Feb. 12, 1959: The last B-36J built and the last one in operational U.S. Air Force service, Serial Number. 52-2827, left Biggs Air Force Base, Texas, where it had been on duty with the 95th Heavy Bombardment Wing, and flew to Amon Carter Field in Fort Worth, where it was put on display. The scrapping of the B-36 began in February 1956, with the aircraft being replaced with the B-52. Within two years, all B-36s, except five used for museum display, had been scrapped at Davis–Monthan AFB, Ariz. The aircraft is now on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum.
Feb. 12, 1962: NASA test pilot Milton “Mitt” Thompson made the first flight of the Paraglider Research Vehicle (Parasev) at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The unique craft was developed to explore the concept of returning Gemini and Apollo spacecraft to Earth using a hang-glider type wing. Gus Grissom is on the left of the photograph.
Feb. 12, 1973: A U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter, tail number 66-0177 from Norton Air Force Base, Calif., nicknamed the “Hanoi Taxi”, landed in Hanoi, North Vietnam, as part of Operation Homecoming – the mission to return prisoners of war from Vietnam. There were 40 former POWs on that first flight. One of the POWs on the first flight was Navy Cmdr. Everett Alvarez Jr., the first American pilot to be shot down in North Vietnam and, by the war’s end, the second longest-held POW there. Alvarez had spent eight-and-a-half years in captivity.
Feb. 13, 1943: The Vought F4U Corsair made its operational debut in the Solomon Islands. Flown by the U.S. Marine Corps’ Fighter Attack Squadron-124, the aircraft assisted P-40s and P-38s in escorting a formation of Consolidated B-24 Liberators on a raid against a Japanese airfield at Kahili.
Feb. 14, 1953: The Bell X-1A made it first glide flight, flown by Bell test pilot Jean Ziegler. This second-generation aircraft was designed with twice the performance potential of its predecessors, in order to investigate aerodynamic phenomena at altitudes above 90,000 feet and speeds beyond Mach 2.
Feb. 14, 1990: Voyager 1 took the first “family portrait” of the Solar System as seen from outside, which includes the image of planet Earth known as Pale Blue Dot. Soon afterward, its cameras were deactivated to conserve energy and computer resources for other equipment. The camera software has been removed from the spacecraft, so it would now be complex to get them working again. Earth-side software and computers for reading the images are also no longer available.
Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA on Sept. 5, 1977, as part of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System and interstellar space beyond the Sun’s heliosphere. Launched 16 days after its twin, Voyager 2, Voyager 1 has been operating for more than 44 years, and 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 14.483 billion miles from Earth as of January 21, 2022, it is the most distant artificial object from Earth. The probe made flybys of Jupiter, Saturn and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. As part of the Voyager program and like its sister craft Voyager 2, the spacecraft’s extended mission is 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.
Feb. 14, 2012: The Boeing YAL-1A Airborne Laser Test Bed departed Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for the last time, as it headed for The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed weapons system was a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser mounted inside the modified Boeing 747-400F. It was primarily designed as a missile defense system to destroy tactical ballistic missiles while in boost phase. The YAL-1 with a low-power laser was test-fired in flight at an airborne target in 2007. A high-energy laser was used to intercept a test target in January 2010, and the following month, successfully destroyed two test missiles. Funding for the program was cut in 2010 and in December 2011, it was reported that the project was to be ended after 16 years of development and a cost of over $5 billion. The aircraft was ultimately scrapped in September 2014 after all usable parts were removed.
Feb. 15, 1941: The Curtiss XP-46, a U.S. prototype fighter aircraft, made its first flight. It was a development of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, in an effort to introduce the best features found in European fighter aircraft in 1939 into a fighter aircraft which could succeed the Curtiss P-40, then in production. A U.S. Army Air Corps specification, based upon a Curtiss proposal, was the basis for an order placed in September 1939 for the XP-46. The requirements called for a single-engine, low-wing aircraft, slightly smaller than the P-40, and with a wide-track, inward-retracting landing gear. The selected powerplant was a 1,150 hp Allison V-1710-39 V-12 engine. The planned armament included two .50 inch synchronized machine guns in the forward fuselage and provisions for eight .30 inch wing-mounted guns. The USAAC later added requirements for self-sealing fuel tanks and 65 pounds of armor, the weights of which were to adversely affect performance. In 1940, the British Purchasing Commission placed an order for the P-46 as a replacement for the P-40, the name ‘Kittyhawk’ being allocated by the Air Ministry in anticipation of receiving the aircraft. However, the U.S. Army Air Corps asked Curtiss in July 1940 — while the XP-46 prototypes were under construction — to prioritize an upgraded P-40, featuring the engine intended for the XP-46. This would also avoid disruptions to the production line caused by any switch to a new airframe. The British order for the P-46 was later cancelled, and the ‘Kittyhawk’ name subsequently applied to the upgraded P-40. Two prototypes, designated XP-46A, were nevertheless delivered to the U.S. Army. The type’s performance during trials was found to be inferior to the then-contemporary P-40D. As the P-46 offered no significant improvement on the P-40, the program was cancelled.
