Sept. 11, 1946: North American Aviation engineering test pilot Wallace “Wally” Lien made the first flight of the XFJ-1. Lien flew from Mines Field, now better known as LAX, to Muroc Army Air Field (now known as Edwards AFB) in Southern California. The XFJ-1 was a turbojet-powered day fighter designed for operation from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers. It was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The airplane’s wings and tail surfaces were very similar to those of North American’s legendary P-51 Mustang. Although intended for carriers, the FJ-1 did not have folding wings to reduce its “footprint” when stored on the hangar deck. It did have an interesting feature, though: The nose gear assembly was capable of “kneeling,” putting the airplane in a nose-low, tail-high attitude, allowing Furies to be placed very close together when parked nose-to-tail. North American Aviation built three XFJ-1 prototypes and 30 production FJ-1 Fury fighters. The aircraft underwent a major redesign to become the XP-86 Sabre for the U.S. Air Force, and the FJ-2 Fury for the Navy and Marine Corps.
Sept. 11, 1958: A. Scott Crossfield became the first X-15 pilot to test the new MC-2 pressure suit at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Crossfield was fitted for the suit, then placed in the altitude chamber for a simulated flight profile.
Sept. 11, 1962: A C-123B made four takeoffs and landings in soft sand as part of Project Rough Road Alpha at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. This was a follow-on of Project Rough Road, which included C-123 aircraft and a variety of unpaved runway conditions.
Sept. 11, 1996: The Boeing Bird of Prey made its first flight. The Bird of Prey was a black project aircraft, intended to demonstrate stealth technology. It was developed by McDonnell Douglas and Boeing in the 1990s. The company provided $67 million of funding for the project. It was a low-cost program compared to many other programs of similar scale. It developed technology and materials which would later be used on Boeing’s X-45 unmanned combat air vehicle. As an internal project, this aircraft was not given an X-plane designation. Development of the Bird of Prey began in 1992 by McDonnell Douglas’s Phantom Works division for special projects, at Area 51. The aircraft’s name is a reference to the Klingon Bird of Prey warship from the “Star Trek” television series. Phantom Works later became part of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems after the Boeing–McDonnell Douglas merger in 1997. Following the first flight, 39 more flights were performed through the program’s conclusion in 1999. The Bird of Prey was designed to prevent shadows and is believed to have been used to test active camouflage, which would involve its surfaces changing color or luminosity to match the surroundings. The shape is aerodynamically stable enough to be flown without computer correction. Its aerodynamic stability is in part due to lift provided by the chines, as used in other aircraft including the SR-71 Blackbird. This provided lift for the nose in flight. This configuration, which can be stable without a horizontal tailplane and a conventional vertical rudder, is now a standard in later stealth unmanned aerial vehicles such as the X-45 and X-47, tailless aircraft which use drag rudders (asymmetrically-used wingtip airbrakes) for yaw control. The aircraft, which was given the designation “YF-118G” as a cover, was made public on Oct. 18, 2002.
Sept. 11, 2002: The CV-22 Osprey resumed flight testing, following a 21-month grounding that followed the crash of a Marine MV-22 in December 2000. The tilt-rotor aircraft, one of two at the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., flew three sorties totaling over four hours of flying time.
Sept. 12, 1945: On the first flight of the Northrop XP-79B out of Muroc Army Air Base (now Edwards AFB), Calif., the aircraft behaves normally for about 15 minutes, then at an altitude of 7,000 feet, it began a slow roll from which it fails to recover. Pilot Harry Crosby bails out at 2,000 feet, but is struck by the revolving aircraft and his chute does not deploy. The largely magnesium airframe is totally consumed by fire after impact on the desert floor. The XP-79 was an ambitious design for a flying wing fighter aircraft. It had several notable design features; among these, the pilot would operate the aircraft from a lying position, permitting the pilot to withstand much greater g-forces in the upward and downward direction with respect to the plane — and a welded magnesium monocoque structure instead of riveted aluminum.
Sept. 13, 1950: Accelerated Service Tests began on three F-94 interceptors. The three Starfires were flown continuously by relays of pilots, with maintenance crews also working in round-the-clock shifts. The project involved 24 pilots and 100 crew. The aircraft were flown 150 hours in six weeks, the equivalent to six months of operational flying.
Sept. 13, 1961: The first sortie was flown on a T-37B spin evaluation program. Air Force Flight Test Center and Air Training Command pilots embarked on a program to analyze the trainer’s flight manual spin procedures and develop a more simplified spin recovery technique for the benefit of student pilots.
