Welcome to This Date in Aviation History, getting of you caught up on milestones, important historical events and people in aviation from September 28 through October 1.
September 29, 1954 – The first flight of the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo. During WWII, huge formations of bombers ranged the skies over Europe and the Pacific, protected from enemy fighters by a surrounding screen of fighter escorts. Following the war, and before the arrival of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and high altitude surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), the method of penetrating enemy airspace continued basically unchanged, though the fighters and some newer bombers were now powered by jet engines instead of piston engines. To stem the expected waves of Russian bombers should the Cold War turn hot, a new breed of penetration fighters was needed, purpose-built to fly fast and stop enemy bombers before they could reach their target.
In 1946, the US Air Forced issued requirements for a jet-powered penetration fighter, and three manufacturers responded: McDonnell Aircraft presented the XF-88 Voodoo, Lockheed developed the XF-90, and North American proposed the YF-93. McDonnell won the competition but, following the detonation of the first nuclear bomb by the Soviet Union in 1949, the Air Force turned their attention to creating interceptors, and the penetration fighter project was shelved for a time. But with America’s entry into the Korean war in 1950, the Air Force quickly discovered that there was still a need for bomber escorts and, in 1951, the Air Force once again issued an operational requirement for a penetration fighter. And once again, they tapped McDonnell to build it. But this time, McDonnell responded with a much better airplane.
The F-101 was based on the earlier XF-88 Voodoo, and it retained the Voodoo nickname, but the new fighter was made much larger to accommodate three times the fuel capacity of the XF-88 as well as a larger radar. The F-101 also received more powerful Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojets, and the horizontal stabilizer was moved to the top of the tail to provide greater stability at high speeds. The F-101A entered service with the Strategic Air Command (SAC), but was only built in small numbers because the need for a penetration fighter soon became secondary once again to the need for an interceptor. So the F-101A was shifted to the Tactical Air Command (TAC) in 1957, where its designation changed to strategic fighter, and it was used to carry a single nuclear bomb for tactical strikes against enemy airfields or other important military targets of immediate value. At the same time as development of the F-101 was underway, the Air Force was working on the 1954 interceptor, a project designed to create a dedicated, state-of-the-art interceptor to combat Russian bombers, a project that eventually led to the Convair F-102 Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart. But lengthy delays in that program meant that these aircraft would not be ready on schedule, and the Voodoo was transformed into an interim interceptor as the F-101B.
The B model received more powerful J57 engines with significantly longer afterburners which increased top speed to Mach 1.8. This variant had a two-seat tandem cockpit for pilot and weapons officer, and was fitted with the Hughes MG-13 fire control radar along with the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment(SAGE) system which permitted controllers on the ground to direct the aircraft to its target remotely. The internal cannons of the interceptor were removed and replaced by four AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missiles. More Voodoos were produced in this interceptor variant than any other.
The Voodoo was also developed into the reconnaissance RF-101, which served longer than any of the fighter/interceptor variants, and saw extensive action in the Vietnam War. The RF-101 also took part in reconnaissance missions over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Voodoo was retired by frontline USAF units by 1972, but continued to serve the Air National Guard for 10 more years. The F-101 was exported to China and Canada, where Canadian Voodos flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force as the CF-101, replacing the Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck. The RCAF finally retired their Voodoos in 1984 with the arrival of the McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet.
September 30, 1975 – The first flight of the Boeing AH-64 Apache. “Soviet ground forces outnumber US ground forces by virtually every criterion: total ground force personnel; number of divisions; and ground force systems, especially tanks (5:1), personnel carriers (2.5:1), artillery pieces (4:1), and heavy mortars (2.5:1).” These words were spoken by US Air Force General George Brown, at a time when a large ground war against the Soviet Union was still a very serious possibility, and they spoke to the enormous gap in men and materiel faced by the West in any potential conflict with Russia. Coming so soon after the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War, where the attack helicopter had its baptism of fire and proved its mettle over the battlefield, General Brown’s comments made it clear that the US needed a new dedicated attack helicopter to face a potential European invasion by the Soviet Union that would likely be spearheaded by huge numbers of tanks and armored personnel carriers.
