On This Date

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Dec. 11, 1917: Thirteen Black soldiers were hanged for participation in Houston riot. The Camp Logan Mutiny (also called the Houston Riot of 1917) occurred on Aug. 23, 1917. It was a mutiny and riot by 156 soldiers of the Third Battalion of the all-black 24th United States Infantry Regiment. The riot occurred after members of the Houston Police Department harassed members of the local Black community and the Black soldiers who attempted to intervene were also violently accosted. The Black soldiers mutinied and marched on Houston, shooting and killing numerous people. It took place over a single night, and resulted in the deaths of 11 civilians and five policemen. Four soldiers were also killed from friendly fire and Sgt. Vida Henry, who led the mutineers, died by suicide. The soldiers were tried at three courts-martial for mutiny. All told, nineteen were executed, and 41 were sentenced to life imprisonment.
 
 
 
 

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Dec. 11, 1941: Germany and Italy declared war on the United States; the U.S. responded in kind.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 11, 1961: President John F. Kennedy provides U.S. military helicopters and crews to South Vietnam. The equipment and soldiers arrived on the USNS Core, and included 32 H-21 Shawnee helicopters and 400 soldiers from the 57th Transportation Company (Light Helicopter) from Fort Lewis, Wash., and the 8th Transportation Company (Light Helicopter) from Fort Bragg, N.C.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 11, 1972: Apollo 17’s lunar module landed on the moon with astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt aboard; they became the last two men to date to step onto the lunar surface.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 11, 2010: AF-03, the newest Joint Strike Fighter to land at Edwards, arrived from Fort Worth, Texas, for test and evaluation. Equipped with avionics and sensors, the new F-35 Lighting II is the first mission-systems aircraft of the fleet. It joins AF-01 and AF-02, which arrived at Edwards in May. Test flights of AF-03 commenced Dec. 13.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 12, 1915: First all-metal aircraft (Junkers J 1) test flown at Dessau, Germany. The aircraft, nicknamed the Blechesel (“Tin Donkey” or “Sheet Metal Donkey”), was an experimental monoplane aircraft developed by Junkers & Co. It was the world’s first all-metal aircraft. Manufactured early on in the First World War, an era in which aircraft designers relied largely on fabric-covered wooden structures braced with wires, the J 1 was a revolutionary development in aircraft design, making extensive use of metal both throughout its structure as had been done previously, and in its outer skins.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 12, 1946: The U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics formally requested permission to use the facilities at Muroc Army Airfield to conduct its Douglas Model D-558 flight test program. This marked the beginning of several Navy test programs conducted at the base.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 12, 1955: First prototype of hovercraft patented by British engineer Christoper Cockerell. A hovercraft, also known as an air-cushion vehicle or ACV, is an amphibious craft capable of travelling over land, water, mud, ice, and other surfaces. Hovercraft use blowers to produce a large volume of air below the hull, or air cushion, that is slightly above atmospheric pressure. The pressure difference between the higher pressure air below the hull and lower pressure ambient air above it produces lift, which causes the hull to float above the running surface. For stability reasons, the air is typically blown through slots or holes around the outside of a disk- or oval-shaped platform, giving most hovercraft a characteristic rounded-rectangle shape. Typically this cushion is contained within a flexible “skirt”, which allows the vehicle to travel over small obstructions without damage.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 12, 1957: Flying an F-101A Voodoo over a straightaway course, Maj Adrian B. Drew established a new official world speed record of 1,207.34 mph.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 12, 1967: The United States launches Pioneer 8 into a heliocentric orbit to study interplanetary space. It sent back data for nearly 30 years.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 12, 1987: Flight testing of the B-1B Lancer automatic terrain-following system began at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 13, 1952: President-elect Dwight Eisenhower arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for a midnight stopover on his flight returning from a visit to the war front in Korea. Eisenhower was briefed on current projects and given a tour of the flight line facilities.