Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from September 22 through September 25.
September 24, 1949 – The first flight of the North American T-28 Trojan. The career of any military pilot begins with primary flight training carried out in a two-seat trainer, with one seat for the student and one for the instructor. Since before WWII, most American pilots flew the North American T-6 Texan, one of aviation history’s truly great airplanes, and it became the primary trainer for no less than 61 nations and ultimately served for 60 years. But even a great plane like the Texan would need to be replaced one day. When that time came, though, the US military didn’t look for just a trainer. They hoped to adopt an aircraft that would also work well in the close air support (CAS) and ground attack roles.
Based on the success of the T-6, the US Navy and Air Force once again turned to North American Aviation, and the aircraft the storied company came up with proved to be every bit as effective as the one it was meant to replace. Like the Texan, the Trojan was a simple, rugged, straight-wing aircraft. It was powered by a Wright R-1820 Cyclone nine-cylinder supercharged radial engine, the same one that powered many of the great warplanes of WWII such as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, and a host of other military aircraft and helicopters. The engine provided a top speed of 343 mph with a climb rate of 4,000 feet per minute, and the two pilots were housed under a frameless canopy that provided excellent visibility for both instructor and student.
The T-28A first entered service with the US Air Force, and was quickly adopted by the US Navy and US Marine Corps in two variants: the T-28B, which was similar to the Air Force version but with a more powerful engine, and the T-28C, which was designed for carrier operations with a smaller propeller and added arrester hook. Designed also as a potent ground attack platform, units of the South Vietnamese Air Force flew an armed variant of the Trojan known as the T-28D Nomad for the counterinsurgency (COIN) role, as well as reconnaissance, search and rescue, and forward air control. For dedicated ground attack missions, the AT-28D provided a sturdy, flexible platform with six underwing hardpoints that could carry bombs, rockets or napalm for ground attack missions, and was also fitted with an ejection seat. Trojans also served as an armed escort for attacks by Douglas A-26 Invaders or attack helicopters.
While the Air Force phased the Trojan out of service by the 1960s, it continued to serve the Navy and Marines well into the 1980s before being replaced by the turboprop-powered Beechcraft T-34 Mentor. And, like its predecessor, the Trojan was widely exported, serving a total of twenty-eight international customers, with nearly 2,000 produced from 1950-1957. The last T-28 was retired by the US Navy in 1984, but the aircraft served for another ten years with the Philippine Air Force, and privately-owned Trojans remain a popular performer on the air show circuit.
September 22, 2006 – The Grumman F-14 Tomcat is retired by the US Navy. Developed after the the US Navy’s rejection of the General Dynamics F-111B carrier-based interceptor, the F-14 became the Navy’s primary fighter, though it retained the engines, weapons system and variable geometry wing of its unsuccessful predecessor. The Tomcat entered service with the US Navy in 1974, replacing the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, and served as the Navy’s principal air superiority fighter while also performing fleet defense and reconnaissance missions. With the arrival of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in 1999, the Tomcat was phased out, with its official retirement taking place in 2006 after 32 years of service. Many Tomcats reside in museums, but retired operational F-14s were scrapped by the US government to prevent their parts being obtained by Iran, the sole export customer for the Tomcat before the Iranian Revolution toppled the Shah of Iran.
September 23, 1938 – The first flight of the Supermarine Sea Otter, an amphibian aircraft developed for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force before WWII and the last biplane to be flown by either service. The Sea Otter was a development of the earlier Supermarine Walrus, with the principal difference being the placement of a single Bristol Mercury radial engine in the center of the upper wing in a puller configuration rather than between the wings as a pusher. The Sea Otter entered service in 1942 and carried out air-sea rescue missions and maritime reconnaissance, while postwar aircraft flew small numbers of passengers and cargo. Just under 300 were built before the end of the war halted production.
