This is today’s Aviation History Speed Round, getting you caught up on milestones and important historical events in aviation from June 6 through June 9.
June 6, 1944 – A huge airborne armada carries American and British troops across the English Channel for the D-Day invasion of Europe. The invasion of Festung Europa on June 6, 1944 was an operation on a scale that had never been previously attempted. Prior to the amphibious landings on the beaches of Normandy, an army of airborne soldiers including 13,000 troops from the American 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, along with 6000 British troops of the 6th Airborne Division and 500 paratroopers from Canada’s 1st Parachute Battalion were dropped into the Norman countryside to block the approaches to the invasion beaches, capture causeway exits from the beaches, and establish crossings over the Douve River. To transport the soldiers, the Allies assembled a fleet of over 900 Douglas C-47 Skytrains (RAF designation Dakota) which were arrayed in consecutive V-formations, nine planes wide, in a line that stretched 300 miles. The aerial assault didn’t go completely to plan, as many of the soldiers were widely scattered, and some took days to rejoin their units. But most of their objectives were met, and the paratroopers prepared the way for the 156,000 Allied soldiers that would come ashore at sunrise.
June 6, 1915 – German Zeppelin LZ 37 becomes the first Zeppelin destroyed in air-to-air combat. First patented by German designer Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in 1895, the rigid airships began transporting paid travelers in 1910. But the military implications of the airship were not lost on war planners, and the German navy acquired its first Zeppelin in 1912. With the outbreak of WWI, Zeppelins were pressed into service for naval reconnaissance, as well as numerous, though mostly ineffective, bombing raids on England. Until incendiary and explosive bullets were developed in 1916, the Zeppelins remained relatively impervious to standard bullets, and they ranged the skies with impunity. On the night of June 6-7, Royal Naval Air Service pilot Reginald Warneford, flying a Morane-Saulnier Type L, was on a mission to bomb the Zeppelin base at Evere when he spotted an enemy airship. When his bullets proved ineffective, Warneford climbed above the Zeppelin and dropped his payload of bombs on the airship, setting it on fire. The explosion forced Warneford down behind enemy lines, where he was able to repair his airplane and return to base. For his actions, Warneford received the Légion d’honneur from the French and the Victoria Cross, England’s highest military honor. Warneford would die just eleven days later in a crash.
June 7, 1981 – In Operation Opera, Israeli Air Force fighters strike deep into Iraq to destroy the nuclear reactor at Osirak. In the late 1970s, Iraq signed agreements with the French government to help construct a nuclear reactor near the capital of Baghdad. Both Iraq and France stated that the reactor was for research purposes only, though the Israelis feared that the facility might one day be used to produce a nuclear weapon. The Israeli efforts to stop the reactor were not just military. In April 1979, Israeli agents sabotaged the reactor as it awaited shipment in France, and in June 1980, Israeli agents assassinated an Egyptian scientist in Paris who was going to work on the Iraqi project. With intelligence assistance from Iran, who had themselves already attempted to destroy the nuclear facility, an attack squadron of eight F-16s, each carrying two 2,000 pound unguided bombs, protected by six F-15s, took off on June 7 and flew through Jordanian and Saudi Arabian airspace to drop their bombs on the reactor and the associated facilities. Ten Iraqi soldiers were killed in the attack, along with one French civilian. Iraq vowed to rebuild the facility, but the ongoing war with Iran and other economic factors prevented completion of the project. The Osirak facility was finally completely destroyed by the US in 1991 during the Gulf War. (Photo by KGyST via Wikimedia Commons)
June 8, 1966 – The second North American B-70 Valkyrie prototype crashes at Edwards AFB in California. Before the advent of the ICBM, American military planners relied on high-flying bombers to deliver a nuclear strike deep within the Soviet Union. At first, speed and altitude were enough to protect a long-range bomber. Fighter designs of the early-50s couldn’t reach a bomber flying at 70,000 ft going Mach 2 or faster. In 1955, the Air Force issued a requirement for a new bomber that would have the range and payload of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress but with the speed of the Convair B-58 Hustler. North American’s design, the XB-7o, was a truly colossal aircraft, and one that took advantage of what was known as “compression lift,” whereby the shock wave produced by the nose and other sharp points on the aircraft’s structure would provide lift. However, missile technology in the ‘60s caught up with aircraft design, making the Valkyrie vulnerable, and the project was canceled. The two XB-70 prototypes would continue to be used for research, and on June 8, 1966, at the request of engine manufacturer General Electric, a photo flight was planned with the XB-70 and four other GE-powered aircraft. During the flight, a Lockheed F-104 collided with the Valkyrie’s starboard wing, then rolled inverted across the top of the XB-70, damaging its vertical stabilizers. The XB-70 spun and crashed, killing one of the pilots, and the F-104 broke up in the air, killing its pilot. Despite the accident, the remaining XB-70 continued its research duties until it was retired and flown to the Air Force museum in 1969.
June 9, 1974 – The first flight of the Northrop YF-17. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, jet fighters were getting bigger and heavier, and some inside the US Air Force thought that the size of the fighters was becoming a hindrance to their maneuverability and effectiveness. In 1971, the Air Force announced its Lightweight Fighter (LWF) program, and formally requested proposals in January of 1972 for a fighter weighing about 20,000 pounds with excellent maneuverability and speeds up to Mach 1.6 at 40,000 feet. Five manufacturers submitted proposals, and the list was narrowed to the General Dynamics YF-16 and the Northrop YF-17. The YF-17 was an outgrowth of an internal Northrop project to further develop their highly successful F-5 Freedom Fighter. The YF-17 shared a similarly shaped wing and control surfaces, though the fuselage was lengthened, more powerful engines were installed, and a second vertical stabilizer was added. In the ensuing competition, the YF-16 was chosen as the winner due to its lower operating costs, greater range, and better acceleration and maneuverability. Also, the YF-16 shared the Pratt & Whitney F100 turbofan engine with the F-15, a significant cost-saving commonality. Despite the loss in the LWF program, the YF-17 was selected by the Navy in May of 1975 as the winner its Air Combat Fighter competition to replace the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and A-7 Corsair II, as well as the remaining McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs. The YF-17 was developed into the F/A-18 Hornet which remains in service today, forming the backbone of the Navy’s fighter and attack force.
Short Take Off
June 6, 1942 –Aircraft from the carriers Enterprise and Hornet sink the Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma in the final action of the Battle of Midway. Three Douglas TBD Devastators participate in the attack, marking the final combat flight of the Devastator.
June 8, 1959 – The first, unpowered flight of the North American X-15. Dropped from a Boeing B-52 and piloted by Scott Crossfield, the X-15 was used to research hypersonic flight, and holds the record for the highest speed attained by a manned aircraft at Mach 6.72 (4,520 mph).
June 8, 1959 – The submarine USS Barbero and the United States Post Office Department attempt the first delivery of mail via Missile Mail. While missile mail proved to be possible, the high cost made it impractical, and the service was mainly used as a promotion for the Post Office and missile testing for the US Navy and Air Force.
June 8, 1940 – Gunfire from the German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sinks the British carrier HMS Glorious on her voyage from Norway to the United Kingdom, along with two escorting destroyers. The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force lost 1,472 men in the attack, with only 43 survivors.
June 9, 1944 – The first flight of the Avro Lincoln, the final development of the Avro Lancaster and the last piston-powered bomber to be flown by the RAF.
June 9, 1928 – Australian pilot Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew make the first flight across the Pacific Ocean from the US to Australia. The flight in a Fokker F.VII/3m took ten days and covered approximately 7,187 miles.
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All photos are Public Domain or taken by the author unless otherwise credited.