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 13, 1985: The Grumman X-29A was flown at supersonic speed for the first time, reaching Mach 1.03 during an envelope expansion sortie. This flight marked the first forward-swept wing aircraft to fly at supersonic speed in level flight.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 13, 1993: The space shuttle Endeavour returned from its mission, STS-61, to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Endeavour landed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 14, 1944: The U.S. Senate approved the promotions of Henry H. Arnold, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur and George C. Marshall to the five-star rank of General of the Army and the nominations of William D. Leahy, Ernest J. King and Chester W. Nimitz as Admirals of the Fleet.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 14, 1959: Air Force test pilot Capt. Joe Bailey Jordan, established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Altitude in a Turbojet Aircraft, breaking a record set only eight days before by U.S. Navy Cmdr. Lawrence E. Flint, Jr. flying the number two prototype McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260. Flying a slightly modified Lockheed F-104C-5-LO Starfighter, 56-885, (the aft fuselage had been replaced by one from a two-place F-104B, which had larger tail surfaces), Jordan released the brakes at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and 15 minutes, 4.92 seconds later he reached 98,425 feet establishing an Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world record for time-to-altitude. The Starfighter continued the zoom climb profile, peaking at 103,389 feet and going over the top at 455 knots. While accelerating for the zoom maneuver, Jordan’s F-104 reached Mach 2.36. While testing General Dynamics F-111A 65-5701, Jordan and his co-pilot were forced to eject in the fighter’s escape capsule when the aircraft caught fire during a gunnery exercise at Edwards AFB, Jan. 2, 1968. His back was injured in the ejection. After Jordan retired from the Air Force in 1972, he became an engineering test pilot for the Northrop Corporation’s YF-17 flight test program. Lt. Col. Jordan died at Oceanside, Calif., April 22, 1990, at the age of 60 years. His ashes were spread at Edwards Air Force Base. Jordan Street on the base is named in his honor.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 14, 1962: Mariner 2 makes the first fly-by of another planet (Venus) by a U.S. spacecraft, passing 21,607 miles from the planet.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 14, 1984: The Grumman X-29A made its first flight, piloted by company test pilot Charles A. Sewell. This was the first time in more than a decade that an X-series research plane got underway at Edwards AFB. One year later on Dec. 13, 1985 the X-29A reached supersonic speed for the first time.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 14, 1986: Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, took off at 8:01 a.m., local time, from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on first non-stop, non-refueled flight around world. As the plane accelerated, the tips of the wings, which were heavily loaded with fuel, were damaged as they unexpectedly flew down and scraped against the runway, ultimately causing pieces (winglets) to break off at both ends. The aircraft accelerated very slowly and needed approximately 14,200 feet of the runway to gain enough speed to lift from the ground, the wings arching up dramatically just before take-off. The two damaged winglets remained attached to the wings by only a thin layer of carbon fiber and were removed by flying the Voyager in a slip, which introduced side-loading, tearing the winglets off completely. Some of the carbon fiber skin was pulled off in the process, exposing the blue foam core. Burt Rutan following with pilot Mike Melvill determined that Voyager was still within its performance specifications despite the damage and decided to allow the flight to continue. During the flight, the two pilots had to deal with extremely cramped quarters. To reduce stress, the two had originally intended to fly the plane in three-hour shifts, but flight handling characteristics while the plane was heavy prevented routine changeovers, and they became very fatigued. Dick Rutan reportedly stayed at the controls without relief for almost the first three days of the flight.
In front of 55,000 spectators and a large press contingent, including 23 live feeds breaking into scheduled broadcasting across Europe and North America, the plane safely came back to earth, touching down at 8:06 a.m., local time, at Edwards AFB nine days after take-off. Rutan made three low passes over the landing field before putting Voyager down. The average speed for the flight was 116 miles per hour. There were 106 pounds of fuel remaining in the tanks, only about 1.5 percent of the fuel they had at take-off.
