June 18, 1956: A Convair Rocket Sled set a world’s speed record for recoverable sleds at the Experimental High Speed Track, reaching 1,560 mph. The sled, powered by 12 rocket motors, was designed to test rain erosion on aircraft components.
A rocket sled is a test platform that slides along a set of rails, propelled by rockets. As its name implies, a rocket sled does not use wheels. Instead, it has sliding pads, called “slippers,” which are curved around the head of the rails to prevent the sled from flying off the track. The rail cross-section profile is that of a Vignoles rail, commonly used for railroads. Wheels cannot be used on rocket sleds as the high velocities experienced will result in the wheels spinning to pieces due to extreme centrifugal forces. A rocket sled holds the land-based speed record for a vehicle, at Mach 8.5.
Rocket sleds were used extensively early in the Cold War to accelerate equipment considered too hazardous for testing directly in piloted aircraft. The equipment to be tested under high acceleration or high airspeed conditions was installed along with appropriate instrumentation, data recording and telemetry equipment on the sled. The sled was accelerated according to the experiment’s design requirements for data collection along a length of isolated, precisely level and straight test track. Testing ejection seat systems and technology prior to their use in experimental or operational aircraft became a common application of the rocket sled at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Perhaps the most famous, the tracks at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., were used to test missiles, supersonic ejection seats, aircraft shapes and the effects of acceleration and deceleration on humans. The rocket sled track at Edwards Air Force Base was dismantled and used to extend the track at Holloman Air Force Base, taking it to almost 10 miles in length.
June 18, 1981: The prototype Lockheed YF-117A Nighthawk, piloted by “Skunk Works” pilot Hal Farley, made its first flight at a classified remote location. The prototype aircraft was the world’s first “stealth” fighter. The Joint Test Force responsible for the test became the Air Force Flight Test Center’s 410th Test Squadron in April 1993. Commonly called the “Stealth Fighter,” the Nighthawk is actually a tactical bomber. Five developmental aircraft and 59 operational F-117As were built. They were in service from 1983 until 2008, when the Lockheed F-22 Raptor was planned to assume their mission. They are mothballed and could be returned to service if needed.
June 18, 1983: Sally Ride became the first U.S. woman in space when she launched aboard the Challenger Space Shuttle on mission STS-7. Ride was selected to be an astronaut as part of NASA Astronaut Group 8, in 1978, the first class to select women. She applied after seeing an advertisement in the Stanford student newspaper, and was one of only 35 people selected out of the 8000 applications. After graduating training in 1979, becoming eligible to work as a mission specialist she served as the ground-based capsule communicator (CapCom) for the second and third Space Shuttle flights, and helped develop the Space Shuttle’s “Canadarm” robot arm. Prior to her first space flight, Ride was subject to media attention due to her gender. During a press conference, she was asked questions such as, “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?” and “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?” Despite this and the historical significance of the mission, Ride insisted that she saw herself in only one way—as an astronaut. She spent a total of more than 343 hours in space.
June 19, 1947: Flying a Lockheed P-80R Shooting Star at Muroc Army Air Field, now Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Col. Albert Boyd set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Speed Over a Three Kilometer Course, with an average speed of 623.74 miles per hour. Boyd flew the Shooting Star four times over the course, twice in each direction. The record speed was the average of the two fastest consecutive runs. The runs were flown at an altitude of approximately 70 feet.
June 19, 1964: President Lyndon B. Johnson visited Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to tour the flight line and view a display of aerospace vehicles. Air Force Secretary Eugene M. Zuckert, the FAA Chief, and an entourage of 14 California congressmen accompanied the president. The visit lasted approximately 64 minutes.
June 19, 2002: The Space Shuttle Endeavour landed on the main runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., following a successful 14-day mission (STS-111) to support the International Space Station. The landing took place following two weather wave-offs at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier in the day.
June 20, 1941: The U.S. Department of War creates the United States Army Air Forces, with Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold as its first commander. As part of the reorganization, General Headquarters Air Force is renamed Air Force Combat Command; the new Army Air Forces organization consists of Air Force Combat Command (its combat element) and the United States Army Air Corps (its logistics and training element).
June 20, 1951: The Bell X-5 made its maiden flight, piloted by Bell test pilot Jean E. “Skip” Ziegler at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The X-5 was the first aircraft capable of changing the sweep of it swings in flight. It was inspired by the untested wartime P.1101 design of the German Messerschmitt company. In contrast with the German design, which could only have its wing sweepback angle adjusted on the ground, the Bell engineers devised a system of electric motors to adjust the sweep in flight. Two X-5s were built. Almost 200 flights were made at speeds up to Mach 0.9 and altitudes of 40,000 feet. One aircraft was lost on Oct. 14, 1953, when it failed to recover from a spin at 60-degrees sweepback. Air Force Capt. Ray Popson died in the crash at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The other X-5 remained at Edwards and continued active testing until 1955, and remained in service as a chase plane until 1958.
