On This Date

Aug. 27, 1956: NACA chief test pilot Joe Walker made the first local flight of its assigned F-104. This inaugurated 37 continuous years of Starfighter service with NACA’s High Speed Flight Station at Edwards, Calif. The Mach 2 fighter type stayed in service with the facility until Feb. 3, 1994.




Aug. 27, 1990: The YF-23A Gray Ghost made its first flight, flown by Northrop chief test pilot Alfred “Paul” Metz. Two YF119-PW-100 engines powered the aircraft, featuring two sharply canted horizontal tail surfaces that served as ruddervators.




Aug. 28, 1944: Personnel from the Seventh Air Force arrived to set up a six-week training program for replacement B-25 aircrews on their way to the Pacific Theater. The Pacific Theater Training Program was transferred from Oahu to Muroc Army Air Field in order to reduce seaborne supply traffic, and became the Fourth Air Force’s only B-25 “finishing school.”  Shortly thereafter, a 650-foot wooden replica of a Japanese Atago-class heavy cruiser (soon dubbed the Muroc Maru) was constructed on the south shore of the lakebed as a target for skip-bombing practice.

Muroc Maru, officially Army Air Forces Temporary Building T-799, was a replica of a Japanese Takao-class cruiser constructed on the floor of Rogers Dry Lake in southern California during World War II. Used to train bomber pilots and bombardiers in techniques for attacking warships, Muroc Maru remained in place until 1950, when it was demolished. Army Air Forces Temporary Building T-799 was built during 1943 on the southern end of Rogers Dry Lake in California for the purpose of training United States Army Air Forces bomber pilots, navigators and bombardiers in bombing, strafing, and the identification of warships, including skip bombing techniques. The lakebed site was chosen for the construction of the training structure as the bright sand dunes, sculpted to give the appearance of a wake around the ‘ship’, created the illusion of the vessel being at sea.  Designed to mimic the size and appearance of a Takao-class heavy cruiser of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the structure was constructed from four-by-four lumber and chicken wire, with tarpaper covering the “hull” to complete the illusion of a solid, fully constructed ship.  The structure cost $35,819.18 to build.




Aug. 28, 1961: Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., personnel conducted the first supersonic flight in a B-58 in the Sonic Boom Research Program. The joint Air Force, FAA and NASA program was to verify existing sonic boom theories and provide sonic pressure criteria to be used in the design of a supersonic transport.




Aug. 28, 1967: Lockheed’s U-2R, a much-modified version of the famed 1950s reconnaissance aircraft, made its first flight. Bill Park flew it.




Aug. 29, 1947: Capt. Chuck Yeager made his first powered flight in the Bell X-1, taking the compact orange aircraft to Mach 0.85.




Aug. 29, 1947: The world’s first ramjet helicopter, the McDonnell XH-20 Little Henry, makes its first flight. The ramjet-driven rotor eliminates the need for a torque-compensating tail rotor. The McDonnell Model 38 was a lightweight experimental helicopter sponsored by the United States Army Air Force to test the concept of using small ramjets at the tips of the rotor blades. As a functional helicopter it was of simple, open-frame steel-tube construction. The Model 38 was allotted the military designation XH-20. Although the XH-20 flew successfully, the ramjets were noisy and burnt a large amount of fuel. Plans to build a larger two-seat XH-29 were abandoned.




Aug. 29, 1969: The C-5A Galaxy Test Force successfully conducted the aircraft’s first aerial refueling.




