On This Date

March 19, 1910: Orville Wright opens the first Wright Flying School in Montgomery, Ala., on a site that will later become Maxwell Air Force Base. The school was operated by the Wright Company from 1910 to 1916, and trained 119 individuals to fly Wright airplanes. The Wrights taught the principles of flying, including take-offs, balancing, turns, and landings.





Maj. James A. Ellison returns the salute of Mac Ross of Dayton, Ohio, as he passes down the line during review of the first class of Tuskegee cadets; flight line at U.S. Army Air Corps basic and advanced flying school, Tuskegee, Alabama, 1941. Partial three-quarter left front view from low angle of Vultee BT-13 trainer at left.

March 19, 1941: The 99th Pursuit Squadron (later the 99th Fighter Squadron) also known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first all-Black unit of the U.S. Army Air Corp, is activated. It was also the first all-Black flying squadron to deploy overseas (to North Africa in April 1943, and later to Sicily and other parts of Italy. The squadron was initially equipped with Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter-bomber aircraft.





March 19, 1942: During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered men between the ages of 45 and 64, inclusive, to register for non-military duty.






March 19, 1945: During World War II, more than 800 people were killed when a Japanese dive bomber attacked the carrier USS Franklin off Japan. The USS Franklin, nicknamed “Big Ben,” was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II for the United States Navy, and the fifth U.S. Navy ship to bear the name. Commissioned in January 1944, she served in several campaigns in the Pacific War, earning four battle stars. Following the Japanese attack, she became the most heavily damaged United States aircraft carrier to survive the war. Movie footage of the actual attack was included in the 1949 film Task Force starring Gary Cooper. After the attack, she returned to the U.S. mainland for repairs, missing the rest of the war; she was decommissioned in 1947. While in reserve, she was reclassified as an attack carrier, then an antisubmarine carrier, and finally an aircraft transport, but was never modernized and never saw active service again. The USS Franklin was sold for scrap in 1966.





Osprey 9 flies a test mission. The ship returned to flight July 14 after nearly two years of modifications. The aircraft has updated electrical, hydraulic, electronic warfare and heat-seeking missile countermeasures. (U.S. Air Force photo by James Haseltine)

March 19, 1989: The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft makes its first flight. The Osprey is an American multi-mission, tiltrotor military aircraft with both vertical takeoff and landing and short takeoff and landing capabilities. It is designed to combine the functionality of a conventional helicopter with the long-range, high-speed cruise performance of a turboprop aircraft. The V-22 first flew in 1989 and began flight testing and design alterations; the complexity and difficulties of being the first tiltrotor for military service led to many years of development. The U.S. Marine Corps began crew training for the MV-22B Osprey in 2000 and fielded it in 2007; it supplemented and then replaced their Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knights. The U.S. Air Force fielded their version of the tiltrotor, the CV-22B, in 2009. Since entering service with the Marine Corps and Air Force, the Osprey has been deployed in transportation and medevac operations over Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Kuwait. The U.S. Navy has been using the CMV-22B for carrier onboard delivery duties since 2021.





US Army (USA) M1A1 Abrams MBT (Main Battle Tank), and personnel from A Company (CO), Task Force 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment (1-35 Armor), 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Armored Division (AD), pose for a photo under the “Hands of Victory” in Ceremony Square, Baghdad, Iraq during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The Hands of Victory monument built at the end of the Iran-Iraq war marks the entrance to a large parade ground in central Baghdad. The hand and arm are modeled after former dictator Saddam Hussein’s own and surrounded with thousands of Iranian helmets taken from the battlefield. The swords made for the guns of dead Iraqi soldiers, melted and recast into the 24-ton blades.

March 19, 2003: President George W. Bush ordered the start of war against Iraq. Because of the time difference, it was early March 20 in Iraq. The Iraq War began with the invasion of Iraq by a United States-led coalition that overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein. The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the occupying forces and the post-invasion Iraqi government. U.S. troops were officially withdrawn in 2011. The U.S. became re-involved in 2014 at the head of a new coalition; the insurgency and many dimensions of the armed conflict continue.





March 20, 1922: The decommissioned USS Jupiter, converted into the first U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, was re-commissioned as the USS Langley. The ship was originally launched in 1912 as a collier, and decommissioned in 1920, before being converted and recommissioned as the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier. An unusual feature of Langley was provision for a carrier pigeon house on the stern between the 5” guns. Pigeons had been carried aboard seaplanes for message transport since World War I, and were to be carried on aircraft operated from Langley.