Feb. 15, 1946: The Douglas XC-112A made its first flight. In 1944, the U.S. Army Air Corps had requested a faster, higher-flying variant of the Douglas C-54E Skymaster, with a pressurized cabin. Douglas Aircraft Company developed the XC-112A in response. It was completed Feb. 11, 1946, and made its first flight four days later. With the end of World War II, military requirements were scaled back and no orders for the type were placed. Douglas saw a need for a new post-war civil airliner to compete with the Lockheed L-049 Constellation. Based on the XC-112A, the prototype Douglas DC-6 was built and made its first flight four months later, June 29, 1946. The Air Force ordered the 26th production Douglas DC-6 as a presidential transport, designated VC-118, The Independence. Beginning in 1951, the Air Force ordered a variant of the DC-6A as a the C-118A Liftmaster military transport and MC-118A medical transport. The U.S. Navy ordered it as the R6D-1. The Douglas DC-6 was flown by a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and a navigator on longer flights. It was designed to carry between 48 and 68 passengers, depending on variant.
Feb. 15, 1958: The first Convair B-58 Hustler (s/n 55-665) arrived at the Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for Phase IV testing, concluding a combined delivery and flight test. The four-engine delta winged aircraft was the world’s first bomber designed to sustain supersonic speeds during its mission profile.
Feb. 16, 1932: The Glenn L. Martin Co. Model 123, designated XB-907 by the U. S. Army Air Corps, made its maiden flight. The prototype was tested at Wright Field. The airplane reached a maximum speed of 197 miles per hour at 6,000 feet. Recommendations for modifications were made, and Martin upgraded the prototype to the XB-907A configuration (Martin Model 139), which was then designated XB-10 by the Air Corps, with the serial number 33-139. Martin increased the XB-907A’s wingspan from 62 feet, 2 inches to 70 feet, 7 inches, and the engines were upgraded. The Army then ordered 48 production airplanes. The XB-907 would be developed into the Martin B-10 bomber.
Feb. 16, 1944: The Curtiss SC Seahawk made its first flight at the Columbus, Ohio Curtiss plant. The Seahawk was a scout seaplane designed by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company for the U.S. Navy. The existing Curtiss SO3C Seamew and Vought OS2U Kingfisher were gradually replaced by the Seahawk in the late stages of the war and into peacetime. Work began in June 1942, following a Navy Bureau of Aeronautics request for observation seaplane proposals. Curtiss submitted the Seahawk design on Aug. 1, 1942, with a contract for two prototypes and five service test aircraft awarded on Aug. 25. A production order for 500 SC-1s followed in June 1943, prior to the first flight of the prototypes. Flight testing continued through April 28, 1944, when the last of the seven pre-production aircraft took to the air. Nine further prototypes were later built, with a second seat and modified cockpit, under the designation SC-2; series production was not undertaken.
The first serial production Seahawks were delivered on Oct. 22, 1944, to the USS Guam. All 577 aircraft eventually produced for the Navy were delivered on conventional landing gear and flown to the appropriate Naval Air Station, where floats were fitted for service as needed. Capable of being fitted with either float or wheeled landing gear, the Seahawk was arguably America’s best floatplane scout of World War II. However, its protracted development time meant it entered service too late to see significant action in the war. It was not until June 1945, during the pre-invasion bombardment of Borneo, that the Seahawk was involved in military action. By the end of the war, seaplanes were becoming less desirable, with the Seahawk being replaced soon afterward by helicopters.
Feb. 16, 1965: Following two months of repair and modification, the Category I test team flew the North American XB-70 Valkyrie to a speed of Mach 1.6. During this flight, piloted by Joe Cotton, the Air Induction System was adjusted and the hinged wing tips folded full down to 65 degrees for the first time.
Feb. 17, 1956: With test pilot Herman Richard “Fish” Salmon at the controls, the Lockheed YF-104A service test prototype made its first flight. The aircraft, the first of 17 pre-production YF-104As, incorporated many improvements over the XF-104 prototype, the most visible being a longer fuselage. On Feb. 28, 1956, YF-104A 55-2955 became the first aircraft to reach Mach 2 in level flight. The YF-104A was later converted to the production standard and redesignated F-104A. The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single-engine, Mach 2 interceptor, and was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson. Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. A total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants were produced by Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt, Mitsubishi and SABCA. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.