In response to this threat, the US Army initiated the Advanced Attack Helicopter (AAH) program in 1972 to find a more capable replacement for the Bell AH-1 Cobra that had entered service during the Vietnam War. Bell Helicopter, Boeing Vertol/Grumman, Hughes, Lockheed and Sikorsky all submitted proposals, with Bell and Hughes selected to build prototypes of the YAH-63 and YAH-64 respectively for further evaluation. In 1976, the Army named Hughes the winner. Both helicopters were similar in capability and design, but the Army cited the YAH-64's four-bladed rotor that could withstand greater battle damage, and the greater stability of its tail-dragger landing gear as two of the main reasons for their selection.
The AH-64 was powered by two General Electric T700 turboshaft engines for added survivability over the Cobra’s single engine and, like the Cobra, the Apache had a tandem cockpit, with pilot in the rear and co-pilot/gunner in the front. The AH-64 was armed with the new AGM-114 Hellfire missile (an acronym for “Helicopter launched, fire-and-forget missile”), as well as a single 30mm Hughes M230 chain gun which held 1,200 rounds of ammunition and was mounted in a swiveling chin turret. Two stub wings were fitted with hardpoints for air-to-ground rockets, missiles, or Stinger AIM-92 air-to-air missiles for defense. The weapons load could be tailored to the needs of the mission, whether it was anti-armor, ground support, or helicopter escort.
The Apache entered service with the US Army in 1986 and saw its first combat action during the US invasion of Panama in Operation Just Cause. It then saw extensive action in the Gulf War and in the skies over Afghanistan and Iraq, where it has performed admirably in the anti-tank, counterinsurgency (COIN) and close air support (CAS) roles. By 2011, the Apache had acquired over three million flight hours since its maiden flight, and it has been continuously upgraded throughout its service life. The AH-64D model features the addition of the AN/APG-78 Longbow fire-control radar and Radar Frequency Interferometer to detect enemy radar emission, both of which are housed in a radome mounted on the mast above the main rotor. This variant took over the scout role once held by the Bell OH-58 Kiowa. Export versions of the AH-64 serve with Israel, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Egypt, and in smaller numbers with 10 other nations. Over 2,000 have been built, and the Apache remains in production by Boeing.
September 30, 1949 – The Berlin Airlift officially ends. Following the D-Day landings in France on June 6, 1944, Germany found itself squeezed on two fronts. The Allies were pushing eastward on a broad front throughout Europe, while the Russians were moving westward at a breakneck pace to reach the German capital ahead of the Western allies. Berlin fell to the Russians on May 2, 1945 and, as had been decided at the Yalta Conference held in February of that year, the city was divided into four zones. The Russians controlled the eastern quarter of the city, while the rest was divided between the French, British and Americans. As a result of the division, the capital city of Berlin ended up deep inside eastern Germany, which was fully controlled by the Russians.
Though the shooting war was over, the Cold War between the Western Bloc (the US and its future NATO allies) and Russia had begun. The fragile wartime alliance between the West and the Soviet Union ended, and both sides sought to influence the political makeup of Europe, and the world, through economic and political policies and proxy wars. On June 24, 1948, in an effort to bring the city of Berlin under Soviet control, Russia cut off the western sectors of the city from the outside world, severing water connections and halting all vehicular and river traffic into or out of the Allied sectors. West Berlin was effectively cut off from the rest of Western Europe, and it became an island of democracy inside Communist East Germany.