June 21, 1929: The Vought XF2U made its first flight. The aircraft was a prototype biplane fighter aircraft evaluated by the United States Navy at the end of the 1920s, but was already outclassed by competing designs and never put into production. The aircraft was constructed of welded steel tubing, covered in fabric. The wings were made of wood and fabric covered. The prototype was tested on a simulated carrier deck in Norfolk, Va. It was found satisfactory, allaying concerns about problems due to the rather long cowling over the engine. The aircraft then went to the Naval Aircraft Factory, who operated it until March 6, 1931, when it was lost in a crash landing.
June 21, 1942: An Imperial Japanese submarine fired shells at Fort Stevens on the Oregon coast, causing little damage. In this photograph, American servicemen inspecting a shell crater after the attack.
June 21, 1961: The Aviation Traders Carvair made its first flight. The Carvair was a large transport aircraft powered by four radial engines. It was a Douglas DC-4-based air ferry conversion developed by Freddie Laker’s Aviation Traders (Engineering) Limited, with a capacity generally of 22 passengers in a rear cabin, and five cars loaded in at the front. Twenty-one Carvairs were produced in the United Kingdom.
June 21, 2004: Flight 15P of SpaceShipOne was the first privately funded human spaceflight, and was the fourth powered test flight of the Tier One program, the previous three test flights having reached much lower altitudes. The flight carried only its pilot, Mike Melvill, who thus became the first non-governmental astronaut. This flight was a full-altitude test, but not itself a competitive flight for the Ansari X Prize, the prize for the first non-governmental reusable crewed spacecraft. Problems were encountered during the flight, but later corrected, paving the way for SpaceShipOne to make competitive flights later in 2004. SpaceShipOne was air-launched from its White Knight mother ship. The air vehicles took off and landed at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
June 22, 1947: The Martin XB-48 made its first flight, a 37-minute, 73-mile hop from Martin’s Baltimore, Md., plant to NAS Patuxent River, Md., but blows all four tires on its fore-and-aft mounted undercarriage on landing. The XB-48 was an American medium jet bomber developed in the mid-1940s. It competed with the Boeing B-47 Stratojet, which proved to be a superior design, and was largely considered as a backup plan in case the B-47 ran into development problems. It never saw production or active duty, and only two prototypes built.
June 22, 1954: The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk made its maiden flight at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The Skyhawk was a single-seat subsonic carrier-capable light attack aircraft developed for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps in the early 1950s. The delta-winged, single turbojet engined Skyhawk was designed and produced by Douglas Aircraft Company, and was originally designated A4D under the U.S. Navy’s pre-1962 designation system. Skyhawks were the U.S. Navy’s primary light attack aircraft used over North Vietnam during the early years of the Vietnam War; they were later supplanted by the A-7 Corsair II in the U.S. Navy light attack role. Skyhawks carried out some of the first air strikes by the US during the conflict, and a Marine Skyhawk is believed to have dropped the last American bombs on the country.
June 22, 1962: The last of 744 B-52 Stratofortress bombers, B-52H-175-BW, rolled out at the Boeing Military Airplane Company plant in Wichita, Kansas. The B-52H, like the B-52G, is a re-engineered aircraft, structurally different from the XB-52, YB-52, and B-52A–B-52F Stratofortress variants. It is lighter, carries more internal fuel, giving it a longer unrefueled range, and is strengthened for low-altitude flight. The shorter vertical fin is intended to prevent the losses caused by the original tall fin in turbulent air. The B-52H is equipped with quieter, more efficient turbofan engines.
June 22, 1984: The Rutan Voyager made its first flight. Built by the Rutan Aircraft Factory, the Voyager would later go on to become the first aircraft to fly around the world without stopping or refueling.
June 22, 1990: The first assembled airframe of the Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23A “Black Widow” was rolled out from the Combined Test Force’s hangar at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The YF-23A was a radical departure from all previous fighter designs, with a broad fuselage tapered into a pair of uncommonly large trapezoid-shaped wings.
June 23, 1905: The Wright Flyer III made its first flight. The Wright Flyer III was the third powered aircraft by the Wright Brothers, built during the winter of 1904–05. The Flyer III had an airframe of spruce construction with a wing camber of 1-in-20 as used in 1903, rather than the less effective 1-in-25 used in 1904. The new machine was equipped with the engine and other hardware from the scrapped Flyer II and, after major modifications, achieved much greater performance than Flyers I and II.