Feb. 17-18, 1962: At Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Maj. Walter Fletcher Daniel set four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale time-to-altitude records with a Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon, serial number 61-0849. The supersonic trainer reached 9,843 feet in 35.624 seconds; 19,685 feet in 51.429 seconds; 29,528 feet in 1 minute, 04.758 seconds; and 39,370 feet in 1 minute, 35.610 seconds. The Northrop T-38 was the world’s first supersonic flight trainer. Between 1959 and 1972, Northrop built 1,187 T-38s at its Hawthorne, Calif., factory. The record-setting T-38, 61-0849, was retired to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., in 1993. It was later removed from storage and assigned to the 415th Flight Test Flight, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, where it remained until March 2007. The aircraft is now at the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards AFB.
Feb. 18, 1939: The Martin PBM Mariner made its first flight. The Mariner was an American patrol bomber flying boat of World War II and the early Cold War era. It was designed to complement the Consolidated PBY Catalina and PB2Y Coronado in service. A total of 1,366 were built, and it entered service in September 1940.
The aircraft had multiple gun positions, including single mounts at each midship beam and stern above the tail cone. Additional guns were positioned in the nose and dorsal turrets, each fitted with two-gun turrets. The bomb bays were in the engine nacelles. The gull wing was of cantilever design, and featured clean aerodynamics with an unbraced twin tail. The PBM-1 was equipped with retractable wing landing floats that were hinged outboard, with single-strut supported floats that retracted inwards to rest beneath the wing, with the floats’ keels just outboard of each of the engine nacelles. The PBM-3 had fixed floats, and the fuselage was three feet longer than that of the PBM-1.
The first PBM-1s entered service with Patrol Squadron Fifty-Five (VP-55) of the U.S. Navy on Sept. 1, 1940. Prior to the United States entry into World War II, PBMs were used (together with PBYs) to carry out Neutrality Patrols in the Atlantic, including operations from Iceland. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, PBMs were used on anti-submarine patrols, sinking their first German U-boat, U-158, on June 30, 1942. PBMs were responsible, wholly or in part, for sinking a total of 10 U-boats during World War II. PBMs were also heavily used in the Pacific War, operating from bases at Saipan, Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and the South West Pacific.
PBMs continued in service with the U.S. Navy following the end of World War II, flying long patrol missions during the Korean War. It continued in front line use until replaced by its successor, the P5M Marlin. The last Navy squadron equipped with the PBM, Patrol Squadron Fifty (VP-50), retired them in July 1956.
Feb. 18, 1941: The Grumman XP-50, an American twin engine fighter prototype, land-based development of the shipboard F5 F-1 Skyrocket fighter, made its first flight. Grumman entered the XP-50 into a U.S. Army Air Corps contest for a twin-engine heavy interceptor aircraft. The Army placed an order for a prototype on Nov. 25, 1939, designating it XP-50, but it lost the competition to the Lockheed XP-49.
First assigned Design 34, later G-41 by the builder, Grumman, the design was entered into competition alongside proposals from Bell, Brewster, Curtiss, Lockheed, and Vought. The XP-50 design was similar to that of the XF5F-1 with modifications to the fuselage nose to house the nose-wheel of the tricycle landing gear and provisions for self-sealing fuel tanks and pilot armor. The planned armament was two 20 mm cannon and two .50 inch machine guns. During testing, the XP-50 prototype (39-2517) was lost on May 14, 1941, falling victim to a turbo-supercharger explosion that destroyed the aircraft. The test pilot Robert Hall bailed out, while the XP-50 plunged into Smithtown Bay in Long Island Sound.