Aug. 29, 1970: The McDonnell Douglas prototype widebody airliner, DC-10-10, made its first flight from Long Beach Airport to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where it underwent flight testing and FAA certification. The aircraft commander was the company Project Pilot, Clifford L. Stout, with Deputy Chief Engineering Pilot Harris C. Van Valkenburg as co-pilot. John D. Chamberlain was the flight engineer and the flight test engineer was Shojun Yukawa. During the first flight the DC-10 reached 345.2 miles per hour, and 30,000 feet. The primary purpose of this flight was to check the airliner’s basic flight characteristics, aircraft systems and the installed test equipment. The flight lasted 3 hours, 36 minutes. During the test program, N10DC made 989 test flights, accumulating 1,551 flight hours. It was put into commercial service with American Airlines Aug. 12, 1972. From 1970 until 1988, a total of 386 DC-10s were built in passenger and freighter versions. Additionally, 60 KC-10A Extender air refueling tankers were built for the U.S. Air Force.




Aug. 29, 1984: The second prototype Rockwell B-1A Lancer assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards AFB, Calif., crashed 22 miles northeast of the base, in the desert east of Boron, when control is lost during an aft center of gravity test. The flight commander, Rockwell test pilot Doug A. Benefield, is killed when the escape pod parachutes fail to fully deploy, causing the escape pod to impact in a right nose low attitude. The co-pilot and flight test engineer are badly injured.




Aug. 29, 1990: Ground testing of the B-1B AN/ALQ-161A defensive avionics system in the Benefield Anechoic Facility was completed. The enormously complex avionics system was the first U.S. system designed to combine radar jamming and surveillance to cover the entire threat spectrum.




Aug. 29, 2003: Four Lockheed Martin F/A-22 Raptors flew a four-ship formation, a first for the new fighter. The formation was part of a flight test of the Intra-Flight Data Link, a data transmitter set designed to let Raptor pilots share flight information with other aircrews automatically, without using radio communications. In a separate mission, three other F/A-22s were also in the air undergoing their initial OT&E – the first time seven Raptors were airborne simultaneously.




Aug. 30, 1982: The Northrop F-5G Tigershark, later designated the F-20A Tigershark, made its first flight, flown by Russell J. Scott, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. During the 40-minute flight, the Tigershark reached an altitude of 40,000 feet. This was the first supersonic fighter to be developed entirely with private funds. A single General Electric J101 engine powered a derivative of the company’s successful F-5, which it strongly resembled, the aircraft. The fighter competed against the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon for an Air Force contract. The F-20A was considered to be as good, and in some ways, superior to the F-16. It was also less expensive. Other factors, though, resulted in the order for the General Dynamics fighter. It was not selected by the U.S. Air Force, attracted no foreign buyers, and consequently never went into production. In this photograph, the Tigershark prototype lands at Edwards AFB after its first flight, escorted by a Northrop F-5F Tiger II, N3139Y.




Aug. 30, 1982: The first KC-135R arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for evaluation. The four J57 engines of the original KC-135 were replaced with new high bypass turbofan engines with 60 percent more thrust, while consuming 25 percent less fuel.




Aug. 31, 1955: The first Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker made its first flight. The Stratotanker is a military air refueling aircraft developed from the Boeing 376-80 prototype, alongside the 707 airliner. The KC-135 was the US Air Force’s first jet-powered refueling tanker and replaced the KC-97 Stratofreighter. The KC-135 was initially tasked with refueling strategic bombers, but it was used extensively in the Vietnam War and later conflicts such as Operation Desert Storm to extend the range and endurance of U.S. tactical fighters and bombers. The KC-135 entered service with the U.S. Air Force in 1957. In this photograph, the first KC-135 refuels a B-52 Stratofortress.