But while the Russians could effectively wall off the city by blocking the roads and bridges, they could not put a roof over the city, and the Western allies began the the greatest airlift of supplies in history to support the beleaguered city. Though the Russians controlled all ground access to Berlin, they had agreed prior to the blockade to let the Western allies use three air corridors from western Germany into Berlin, and these corridors formed the supply route. Starting haphazardly at first on June 24, 1948, the operation was taken over first by US Brigadier General Joseph Smith, who had commanded Boeing B-29 Superfortresses under General Curtis LeMay during the war. But Smith had no airlift experience, and he was soon replaced by Major General William Tunner, a veteran of airlift operations over the Himalayas during the fight against Japan. Tunner cobbled together an aerial armada of Douglas C-47 Skytrains and British C-47 Dakotas, Douglas DC-3 airliners, and Douglas C-54 Skymasters and started round-the-clock flights. He instituted strict new rules to streamline the operation by requiring IFR landings regardless of weather conditions and eliminating the stacking of aircraft while planes awaited landing. If an aircraft missed an approach, the crew was required to return to their starting point, fully laden, and try again. Tunner also required air crews to stay with their planes at all times, and refreshments were brought out to the crews on the tarmac so they could take off immediately after unloading. West Berlin citizens pitched in to help unload the planes.
By the end of August 1948, 1,500 flights per day—one landing every minute—were delivering more than 5,000 tons of food, coal and other supplies, enough to keep the city fed and powered in spite of the blockade. On Easter Sunday, 1949, the airlift managed to deliver 13,000 tons of cargo, including the equivalent of 600 railroad cars of coal. The airlift continued for 11 months, making more than 189,000 flights totaling nearly 600,000 hours of flying that covered more than 92 million miles. Faced with this herculean effort, the Russians finally conceded and lifted the blockade one minute after midnight on May 12, 1949, though the flights continued for four more months. West Berlin remained a free city, and it stood as a powerful symbol of the West’s resolve to fight the spread of Communism in Europe before the reunification of Germany in 1990.
October 1, 1990 – The death of Curtis LeMay. During the Second World War, strategic bombing became one of the most potent elements of modern warfare, and one man took the lead in shaping the bombing program for the US, molding it into one of the most powerful—and controversial—forces in the world. Born in Columbus, Ohio in 1906, Curtis LeMay earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Ohio State University before receiving a commission in the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) in 1930, where he flew pursuit fighters, specialized in navigation, and served as a navigator aboard the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. When WWII began, LeMay’s reputation for discipline and perfection hastened his rapid rise through the ranks of the USAAC. He began as the commander of a squadron of B-17s based in England, where he helped to develop the combat boxformation that later became standard practice for all American strategic bombing missions. Later, as the commander of a squadron of Consolidated B-24 Liberators, he personally led many dangerous missions, and threatened crews with court-martial if they failed to reach the target. His insistence on discipline and doing things his way earned him nicknames such as “Old Iron Pants” and “Big Cigar.”
In 1944, LeMay was transferred to the Pacific Theater, where he found that the bombing tactics used in Europe were unsuited to the fight against Japan, where war industries were decentralized and spread among the civilian population. To address the poor success rate of high-altitude bombing, LeMay had his crews switch to low level, nighttime incendiary attacks against the Japanese homeland, where many of the cities were largely constructed of wood. These fire raids killed an estimated 500,000 Japanese civilians, and led to vicious reprisals against American POWs. However, despite the high civilian casualties, LeMay remained dedicated to his methods, believing that if his tactics could shorten the war by one day it would be worth it. The incendiary attacks continued until the Japanese surrender in 1945, even after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In 1948, with Berlin under a Russian blockade, LeMay took over and reorganized the Berlin Airlift which, at its peak, brought in 5,000 tons of supplies on 500 flights per day to the beleaguered city, with one cargo aircraft landing every minute. By the end of the Airlift in 1949, 213,000 flights had brought in 1.7 million tons of supplies, and the Russians lifted their blockade. Also in 1948, LeMay took over the nascent Strategic Air Command (SAC), molding it into an effective tool for the nuclear age and projecting American power around the globe with high-flying strategic bombers such as the Convair B-36 Peacemaker, Boeing B-47 Stratojet, and Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.
