This is today’s Planelopnik History Speed Round, getting you caught up on milestones and important historical events in aviation from May 2 through May 4.
May 2, 1998 – The 100th and final B-1B Lancer is delivered. The Rockwel B-1 was originally envisioned as a Mach 2, long-range nuclear bomber to replace the B-52 Stratofortress. The program was canceled in 1977 by the Carter administration due to cost overruns and the belief that the deep penetration mission could be carried out by cruise missiles launched by existing B-52s. However, the aircraft was resurrected during the Reagan administration as the B-1B, and its mission was changed to low-level bombing with conventional armament. But even that mission was challenged by the emerging emphasis on Stealth technology. Nevertheless, the B-1B, armed with precision guided munitions, has become a mainstay of the Air Force, serving in all US conflicts since Operation Desert Fox in 1988. With recent upgrades announced by Boeing, the Bone is expected to serve until at least 2030.
May 2, 1967 – The Air Force takes delivery of the first Cessna A-37A Dragonfly. As American military activity in Vietnam ramped up in the mid- to late-1960s, Cessna hoped to provide the Air Force with a new ground attack aircraft by arming their T-37 trainer and giving it the designation T-37C. The Air Force showed some interest, but the program was shelved. However, as losses of Douglas A-1 Skyraiders increased, the Air Force took another look at the T-37C in the hopes of finding a jet aircraft to take on the counterinsurgency (COIN) role. So Cessna upgraded the T-37C with stronger wings, more wing hardpoints, larger fuel tanks, better avionics, tougher landing gear, and a GE GAU-2B/A 7.62 mm Gatling gun. The Air Force liked what it saw, and designated the aircraft the A-37A, sending it to Vietnam under the “Combat Dragon” program in August of 1967. A total of 577 aircraft were produced before production ended in 1975.
May 2, 1957 – McDonnell delivers the first F-101A Voodoo fighter. The F-101A was a development of the earlier XF-88 Voodoo penetration fighter, an aircraft intended to protect bombers on long-range missions over the Soviet Union. With the advent of tactical nuclear weapons, and a change in doctrine which shifted away from escorted bombers, McDonnell produced a larger, faster version of the XF-88 which was designated the F-101A. This aircraft was flown by the Tactical Air Command, where it was intended to carry a single tactical nuclear weapon for use against a specific target such as an airfield. A total of 77 F-101A Voodoos were built. The aircraft was retired from frontline service in 1972, though Voodoos continued to be flown by Air National Guard units until 1984.
May 2, 1952 – British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) inaugurates the world’s first jetliner service with the de Havilland DH.106 Comet. The de Havilland DH.106 Comet was the world’s first jet airliner, taking its maiden flight in July of 1949. Featuring a pressurized cabin and large windows, the Comet was powered by four de Havilland Ghost turbojet engines and offered a smooth, quiet ride, at least compared to the piston-powered planes of its day. Comet G-ALYP began plying the route from London to Johannesburg, carrying the first fare-paying passengers of the jet age. However, structural faults in the Comet lead to a series of well publicized crashes, and the Comet was removed from service until those issues could be resolved. G-ALYP itself was lost on January 10, 1954 when it suffered explosive decompression over the Mediterranean Sea, killing all on board. (Photo: The Telegraph)
May 3, 2007 – Death of Walter Marty “Wally” Schirra, Jr., test pilot, US Navy officer, and astronaut. Schirra was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, flying the Mercury-Atlas 8 mission in 1962 which orbited the Earth six times. In 1965, he flew the Gemini 6 and maneuvered his spacecraft to within one foot of the Gemini 7, completing the first rendezvous in space. And in 1968, he commanded Apollo 7, the first mission of the Apllo program that carried a crew to space. The Apollo flight made Schirra the first man to go to space three times, and the only astronaut to have flown in Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.
May 4, 1963 – The first flight of the Dassault Falcon 20. In 1961, Marcel Dassault approved the production of an eight- or ten-seat executive jet. The new plane was called the Dassault-Breguet Mystère 20, and the first prototype, registered F-WLKB, made its first flight at Bordeaux-Merignac. The Falcon 20 was the first of what is now an entire line of business jets that has been extremely successful for Dassault, a fleet which now includes aircraft capable of intercontinental flight. In 1973, Federal Express chose a Falcon 20 as the aircraft to start its package delivery service, and in 2012 a Falcon 20 became the first civilian jet to fly using biofuel.