This is today’s Planelopnik History Speed Round, getting you caught up on milestones and important historical events in aviation from April 18 to April 21.
April 18, 1973 – The Fairchild Republic YA-10 is selected over the Northrop YA-9 in the Air Force’s A-X competition. In 1966, the US Air Force issued a request to defense contractors to develop a low-cost attack aircraft, one that would have long loiter time, low-speed maneuverability, tremendous firepower and excellent survivability. Both planes would be built around the General Electric GAU-8 30mm cannon. In response, Northrop offered the YA-9, while Fairchild Republic offered the YA-10. After a fly off between the two prototypes, the Air Force selected the YA-10, which would become known as the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The YA-9 prototypes were given to NASA for testing, but were quickly retired.
April 18, 1952 – The first flight of the Convair YB-60. The YB-60 was essentially a jet powered, swept-wing version of the B-36 Peacemaker. With a 72% parts commonality with the B-36, it was considerably cheaper to produce than the B-52 Stratofortress, its unofficial competitor. Critically, the YB-60 was 100 mph slower than the YB-52, and had severe handling problems. While it could carry a heavier bomb load, the Air Force didn’t see that as a major factor to favor it over the YB-52. The YB-60 test program was canceled in January 1953 after just 66 hours of flight testing, and both prototypes, one unfinished, were scrapped five months later.
April 18, 1943 – American fighters shoot down a Japanese bomber carrying Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto. Yamamoto was commander-in-chief of the Japanese fleet and the architect of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Midway. On April 14, 1943, US Navy intelligence personnel decoded a message detailing Yamamoto’s plans to visit Japanese troops in the Solomon Islands. The US Army Air Force launched Operation Vengeance to intercept Yamamoto with a flight of eighteen Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, the only aircraft with the range necessary to complete the mission. First Lieutenant Rex Barber was credited with downing Yamamoto’s aircraft, a Mitsubishi G4M “Betty,” but debate has raged over who actually shot it down. The death of Yamamoto was a severe blow to Japanese military morale and strategic planning.
April 18, 1942 – Sixteen North American B-25 Mitchells, led by Col. Jimmy Doolittle, take off from the USS Hornet to bomb the Japanese homeland. Ostensibly in retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor four month earlier, and to give the American public a much-needed morale boost, the Doolittle Raid also demonstrated to the Japanese people that their home island was not immune to attack. Fifteen of the sixteen bombers reached China after dropping their bombs, but all the aircraft were lost, and three of the crew members who were captured by the Japanese were executed. The military results of the attack were negligible, but the raid was extremely important to the American public, who craved some good news in the early days of the war, and may have encouraged Japan to attack Midway Island, an operation which resulted in a disastrous defeat for the Imperial Navy.
April 19, 1960 – The first flight of the Grumman A-6 Intruder. In 1955, the US Navy issued a requirement for a jet-powered, all-weather attack aircraft to replace the Douglas A-1 Skyraider. Grumman’s offering was selected in 1958 over proposals by numerous manufacturers and the company was awarded a contract to build the Intruder. Featuring side-by-side seating for the pilot and weapons officer, a wing that would give it superb maneuverability in low speed flight as well as the ability to carry a sizable bomb load, the Intruder also had a very sophisticated electronics suite for its day. The A-6 entered service with the Navy and Marine Corps in 1963 and saw extensive action in the Vietnam War, as well as many later conflicts. The Intruder was retired by the Marines in 1993, and by the Navy in 1997, with the attack mission being transferred first to the F-14 Tomcat, and then the F/A-18 Hornet.
April 20, 1974 – The “accidental” first flight of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon. During a high-speed taxi test, General Dynamics test pilot Phil Oestricher experienced roll-control oscillation which caused the left wingtip to scrape the ground, and the aircraft began to veer off the runway. To avoid a crash, Oestricher decided the best option was to take off, landing the jet six minutes later. The F-16 went on to win the Air Force’s Lightweight Fighter competition, beating the Northrop YF-17. The Fighting Falcon was introduced in 1978 and remains in service, with more than 4,540 aircraft delivered to 26 nations.
April 21, 1933 – The first flight of the USS Macon (ZRS-5). The USS Macon was a rigid airship operated by the US Navy, serving as a reconnaissance platform and “flying aircraft carrier,” able to launch and recover five Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk scout planes or two-seat Fleet N2Y-1 training aircraft. The Macon served for only two years before she was damaged in a storm and crashed of the California coast, resulting in the loss of two members of her 76-man crew.
April 21, 1918 – The Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen, is shot down and killed. Richtofen was the greatest fighter ace of World War I, officially credited with downing eighty enemy planes, but controversy swirls around his death. Officially, the RAF credited Canadian Capt. Roy Brown, flying a Sopwith Camel, with downing Richtofen’s iconic Fokker Dr.1 triplane. However, an examination showed that Richtofen suffered a fatal wound from a single .303 bullet which pierced his heart, a bullet that was likely fired from Australian antiaircraft forces on the ground near the Somme River. Richtofen was buried the following day with full military honors by members of the Royal Australian Air Force.