Sanctioned by the FAI and the AOPA, the flight was the first successful aerial nonstop, non-refueled circumnavigation of the Earth that included two passes over the Equator (as opposed to shorter ostensible “circumnavigations” circling the North or South Pole). This feat has since been accomplished only one other time, by Steve Fossett in the Global Flyer, also designed by Rutan. For the feat, Yeager, the Rutans, and crew chief/builder Bruce Evans received the 1986 Collier Trophy.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 14, 1994: Air Force Flight Test Center Commander, Brig Gen Richard Engel, flew the NASA SR-71B while his wife, Lt. Col. Connie Engel, flew chase.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 15, 1943: Bell test pilot Jack Woolams (wearing a flight suit by the aircraft) established an unofficial U.S. altitude record when he climbed to 47,600 feet in a YP-59A Airacomet.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 15, 1948: The Northrop X-4 Bantam, a tailless experimental jet aircraft built by Northrop Aircraft, Inc., made its first flight at Edwards AFB. It was flown by Northrop test pilot Charles Tucker.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 15, 1955: The first live rocket motor test was conducted on Test Stand 1-21 at the Experimental Rocket Engine Test Station on Leuhman Ridge. The new horizontal stand, with its own independent control station, was designed for the safe evaluation of small but hazardous test items.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 15, 1959: A world absolute speed record was established by Maj. Joseph W. Rogers of the Air Defense Command, flying a production F-106A (s/n 56-467) at 1525.95 mph (Mach 2.43).
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 15, 2005: The U.S. Air Force announced that the F-22 Raptor had achieved Initial Operation Capability. During Exercise Northern Edge in Alaska in June 2006, in simulated combat exercises 12 F-22s of the 94th FS downed 108 adversaries with no losses. In the exercises, the Raptor-led Blue Force amassed 241 kills against two losses in air-to-air combat, with neither “loss” being an F-22. During Exercise Red Flag 07-1 in February 2007, 14 F-22s of the 94th FS supported Blue Force strikes and undertook close air support sorties. Against superior numbers of Red Force Aggressor F-15s and F-16s, 6–8 F-22s maintained air dominance throughout and provided airborne electronic surveillance. No sorties were missed because of maintenance or other failures; a single F-22 was judged “lost” against the defeated opposing force.
The F-22 achieved Full Operational Capability in December 2007, when Gen. John Corley of Air Combat Command officially declared the F-22s of the integrated active duty 1st Fighter Wing and Virginia Air National Guard 192d Fighter Wing fully operational.[ This was followed by an Operational Readiness Inspection of the integrated wing in April 2008, in which it was rated “excellent” in all categories, with a simulated kill-ratio of 221–0.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 15, 2006: First flight of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II took place in Fort Worth, Texas. The aircraft was first unveiled Feb. 19, 2006. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is an American family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft that is intended to perform both air superiority and strike missions. It is also able to provide electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. Lockheed Martin is the prime F-35 contractor, with principal partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. The aircraft has three main variants: the conventional takeoff and landing F-35A (CTOL), the short take-off and vertical-landing F-35B (STOVL), and the carrier-based F-35C (CV/CATOBAR).
The aircraft descends from the Lockheed Martin X-35, which in 2001 beat the Boeing X-32 to win the Joint Strike Fighter program. Its development is principally funded by the United States, with additional funding from program partner countries from NATO and close U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and formerly Turkey. Several other countries have ordered, or are considering ordering, the aircraft. The program has drawn much scrutiny and criticism for its unprecedented size, complexity, ballooning costs, and much-delayed deliveries. The acquisition strategy of concurrent production of the aircraft while it was still in development and testing led to expensive design changes and retrofits.
The F-35B entered service with the U.S. Marine Corps in July 2015, followed by the U.S. Air Force F-35A in August 2016 and the U.S. Navy F-35C in February 2019. The F-35 was first used in combat in 2018 by the Israeli Air Force. The U.S. plans to buy 2,456 F-35s through 2044, which will represent the bulk of the crewed tactical airpower of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps for several decades. The aircraft is projected to operate until 2070.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 15, 2009: Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner makes its maiden flight from Seattle, Wash
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 15, 2013: China successfully lands its moon rover on the moon. Chang’e 3 is a robotic lunar exploration mission operated by the China National Space Administration, incorporating a robotic lander and China’s first lunar rover. It was launched in December 2013 as part of the second phase of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. The mission’s chief commander was Ma Xingrui. The spacecraft was named after Chang’e, the goddess of the Moon in Chinese mythology, and is a follow-up to the Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 lunar orbiters. The rover was named Yutu following an online poll, after the mythological rabbit that lives on the Moon as a pet of the Moon goddess.