March, 20, 1935: The Grumman F3F made its first flight. The F3F was a biplane fighter aircraft produced by Grumman Aircraft for the U.S. Navy during the mid-1930s. Designed as an improvement on the F2F, it entered service in 1936 as the last biplane to be delivered to any American military air arm. It was retired from front line squadrons at the end of 1941 before it could serve in World War II, and replaced by the Brewster F2A Buffalo. The F3F, which inherited the Leroy Grumman-designed retractable main landing gear configuration first used on the Grumman FF, served as the basis for a biplane design ultimately developed into the much more successful F4F Wildcat that succeeded the subpar Buffalo.




March 20, 1945: The first XP-80A prototype (s/n 83021, called the Gray Ghost, was destroyed in a crash six miles southeast of Rosamond, Calif. Its turbine wheel disintegrated in flight, causing the tail to separate from the aircraft. Test Pilot Tony LeVier bailed out of the aircraft, but broke his back upon a hard landing. He returned to the test program six months later. In this photograph, LeVier shakes the hand of Kelly Johnson as he sits in the cockpit of the XP-80A. Two XP-80As were built. These were followed by 12 YP-80A Shooting Star service test aircraft. The Lockheed P-80A Shooting Star was ordered into production with an initial contract for 500 aircraft. This was soon followed by a second order for 2,500 fighters.





March 20, 1956: At Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., a test team completed a Safety of Flight Evaluation of the Lockheed YC-121F. The aircraft was a modified 1249 series Constellation that was configured as a high-speed cargo and personnel transport.




March 20, 1966: At Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Hughes Aircraft Company test pilot Jack L. Zimmerman flew the third prototype YOH-6A Light Observation Helicopter to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Distance Over a Closed Circuit Without Landing of 1,056.41 miles. One week later, Zimmerman would set six more World Records with the “Loach.”

The Hughes Model 369 was built in response to a U.S. Army requirement for a Light Observation Helicopter and was designated YOH-6A. It competed with prototypes from Bell Helicopter Company (YOH-4) and Fairchild-Hiller (YOH-5). The YOH-6A won the three-way competition and was ordered into production as the OH-6A Cayuse. It was nicknamed “loach,” an acronym for L.O.H. The YOH-6A was a two-place light helicopter, flown by a single pilot.




March 21, 1916: The French government authorizes the formation of the Escadrille Americaine (later Lafayette Escadrille) made up of American volunteer pilots. This escadrille of the Aéronautique Militaire was composed largely of American volunteer pilots flying fighters and was named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, French hero of the American Revolutionary War. In September 1917, the escadrille was transferred to the U.S. Army under the designation 103rd Aero Squadron. Initially, there were seven Americans pilots: Victor E. Chapman, Elliot C. Cowdin, Weston (Bert) Hall, James R. McConnell, Norman Prince, Kiffin Rockwell and William Thaw. The full roster included 38 pilots. Raoul Lufbery, a French-born American citizen, became the squadron’s first, and ultimately their highest scoring flying ace, with 16 confirmed victories.




March 21, 1918: The Curtiss HA fighter made its first flight. The HA was a two-seat biplane with a central float and balancing floats on the wingtips. The fuselage was wood with a fabric covering. The plane was powered by a Liberty 12 engine in the nose. The prototype was ordered in December 1917. During testing the aircraft proved very unstable, with an overly heavy tailplane (horizontal stabilizer). The aircraft was destroyed in a crash. Two more prototypes were ordered, designated HA-1 and HA-2. The HA-1 was constructed of salvaged parts from the original, but its tailplane and radiator were redesigned, and its wings were moved further aft. The HA-1 caught fire during a flight. The HA-2 had a wider wingspan, and performed better, but as the war was almost over, no production order was received.




March 21, 1943: Cornelia Clark Fort, a pilot in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (the WAFS), was ferrying a new Vultee BT-13A Valiant basic trainer from the airplane factory at Downey, Calif., to an airfield in Texas. She was leading a flight of five BT-13s with the others being flown by inexperienced military pilots. The left wing of Fort’s airplane was struck from behind by another airplane flown by Flight Officer Frank E. Stamme, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps. Fort’s BT-13 crashed approximately 10 miles south of Merkel, Texas, and Fort was killed. Her body was found in the wreckage of the airplane. The canopy latches were still fastened.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Fort was practicing touch-and-goes with a student at John Rodgers Airport, near Honolulu. Shortly before 8 a.m., she saw a silver military-type airplane approaching her Interstate Cadet at high speed. She took over the flight controls and put the trainer into a steep climb. The other airplane flew directly under, close enough that she felt the vibrations of its engine. She saw that its wings carried the “rising sun” insignia of the Empire of Japan. Fort landed the Cadet at John Rogers Airport, which was being attacked by Japanese airplanes. Another trainer on the ground was destroyed by machine gunfire and its instructor killed.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, all civilian aircraft were grounded. Fort was able to return to the mainland United States in early 1942, and in September she was one of the first 25 women accepted into the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Fort was assigned to the 6th Ferrying Group based at Long Beach, Calif.

