Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from September 10 through September 13.
September 11, 2001 – Terrorists hijack four transcontinental airliners as part of a coordinated attack on the United States. Early on the morning of September 11, 2001, four teams of hijackers boarded flights leaving from Boston, Washington DC, and Newark and hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 93. After killing or otherwise subduing the flight crew and herding the passengers to the back of the planes, the terrorists flew the first two aircraft into each of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and crashed the third airliner into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Passengers on board Flight 93 learned of the ongoing attacks and fought back against the hijackers. During the struggle, the terrorist flying the plane crashed the airliner into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, just minutes from Washington, DC. It is believed that their intended target was the White House or the Capitol. In all, 2,977 people were killed in the September 11 attacks (a number which does not include the 19 hijackers). Of that total, 246 were on board the four airliners hijacked that day.
You can read a full account of the events of this day at This Date in Aviation History: September 11, 2001
(WTC photo by Michael Foran via Wikimedia Commons. Pentagon photo by US Navy. Flight 93 Memorial photo ©Tim Shaffer)
September 12, 1945 – The first flight of the Northrop XP-79. The evolution of aircraft design has been, in many ways, an unending quest for speed. No matter how powerful the engine, piston-powered propeller planes can only go so fast, and it wasn’t until the arrival of the jet engine that aircraft began to climb reliably above 500 mph. But before the first jets took to the air during WWII, aircraft designers experimented with rocket power. The German Heinkel He 176 first flew in 1939, and continuing work on rocket propulsion in Germany led to the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, the only rocket-powered aircraft ever to become operational. America was a bit later to the game when it came to rocket power but, beginning in in late 1942, Jack Northrop began work on designing his own rocket plane. But, unlike the German aircraft, his would be a radical flying wing aircraft, a design that would soon come to be synonymous with Northrop. By 1944, he had designed prototype gliders to test the design, one of which, the MX-324, became the first US-built rocket plane to fly when it was towed aloft by a Lockheed P-38 Lighting. With the flying wing concept proven, Northrop received an order for three flying prototypes that were given the designation XP-79A. In addition to its radical design, the XP-79A also broke new ground in construction techniques. Due to the corrosive nature of the liquid rocket fuel, Northrop constructed the fuselage out of magnesium alloy, which required the development of new methods of welding to work with the exotic material. The aircraft was so small that the pilot flew the plane from a prone position, with his chin placed in a rest to hold his head up. While this was not the optimal position for a pilot, it did allow him to withstand up to 21 Gs in flight.
Just two months after the order was placed for the rocket planes, the decision was made to substitute two Westinghouse 19-B (J30) turbojets for the rockets, with the jet-powered version given the designation XP-79B. The magnesium construction of the airframe made for a very strong aircraft, and some thought was given to using the XP-79B as an aerial battering ram, using the aircraft’s wings to slice the wings and tails off of enemy bombers. A more traditional armament of four .50 caliber machine guns was also planned though never fitted. Ground testing proved troublesome, with burst tires and brake problems plaguing the taxi tests. Once those were worked out, the XP-79B made its first and only flight. Test pilot Harry Crosby took the XP-79B aloft and reached an altitude of 7,000 ft. However, the flying wing then started to roll for an unknown reason, and Crosby was unable to regain control. He managed to bail out of the aircraft, but died when he was struck by the turning wing and was unable to open his parachute. The XP-79 crashed and was consumed by a raging fire that was fueled in part by its magnesium structure. Soon after the crash, construction of the second XP-79B prototype was halted, and the entire program was cancelled. Despite the setback, Northrop would continue his experiments, and some may say obsession, with flying wings, developing the YB-35 and YB-49 flying wing bombers, neither of which ever entered production. However, Northrop’s vision would eventually be vindicated in 1989 with the flight of the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit strategic bomber. (US Air Force photos)