June 23, 1955: The first of a series of 30 firing tests of the XLR71-NA-1 rocket engine for the Navajo cruise missile took place at the Rocket Engine Test Station at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The engine achieved approximately 243,000 pounds of thrust on the stand. The Edwards History Office provided this photo which was captured during liftoff of a Navajo cruise missile at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in April 1957.
June 23, 1961: Maj. Robert M. White became the first person to exceed Mach 5 when he flew the X-15 to a speed of Mach 5.27 (3,603 mph) at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Flights during this phase incrementally increased the speed and altitude of the X-15 up to its design limits of Mach 6 and 250,000 feet. The second North American Aviation X-15A, 56-6671, was air-dropped from the NB-52A Stratofortress mothership, 52-003, over Mud Lake, Nev. White fired the Reaction Motors XLR99-RM-1 engine for 78.7 seconds, reaching Mach 5.27 (3,603 miles per hour) and climbed to 107,700 feet. Ten minutes, 5.7 seconds after being dropped from the B-52, White touched down on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards. White was the first pilot to exceed Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. He also flew an X-15 to an altitude of 314,750 feet, qualifying for U.S. Air Force astronaut wings. After leaving the X-15 program, White flew 70 combat missions in the Republic F-105D Thunderchief fighter bomber during the Vietnam War. He led the attack against the heavily-defended Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi, Aug. 11, 1967, for which he was awarded the Air Force Cross.
June 23, 1969: The final flight in the XV-6A Carry-On Technology Program was flown at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The XV-6A was the Air Force designation of the Hawker Siddeley Aviation P.1127 Kestrel, a single seat vectored-thrust strike-reconnaissance fighter later acquired as the AV-8 Harrier.
June 23, 1997: A 445th Flight Test Squadron team at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., conducted the first successful flight of a model of the LoFLYTE Neural Network Waverider remotely piloted vehicle. The program, managed by NASA, was to design a hypersonic (Mach 5 plus) low observable aircraft capable of riding its own shock wave in the manner of the XB-70.
June 24, 1942: The Martin JRM Mars made its first flight. The aircraft was a large, four-engined cargo transport flying boat designed and built by the Martin Company for the U.S. Navy during World War II. It was the largest Allied flying boat to enter production, although only seven were built. The Navy contracted the development of the XPB2M-1 Mars in 1938 as a long-range ocean patrol flying boat, which later entered production as the JRM Mars long-range transport.
Four of the surviving aircraft were later converted for civilian use to firefighting water bombers.
June 24, 1947: The Air Materiel Command commander at Wright Field, Ohio, was officially directed by HQ U.S. Army Air Forces to take over responsibility for conduct of the X-1 transonic flight research program. This meant that, instead of a Bell test pilot, it would be an AMC test pilot who would make the initial assault on Mach 1. Capt. Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager had already been selected as project officer for this effort.
June 24, 1948: The Soviet Union begins the Berlin Blockade. This was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post–World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies’ railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control. The Soviets offered to drop the blockade if the Western Allies withdrew the newly introduced Deutsche Mark from West Berlin. The Western Allies organized the Berlin Airlift from June 26, 1948, to Sept. 30, 1949, to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin, a difficult feat given the size of the city’s population American and British air forces flew over Berlin more than 250,000 times, dropping necessities such as fuel and food, with the original plan being to lift 3,475 tons of supplies daily. By the spring of 1949, that number was often met twofold, with the peak daily delivery totaling 12,941 tons.
June 24, 1961: A Sud Caravelle jet airliner, manufactured by the French company Sud Aviation, returned to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., following a visit to the Paris Air Show. Nicknamed “Santa Maria,” the short-to-medium-haul aircraft had spent a year at Edwards undergoing installation and flight testing of two GE CJ805-23C aft-fan engines.
June 24, 1968: A joint test team from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and the Naval Air Test Center began the first phase of the A-7D Stability and Control Military Preliminary Evaluation. The evaluations were conducted at the Vought Aeronautics Division of LTM at Naval Air Station Dallas and at Carswell AFB, Texas.
June 24, 1968: A test team conducted the first limited performance evaluation flight with a C-130A fitted with four-blade Hamilton Standard propellers at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
June 24, 1993: Air Force officials authorized destruction of 365 B-52s at AMARC, Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., in compliance with START signed July 31, 1991. U.S. President George H. W. Bush and Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on July 31, 1991, to limit each nation’s the number of nuclear weapons systems. 365 B-52s were destroyed at AMARC, Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. Destruction of the bombers began in August 1993. The bombers were stripped of all usable parts, then chopped into five pieces by a 13,000-pound steel blade dropped from a 120-foot-tall crane. The “guillotine” sliced four times on each plane, severing the wings and leaving the fuselage in three pieces. The cut-up B-52s remained in place for three months so Russian satellites could confirm that the bombers had been destroyed, after which they were sold for scrap.