The Vultee BT-13A Valiant was an all-metal, two-place, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear.




March 22, 1948: Just over a year since being injured when the prototype P-80A was cut in half by a disintegrating turbojet engine, Lockheed test pilot Anthony W. “Tony” LeVier made the first flight of the prototype TP-80C-1-LO, a two-seat jet trainer. The airplane was redesignated TF-80C Shooting Star on June 11, 1948, and to T-33A, May 5, 1949.

Adapted from a single-seat P-80C Shooting Star jet fighter, Lockheed engineers added 38.6 inches to the fuselage forward of the wing for a second cockpit, instrumentation and flight controls, and another 12 inches aft.  In production for 11 years, 5,691 T-33As were built by Lockheed, with licensed production of another 656 by Canadair Ltd., and 210 by Kawasaki Kokuki K.K. For over five decades, the “T-Bird” was used to train many tens of thousands of military pilots worldwide. TF-80C 48-356 was rebuilt as the prototype for Lockheed’s YF-94A interceptor, and then modified further to the F-94B.




March 22, 1956: A Boeing B-29 mother ship lost the Number 4 engine at 31,000 feet while carrying a Douglas D-558-II to launch altitude. The engine ‘ran away’ at high RPM during a feathering attempt, forcing the pilot to jettison the rocket research plane just before the engine disintegrated, damaging the Number 3 engine, slicing through the fuselage and then striking the Number 2 engine. Jack McKay safely landed the Skyrocket, while the B-29 crew made a safe, two-engine landing on Rogers Dry Lake.




March 23, 1948: The Douglas F3D Skyknight, with Douglas test pilot Russell Thaw in the cockpit, made its first flight. The Skyknight (later designated F-10 Skyknight) was an American twin-engined, mid-wing jet fighter aircraft manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company in El Segundo, Calif. The aircraft had been trucked to Muroc Army Air Field from El Segundo for the flight test program The F3D was designed as a carrier-based all-weather night fighter and saw service with the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. The mission of the F3D was to search out and destroy enemy aircraft at night. The F3D Skyknight was never produced in great numbers but it did achieve many firsts in its role as a night fighter over Korea. While it never achieved the fame of the North American F-86 Sabre, it did down several Soviet-built MiG-15s as a night fighter over Korea with only one air-to-air loss of its own against a Chinese MiG-15, which occurred on the night of 29 May 1953.

The Skyknight played an important role in the development of the radar-guided AIM-7 Sparrow missile which led to further guided air-to-air missile developments. It also served as an electronic warfare platform in the Vietnam War as a precursor to the EA-6A Intruder and EA-6B Prowler. The aircraft is sometimes unofficially called “Skynight”, dropping the second “k”. The unusual, portly profile earned it the nickname “Willie the Whale.” Some Vietnam War U.S. Marine veterans have referred to the Skyknight as “Drut”, whose meaning becomes obvious when read backwards. This may be in reference to its age, unflattering looks or its low-slung air intakes that made it vulnerable to foreign object damage (FOD).





March 23, 1965: Gemini III was launched aboard a Titan II GLV rocket from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Fla. Maj. Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, a Project Mercury veteran, was the Spacecraft Commander, and Lt. Cmdr. John W. Young, United States Navy, was the pilot.

The purpose of the mission was to test spacecraft orbital maneuvering capabilities that would be necessary in later flights of the Gemini and Apollo programs. Gemini III made three orbits of the Earth, and splashed down after 4 hours, 52 minutes, 31 seconds. Miscalculations of the Gemini capsule’s aerodynamics caused the spacecraft to miss the intended splash down point by 50 miles. Gemini III splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, north east of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Grissom would later command the flight crew of Apollo 1. He was killed with his crew during the tragic fire during a pre-launch test, 27 January 1967. Young served as Spacecraft Commander for Gemini 10, Command Module Pilot on Apollo 10, back-up commander for Apollo 13, commander Apollo 16, and back-up commander for Apollo 17. Later, he was commander of the maiden flight of the space shuttle Columbia STS-1.





March 23, 1990: The first use of in-flight thrust reversing in a U.S. Air Force fighter took place during tests on the F-15 STOL/MTD. The heavily modified Eagle decelerated sharply in flight in a series of four, single-engine and two, dual-engine in-flight thrust reversals.





March 24, 1939: During a 2 hour, 26 minute flight over Southern California, Jacqueline Cochran established a U.S. National Altitude Record for Women of 30,052 feet. She flew a Beechcraft D17W “Staggerwing.” A National Aeronautic Association official, Larry Therkelson, took the recording barograph from the airplane and sent it to the N.A.A. headquarters in Washington, D.C., for certification. The record had previously been held by Ruth Rowland Nichols.

