962 as part of Project Mercury, becoming the fifth person and the first American to orbit the Earth (the two previous Mercury missions had been sub-orbital). With his flight on the Shuttle Discovery as part of STS-95, Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space, but his flight was controversial, with some seeing it as no more than a political favor. However, Glenn did perform useful scientific research into geriatric studies during his nine days in orbit. (NASA photo)
October 29, 1959 – The first flight of the Antonov An-24, a twin turboprop airliner that was designed to replace the aging Ilyushin Il-14 on short- to medium-range flights inside the Soviet Union. Like so many other Russian aircraft, the An-24 was designed to operate from rough or unimproved airstrips, and almost 1,400 were produced between 1959-1979, with some of those built under license in China. Both the civilian and military versions of the An-24 were operated by a host of nations, and many remain in service today. (Photo by Gennady Misko via Wikimedia Commons)
October 30, 1979 – The death of Sir Barnes Wallis. Born on September 26, 1887, Wallis was an English scientist, engineer and inventor best known for his contributions to the British war effort in WWII. Wallis pioneered the use of geodetic construction to strengthen British bombers such as the Vickers Wellington, and designed the famous skipping bombs that were used in Operation Chastise to destroy dams in the Ruhr Valley in an attempt to cripple German military production and disrupt hydroelectric power generation. He also developed the 6-ton Tallboy and 10-ton Grand Slam bombs that were used against German U-boat pens and other hardened structures. Following the war, Wallis dedicated himself to research into supersonic flight and the use of variable geometry wings, which was later put to use in the Panavia Tornado.
October 28-30, 1977 – Pan Am Flight 50 sets a world speed record for circumnavigation over both poles. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Pan Am scheduled a circumnavigation of the globe that took off from San Francisco on October 28. Flight 50 flew across the North Pole to London, then on to Cape Town, South Africa, over the South Pole to Auckland, New Zealand, then back to San Francisco, hoping to break the previous record set in 1965 by a Boeing 707 nicknamed Pole Cat (N322F). One hundred twenty passengers paid for the trip on board the Clipper New Horizons (N533PA), a Boeing 747SP (Special Performance) variant shortened to increase range and speed. The flight lasted 54 hours, 7 minutes, 12 seconds, breaking Pole Cat’s record by more than 8 hours and setting six new world records. (Photo by Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons)
October 31, 2012 – The first flight of the Shenyang J-31, a fifth-generation multi-role fighter with stealth capability developed by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation in China. Due to the secrecy of the Chinese government, the first photos of the completed prototype weren’t seen by the West until September 2012. The J-31 was unveiled to the public at the Zhuhai Airshow in November 2014, and it is still unclear whether or not the J-31 will be developed for naval use, and some countries, notably Pakistan, have expressed interest in obtaining the fighter. The full capabilities of the new fighter are not yet known, but it will most likely be an immediate match to American fourth-generation fighters, and possibly fifth-generation fighters such as the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. (Photo by WC via Wikimedia Commons)
October 31, 2000 – The first crew to man the International Space Station (ISS) launches from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The mission, named Expedition 1, had a three-man crew commanded by American astronaut William Shepherd and included Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei K. Krikalev, both of whom had long-duration space experience on board the Russian space station Mir. Expedition 1 lasted 136 days, during which time the crew activated systems on board the ISS and unpacked equipment for future missions. The ISS has been continuously inhabited ever since. (NASA photo)
October 31, 1931 – The first flight of the Westland Wallace, a two-seat biplane developed for the Royal Air Force during the period between the World Wars. Building on the success of the earlier Westland Wapiti, the Wallace featured a lengthened fuselage and more powerful engine, while the Wallace Mk II had spatted wheels and an optional enclosed cockpit. The Wallace entered service in 1933 where the majority flew with the Auxiliary Air Force and served in all manner of roles. During the Houston-Mount Everest Flight Expedition of 1933, a Wallace was the first aircraft ever to fly over Mount Everest. Though it was obsolete at the outbreak of WWII, the Wallace continued to serve as a target tug and trainer for aircraft radio operators. (UK Government photo)
November 1, 2007 – The death of Paul Tibbets. Tibbets was born in Quincy, Illinois on February 23, 1915, and enlisted in the US Army in 1937, qualifying as a pilot a year later. As the commanding officer of the 97th Bombardment Group, Tibbets flew the lead Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in the first daylight heavy bomber mission over occupied Europe in July 1942. After returning to the US to assist with the development of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Tibbets became commander of the 509th Composite Group which was tasked with dropping the nuclear bombs on Japan, and piloted the Enola Gay when it dropped the Little Boy atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Tibbets was also involved in the development of the Boeing B-47 Stratojet, and retired from the US Air Force with the rank of brigadier general in 1966. (US Air Force photos)
November 1, 1957 – The de Havilland Comet returns to service. When the de Havilland DH 106 Comet entered service in 1952 with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), it was the world’s first commercial jet-powered airliner. However, two Comets broke up in midair in 1954 with the loss 56 passengers and crew. The fleet was grounded for testing and, after extensive water tank testing, the Comet was found to be susceptible to metal fatigue from pressurization, particularly around its large windows. All remaining and new Comets were fitted with strengthened fuselages and new oval windows, and the problem was solved. Though sales never completely recovered, the Comet went on to a successful 30-year career of service. (Photo by Ralf Manteufel via Wikimedia Commons)
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