September 10, 1956 – The first flight of the North American F-107, a fighter-bomber developed for the US Air Force based on the North American F-100 Super Sabre. The F-107 was initially designated the F-100B, but soon became so heavily modified that the Air Force gave it a new designation. In order to house the radar, the Super Sabre’s nose air intake was moved to the top of the aircraft, which caused some concern among pilots who might be forced to eject. It also severely limited rearward visibility, but this wasn’t considered a problem since the YF-107 would rely on missiles fired from beyond visual range. North American built 3 prototypes, but it lost an Air Force competition against the Republic F-105 Thunderchief and never entered production. The first two prototypes are housed in the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona and the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio, while the third was scrapped in the 1960s. (Air Force photo)
September 11, 1983 – The first flight of the Agusta A129 Mangusta, an armed attack helicopter originally designed by Agusta (now AgustaWestland) and the first dedicated attack helicopter to be designed and produced in Europe. Comparable to the American Boeing AH-64 Apache, though using a higher level of computer automation, the Mangusta (Mongoose) is armed with a single 20mm three-barrel M197 Gatling cannon in a chin turret, and can be armed with up to 76 unguided rockets as well as Hellfire or BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles. It can also carry air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-92 Stinger or Mistral. The A129 entered service with the Italian Army in 1990, and has seen action in Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Sixty have been built, and the Mangusta remains in production. (Photo by Aldo Bidini via Wikimedia Commons)
September 11, 1970 – The first flight of the Britten-Norman Trislander, an 18-seat passenger and utility short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft produced on the Isle of Wight and in Romania from 1970-1980. Designed by John Britten and Desmond Norman, the Trislander is powered by 3 Lycoming O-540 six-cylinder piston engines, with one uniquely mounted in the tail, and has a top speed of 180 mph. The Trislander was developed from the twin-engine Britten-Norman Islander, and its STOL capabilities allow it to take off from landing strips less than 500 feet long. It entered service with Aurigny Air Services in 1971, and a total of 72 were built. (Photo by Ronhjones via Wikimedia Commons)
September 11, 1946 – The first flight of the North American FJ-1 Fury, the first operational jet-powered fighter to enter service with the US Navy. The wing and tail were derived from the North American P-51 Mustang, and it was powered by a single Allison J35 turbojet engine that gave it a top speed of 547 mph. The FJ-1 entered service in 1947, and made the Navy’s first operational carrier landing at sea aboard the USS Boxer (CV-21) in 1948. With the rapid pace of fighter development in that era, the transition to swept-wing fighters quickly rendered the FJ-1 obsolete, and only 31 were produced. However, the Fury was soon developed into the North American F-86 Sabre, one of the most successful fighters of the 195os. (US Navy photo)
September 12, 1934 – The first flight of the Gloster Gladiator, a biplane fighter and the last biplane to be flown by the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm. Though considered obsolete at the start of WWII by more modern monoplane fighter designs, the Gladiator nonetheless served in combat in all theaters early in the war, with a few export fighters even serving the Axis forces. The Gladiator entered service in 1937, though it was soon replaced in frontline operations by the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire. Also capable of operating from carriers, many Gladiators were redeployed to serve as cover for British trade routes, particularly in the Mediterranean Sea, and was last flown in combat by the Finnish Air Force. A total of 747 were built. (UK Government photo)
September 12, 1916 – The first flight of the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, a project to develop a pilotless aerial torpedo or flying bomb and the precursor to the modern cruise missile. Elmer Sperry is credited with developing the first gyroscopically-controlled autopilot system, and Sperry adapted his system to be controlled by radio. Though flight tests of the system were promising, WWI ended before the flying bomb could be perfected, and development was shelved until 1925 after the Navy took over the program. (US Government photo)
September 13, 1994 – The first flight of the Airbus Beluga, a modified Airbus A300-600 widebody airliner that was developed to carry oversize cargo, particularly sections of Airbus aircraft destined for final assembly in France, Germany and Spain. Before the Beluga, Airbus used used a fleet of Aero Spacelines Super Guppy Turbine aircraft in the role, but the idea of Airbus aircraft sections being delivered in Boeing airplanes made for poor publicity. The Beluga entered service in 1995, and is capable of carrying 50,000 cubic feet of cargo weighing up to 50 tons. A total of 5 were built, and they remain in service today. (Photo by Laurent Errera via Wikimedia Commons)
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