Cochran went on to say: “Were I to make the simple statement that I climbed to an altitude of thirty-three thousand feet, that statement in and of itself would mean nothing because I have often gone higher than that. But when I add that I did this in 1937 in a fabric-covered biplane without heating, without pressurization and without an oxygen mask, the elements of an accomplishment are added. I nearly froze; the pipestem between my teeth through which I tried to get an oxygen supply from a tank and connecting tube was inadequate for the purpose, and I became so disoriented through lack of oxygen that it took over an hour to get my bearings and make a landing. The difference between the pressure my body was accustomed to on the ground and the atmospheric pressure at 33,000 feet was such that a blood vessel in my sinus ruptured. All this was a part of the cumulative evidence that led up to cabin pressurization and mandatory use of the oxygen mask above certain altitudes.”

The “Staggerwing” was a single-engine, four-place biplane with an enclosed cabin and retractable landing gear, flown by a single pilot. The basic structure was a welded tubular steel framework, with wood formers and stringers. The wings and tail surfaces were built of wood spars and ribs. The airplane was covered with doped fabric, except the cabin and engine, which were covered in sheet metal.





March 24, 1965: Multiple heavy sonic booms from the North American XB-70 Valkyrie and its Convair B-58 Hustler chase plane above Las Vegas, Nev., alarmed many residents and resulted in greater public awareness of the program. The test program had reached the point where the XB-70 was cruising for long distances at supersonic speeds, a feat well beyond reach of all operational bombers and fighters at the time.





March 25, 1955: The prototype XF8U-1 Crusader, with Chance Vought Aircraft Corporation experimental test pilot John William Konrad at the controls, made its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.  The new fighter had been transported from the factory at Dallas, Texas, aboard a Douglas C-124C Globemaster II, on March 3, 1955. It was reassembled and all systems were checked. Taxi tests began on March 14. During the first flight, the Crusader went supersonic in level flight. It was able to maintain supersonic speeds (not only for short periods in a dive) and was the first fighter aircraft to exceed 1,000 mph in level flight. The F8U Crusader has a unique variable-incidence wing which can be raised to increase the angle of attack. This created more lift at low speeds for takeoff and landing aboard aircraft carriers, but allows the fuselage to remain fairly level for better forward visibility. The test program went so well that the first production airplane, F8U-1 Crusader Bu. No. 140444, made its first flight just over six months after the prototypes.





March 25, 1958: A team at the High Speed Track began testing high-speed windblast effects on the X-15 ejection seat and MC-2 pressure suit.





March 25, 1960: After North American Aviation’s Chief Engineering Test Pilot Albert Scott Crossfield had made the first flights in the new X-15 hypersonic research rocket plane (one gliding, eight powered), NASA Chief Test Pilot Joseph Albert Walker made his first familiarization flight. The X-15, 56-6670, the first of three built by North American Aviation, Inc., was carried aloft under the right wing of a Boeing NB-52A Stratofortress, 52-003, flown by John E. Allavie and Fitzhugh L. Fulton.

The rocket plane was dropped from the mothership over Rosamond Dry Lake, and Walker ignited the Reaction Motors XLR-11 rocket engine. The engine burned for 272.0 seconds, accelerating Walker and the X-15 to Mach 2.0 (1,320 mph) and a peak altitude of 48,630 feet. Walker landed on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., after a flight of 9 minutes, 8.0 seconds. Walker made 25 flights in the three X-15 rocket planes. He was killed in a mid-air collision between his Lockheed F-104N Starfighter and a North American Aviation XB-70A Valkyrie near Barstow, Calif., June 1, 1966.





March 25, 2009: A U.S. Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22A Block 10 Raptor, 91-4008, Raptor 07, of the 411th Flight Test Squadron, 412th Test Wing, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., crashed in the marshy flat land 6 miles north of Harper Dry Lake near Edwards, during a weapons integration flight test mission. The aircraft crashed about 10 a.m., and was on a test mission when it crashed about 35 miles northeast of Edwards. The pilot, David Cooley, 49, a 21-year Air Force veteran who joined Lockheed Martin, the plane’s principal contractor, in 2003, did not survive. Cooley, of Palmdale, Calif., was pronounced dead at Victor Valley Community Hospital in Victorville, Calif. An Air Force investigation found that the accident occurred after the pilot lost consciousness in a high-gravity maneuver. The reports stated that during the third test of the mission the pilot appeared to have been subjected to increased physiological stress and his lack of awareness delayed a recovery maneuver. At 7,486 feet, the pilot initiated ejection outside of the seat design envelope and immediately sustained fatal injuries.


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