Feb. 19, 1917: The first recorded medical evacuation flight is carried out by the Royal Flying Corps. Lance Cpl. MacGregor of the Imperial Camel Corps had been shot in the ankle as his unit advanced towards Bir-el-Hassana in Egypt. The neartest medical facility was in El Arish, 44 miles away, a three-day journey by surface, but the flight took only 45 minutes. MacGregor was placed in the observer’s seat of a RFC B.E.2c biplane.
Feb. 19, 1933: The Vultee V-1 made its first flight. The Vultee V-1 was a single-engined airliner built by the Airplane Development Corporation, designed by Gerard Vultee and financed by automobile manufacturer Errett Cord. It had accommodation for a pilot and six passengers. The production aircraft were designated the V-1A and had a slightly larger and longer fuselage for two pilots and eight passengers. Production ended in 1936 after 24 aircraft plus the prototype had been built. American Airlines bought at least 13 V-1As and the V-1 prototype (after it had been modified for two pilot operation) and they entered service in 1934. On introduction, they were the fastest commercial airliners of their day.
Feb. 19, 1944: At the request of the Bombardment Branch of the Wright Test Center, flight testing began on a Consolidated Vultee XB-32 Dominator. The XB-32 was twin-tail heavy bombardment aircraft.
Feb. 19, 1957: The Bell X-14 made its first flight. The X-14 was an experimental VTOL (Vertical TakeOff and Landing) aircraft. The main objective of the project was to demonstrate vectored thrust horizontal and vertical takeoff, hover, transition to forward flight, and vertical landing. Bell constructed the X-14 as an open-cockpit, all-metal (duralumin) monoplane for the U.S. Air Force. Top speed was 180 miles per hour, with a service ceiling of 20,000 feet. The X-14 was designed using existing parts from two Beechcraft aircraft: wings, ailerons, and landing gear of a Beech Bonanza and the tailcone and empennage of a Beech T-34 Mentor. The first flight consisted of a vertical takeoff, hover, then vertical landing. The first transition from hover to horizontal flight occurred on May 24, 1958.The X-14 project provided a great deal of data on VTOL-type aircraft and flight control systems.
Feb. 19, 1990: The Scaled Composites ARES, an American demonstrator aircraft built by the company Scaled Composites, made its first flight with company test pilot Doug Shane at the controls. ARES is an acronym for Agile Responsive Effective Support. In 1981, U.S. Army Aviators Jim Kreutz and Milo Burroughs undertook a study for a low cost battlefield attack aircraft (LCBAA), as they felt the close air support aircraft available were inadequate to support the U.S. Army operations. They decided that a fixed-wing aircraft with excellent maneuvering capabilities at very low altitudes and resistance to stall would be necessary. Burt Rutan joined their study to design an aircraft to meet the requirements with a two-phase program. The first phase was the preliminary design of LCBAA, while in the second phase the Long-EZ aircraft was modified to serve as a technology demonstrator. The original layout was of a low wing canard configuration, aircraft powered by a pusher turboprop, and built around a 30 mm Gatling gun capable of destroying light armored vehicles. It was decided that as much military hardware as possible would be used in the design. When a Pentagon official promised that they would evaluate his aircraft if he built it, Rutan built a demonstrator aircraft in 1986.
Feb. 20, 1939: The Douglas DC-5 made its first flight in El Segundo, Calif. The DC-5 was a 16-to-22-seat, twin-engine propeller aircraft intended for shorter routes than the Douglas DC-3 or Douglas DC-4. By the time it entered commercial service in 1940, many airlines were canceling orders for aircraft. Consequently, only five civilian DC-5s were built. With the Douglas Aircraft Company already converting to World War II military production, the DC-5 was soon overtaken by world events, although a limited number of military variants were produced. After World War II, production of the DC-5 was not resumed because of the abundance of surplus C-47 aircraft, converted for civil service as DC-3s.
Feb. 20, 1962: Less than a year after Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth, John Glenn became the first American to do so, completing three orbits around the planet aboard the Friendship 7 capsule. Glenn was already a military hero by the time he was chosen to be an astronaut for Project Mercury. After he completed his mission, he went on to a successful political career as United States senator from Ohio. He made history again at the age of 77 in 1998, by becoming the oldest person to fly into space when he flew on the space shuttle.