Feb. 18, 1970: NASA’s HL-10, piloted by U.S. Air Force Maj. Peter C. Hoag, reached the highest speed ever achieved by any of the experimental lifting body aircraft which was Mach 1.86. Nine days later, NASA pilot William H. “Bill” Dana flew the vehicle to 90,030 feet, which became the highest altitude reached in the program. The Northrop HL-10 was one of five U.S. heavyweight lifting body designs flown at NASA’s Flight Research Center (now the Armstrong FRC) at Edwards, Calif., from July 1966 to November 1975, to study and validate the concept of safely maneuvering and landing a low lift-over-drag vehicle designed for reentry from space. It was a NASA design and was built to evaluate “inverted airfoil” lifting body and delta planform. It currently is on display at the entrance to the Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
After delivery to NASA in January 1966, the HL-10 made its first flight on Dec. 22, 1966, with research pilot Bruce Peterson in the cockpit. Although the XLR-11 rocket engine (same type used in the Bell X-1) was installed, the first 11 drops from the B-52 launch aircraft were unpowered glide flights to assess handling qualities, stability, and control. In the end, the HL-10 was judged to be the best handling of the three original heavy-weight lifting bodies (M2-F2/F3, HL-10, X-24A). The HL-10 was flown 37 times during the lifting body research program and logged the highest altitude and fastest speed in the lifting body program. Unusual and valuable lessons were learned through the successful flight testing of the HL-10. During the early phases of the Space Shuttle development program, lifting bodies patterned on the HL-10 shape were one of three major types of proposals. These were later rejected, as it proved difficult to fit cylindrical fuel tanks into the always-curving fuselage, and from then on most designs focused on more conventional delta wing craft.
Feb. 18, 1977: The prototype Space Shuttle orbiter Enterprise (OV-101) made its first captive flight aboard NASA 905, the Boeing 747-123 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. On this flight, no one was aboard Enterprise. NASA 905 was flown by Aircraft Commander Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr., Pilot Thomas C. McMurty, and Flight Engineers Louis E. Guidry, Jr. and Victor W. Horton. The duration of the first captive flight was 2 hours, 5 minutes. The Enterprise/SCA combination reached a maximum speed of 287 miles per hour and altitude of 16,000 feet.
NASA operated two SCA – NASA 905 and NASA N911NA. At the end of the shuttle program, both carrier aircraft were retired. SCA N911NA, after its final mission to the Dryden Flight Research Facility (now Armstrong FRC) at Edwards, Calif., was used as a source of parts for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft, another modified Boeing 747. N911NA is now preserved and on display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in Palmdale, Calif.. as part of a long-term loan to the city from NASA.
Shuttle Carrier N905NA was used to ferry the retired Space Shuttles to their respective museums. After delivering Endeavour to the Los Angeles International Airport in September 2012, the aircraft was flown to the Dryden Flight Research Facility, where NASA intended it to join N911NA as a source of spare parts for NASA’s SOFIA aircraft, but when NASA engineers surveyed N905NA they determined that it had few parts usable for SOFIA. In 2013, a decision was made to preserve N905NA and display it at Space Center Houston with the mockup shuttle Independence mounted on its back. N905NA was flown to Ellington Field where it was carefully dismantled, ferried to the Johnson Space Center in seven major pieces (a process called The Big Move), reassembled, and finally mated with the replica shuttle in August 2014. The display, called Independence Plaza, opened to the public for the first time on Jan. 23, 2016.
Feb. 18, 1986: A B-1B Lancer completed the first aerial refueling mission over Southern California, in a series that was aimed at achieving limited qualification for aerial refueling from KC-135 and KC-10 tankers.
The Rockwell (now Boeing) B-1 Lancer is a supersonic variable-sweep wing, heavy bomber used by the U.S. Air Force. It is commonly called the “Bone,” and is one of three strategic bombers serving in the U.S. Air Force fleet, along with the B-2 Spirit and the B-52 Stratofortress as of 2022. The B-1 was first envisioned in the 1960s as a platform that would combine the Mach 2 speed of the B-58 Hustler with the range and payload of the B-52, and was meant to ultimately replace both bombers. After a long series of studies, Rockwell International (now part of Boeing) won the design contest for what emerged as the B-1A. This version had a top speed of Mach 2.2 at high altitude and the capability of flying for long distances at Mach 0.85 at very low altitudes. The combination of the high cost of the aircraft, the introduction of the AGM-86 cruise missile that flew the same basic speed and distance, and early work on the stealth bomber all significantly reduced the need for the B-1. This led to the program being canceled in 1977, after the B-1A prototypes had been built.
The program was restarted in 1981, largely as an interim measure due to delays in the B-2 stealth bomber program. This led to a redesign as the B-1B, which differed from the B-1A by having a lower top speed of Mach 1.25 at high altitude, but improved the low-altitude speed to Mach 0.96. The electronics were also extensively improved, and the airframe was improved to allow takeoff with the maximum possible fuel and weapons load. Deliveries of the B-1B began in 1986 and formally entered service with Strategic Air Command as a nuclear bomber that same year. By 1988, all 100 aircraft had been delivered. With the disestablishment of SAC and its reassignment to the Air Combat Command in 1992, the B-1B was converted for a conventional bombing role. It first served in combat during Operation Desert Fox in 1998 and again during the NATO action in Kosovo the following year. The B-1B has supported U.S. and NATO military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.