Aug. 31, 1955: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation engineering test pilot Stanley Beltz was killed in a crash near Lancaster, Calif., while piloting an F-94B Starfire modified to test the nose section of the BOMARC long-range, surface-to-air missile. Beltz’ first job at Lockheed was in 1936, as a sheet metal fabricator on twin-engine Electras. In 1940, after tackling flight training and ground school, he received his pilot’s license. When World War II began, Beltz left Lockheed in search of flying experience. He spent most of 1942 working for the Glenn L. Martin Company in Omaha, Neb., testing B-26C bombers. He later returned to Lockheed. In 1945, Lockheed chief test pilot Tony LeVier promoted him to engineering test pilot. Beltz would go on to fly almost every aircraft type produced by Lockheed until 1955. He helped to test the Constellation airliner, the giant Constitution Navy transport, and the Navy’s twin-engine P2V Neptune patrol bomber. On what would be his last mission, Beltz conducted a secret test for the Air Force and Boeing, carried out as part of the BOMARC cruise missile program. Lockheed technicians mounted the missile’s longogival nose cone on the front of an F-94B to test subsonic flight performance. During previous tests, Tony LeVier and Herman “Fish” Salmon had found that the modification made the aircraft nose-heavy. This test called for Beltz to perform three “clean” stalls and three “dirty” stalls (with landing gear and flaps extended). After Beltz took off from Palmdale, the first tests, in clean configuration, went smoothly. But Beltz did not climb back to altitude before beginning the dirty stalls. At 10,000 feet, 8,000 feet above Lancaster’s outskirts, he dropped the landing gear and fully extended the flaps. Applying full right rudder to put the jet into a stall, he cried, “Here she goes!” — his last transmission. Test monitors waited in anxious silence for a minute. Then the pilot of a chase helicopter reported a fire on the ground 3.5 miles north of Lancaster. He also reported having seen no parachute. An Air Force investigation concluded that Beltz had made no attempt to exit the aircraft, and officials concluded he had apparently been unconscious at the time of the crash, perhaps from hitting his head against the cockpit canopy during the stall.




Aug. 31, 1958:  The North American A-5 Vigilante made its first flight. The Vigilante was an American carrier-based supersonic bomber for the U.S. Navy. Prior to 1962 unification of Navy and Air Force designations, it was designated the A3J Vigilante. Development of the A-5 had started in 1954 as a private venture by NAA, who sought to produce a capable supersonic long-distance bomber as a successor to the abortive North American XA2J Super Savage. It was a large and complex aircraft that incorporated several innovative features, such as being the first bomber to feature a digital computer, while its ability to attain speeds of up to Mach 2 while carrying a nuclear strike payload was also relatively ambitious for the era.  The Navy saw the value of such a bomber, leading to a contract for its full development and production being issued to the firm on Aug. 29, 1956. The Vigilante was introduced by the US Navy during June 1961; it succeeded the Douglas A-3 Skywarrior as the Navy’s primary nuclear strike aircraft, but its service in this capacity was relatively brief due to the de-emphasizing of manned bombers in the U.S. nuclear strategy. On Dec. 19, 1962, a Vigilante arrived at the NASA Flight Research Center (now the Armstrong Flight Research Center) at Edwards, Calif., from the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Md. NASA flew the A3J-1 in a year-long series of flights in support of the U.S. supersonic transport program. The center flew the aircraft to determine the let-down and approach conditions of a supersonic transport flying into a dense air traffic network. These flights followed two flight plans that were based upon earlier NASA studies, one for a variable-sweep wing configuration and the other for a delta-wing configuration. NASA Flight Research Center test pilot William H. Dana made approximately 21 flights along federal airways that entered Los Angeles. With the completion of the research flights, the center sent the A3J-1 back to the Navy on Dec. 20, 1963. This photograph shows the Vigilante on the flight line at Edwards.




Aug. 31, 1968: Category II testing of the FB-111A, the all-weather strategic bomber version of the F-111, got under way at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The FB-111A had a longer fuselage for greater fuel capacity and extended wingtips.




Aug. 31, 1971: The Ling-Tenco-Vought Electronics, Inc. XQM-93A remotely piloted vehicle made its first flight, with a contractor pilot aboard. The vehicle was a concept demonstrator modified from a Schweizer glider and powered by a DT-6 turboprop engine. It was developed for SAC’s Compass Dwell program to acquire a long-endurance drone capable of classified missions at high altitude. It required a remotely piloted vehicle to carry an electronic payload of 700 pounds and to operate at an altitude of at least 40,000 feet for 24 hours.