LeMay served as the US Air Force Chief of Staff from 1961 until his retirement in 1965, and was George Wallace’s running mate for Wallace’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 1968. In addition to his Air Force service, LeMay was also a sports car owner and racing enthusiast, and he allowed the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) to use SAC facilities to hold their races as a safer alternative to racing on roads. For his support of the SCCA, LeMay was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2007. LeMay died of a heart attack at March Air Force Base and is buried at the US Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
October 1, 1947 – The first flight of the North American F-86 Sabre. North American Aviation was founded in 1928 and made an early name for the company with the production of training aircraft, notably the T-6 Texan, one of the most-produced trainers in history. During WWII, the company led continued to provide aircraft for the war effort, and produced many of the iconic airplanes of the war, including the B-25 Mitchell and the remarkable P-51 Mustang. The period of WWII was a time of transition, as the design of propeller aircraft reached its zenith and the jet engine began to take over as the powerplant of the future.
North American made its first foray into jet fighter design with the FJ-1 Fury, an unremarkable straight-winged fighter built for the US Navy that borrowed the tail, wings and canopy of the Mustang. The US Air Force was just about purchase the Fury for themselves, designated the XP-86, but the new fighter would not be capable of reaching the speeds the Air Force required. It was here that aviation history took a fateful turn. Based on aerodynamic data obtained from Germany at the end of the war, North American took the Fury and replaced the straight wings with wings swept at 35 degrees. The iconic Sabre was born.
Testing of the early Sabres showed the Air Force that they had a winner on their hands. On September 5, 1948, Air Force pilot Maj. Richard Johnson set an official world speed record of 671 mph, and the Sabre became the first jet aircraft to exceed Mach 1 while flying in a shallow dive. Soon after its introduction, the Sabre went to war in 1949 in the skies over Korea. There it became the preeminent US jet fighter of the Korean War, and often tangled with Soviet-built MiG-15 fighters in the northwest corner of North Korea along the Yalu River, an area that came to be known as “MiG Alley.” Though the MiG-15 was superior to the early Sabres, advances in engine and firepower soon brought the Sabre to parity with the MiG, and American pilots, many of whom had gained invaluable combat experience during WWII, claimed 792 victories over North Korean and Chinese pilots against the loss of only 78 Sabres, though recent scholarship places the ratio at closer to 2:1. Nevertheless, of the 41 American pilots who became aces during the Korean War, 40 of them flew Sabres. The top scoring US ace of the war, Captain Joseph McConnell, claimed 16 jet-to-jet victories, and other notable pilots such as James Jabarra, Francis “Gabby” Gabreski, and others who would take part in the fledgeling American space program, such as John Glenn and Virgil “Gus” Grissom, flew the Sabre in combat.
With the end of the Korean War, most Sabres were transferred stateside to fly with Air National Guard units, but export Sabres continued to be flown in combat in conflicts around the world. A total of 26 nations flew the F-86, and over 1,800 were produced under license in Canada as the Canadair CL-13 Sabre. In all, a total of 9,860 Sabres were built, the most of any Western jet fighter, and the US finally retired its last Sabres in 1970. Bolivia was the last export country to retire its Sabres in 1994. The remarkable F-86 was further developed into the F-86D “Sabre Dog” interceptor, the F-100 Super Sabre, the YF-93which did not enter into production, and the FJ-2/-3 Fury and FJ-4 Fury for the US Navy.
September 28, 2007 – The first flight of the Kawasaki P-1, a domestically-produced maritime patrol aircraft developed to replace the Lockheed P-3C Orion. The P-1 entered service with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in 2013, and is outfitted with a magnetic anomaly detection boom, sonobuoys, bombs and missiles. Unlike many other maritime patrol planes that were developed from existing airliners, the P-1 was purpose-built for the maritime reconnaissance role, and is the first production aircraft to use “fly-by-optics” technology. France is considering the P-1 as a replacement for its aging Breguet Atlantic turboprops, and Germany is also looking at the Kawasaki aircraft to replace their Orions.
September 28, 1988 – The first flight of the Ilyushin Il-96, a long-haul, widebody, four-engine airliner that entered service with Soviet flag carrier airline Aeroflot in 1992. The Il-96 is a development of the Soviet Union’s first wide body airliner, the Ilyushin Il-86, which first flew in 1976, and features a shortened fuselage, supercritical wing, winglets for increased fuel efficiency, glass cockpit, and fly-by-wire control systems. In 2015, Russia stopped production of the airliner due to superior aircraft being produced by Airbus and Boeing, though production of the cargo variant continued. However, Russia is considering restarting production of the airliner to avoid dependence on foreign-built airlines. To date, 30 Il-96s have been produced.