Chang’e 3 achieved lunar orbit on Dec. 6, 2013, and landed on Dec. 14, 2013, becoming the first spacecraft to soft-land on the Moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976. On Dec. 28, 2015, Chang’e 3 discovered a new type of basaltic rock, rich in ilmenite, a black mineral.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 16, 1907: As a gesture of the U.S.’s new presence as a world power, President Theodore Roosevelt sends the ‘Great White Fleet’ on a round-the-world cruise, visiting ports internationally.
The Great White Fleet was the popular nickname for the group of U.S. Navy battleships which completed a journey around the globe from Dec. 16, 1907, to Feb. 22, 1909. Its mission was to make friendly courtesy visits to numerous countries while displaying new U.S. naval power to the world.
It consisted of 16 battleships divided into two squadrons, along with various escorts. Roosevelt sought to demonstrate growing American military power and blue-water navy capability. Hoping to enforce treaties and protect overseas holdings, the U.S. Congress designated funds to build American naval power. Beginning in the 1880s with just 90 small ships, over one-third of them wooden and therefore obsolete, the Navy quickly grew to include new steel fighting vessels. The hulls of these ships were painted a stark white, giving the armada the nickname “Great White Fleet.”
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 16, 2000: The X-35C, the Navy version of the Lockheed Martin JSF demonstrator, made its first flight from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., to Edwards Air Force Base. The aircraft, designed to evaluate aircraft carrier approach handling qualities, made the 27-minute flight to Edwards where the testing was to be conducted. The X-35C had a bigger wing and larger control surfaces for the Navy application.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 16, 2004: NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is the first to cross the termination shock, where solar and interstellar winds merge. Launched on Sept. 5, 1977, part of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System, Voyager 1 was launched 16 days after its twin, Voyager 2. Having operated for 43 years, 3 months and 3 days as of Dec. 8 8, 2020, the spacecraft still communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and to transmit data to Earth. Real-time distance and velocity data is provided by NASA and JPL. At a distance of 14 billion miles from Earth as of Sept. 17, 2020, it is the most distant man-made object from Earth.
The probe’s objectives included flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Although the spacecraft’s course could have been altered to include a Pluto encounter by forgoing the Titan flyby, exploration of the moon took priority because it was known to have a substantial atmosphere. Voyager 1 studied the weather, magnetic fields, and rings of the two planets and was the first probe to provide detailed images of their moons.
As part of the Voyager program, like its sister craft Voyager 2, the spacecraft is in an extended mission to locate and study the regions and boundaries of the outer heliosphere, and to begin exploring the interstellar medium. Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause and entered interstellar space on Aug. 25, 2012, making it the first spacecraft to do so. Two years later, Voyager 1 began experiencing a third “tsunami wave” of coronal mass ejections from the Sun, that has continued to at least Dec. 15, 2014, further confirming that the probe is indeed in interstellar space.
In a further testament to the robustness of Voyager 1, the Voyager team tested the spacecraft’s trajectory correction maneuver thrusters in late 2017 (the first time these thrusters had been fired since 1980), a project enabling the mission to be extended by two to three years. Voyager 1’s extended mission is expected to continue until about 2025 when its radioisotope thermoelectric generators will no longer supply enough electric power to operate its scientific instruments.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 17, 1900: First prize of 100,000 francs offered for communications with extraterrestrials. Martians excluded-considered too easy.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 17, 1903: Wilbur and Orville Wright of Dayton, Ohio, conducted the first successful manned powered-airplane flights near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, using their experimental craft, the Wright Flyer. The Wright Flyer was the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft. Designed and built by the Wright brothers, they flew it four times on Dec. 17, 1903, near Kill Devil Hills, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk, N.C. Today, the airplane is exhibited in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Smithsonian Institution describes the aircraft as “the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.” The flight of the Wright Flyer marks the beginning of the “pioneer era” of aviation.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 17, 1935: The Douglas DC-3 made its maiden flight.
