This is today’s Aviation History Speed Round, getting you caught up on milestones and important historical events in aviation from August 5 through August 7.
August 5, 1943 – The Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and the 319th Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) are merged to form the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). WWII was truly a breakout period for women in the United States. With so many American men fighting overseas or serving in the military stateside, jobs that were traditionally only filled by men were being very capably filled by women for the first time. Rosie the Riveter became a symbol of the new American workforce, but women helped the war effort in other ways, notably as pilots. Before the war, famed aviators Nancy Harkness Love and Jackie Cochran each submitted a proposal to allow women to ferry aircraft from the factory to their assigned bases, saying that every woman who flew an airplane would free up one man for combat flying. Despite the lobbying efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt, their requests were denied, and Cochran traveled to England to join the Air Transport Auxiliary, becoming one of the first American women to fly a military aircraft. By the middle of 1942, US Army brass authorized the formation of the WAFS, which began operating in September of 1942, headed by Love. Cochran returned to the US at the time the WAFS started flying, and oversaw the formation of the WFTD. While the groups worked independently, and well, they were merged in 1943 under the direction of Cochran to codify training and standards. More than 25,000 women applied for the program, but only 1,074 were awarded their wings. The WASPS flew until December 1944, when the group was disbanded, partly over a dispute over commissions for the pilots. By that time, the WASPS had delivered 12,650 aircraft, while suffering 38 fatalities due to accidents. However, despite their service, the Army never commissioned the pilots and would not afford any military honors at the funeral. The pilot’s body was shipped home at family expense, and they were not allowed to place the US flag on the coffin.
August 5, 1930 – The birth of Neil Armstrong. Everybody knows, or at least should know, that Neil Armstrong was the first human being to set foot on the surface of the Moon in 1969, where he uttered the profound words, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” The exact wording is disputed, and in fact, there are many who believe that the entire Apollo program was an elaborate hoax. (Just don’t ask Buzz Aldrin about it.) But while everybody knows about Armstrong’s historic first step, his career included much more than that flight to the moon. Armstrong was born near Wapakoneta, Ohio, and often attended the air races that were so popular in that era. He took his first flight at age 5 on board a Ford Trimotor. After starting an engineering degree at Purdue University at age 17, Armstrong entered the Navy where he flew the Grumman F9F Panther. While serving in Korea, Armstrong’s plane was hit by antiaircraft fire, but he managed to eject safely, and eventually flew 78 missions. Upon leaving the Navy, Armstrong became a research pilot, flying the F-100 Super Sabre, the F-101 Voodoo, and the F-104 Starfighter, as well as the Bell X-1 and X-5, and .the North American X-15 among others. In 1962, Armstrong joined the astronaut program, and was selected as Command Pilot for the Gemini 8 mission in 1966, where Armstrong and Pilot David Scott performed the first ever docking in space when they joined with an Agena target vehicle that had been launched earlier. Armstrong was also the backup pilot for Gemini 11, and served as CAPCOM for that mission. In 1967, Armstrong was chose along with 17 other astronauts to be the crew for the Apollo missions after the loss of the Apollo 1 crew in a launchpad fire three months earlier. Due to the rotation of crews, Armstrong ended up as the commander of Apollo 11, the mission that would land a man on the Moon, and he placed that famous footprint down at 2:56 UTC on July 21, 1969. Armstrong never flew in space again, and died in 2012 at the age of 82.
August 6, 1945 – The crew of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay drops the first nuclear weapon used in war on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. As the Americans and her allies were hopping up the chain of islands and atolls, moving ever closer to Japanese homeland in the latter states of the war, it seemed that an invasion of the island would be the only way to conclude the conflict. War planners knew that an invasion would be costly, and while initial estimates expected 130,000-220,000 Allied casualties, signs that the Japanese were preparing for an invasion raised casualty estimates to 1.7-4 million, with 400,000-800,000 dead. In July of 1945, the Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration calling for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese, and threatened “prompt and utter destruction” if they did not comply. The Japanese rejected the call for surrender. Development of a nuclear weapon began in 1939, with the first successful test carried out in July of 1945. But the organizational effort to create the group of pilots and planes that would drop the new weapon began in 1944 when Col. Paul Tibbets was tasked with organizing assets for attacks on either Japan or Germany. They would be flying the Silverplate Boeing B-29 Surperfortress, specially modified to carry the new bombs and fitted with fuel injection, reversible pitch propellers and other modifications. After consideration of numerous cities, Hiroshima was chosen as the first target because of its large military base, but the Allies also wanted a target that was visible enough to have a psychological impact on the Japanese. Tibbets and his crew departed Tinian in their B-29, nicknamed Enola Gay after Tibbets’ mother, and joined two other aircraft, one with instruments and another a photo aircraft. Dropping their bomb over the unsuspecting city, the explosion killed 70,000-80,000 soldiers and residents of Hiroshima, roughly 30% of the population, and injured another 70,000. The bombing of Hiroshima was followed three days later by another atomic attack on Nagasaki, this one carried out by a B-29 nicknamed Bockscar. It was only after this second attack that the Japanese government agreed to unconditional surrender on August 15, 1945.
Short Take Off
August 5, 1935 – Wiley Post, the first pilot to fly solo around the world, is killed in a crash in Alaska, along with his passenger, American humorist Will Rogers.
August 6, 1969 – The Soviet Mil V-12 helicopter, the largest ever built, sets a world lifting record for a rotary wing aircraft by carrying 88,636 pounds to an altitude of 7,400 feet. (Photo by Groningen Airport-Eelde via Wikimedia Commons)
August 7, 1963 – The first flight of the Lockheed YF-12. The YF-12 was a two-man, armed interceptor version of the original Lockheed A-12 surveillance aircraft. Though an order for 93 aircraft was placed in 1965, only three were built before the program was cancelled in January of 1968.
August 7, 1951 – The first flight of the McDonnell F3H Demon. Developed as a successor to the F2H Banshee, the subsonic Demon served as a daylight fighter to complement the Vought F8U Crusader and Grumman F11F Tiger. 519 were built, and the Demon was retired in 1964.
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Unless otherwise credited, all photos are, or are believed to be, Public Domain, ownership could not be determined, or were taken by the author.