September 28, 1956 – The death of William E. Boeing. Boeing was born on October 1, 1881 to German and Austrian parents (Wilhelm Böing) in Detroit, Michigan. The family made a fortune selling timber, and William at first entered the family business. On a visit to Seattle in 1909, Boeing saw his first airplane, took flying lessons, and purchased his first aircraft, a Martin TA hydroaeroplane. When that plane crashed, rather than wait on parts, Boeing approached his friend George Westervelt and said they should build their own airplane. The Boeing Model 1 took its maiden flight in 1916, and their company built 50 airplanes for the US Army during WWI. After the war, Boeing focused on commercial aircraft, but he left the aviation industry in 1937 to raise horses and develop property. The company he founded is now one of the world’s largest producers of civilian and military aircraft and spacecraft.
September 28, 1952 – The first flight of the Dassault Mystère IV, the first transonic fighter to enter service with the French Armée de l’Air. The Mystère IV was an evolutionary development of the earlier Mystère II and, though sharing an outward resemblance to the earlier fighter, was a completely new design featuring improvements in aerodynamics and a more powerful Hispano-Suiza Verdon turbojet engine. The Mystère IV served from 1953 until the mid-1980s and saw action in the Suez Crisis of 1956. It also served in the air forces of Israel and India.
September 29, 1988 – The launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on ST-26, the first flight following the Challenger Disaster. After the loss of the Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, STS-26 was declared the “Return to Flight” mission after an almost three-year hiatus in Shuttle missions. It was the first flight to have all crew members wear pressure suits during landing, and the first with a crew bailout contingency since STS-4. It was aslso the first mission since Apollo 11 where all crew members had been on at least one previous space mission. Discovery launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida and spent four days in orbit while the crew deployed a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite( TDRS). It was also the first spacecraft to fly with a Voice Control Unit (VCU), a computer capable of interpreting and acting on voice commands.
September 29, 1964 – The first flight of the LTV XC-142, an experimental vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) transport and cargo aircraft developed for the US Army, Navy and Air Force. The goal of the XC-142 was to provide an aircraft with helicopter-like performance but with greater range and speed than was possible with a helicopter. The XC-142 was powered by four General Electric T64 turboshaft engines linked by a common drive shaft that also turned a small horizontal propeller on the tail to control pitch during hover. Yaw during hover was controlled by the ailerons. In testing, the XC-142 completed all phases of hover and transition to level flight, but the project was canceled after five prototypes were built, and the aircraft were turned over to NASA for testing. One remains today at the National Museum of the US Air Force.
September 29, 1948 – The first flight of the Vought XF7U-1 Cutlass. Allegedly based on design concepts captured from the German Arado Flugzeugwerke at the end of WWII, the Cutlass had a short, checkered career with the US Navy. A radical tailless design with twin vertical stabilizers, the Cutlass, known by its detractors as the “gutless Cutlass,” suffered from serious handling problems and underpowered engines, and its long nose gear caused difficulty with carrier landings and lead to numerous crashes and pilot fatalities. The Cutlass was introduced in 1951 and served for only eight years before being replaced by the extremely successful Vought F8U Crusader.
September 29, 1940 – The Brocklesby mid-air collision. During a training flight over Brocklesby, Australia, two Avro Ansons collided in midair and became locked together. The pilot of the lower Anson bailed out, along with the navigators of both aircraft. The collision caused the engines to stop on the upper aircraft; however, the engines on the lower Anson continued to run at full power, and the pilot of the upper Anson found he could control the connected aircraft using his ailerons and flaps. After flying five miles with the planes connected, the pilot made an emergency landing in a pasture. Only one member the crews suffered minor injuries. The upper aircraft was subsequently repaired and returned to service.