September 24, 1930 – The birth of John Young, an American aeronautical engineer, US Naval Aviator, test pilot, and astronaut. Young began flying with the US Navy as a helicopter pilot in 1954 before transferring to jets, and joined NASA in 1962 as a member of Astronaut Group 2. During his time with the space agency, Young made six space flights, including the first manned Project Gemini mission. In 1969 he became the first man to orbit the Moon alone during Apollo 10, drove the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the Moon during Apollo 16 in 1972, and is one of only three people who have flown to the Moon twice. Young is also the only person to have piloted four different classes of spacecraft, including the first flight of the Space Shuttle program in 1981. Young’s retirement from NASA in 2004 marked the end of the longest career of any NASA astronaut.
September 4, 1929 – Lieutenant James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle makes the first blind flight using only instruments. Flying a Consolidated NY-2 Husky with instruments that included sensitive altimeter, a directional gyro developed by the Sperry company, and a radio range finder, Doolittle, along with safety officer Lt. Benjamin Kelsey in the front cockpit, took off from Mitchel Field in New York and flew a prescribed course which covered 20 miles and lasted 15 minutes. From takeoff to landing, Doolittle was underneath a hood in the rear cockpit and was flying completely blind. The flight proved the capabilities of the new instruments, and opened a new era of flight safety where pilots could rely on instruments rather than instincts or “seat of the pants” flying.
September 24, 1918 – US Navy Lt. David Ingalls becomes the first US Navy fighter ace. Ingalls enlisted in March 1917 as Naval Aviator No. 85 and was sent to Europe six months later attached to RAF No. 213 Squadron, where he flew a Sopwith Camel from a base in Dunkirk in northern France. With six credited victories by the end of the war, Ingalls was the first fighter ace in US Navy history and the Navy’s only ace of WWI. For his service, Ingalls received the US Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the British Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Legion of Honour. Following the war, Ingalls became a director of Pan Am World Airways and assisted Charles Lindbergh with charting eastern air routes for Pan Am.
September 25, 2015 – The first flight of the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, the newest aerial refueling and strategic airlifter slated to enter service with the US Air Force in late 2018 or early 2019. In 2011, the Pegasus was announced as the winner of the Air Force KC-X competion over a Northrop Grumman/Airbus offering in a protracted and often acrimonious debate over which aircraft would replace 100 older Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers. The Pegasus is based on the Boeing 767 widebody airliner and will have seating for up to 114 people or 65,000 pounds of cargo and will be capable of transferring over 207,000 pounds of fuel. The Air Force has placed an order for a total of 36 aircraft, and the tankers will be based at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
September 25, 1978 – The midair collision of Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182 and a private plane over San Diego. On the day of the collision, PSA Fight 182, a Boeing 727 (N533PS), was approaching San Diego’s Lindbergh Field (now San Diego International Airport) when it collided with a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. The crew of the 727 had been alerted to the presence of the Cessna, but had lost sight of it and failed to notice when it made an unauthorized change of course. The pilot of the Cessna was under a hood practicing instrument landing system (ILS) approaches, but his instructor had no limitations on his vision and failed to see the 727. Air traffic control detected a conflict alert but did not warn the aircraft since they believed that they could see each other. The two aircraft came down in a residential area, killing 142 passengers and nine people on the ground. Following a similar mid-air collision in 1982, the FAA mandated that Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) be installed in all commercial airliners flying in US airspace.
September 25, 1945 – The first flight of the de Havilland Dove, a short-haul passenger plane that was designed as a feeder to larger airports and one of the most successful designs to come out of the Brabazon Committee in their search for a domestically produced British airliner following WWII. The Dove was a monoplane successor to the pre-WWII de Havilland Dragon Rapide biplane and had accommodations for eight passengers. De Havilland produced 542 Doves from 1946 to 1967, and it entered service in 1946, with the first aircraft purchased by Argentina. The Dove was widely exported, serving airlines around the world, and remains in limited service today.
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