Feb. 20, 1966: Brig. Gen. James M. Stewart, U.S. Air Force Reserve, flew the last combat mission of his military career, a 12 hour, 50 minute “Arc Light” bombing mission over Vietnam, aboard a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the 736th Bombardment Squadron, 454th Bombardment Wing. His bomber was a B-52F-65-BW, serial number 57-149, call sign GREEN TWO. It was the number two aircraft in a 30-airplane bomber stream. The aircraft commander was Capt. Bob Amos, and co-pilot, Capt. Lee Meyers. Other crew members were Capt. Irby Terrell, radar navigator, Capt. Kenny Rahn, navigator, and technical Sgt. Demp Johnson, gunner.
Stewart, a successful Hollywood actor, had an interest in aviation since childhood. He earned a private pilot license in 1935, then upgraded to a commercial license in 1938. He owned his own airplane, a Stinson 105, and frequently flew it across the country to visit his family. Stewart enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army on March 22, 1941, just three weeks after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “The Philadelphia Story.”
Because of his college education and experience as a pilot, Stewart was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, Jan. 19, 1942. He was assigned as an instructor pilot at Mather Field, near Sacramento, Calif.
Stewart saw combat in Europe during World War II, flying B-24 Liberators.
Following World War II, Stewart remained in the U.S. Army Air Forces as a Reserve Officer, and with the U.S. Air Force after it became a separate service in 1947. Colonel Stewart commanded Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Marietta, Georgia. In 1953, his wartime rank of colonel was made permanent, and on 23 July 1959, Jimmy Stewart was promoted to Brigadier General.
Stewart retired from the U.S. Air Force on June 1, 1968, after 27 years of service.
Feb. 20, 2006: The Number 3 pre-production RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV touched down on Runway 22 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., following a 23-hour autonomous flight from Australia. The RQ-4 was returning from four years of operational duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. All told, it had acquired tens of thousands of high-resolution target images, while logging 4,245 flying hours in all-weather conditions during 191 combat missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Combined Task Force Horn of Africa.
Feb. 21, 1919: The Thomas-Morse MB-3 made its first flight. The MB-3 was an open-cockpit biplane fighter for the U.S. Army Air Service in 1922. The MB-3A was the mainstay fighter for the Air Service between 1922 and 1925.
Testing showed that the fighter had good performance and handled well, but the cockpit was cramped and gave a poor view for the pilot. The prototypes were plagued with fuel leaks and suffered serious engine vibration, while maintenance was difficult, often requiring holes to be cut in the fuselage structure to allow access. Despite these problems, the Air Service was sufficiently impressed with the MB-3 to place an order for 50 aircraft with Thomas-Morse in June 1920.
The Air Service had a requirement for more fighters, and issued a request for tenders for a further 200 of a modified version of the MB-3, the MB-3A, which incorporated a number of changes developed by the Air Service as a result of testing at McCook Field, including a stronger structure and replacing the wing-mounted radiator with ones on each side of the fuselage in-line with the cockpit. Thomas-Morse was confident in winning orders for the MB-3A, investing in the necessary jigs for such a large production order, but was heavily underbid by Boeing, whose mass production methods allowed it to profit while still charging a lower price (in the case of the MB-3A, $7,240 per copy), saving almost half a million dollars over the 200 aircraft contract, awarded on April 21, 1921. Boeing credits this contract with rescuing the company from financial difficulties following the cancellation of orders after World War I, and with being the impetus for its rise as a premier manufacturer of military aircraft. Thomas-Morse did manage to win a contract for 12 MB-3s for the U.S. Marine Corps in May 1921, with the order later being changed to substitute two MB-7 racing aircraft, an MB-3 with the biplane wings replaced by parasol wings, for two MB-3s, with a further MB-3 purchased when one of the MB-7s crashed. Additionally, the Army ordered three MB-6s, another racing version of the MB-3 with shorter span wings and a more powerful engine, in May 1921.
Feb. 21, 1953: A variant of the Bell X-1, the Bell X-1A, made its first powered flight, flown by Jean “Skip” Ziegler. Ordered by the Air Force on April 2, 1948, the X-1A was intended to investigate aerodynamic phenomena at speeds greater than Mach 2 and altitudes greater than 90,000 feet, specifically emphasizing dynamic stability and air loads. Longer and heavier than the original X-1, with a stepped canopy for better vision, the X-1A was powered by the same Reaction Motors XLR-11 rocket engine.