September 30, 1982 – H. Ross Perot and J.W. Coburn complete the first circumnavigation of the globe by helicopter. In an effort to beat Australian Dick Smith, who had started his own attempt at a circumnavigation by helicopter, Texas billionaire Perot purchased a stock Bell 206 LongRanger II, christened it Spirit of Texas, then modified it to hold more fuel, deployable pontoons and upgraded navigational equipment. With Coburn as pilot, the pair set out from Dallas on September 1 and made 56 refueling stops while crossing 26 countries and flying 26,000 miles before returning to Dallas. One stop was made aboard a container ship in 15-foot seas and 40 mph winds since Russia would not allow the team to land in the Soviet Union. Perot also paid for a Lockheed C-130 and crew to support the flight. The circumnavigation took a total of 246 flight hours at an average ground speed of 117 mph, and an overall average of 35 mph, setting a world record for flight time in a helicopter. The Spirit of Texas now resides at the National Air and Space Museum.
September 30, 1943 – The first flight of the Northrop XP-56 Black Bullet, an experimental fighter developed in response to the US Army Air Corps’ 1938 R40-C proposal which was intended to encourage new, radical aircraft to stay ahead of European advances in aircraft designs. The Black Bullet was built around the experimental Pratt & Whitney X-1800 engine, which never entered production, and was essentially a flying wing design with bent wings and no vertical stabilizer, though a stabilizer was added later to improve handling. Flight tests were disappointing and showed little promise for challenging the performance of traditional fighters, and the project was canceled after 10 test flights. However, Northrop pioneered the use of magnesium in the airframe, and patented a process for Heliarc magnesium welding.
September 30, 1942 – The death of German Luftwaffe ace Hans-Joachim Marseille. Marseille was born on December 13, 1919, and joined the Luftwaffe in 1938. He took part in his first aerial dogfights during the Battle of Britain, but his wild lifestyle away from battle caused him to be transferred to the Mediterranean theater. Flying from North Africa, and fighting his entire career in the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Marseille scored 158 victories, all but seven against experienced British pilots, including a remarkable 17 victories in one day. Marseille perfected the method of deflection fire, aiming in front of the enemy fighter rather than chasing it from the rear. Nicknamed the Star of Africa for his tally of victories, Marseille was killed when an engine fire forced him to bail out of his Bf 109 and he struck the tail of the aircraft.
October 1, 1975 – The first flight of the Bell YAH-63, the unsuccessful entrant into the US Army’s Advanced Attack Helicopter (AAH) competition announced in 1972. Bell’s entry lost to the Hughes YAH-64, which would enter production in 1983 as the AH-64 Apache (now produced by Boeing). The Army cited Bell’s two rotor blades as being more vulnerable to ground fire than the Apache’s four, and felt the tricycle landing gear was less stable. Bell would use the lessons learned with the YAH-63 to help develop the AH-1 Super Cobra, an upgraded version of the earlier AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter.
October 1, 1958 – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) becomes operational. NASA has its origin in NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, an agency created in 1915 to further the efforts of aeronautic research and technological development in the United States. But as America entered the space age following WWII, it became clear that the country needed an organization for a new era. The National Aeronautics and Space Act carries the simple preamble “To provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.” The Act goes on to say that “The Congress hereby declares that it is the policy of the United States that activities in space should be devoted to peaceful purposes for the benefit of all mankind.” In addition to NASA’s high profile space programs such as Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station, the organization continues to fund research into all aspects of space exploration, space travel, aviation, and related sciences. NASA’s latest large project, the Space Launch System and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, Hopes to return astronauts to the Moon, create a permanent lunar station, and one day journey to Mars.
October 1, 1950 – The first flight of the Ilyushin Il-14, a civilian and military transport aircraft that was developed to replace the Douglas DC-3 and its Russian-built version, the Lisunov Li-2. Developed from the Ilyushin Il-12, the Il-14 was produced in Russia, former East Germany, former Czechoslovakia and China. Over 1,300 were built, and they served in many Eastern Bloc and Russian allied countries. Following the Soviet aircraft design ethos, the Il-14 was of rugged construction and designed to operate from rough and unimproved airstrips. The last Russian aircraft were retired in 2005, though a handful remain operational today.
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