Sept. 13, 1985: Then Maj. Wilbert D. “Doug” Pearson zoom-climbed a specially configured F-15A to 80,000 feet and launched a Vought ASM-135A anti-satellite missile against an orbiting Solwind P78-1 satellite. The missile’s miniature kinetic-kill vehicle intercepted and destroyed the target satellite, marking the first time a satellite had been destroyed by an aircraft.
Sept. 14, 1962: Maj. Fitzhugh L. “Fitz” Fulton flew the Convair B-58A Hustler to an altitude of 85,360.8 feet with a 5,000-pound payload, establishing an official world altitude record for a payload of that size. The record stood for 35 years and was certified by the National Aeronautics Association and the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. At an altitude of 35,000 feet, he accelerated to 1,300 mph and made a 35-degree climb to maximum altitude.
Sept. 15, 1942: Contractor personnel were removed from the Materiel Center Flight Test Site prior to the arrival of the secret XP-59, and a group of 11 Bell Aircraft Corp. employees took over the site.
Sept. 15, 1959: The first silo launch of a tethered, full-scale Minuteman ICBM (LGM-30) took place at the Rocket Engine Test Station on Leuhman Ridge, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The test missile was fitted with dummy second and third stages, and carried only a few second’s fuel in the first stage. This test showed that the Minuteman could be fired directly from an underground silo, prompting the Air Force to fast-track the program in the hopes of having the first Minuteman I on duty by 1962. The production of the first operational Minuteman I force was approved in March 1960 and consisted of 150 missiles assigned to a single missile wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The previous month at Cape Canaveral, the first full test of a Minuteman I proved successful — the missile deposited its warhead 4,600 miles from the launch site. During these tests the missiles did not employ armed atomic warheads. TIME magazine reported that an awed observer murmured “Brother, there goes the missile gap” and described the successful test flight as follows, “Even for sophisticated missile watchers, the men who have marked the flight of so many of Cape Canaveral’s great fire-breathing birds, last week’s show was a dazzling spectacle. The blast-off was swift and sure; there was none of that heart-stopping hover of other tests when liquid-fueled monsters seemed to balance in uncertain equilibrium before they picked up the momentum of flight.”
Sept. 15, 1991: The McDonnell Douglas C-17 Globemaster III made its first flight. The wide-bodied heavy lifter, designed to use short and unimproved runways, resulted from DOD’s Cargo Experimental (CX) program started in 1979. Douglas test pilot William Casey (pilot) and Lt. Col. George London (co-pilot) flew the new transport from the Douglas facility in Long Beach, Calif., to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, Calif.
Sept. 16, 1944: An experimental air-to-ground rocket testing area was set up on the bombing range, in response to an Army Air Forces requirement that all fighter and light bombardment aircraft be capable of firing the Navy 5.0″ High Velocity Aircraft Rocket. The Air Technical Service Command at Dover Army Airfield, Del., working jointly with the Navy and the California Institute of Technology, established a Detachment of the 4146th Army Air Force Base Unit to operate the range and to coordinate the test program.
The High Velocity Aircraft Rocket, also known by the nickname “Holy Moses,” was an American unguided rocket developed during World War II to attack targets on the ground from aircraft. It saw extensive use during both World War II and the Korean War. Two different versions of the rocket were built during World War II. The warheads were Mk 4 general purpose warheads holding 7.6 pounds of TNT with base and optionally nose fuses; or Mk. 2 AP warheads with 2.2 pounds of Explosive D. High Velocity Aircraft Rocket testing was completed by June 6, 1944, and air-lifted Navy rockets were soon being loaded on Ninth Air Force Republic P-47D Thunderbolts to support the break-out at Normandy. Other single-engine delivery aircraft included the Vought F4U Corsair, Grumman F6F Hellcat, Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger, and Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. Twin-engine aircraft sometimes armed with HVARs included the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, North American PBJ Mitchell bomber and the Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon bomber.
HVAR penetrated four feet of reinforced concrete and was used to sink transports, knock out pillboxes and anti-aircraft gun emplacements, blow up ammo and oil-storage dumps, and destroy tanks, locomotives, and bunkers. Navy F4U Corsairs and TBF/TBM Avengers made the most extensive use of the rockets in the Pacific theater after the victory in Europe. Over a million HVARs were made during World War II, and production continued until 1955. HVARs remained in the Navy’s inventory until the mid-1960s. After World War II, newer versions included a new general purpose type with a proximity fuse, White Phosphorus smoke rounds, an anti-submarine head, and a new shaped-charge warhead for use against tanks. The 6.5 inch RAM rocket was an oversized shaped-charge head on a standard HVAR motor as well.
