This is today’s Aviation History Speed Round, getting you caught up on milestones and important historical events in aviation from July 11 through July 14.
July 12, 1980 – The First flight of the McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender. It is a political fact in war that some nations don’t want your aircraft in their airspace, nor do they want you operating at all from their country. The USAF learned this lesson during operations in Southeast Asia and the Middle East when they found that they needed an aerial tanker with a greater range than that provided by the Boeing KC-135. During the procurement process for a new, long-range tanker, it became evident that the best solution might be found from converting existing commercial airliners for use as refueling aircraft, so the Air Force started an evaluation of both the Boeing 747 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and in 1977 the DC-10 was chosen. Modifications were made to the DC-10-30CF, the convertible cargo/passenger version of the DC-10, to include expanded fuel capacity by adding seven bladder-type fuel cells below the main cabin floor, which allowed an additional 117,829 pounds of fuel, supplementing the aircraft’s own 238,236 pounds of fuel, for a total of 51,000 gallons. The Extender was also fitted with McDonnell Douglas’ Advanced Aerial Refueling Boom, a fly-by-wire system that improved on previous booms, as well as a probe-and-drogue refueling system to service Navy, Marine Corps and NATO airfraft. Sixty KC-10s were built for the USAF, and two, with the designation KDC-10, were produced for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
July 12, 1966 – The first flight of the Northrop M2-F2. Aircraft designers thought that by eliminating a conventional wing you would also eliminate the drag that comes with it and the M2-F2 was a NASA design to investigate the feasibility of an aircraft with no wings. The shape of the craft itself would provide the lift. During the 1960s and 1970s, NASA developed four lifting body aircraft, and the M2-F2 was the second of these. The M2-F2 was unpowered, and carried aloft by NASA’s Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. In its first flight, piloted by Milton Thompson, the aircraft reached a speed of 454 mph. Fifteen more tests followed, each one testing different aspects of the flight envelope. The final test on May 10, 1967, ended in a crash when pilot Bruce Peterson experienced pilot-induced oscillation but recovered control, then tried to avoid an observation helicopter, drifted in a crosswind and crashed. Peterson was badly injured, but survived the crash, only to lose an eye to a staph infection in the hospital. The footage from Peterson’s crash was used in the opening credits of The Six Million Dollar Man to explain how Steve Austin (a man barely alive) came to be fodder for bionic upgrades. NASA followed the M2-F2 with the M2-F3, which had an additional vertical stabilizer added to improve control, as well as an engine for powered flight. Thirty-seven test flight were made with the new design, and the M2-F3 went supersonic on August 25, 1971.
July 12, 1929 – The first flight of the Dornier Do X flying boat. By the 1930’s, the use of flying boats made regular air transport possible between the United States and Europe, which might explain why early flying boats looked so much like boats with wings attached. Operating from open water such as sea coasts, lakes, or rivers, meant that it was not necessary to build expensive runways, and the passengers enjoyed the added security of being able to land on the water in case of emergency. In order to carry more and more passengers and freight, flying boats got bigger and bigger, and by the time the Dornier Do X entered service it was the largest, heaviest and most powerful flying boat in the world. Unlike other flying boats of the time, the Do X had sponsons that extended from the fuselage rather than wing-mounted floats. But despite this drag-reducing feature, and 12 Curtiss Conqueror V-12 engines, the Do X was woefully underpowered for its size and was limited to low altitude flight. The aircraft did make one promotional flight to the United States in the hopes of securing American buyers, but due to its circuitous route and several mishaps, including a fire which burned most of the port wing, the trip took nine months to complete. Only three were ever built, two of which were sold to Italy. Those were eventually broken up for scrap, and the remaining German example was destroyed by the RAF during WWII.
July 14, 1951 – The first flight of the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation. The story of the Super Constellation begins with the Lockheed Constellation, a four-engine transport and cargo aircraft that first flew in 1943. The Connie was a successful aircraft, and 856 were eventually built. But in 1950, Lockheed’s competitor, Douglas, came out with the DC-6A, a stretched cargo version of its successful airliner, and were soon to launch the passenger version, the DC-6B. Lockheed had looked into a stretched Constellation, but decided not to build it. Douglas’ move, though, forced their hand. Lockheed repurchased the prototype XC-69 Constellation from Hughes Tool Company and lengthened the fuselage by 18 feet. Continued development of the Super Connie saw the addtion of better engines, and while the L-1049 would still lack the range of the DC-6B, it was capable of carrying a larger payload. Other improvements included strengthened wings and increased cabin soundproofing. A total of 259 of the commercial version were built. The Super Constellation also saw service with the US Air Force, who flew 320 aircraft that had been converted to the EC-121 Warning Star electronic surveillance platform. Most of the Super Connies were retired with the advent of jet transports such as the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8, and the last commercial flight of the L-1049 was made by Dominican Airlines in 1993. The last military variant was retired in 1982. (Photo by RuthAS via Wikimedia Commons)
July 14, 1933 – Wiley Post begins the first solo circumnavigation of the globe in his Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae.” The period between the World Wars, the 1920s and 1930s, is considered the Golden Age of Aviation. Airplanes evolved from the fabric-covered wooden frames from the dawn of aviation and WWI into all-metal monoplanes of increasing speed and performance. Daring aviators strove to set new records for speed, altitude and distance, and air racing was wildly popular. One of the giants of this period was Wiley Post, who began his flying career as a parachutist for a traveling circus before an oilfield accident in 1926 caused the loss of his left eye. The money he got from the settlement allowed him to purchase his first airplane. Post then became good friends with American humorist Will Rogers, and was the chief pilot for a wealthy Oklahoma oil man. In 1931, Post completed a circumnavigation of the globe in just eight days accompanied by a navigator, becoming the first to do so in a fixed-wing aircraft to (the previous record had been held by the rigid airship Graf Zeppelin). To top that feat, and to earn money to open his own flying school, Post set out in July of 1933 to make the same trip alone, this time with an improved aircraft that included an auto-pilot and radio direction finder. He completed trip in just over seven days, breaking his own record. In addition to his flying feats, Post also helped develop the first practical pressure suit for his attempts at setting altitude records that he hoped would take him into the stratosphere. Along with his friend Will Rogers, Post was killed on August 15, 1935 in a crash at Point Barrow, Alaska. (Vega photo by Jarek Tuszynski via Wikimedia Commons)
Short Take Off
July 11, 1979 – Skylab re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere and disintigrates over the Indian Ocean after a six-year mission orbiting the Earth.
July 12, 1957 – President Eisenhower becomes the first president to fly in a helicopter, traveling from the White House to an unnamed military base in a US Air Force Bell UH-13J.
July 12, 1944 – The Gloster Meteor Mk1 enters service with the RAF. The Meteor was the first British jet fighter and the only jet-powered aircraft fielded by the Allies in WWII. It was powered by two turbojet engines pioneered by Frank Whittle.
July 13, 1982 – The death of US Navy Reserve LCDR Barbara Allen Rainey, the first woman aviator in the US Armed Forces, in a training crash of her Beechcraft T-34 Mentor.
July 13, 1915 – The birth of David Lee “Tex” Hill. Hill is best known for his service with the American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers, in WWII, becoming one of the top aces under Gen. Claire Chennault. Hill also fought in Korea, and died 2007 at age 92.
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All photos are Public Domain or taken by the author unless otherwise credited.