The Ling-Temco-Vought XQM-93 was a remotely piloted aircraft developed in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s for use as a communications relay in the Vietnam War. A prototype flew in 1970, but the program was abandoned without producing a service-ready aircraft.  In the late 1960s, following the early microwave High Altitude Long Endurance vehicle studies, the US Air Force worked with Electrosystems under the Compass Dwell program to build an unmanned aerial vehicle using much more conventional turboprop propulsion. At least part of the motivation or inspiration for this effort was derived from the Igloo White program, which was a multiservice attempt to cut the flow of supplies from North Vietnam to South Vietnam through the network of paths and roads running through Cambodia and Laos known as the “Ho Chi Minh Trail”.  Igloo White involved seeding the region with thousands of seismic and acoustic sensors, most of them air-dropped, which would pick up indications of traffic along the trail and report them back to a central command center in Thailand, which would dispatch air strikes in response. The sensors were battery-operated and had limited range, so airborne radio relay aircraft orbited above the battle area to pick up the signals and pass them on to the command center.




Aug. 31, 1988: The first AC-130 Combat Talon II aircraft arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for evaluation by the Special Operations CTF. The AC-130U was a completely new version of the AC-130H gunship, with new avionics, a 40mm cannon and a 25mm Gatling gun.




Sept. 1, 1948: A Republic XR-12 Rainbow took off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., flew out over the Pacific, and then made a nonstop coast-to-coast flight to New York. Along the way it made a single, 325-foot-long filmstrip recording its entire flight path across the continental United States. This was the first time that a portrait of this magnitude had ever been made. The XR-12 was the peacetime designation of the XF-12, an experimental high-speed four-engine reconnaissance plane.

The Republic XF-12 Rainbow was an American four-engine, all-metal prototype reconnaissance aircraft designed by the Republic Aviation Company in the late 1940s. Like most large aircraft of the era, it used radial engines, in this case, the Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major. The aircraft was designed with maximum aerodynamic efficiency in mind. The XF-12 was referred to as an aircraft that was “flying on all fours” meaning: four engines, 400 mph cruise, 4,000-mile range, at 40,000 feet. It is still the fastest piston-engined airplane of this size, exceeding by some 50 miles per hour the Boeing XB-39 of 1944.  Although highly innovative, the postwar XF-12 Rainbow had to compete against more modern jet engine technology and did not enter production.




Sept. 1, 1959: ARDC and the Strategic Air Command began a joint project designed to reduce the reaction time needed to launch a wing of bombers under conditions of high alert. Four operational B-47s and their crews were assigned to determine the feasibility of close formation takeoffs for heavy bombers.




Sept. 1, 1960: The first rocket sled run of a program to determine the effects of a nuclear detonation on different types of airfoils took place at the High-Speed Track. Varying quantities of high explosives would be detonated in order to replicate the over-pressure of a nuclear detonation on aircraft wings and control surfaces.



Sept. 2, 1937: The Grumman F4F Wildcat made its first flight. The Wildcat was an American carrier-based fighter aircraft that began service in 1940 with the U.S. Navy, and the British Royal Navy where it was initially known as the Martlet. First used by the British in the North Atlantic, the Wildcat was the only effective fighter available to the United States Navy and Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater during the early part of World War II. The disappointing Brewster Buffalo was withdrawn in favor of the Wildcat and replaced as aircraft became available. Lessons learned from the Wildcat were later applied to the faster F6F Hellcat. While the Wildcat had better range and maneuverability at low speed, the Hellcat could rely on superior power and high-speed performance to outperform the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. The Wildcat continued to be built throughout the remainder of the war to serve on escort carriers, where larger and heavier fighters could not be used.



Sept. 2, 1992: B-2 No. 4 released a BDU46 (an inert B63 nuclear weapon shape) from 22,500 feet, the first in a series of in-flight weapons releases.


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