NACA started its high-speed testing with the Douglas Skyrocket, culminating in Scott Crossfield achieving Mach 2.005 on November 20, 1953. The Air Force then started a series of tests with the X-1A, which the test pilot of the series, Chuck Yeager, named “Operation NACA Weep”. These culminated on Dec. 12, 1953, when Yeager achieved an altitude of 74,700 feet and a new airspeed record of Mach 2.44. Unlike Crossfield in the Skyrocket, Yeager achieved that in level flight. Soon afterwards, the aircraft spun out of control, due to the not yet understood phenomenon of inertia coupling. The X-1A dropped from maximum altitude to 25,000 feet, exposing the pilot to accelerations of as much as 8g, during which Yeager broke the canopy with his helmet before regaining control.
The aircraft was transferred to NACA during September 1954, and subsequently modified. The X-1A was lost on Aug. 8, 1955, when, while being prepared for launch from the RB-50 mothership, an explosion ruptured the plane’s liquid oxygen tank. With the help of crewmembers on the RB-50, test pilot Joseph A. Walker successfully extricated himself from the plane, which was then jettisoned. Exploding on impact with the desert floor, the X-1A became the first of many early X-planes that would be lost to explosions.
Feb. 22, 1935: Famed American aviator Wiley Post belly-landed his Lockheed Vega, the Winnie Mae, on the dry lakebed near the desert outpost of Muroc, Calif., shortly after takeoff from Los Angeles on a transcontinental high-altitude flight attempt. Post emerged from the aircraft wearing a full pressure suit of his own design.
Feb. 22, 1954: The Convair R3Y Tradewind made its first flight. The Tradewind was a turboprop-powered flying boat. Convair received a request from the U.S. Navy in 1945 for the design of a large flying boat using new technology developed during World War II, especially the laminar flow wing and still-developing turboprop technology. The R3Y set a transcontinental seaplane record of 403 mph in 1954, by utilizing the speed of high-altitude jetstream winds. This record still stands. After service trials, the aircraft were delivered to a U.S. Navy air transport squadron, VR-2, on March 31, 1956. Problems with the engine/propeller combination led to the ending of Tradewind operations and the unit was disbanded on April 16, 1958. The six R3Y-2s were converted into four-point in-flight tankers using the probe-and-drogue method. In September 1956, one example was the first aircraft to successfully refuel four others simultaneously in flight in 1956, refueling four Grumman F9F Cougars. The program was halted after 13 aircraft were built, due to the unreliability of the Allison T-40 turboprops.
Feb. 22, 1974: U. S. Navy Lieutenant j.g. Barbara Ann Allen received her wings of gold as the first female to be designated a naval aviator, and was the first woman to qualify as a jet pilot. She attained the rank of lieutenant commander in the Navy. She was killed in an aircraft crash in 1982, while performing her duties as a flight instructor.
In early 1973, the Secretary of the Navy John W. Warner announced a test program to train female Naval Aviators. Seeking a greater challenge and wanting to follow in the footsteps of her U.S. Marine Corps aviator brother, Bill, Allen applied to the program and was accepted into the U.S. Naval Flight Training School. Allen and seven other women reported for flight training on March 2, 1973 at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. After receiving her wings, she was assigned to fly C-1s in Alameda, Calif., with a transport squadron and became the first jet qualified woman in the U.S. Navy flying the T-39.
Allen married John C. Rainey, whom she had met during her flight training. She transferred to the Naval Reserve in November 1977, while pregnant with her first daughter. She remained active in the Naval Reserves and, while pregnant with her second daughter, qualified to fly the R6D (DC-6). In 1981, with the Navy experiencing a shortage of flight instructors, she was accepted for recall to active duty as a flight instructor and was assigned to Training Squadron Three (VT-3) based at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, flying the T-34C Mentor. On July 13, 1982, Allen, along with trainee, Ensign Donald Bruce Knowlton, was practicing touch-and-go landings at Middleton Field near Evergreen, Conecuh County, Ala., when the aircraft banked sharply, lost altitude, and crashed. Allen and Knowlton were both killed in the crash. She is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Feb. 23, 1934: Test pilot Marshall Headle, Chief Pilot in charge of Flight Operations for Lockheed Aircraft Company, took the prototype Lockheed Model 10 Electra for its first flight at United Airport, Burbank, Calif. The Electra was designed as a 10-passenger commercial transport and was a contemporary of the Boeing Model 247. This was Lockheed’s first all-metal airplane. The aircraft had two engines, a low wing and retractable landing gear. An engineering team led by Hall L. Hibbard worked on the airplane. A young engineer, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, an assistant aerodynamicist at the University of Michigan, performed the wind tunnel tests on scale models of the proposed design and recommended changes to the configuration. Johnson would go on to become the leader of Lockheed’s legendary “Skunk Works.”
