This is today’s Aviation History Speed Round, getting you caught up on milestones and important historical events in aviation from August 8 through August 11.
August 8, 1946 – The first flight of the Convair B-36 Peacemaker. While the ironically named Peacemaker serves as a Cold War icon of global warfare, planning for such a bomber actually began before the US entered WWII. With the situation looking grim for England in the early stages of the war, the US was concerned that should England fall there would be no place from which to launch bombing missions against Germany. The only alternative would be to fly from bases in North America, with the easternmost airfield being in Gander, Newfoundland. Any bomber operating from there would need an unrefueled range of 5,700 miles. Development sped up in the late stages of the Pacific War, when long ranges were necessary for missions against Japan, and with the onset of the Cold War, and before the advent of the ICBM, the US needed a bomber that could reach deep into the Soviet Union. While a huge piston-powered bomber seemed somewhat of an anachronism in the dawning of the jet age, no other aircraft had the range necessary for such deep strikes. But in order to make truly global flights, and carry the full US arsenal of nuclear and conventional weaponry, the B-36 had to be big. It was the largest mass-produced piston-powered aircraft ever built, dwarfing the B-29 Superfortress, and at 230 ft its wingspan was longer than any combat aircraft ever produced. The Peacemaker was the first bomber capable of a truly intercontinental range without refueling. Despite being a weapon of war, no B-36 ever dropped munitions on an enemy, and it served its career as a nuclear deterrent and reconnaissance aircraft. 384 Peacemakers were built, and it was retired in 1959 with the introduction of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress.
August 9, 1956 – The first flight of the Fiat G.91. Development of the Fiat G.91 began in 1953 when the leaders of NATO expressed a desire for a common aircraft to fulfill the role of light weight strike fighter. Eight aircraft were submitted for review, including the Dassault Mystère, which would later be developed into the Étendard IV, and the Northrop N-156, the prototype of the F-5 Freedom Fighter. Three designs were selected for further evaluation, and the G.91 had the advantage of being ready for flight months ahead of its competitors. Despite some early problems with controllability, the G.91 was declared the winner in January 1958. Externally, the G.91 resembles a scaled down North American F-86D, and the fighter is powered by a Bristol Siddeley Orpheus 803 turbojet and armed with four Browning .50 caliber machine guns as well as four external hardpoints for rockets, bombs or external fuel tanks. The G.91 entered service with the Italian Air Force in 1961, and with the West German Luftwaffe the following year, and with Portugal in 1965, where it saw significant action during the Portuguese Colonial War in that country’s African colonies. The simple design of the G.91 allowed for many upgrades and variants to be developed throughout the life of the fighter, including a reconnaissance version that was evaluated by the US Air Force in 1961. Other variants were the G.91T two-seat trainer, and the G.91Y which was enlarged and powered by two afterburning General Electric J85 engines. Production was shared between Fiat (later Aeritalia) and Flugzeug Union Süd (Messerschmitt-Dornier-Heinkel), with a total of 770 aircraft built before production ended in 1977. The G.91 was retired in 1995. (Photo by Fockel007 via Wikimedia Commons)
August 9, 1945 – The second nuclear bomb, Fat Man, is dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. While it was hoped that the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6 would compel the Japanese government to surrender, there was no sign that they were willing to do so. In fact, Japanese military leaders started making preparations for martial law that would prevent any Japanese from trying to make peace with the Allies. With no capitulation forthcoming, the decision was made to continue the bombing until Japan surrendered, and the next mission was slated for August 11. However, predictions of poor weather over the target areas pushed the date up to the 9th. The mission would be carried out by another Silverplate Boeing B-29 Superfortress, this one named Bockscar after its regular commander, Capt. Frederick Bock. But Bock was not on the pilot rotation for the mission and the aircraft was instead commanded by Maj. Charles Sweeney, who had accompanied the Enola Gay on the Hiroshima mission. The primary target for the mission was the city of Kokura, but upon arriving over the target, poor weather conditions and smoke from previous bombings caused the crew to divert to their backup target, Nagasaki. The blast from Fat Man was greater than 21,000 tons of TNT, and anywhere from 40,000 to 70,000 Japanese were killed. Only 400 people in underground shelters survived. The city of Nagasaki is nestled between mountains, and had the topography not contained the explosion, the death toll could have been considerably higher. Due to a pump failure on board Bockscar, the crew did not have access to 600 gallons of fuel, and were unable to return to Tinian. Instead, they diverted to Okinawa and made an emergency landing on the busy airfield, firing flares to alert the controllers. With engines running out of fuel, they came to a stop behind a B-24 Liberator that was waiting to take off. After the second bombing, and with the promise of more nuclear attacks, the Japanese government finally surrendered on August 15, and the official surrender ceremony was carried out on board the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.
August 10, 1949 – The first flight of the Avro Canada C102 Jetliner. With the development of reliable jet engines towards the end of WWII, the race to produce the first jet-powered civilian transport was a close one. The Avro Canada Jetliner, which made its maiden flight on August 10, 1959, was only 13 days behind the de Havilland Comet. And while most indications were that the Jetliner would be a successful competitor to the Comet, Avro Canada decided instead to focus their efforts on production of their CF-100 Canuck interceptor due to the demands of Cold War defense and a lack of interest among airline buyers for the Jetliner. Considering the checkered history of the Comet, one wonders if Avro Canada ever regretted their decision. Though no airlines came forward to purchase the Jetliner, eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes expressed an interest in buying 30 Jetliners, planning to operate them on the east coast between New York and Florida. But not even Hughes could convince Avro Canada to produce the plane, nor would they allow him to build it under license in the US. The second prototype, near completion, was scrapped, and the flying prototype was broken up in 1956, although the nose and cockpit were saved for display in the Canadian Aviation Museum. Despite a promising life cut short, the C102 did give the world one lasting legacy: the word jetliner. Much like Kleenex has become the generic word for facial tissue, jetliner, first coined by Avro Canada for the C102, has become the generic word for any large, jet-powered commercial transport.
Short Take Off
August 8, 1986 – The first flight of the British Aerospace EAP. Developed privately by British Aerospace, the EAP (Experimental Aircraft Programme) was a technology demonstrator aircraft featuring a cranked delta wing and canards for that would become the basis for the Eurofighter Typhoon. (Photo via Royal Air Force Museum Cosford)
August 8, 1967 – The first flight of the Boeing 737-200. The first significant modification of the -100, the -200 was developed after an order from United Airlines in 1965 and featured an extended fuselage and other improvements. (Photo by Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons)
August 8, 1944 – The first flight of the Junkers Ju 287. Featuring a unique forward-swept wing and powered by 4 turbojet engines, the 287 was the first heavy jet bomber to be flown successfully. Germany hoped to have 200 operational by 1946, but only one was completed before the factory was captured by the Russian Army in 1945.
August 9, 1996 – The death of Sir Frank Whittle. Whittle is credited with the single-handed development of the turbojet engine in 1937, and his W2/700 engine was the first jet engine to enter production with the British. It was used to power the Gloster Meteor, the only Allied operational fighter in WWII.
August 9, 1980 – The death of Jacqueline Cochran. Cochran was the leader of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during WWII, and the first woman pilot to break the sound barrier. (Above, Cochran with Chuck Yeager following her supersonic flight)
August 11, 1972 – The first flight of the Northrop F-5E. A development of the original F-5 Freedom Fighter, the F-5E was chosen as the winner of the International Fighter Aircraft competition in 1970. Nicknamed the Tiger II, the F-5E had 920 lbs more thrust than its predecessor with a higher top speed, higher ceiling and more powerful radar.
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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.