Sept. 16, 1958: In Palmdale, Calif., the prototype North American Aviation, Inc., Model NA-246 Sabreliner, N4060K, took off on its first flight. The Sabreliner had been designed and built at North American’s expense to meet the U.S. Air Force specification for the UTX, a twin-engine jet that would be primarily used as a trainer for Air Force pilots in non-flying assignments but who needed to remain proficient. It could also be used as a passenger and cargo transport. The NA-246 was flown by two pilots and could carry up to four passengers in “club seating.” In October 1958, the Air Force ordered the Model 265 Sabreliner into production, designated T-39A-1-NA. This aircraft could carry up to 7 passengers. In 1962, a commercial variant of the T-39A, the Model 265 Sabreliner, was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Sept. 16, 1999: NASA’s airborne launch aircraft, Boeing NB-52B Stratofortress #52-008, completed its 1,000 flight. This historic aircraft took part in some of the most significant projects in aerospace history including the X-15 program. Air Force and NASA personnel referred to the aircraft as “Balls 8.” Balls 8 rolled out of Boeing’s Seattle Wash., plant as an RB-52B, and was the 10th B-52 to come off the Boeing assembly line. It was a U.S. Air Force test aircraft before it was assigned to support the X-15 research aircraft program. The “N” in its later designation reflects the modifications the aircraft underwent in Palmdale, Calif., in 1959 to make it a launch platform for the X-15. In this photograph from July 10, 2001, the uncrewed X-38 lifting body is launched from 52-008. Today, this aircraft is part of the Air Force Flight Test Museum inventory.
Sept. 17, 1908: First Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge of the U.S. Army Signal Corps became the first person to die in the crash of a powered aircraft, the Wright Flyer, at Fort Myer, Va., just outside Washington, D.C. Selfridge Air National Guard Base (which dates back to 1917) and, until 1971, was known as Selfridge Air Force Base, in Michigan is named for Lieutenant Selfridge.
Sept. 17, 1947: The United States Army Air Forces are separated from the United States Army and become an independent armed service, the United States Air Force.
Sept. 17, 1959: North American Aviation Chief Engineering Test Pilot A. Scott Crossfield made the first powered flight of an X-15 hypersonic research rocket plane. Carried aloft under the right wing of an eight-engine Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress bomber, the first of three North American Aviation X-15s was airdropped from 35,000 feet over Rosamond Dry Lake, 40 miles north of Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The X-15 dropped 2,000 feet while Crossfield ignited the two XLR-11 engines and then started “going uphill.” During the 224.3 seconds burn duration, the X-15 reached Mach 2.11 and climbed to 52,300 feet, both slightly higher than planned. The X-15 was designed to use the Reaction Motors XLR-99 rocket engine, but early in the test program that engine was not yet available, so two smaller XLR-11 engines were used. This engine was the same type used in the earlier Bell X-1 rocket plane that first broke the sound barrier in 1947. Problems developed when the rocket engine’s turbo pump case failed, and fire broke out in the hydrogen peroxide compartment, engine compartment and in the ventral fin. Crossfield safely landed on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base. The duration of the flight was 9 minutes, 11.1 seconds. Damage to the rocket plane was extensive but was quickly repaired, and it flew again Oct. 17, 1959.
Sept. 17, 1976: The prototype Space Shuttle Enterprise, built by Rockwell International (North American), is rolled out in Palmdale, Calif. Its nine-month approach and landing test program lasts from Jan. 31 until Oct. 26, 1977. Enterprise was the first orbiter of the Space Shuttle system, and was built for NASA as part of the Space Shuttle program to perform atmospheric test flights after being launched from a modified Boeing 747. It was constructed without engines or a functional heat shield. As a result, it was not capable of spaceflight. Originally, Enterprise had been intended to be refitted for orbital flight to become the second space-rated orbiter in service. However, during the construction of Space Shuttle Columbia, details of the final design changed, making it simpler and less costly to build Challenger around a body frame that had been built as a test article. Similarly, Enterprise was considered for refit to replace Challenger after the latter was destroyed, but Endeavour was built from structural spares instead. In this photograph, “Star Trek” television cast members attend the roll out ceremony. From left: Dr. James C. Fletcher (NASA Administrator), DeForest Kelley (Dr. “Bones” McCoy), George Takei (Mr. Sulu), James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), Leonard Nimoy (the indefatigable Mr. Spock), Gene Roddenberry (The Great Bird of the Galaxy), Democratic Congressman Don Fuqua, and Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).