Feb. 23, 1945: U.S. Marines raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during World War II. The Marines all served with the 5th Marine Division. Three of the six Marines in the photograph — Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon Block, and Private 1st Class Franklin Sousley — were killed in action during the battle. The other three Marines in the photograph were Corporals (then Privates First Class) Ira Hayes, Harold Schultz, and Harold Keller. The iconic Associated Press photograph of the flag-raising was later used for the construction of the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1954.
Feb. 24, 1921: The Douglas Cloudster made its first flight. The biplane aircraft was the only product of the Davis-Douglas Company, formed in July 1920 to enable Donald Douglas to design and build an aircraft capable of non-stop flight coast-to-coast across the United States. David R. Davis provided the financing for the company. The resulting aircraft was the Cloudster, a single-bay equal-span biplane of wooden construction. It was fabric-covered except for the forward fuselage, which was covered with sheet metal. On March 19, 1921, the aircraft broke the Pacific Coast altitude record by climbing 19,160 feet, and attempted the coast-to-coast journey in June. The aircraft failed to make a non-stop journey due to engine failure. It had to make a forced landing at Fort Bliss, Texas, on June 27, 1921. In 1923, the Cloudster was sold and modified for sightseeing flights, with two additional open cockpits and seats for five passengers replacing one of the fuel tanks. In 1925 it was again sold to T. Claude Ryan, who had it modified further by adding an enclosed cabin with ten seats. The aircraft became the flagship of Ryan’s San Diego–to–Los Angeles airline, one of the first scheduled passenger lines in the country. It was subsequently used by a number of operators before it made a forced landing in shallow water off the coast of Ensenada, Baja California in December 1926. It was damaged beyond repair by the tide before it could be recovered.
Following the failure of the coast-to-coast flight, Davis lost interest and Douglas went on to form the Douglas Company (later the Douglas Aircraft Company) in July 1921.
Feb. 24, 1949: The U.S. Air Force unveiled the Republic XF-91 Thunderceptor jet rocket aircraft. The aircraft was a mixed-propulsion prototype interceptor aircraft, developed by Republic Aviation. The aircraft would use a jet engine for most flight, and a cluster of four small rocket engines for added thrust during climb and interception. The design was largely obsolete by the time it was completed, due to the rapidly increasing performance of contemporary jet engines, and only two prototypes were built. A unique feature of the Thunderceptor was its unusual inverse tapered wing, in which the chord length increased along the wing span from the root to the tip, the opposite of conventional swept wing designs. This was an attempt to address the problem of pitch-up, a potentially deadly phenomenon that plagued early high-speed models. The Thunderceptor’s design meant the entire wing stalled smoothly, more like a straight-wing design.
Feb. 24, 1955: The BOMARC surface-to-air missile made its first flight. The BOMARC (Boeing Michigan Aeronautical Research Center) was a supersonic ramjet-powered long-range surface-to-air missile used during the Cold War for the air defense of North America. In addition to being the first operational long-range SAM and the first operational pulse doppler aviation radar, it was the only SAM deployed by the U.S. Air Force. Stored horizontally in a launcher shelter with a movable roof, the missile was erected, fired vertically using rocket boosters to high altitude, and then tipped over into a horizontal Mach 2.5 cruise powered by ramjet engines. This lofted trajectory allowed the missile to operate at a maximum range as great as 430 miles. Controlled from the ground for most of its flight, when it reached the target area it was commanded to begin a dive, activating an onboard active radar homing seeker for terminal guidance. A radar proximity fuse detonated the warhead, either a large conventional explosive or the W40 nuclear warhead.
The Air Force originally planned for a total of 52 sites, covering most of the major cities and industrial regions in the U.S. The U.S. Army was deploying their own systems at the same time, and the two services fought constantly both in political circles and in the press. Development dragged on, and by the time it was ready for deployment in the late 1950s, the nuclear threat had moved from manned bombers to the intercontinental ballistic missile. By this time, the Army had successfully deployed the much shorter range Nike Hercules that they claimed filled any possible need through the 1960s, in spite of Air Force claims to the contrary. As testing continued, the Air Force reduced its plans to 16 sites, and then again to eight with an additional two sites in Canada. The first U.S. site was declared operational in 1959, but with only a single working missile. Bringing the rest of the missiles into service took years, by which time the system was obsolete. Deactivations began in 1969 and by 1972 all BOMARC sites had been shut down. A small number were used as target drones, and only a few remain on display today.