The Douglas DC-3 was a propeller-driven airliner which had a lasting effect on the airline industry in the 1930s and1940s, and World War II. It was developed as a larger, improved 14-bed sleeper version of the Douglas DC-2. It is a low-wing metal monoplane with conventional landing gear, powered by two radial piston engines of 1,000- 1,200 hp. The DC-3 had a cruise speed of 207 mph, a capacity of 21 to 32 passengers or 6,000-pounds of cargo, and a range of 1,500 miles, and can operate from short runways.
The DC-3 had many exceptional qualities compared to previous aircraft. It was fast, had a good range, was more reliable, and carried passengers in greater comfort. Before the war, it pioneered many air travel routes. It was able to cross the continental U.S. from New York to Los Angeles in 18 hours and with only three stops. It is one of the first airliners that could profitably carry only passengers without relying on mail subsidies.
Following the war, the airliner market was flooded with surplus transport aircraft and the DC-3 was no longer competitive due to its size and speed. It was made obsolete on main routes by more advanced types such as the Douglas DC-4 and Lockheed Constellation, but the design proved adaptable and useful on less glamorous routes.
Civil DC-3 production ended in 1942 at 607 aircraft. Military versions, including the C-47 Skytrain, the Dakota in British RAF service, and Soviet- and Japanese-built versions, brought total production to more than 16,000.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 17, 1958: An Edwards test team, responding to the contractor’s request, began an evaluation of a helicopter stability augmentation system developed by Vertol Aircraft Corporation. The project was conducted on an H-21 Workhorse at Vertol’s facilities at Philadelphia, Penn.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 17, 1968: NASA pilot Fitz Fulton and Lt. Col. Ted Sturmthal flew the North American XB-70 Valkyrie on its final supersonic test flight. On Feb. 4, 1969, the aircraft was flown to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where it is on display now.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 17, 1969: Test requirements for interim nuclear certification of the FB-111A were completed.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 17, 1969: The U.S. Air Force closes Project Blue Book, concluding no evidence of extraterrestrial spaceships behind thousands of UFO sightings. The project was one of a series of systematic studies of unidentified flying objects conducted by the Air Force and started in 1952. It was the third study of its kind, following projects Sign (1947) and Grudge (1949). A termination order was given for the study in December 1969, and all activity under its auspices officially ceased on January 19th, 1970. Project Blue Book had two goals:
1. To determine if UFOs were a threat to national security, and
2. To scientifically analyze UFO-related data.
Thousands of UFO reports were collected, analyzed, and filed. As a result of the Condon Report (1968), which concluded there was nothing anomalous about UFOs, and a review of the report by the National Academy of Sciences, Project Blue Book was terminated in December 1969. The Air Force supplies the following summary of its investigations:
1. No UFO reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force was ever an indication of threat to our national security;
2. There was no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as “unidentified” represented technological developments or principles beyond the range of modern scientific knowledge; and
3. There was no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as “unidentified” were extraterrestrial vehicles.
By the time Project Blue Book ended, it had collected 12,618 UFO reports, and concluded that most of them were misidentifications of natural phenomena (clouds, stars, etc.) or conventional aircraft. According to the National Reconnaissance Office a number of the reports could be explained by flights of the formerly secret reconnaissance planes U-2 and A-12. A small percentage of UFO reports were classified as unexplained, even after stringent analysis. The UFO reports were archived and are available under the Freedom of Information Act, but names and other personal information of all witnesses have been redacted.
 
 
 
 
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Dec. 17, 1988: The USS Tennessee, the first submarine to carry Trident 2 missiles, was commissioned. The Tennessee was the first Ohio-class submarine commissioned capable of launching the Trident II ballistic missile (D5). On March 21, 1989, off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla., the Tennessee attempted the first submerged launch of the D5 which failed four seconds into the flight. Once the problem was understood, relatively simple changes were made and the first successful submerged test launch of a D5 missile was completed on Aug. 2, 1989, by the Tennessee’s Blue Crew. She is the fourth ship and first submarine of the U.S. Navy to be named for Tennessee, the 16th state.
 
 
 

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