This is today’s Aviation History Speed Round, getting you caught up on milestones and important historical events in aviation from May 23 through May 26.
May 23, 1967 – The first flight of the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod. In 1964, the British Government began the search for a replacement for the aging Avro Shackleton to take over the role of anti-submarine warfare (ASW), maritime surveillance and anti-surface warfare. The first two prototypes were built on the unfinished airframes of Comet 4 airliners, with the turbojet engines replaced by Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans, included an altered fuselage to make room for an internal weapons bay, an enlarged nose for a larger radar, a new tail with built-in electronic warfare sensors, and a magnetic anomaly detector boom was added to the rear. A total of forty-nine Nimrods were built, and they saw service in the Falklands War, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Nimrod was retired in 2011 after initial plans for an updated Nimrod were abandoned.
May 23, 1848 – The birth of Otto Lillienthal. An early and influential pioneer of manned flight, Otto Lillienthal was known as the Glider King for his experiments with and development of unpowered glider flight. Lillienthal worked closely with his brother Gustav and made over 2,000 flights beginning in 1891, some of which covered distances of over 800 feet. While all those flights only accounted for five hours of actual flying, Lillienthal’s influence on the history of aviation far outstripped his hours in the air, and the notoriety he garnered not only popularized the idea of future powered flight, but also influenced the early work of the Wright Brothers and other aviation pioneers. Lillenthal was killed in the crash of one of his gliders when he entered an unrecoverable stall at an altitude of about 50 feet, breaking his neck in the subsequent crash.
May 24, 1936 – The first flight of the Fieseler Storch. In the 1930s, the Reich Aviation Ministry sought designs for a small aircraft suitable for liaison, forward air control and medevac duties. The Fiesseler Storch was selected over the other contenders because of its outstanding short takeoff and landing (STOL) characteristics and other thoughtful design elements such as folding wings that made the Storch easy to tow or transport, and long landing gear with shock absorbers for operations from crude runways. The Storch gained fame for its role in the rescue of ousted Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini from the rocky mountaintop ski resort of San Grasso in Operation Eiche in 1943. Mussolini had been arrested and held in the mountaintop hotel, but was rescued by German gliderborne paratroops and flown off the rock-strewn mountaintop by a Storch, the only aircraft capable of operating from the site.
May 25, 1979 – The crash of American Airlines Flight 191. American Airlines Flight 191 was a regularly scheduled flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport. During takeoff, the left engine of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10 separated from the wing, severing hydraulic lines, damaging the left wing’s leading edge, and causing an uncommanded retraction of the leading edge slats. As the aircraft continued to takeoff, the unbalanced configuration of the wing slats caused the left wing to stall while the right wing was still providing lift and the aircraft rolled to the left until partially inverted and crashed in a nearby field. All 258 passengers and 13 crew members were killed, as well as 2 people on the ground, and it remains the deadliest aviation accident on US soil. The engine separation was found to have been caused by faulty maintenance practices performed by American Airlines, and not a design defect. American Airlines was fined $500,000 for improper maintenance procedures.
May 25, 1968 – The first flight of the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler. The Prowler concept began in the 1960s as a replacement for the Douglas EF-10B Skynight, and was based on the successful Grumman A-6 Intruder attack plane airframe, stretched to add a second row of seating for electronics warfare officers. Development of the purpose-built EA-6B began in 1966 to replace the EKA-3B Skywarrior then in service with the Navy. Among other developments, the fuselage was lengthened and an antenna fairing was added to the vertical stabilizer. Introduced in 1971, EA-6B Prowlers were active in the Vietnam War, flying 720 sorties in support of Navy bombers and USAF B-52s, and also served in Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The Prowler is in its last year of service, as the Navy completes the phase out of the EA-6B in favor of the newer Boeing EA-18G Growler.
May 25, 1953 – The first flight of the North American F-100 Super Sabre. North American developed the Super Sabre as an unsolicited upgrade to the F-86 Sabre, hoping to provide the Air Force with a day fighter capable of sustained supersonic speeds. The F-100 featured a 45-degree swept wing, as well as over 100 additional upgrades and design changes, including the first widespread use of titanium in its structure, and was delivered to the Air Force in 1951, which accepted it immediately due to delays in production of the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. Nicknamed “The Hun,” it was the first of the so-called Century Series fighters, and was the first Air Force fighter capable of supersonic speeds in level flight. The F-100 saw extensive action in Vietnam, serving from 1961 to 1971, the longest-serving fighter bomber of the war. The Hun set numerous speed records, won the Bendix Trophy in 1955, was the first jet fighter to fly over the North Pole, and was flown by the USAF Thunderbirds from 1956 to 1968. Just under 2,300 Super Sabres were produced, and it was retired from frontline service in 1979, though it continued serving with Air National Guard units until 1988.
May 25, 1889 – The birth of Igor Sikorsky. Russian-born Igor Sikorsky is best known for the development of one of the first successful helicopters, but he started his career as a designer of fixed-wing aircraft. He is also notable for being the primary test pilot for most of the aircraft he designed. Before emigrating to the United States in 1919, he designed and flew the Russky Vityaz, the world’s first multi-engine fixed-wing aircraft, and the Ilya Muromets, the world’s first airliner. After coming to the US, Sikorsky created the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in 1923 and produced the S-42 flying boat for Pan American Airways. But it was in rotary-winged aircraft that Sikorsky made his greatest mark on aviation history, first with the VS-300 in 1939, the first helicopter to use a single engine to power both main and tail rotors, and the R-4, the world’s first production helicopter, in 1942.
Short Take Off
May 23, 1956 – The Douglas X-3 Stiletto is retired. Designed to investigate an aircraft suitable for sustained supersonic speeds, the X-3 never flew as fast as its designers hoped, but it provided useful data on supersonic aircraft design, as well as data for the wings of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, which featured a similar trapezoidal wing.
May 23, 1915 – The first flight of the Fokker Eindecker. Designed by Dutch engineer Anthony Fokker, the Eindecker was the first purpose-built German fighter, and the first fighter to employ Fokker’s interrupter gear for firing through the arc of the propeller.
May 24, 1967 – The first flight of the Aero Spacelines Mini Guppy. Built from salvaged parts from a Boeing 377/C-97J, the Mini Guppy was used for oversized cagro transport. Two were built.
May 25, 1976 – The first flight of the Boeing E-3 Sentry. Commonly know as AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control), the E-3 was derived from the Boeing 707 and provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications for the US and its NATO allies, as well as the Royal Saudi Air Force. Sixty-eight aircraft had been built when production ended in 1992.
May 26, 1942 – The first flight of the Northrop XP-61 Black Widow prototype, the first operational, purpose-built American night fighter and the first American warplane designed specifically to employ radar.
May 26, 1904 – The first successful flight of the Wright Flyer II, the second powered airplane built by the Wright Brothers. In 105 test flights, the Wright Brothers achieved flights of up to 5 minutes in length and the flights incorporating complete circles.
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