Feb. 25, 1929: The world’s first major air evacuation comes to an end when Britain’s Royal Air Force flies out the last of 586 civilians from Kabul to the safety of India. The airlift involves nationals of about 20 countries.
The Kabul Airlift was an air evacuation of British and a number of European diplomatic staff and their families conducted by the Royal Air Force from Kabul between Dec. 28, 1928, and Feb. 25, February 1929. The airlift included people of 11 different nationalities being rescued and taken to India. The evacuation was conducted after forces of a bandit, Habibullah Kalakani, attacked Kabul in opposition to the Afghan king, Amanullah, leading to British fears that its legation would be isolated and cut off. Directed by Sir Geoffrey Salmond, aircraft types available for the airlift of passengers and baggage included seven Vickers Victoria aircraft, one Handley Page Hinaidi, 24 Airco DH.9As and two Westland Wapitis. The airlift was challenging as it required aircraft to fly over and in-between the Hindu Kush mountains that peaked 10,000 feet, and it also occurred during the bitterly cold winter. The operation was ultimately successful.
Feb. 25, 1945: The Bell XP-83 makes its first flight. The XP-83 was a United States prototype escort fighter designed by Bell Aircraft during World War II. It first flew in 1945. As an early jet fighter, its limitations included a lack of power and it was soon eclipsed by more advanced designs. The early jet fighters consumed fuel at a prodigious rate, which severely limited their range and endurance. In March 1944, the U.S. Army Air Forces requested Bell to design a fighter with increased endurance and formally awarded a contract for two prototypes on July 31, 1944. Bell had been working on its “Model 40” interceptor design since 1943. It was redesigned as a long-range escort fighter, while retaining the general layout of the P-59 Airacomet. The two General Electric J33-GE-5 turbojet engines were located in each wing root, which left the large and bulky fuselage free for fuel tanks and armament. The fuselage was an all-metal semimonocoque capable of carrying 1,150 gallons of fuel. In addition, two 250-gallon drop tanks could be carried. The cabin was pressurized and used a small and low bubble-style canopy. The armament was six 0.5 inch machine guns in the nose.
Early wind tunnel reports had pinpointed directional instability but the “fix” of a larger tail would not be ready in time for flight testing. The first prototype was flown by Bell’s chief test pilot, Jack Woolams, who found it to be under-powered and unstable. The limited flight testing provided satisfactory flight characteristics, although spins were restricted until the larger tail fin was installed. The second prototype did incorporate the extended tail and an aileron boost system. One unique characteristic was the XP-83’s refusal to slow down due to its sleek aerodynamic shape and lack of drag brakes. This meant that test pilots were forced to fly “stabilized approaches” (i.e. very long and flat landing approaches).
The first prototype was used in 1946 as a ramjet test-bed, with an engineer’s station located in the fuselage behind the pilot. On Sept. 14, 1946, one of the ramjets caught fire, forcing pilot, “Slick” Goodlin and engineer Charles Fay to bail out. The second prototype flew on Oct. 19, and was later scrapped in 1947. Apart from range, the XP-83 was inferior to the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star and this led to the cancellation of the XP-83 project in 1947.
Feb. 25, 1949: A Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket made a successful rocket-assisted takeoff form the lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The Skyrocket was a rocket and jet-powered research supersonic aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company for the U.S. Navy.
Feb. 25, 1965: The first Douglas DC-9 twin-engine airliner took off from Long Beach Airport on its first flight. In the cockpit were Chief Engineering Test Pilot George R. Jansen, DC-9 Program Test Pilot Paul H. Patten, and Flight Test Engineer Duncan Walker. The flight last 2 hours, 13 minutes, and landed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where the test program would continue.
Feb. 25, 1975: Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager flew his final Air Force sortie at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in an F-4C Phantom II (s/n 63-7264) before retiring from the service on March 1. Yeager was conducting a safety inspection of Edwards at the time. During his career, General Yeager flew 180 different aircraft types and accumulated 10,131.6 flight hours.