On This Date

Sept. 3, 1932: At the Cleveland National Air Races, Doolittle won the Thompson Trophy Race with his Granville Brothers Aircraft Company Gee Bee Supersportster R-1, NR2100. He also set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Speed for Record Over a three-kilometer Course, averaging 294.42 mph. The Gee Bee was a purpose-built racing airplane, designed by Robert Leicester Hall, who would later become the chief engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. It was a very small airplane, with short wings and small control surfaces. It had gained a reputation as being very dangerous. A number of famous racers of the time were killed when they lost control of the Gee Bee. However, Doolittle had a different opinion: “She is the sweetest ship I’ve ever flown. She is perfect in every respect and the motor is just as good as it was a week ago. It never missed a beat and has lots of stuff in it yet. I think this proves that the Granville brothers up in Springfield build the very best speed ships in America today.”




Sept. 3, 1985: Space Shuttle Discovery landed on lakebed Runway 23 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., following a successful mission to deploy three satellites and an on-orbit satellite repair task. Shuttle pilot Col. Joe Engle (USAF TPS Class 61) carried an Air Force Flight Test Center flag and a small container of lakebed sand on the mission, which he later presented to the Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edwards. These items are still held in the museum’s archives.




Sept. 4, 1922: First Lt. Jimmy Doolittle made the first transcontinental crossing of the United States in a single day when he flew a DH.4B-1-S single-engine biplane from Pablo Beach, Fla., to Rockwell Field, San Diego, Calif. — a distance of 2,106 miles. During the flight, he made one refueling stop at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas, which lasted one hour, 16 minutes. The total duration of the flight was 21 hours, 19 minutes. Lieutenant Doolittle was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “demonstrating the possibility of moving Air Corps units to any portion of the United States in less than 24 hours.”

Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested, and developed new flying equipment and techniques. During World War II, Doolittle planned and led the famous Doolittle Raid against Japan, 18 April 1942, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Doolittle is the only person to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom. He died 27 September 1993 at the age of 96 years. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.



Sept. 4, 1936: Louise Thaden became the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy Race when she and her co-pilot, Blanche Noyes, flew a Beechcraft C17R “Staggerwing” Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Mines Field (now LAX), Los Angeles, Calif., in 14 hours, 55 minutes, and one second. With one fuel stop at Wichita, Kansas, Thaden and Noyes had averaged 165.35 mph. In addition to the trophy, she won a prize of $2,500. Thaden had been employed by Walter Beech as a sales representative in Wichita, Kansas, and he included flying lessons with her employment.

She received her pilot’s license from the National Aeronautic Association, signed by Orville Wright, May 16, 1928. In 1929, she was issued Transport Pilot License number 1943 by the Department of Commerce. Thaden was the fourth woman to receive an Airline Transport Pilot rating. Thaden served as secretary of the National Aeronautic Association and was a co-founder of The Ninety-Nines.

She served as that organization’s vice president and treasurer. She set several world and national records and was awarded the national Harmon Trophy as Champion Aviatrix of the United States in 1936.




Sept. 4, 1957: The Lockheed JetStar, designated the C-140 by the U.S. military, made its first flight. The JetStar was a business jet produced from the early 1960s to the 1970s. The JetStar was the first dedicated business jet to enter service, as well as the only such airplane built by Lockheed.

It was also one of the largest aircraft in the class for many years, seating ten plus two crew. It is distinguishable from other small jets by its four engines, mounted on the rear of the fuselage, and the “slipper”-style fuel tanks fixed to the wings.

The first prototype served as the personal transport of Lockheed’s Vice President of Advanced Development Projects Kelly Johnson for some time. Elvis Presley owned two JetStars at different times; the second was named Hound Dog II and is on display at Graceland. Additionally, one JetStar belonged to U.S. President Richard Nixon, then to the Shah of Iran and finally, to Puerto Rican boy band Menudo.

Sixteen JetStars were produced for the Air Force; five C-140As were flight inspection aircraft for the Air Force Communications Service and were used to perform airborne testing of airport navigational aids (navaids) from 1962 onwards. They began service during the Vietnam War and remained in service until the early 1990s.

The “Flight Check” C-140As were combat-coded aircraft that could be distinguished from the VIP transport version by their distinctive paint scheme. The C-140As were deployed to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, where, in addition to their more usual navaid testing, they would loiter off the coast and act as communications relays between the Pentagon and the battlefield.

An additional 11 airframes were designated C-140B, although the first of these predated the C-140As when it was delivered in 1961. The C-140Bs were used to transport personnel by the Military Airlift Command. Six of the aircraft were operated as VIP transports by the 89th Military Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. These VIP aircraft were designated as VC-140Bs. During the presidency of Jimmy Carter, he used a dedicated VC-140B extensively for short trips and it was known within the Special Air Missions Wing as “Peanut One.”

The NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center flew a JetStar for a time, and the aircraft is currently on display at Joe Davis Airpark in Palmdale, Calif.



Sept. 4, 1970: A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter made its first flight equipped with the newly designed Lycoming T55-L-11A engines.



Sept. 4, 1984: The B-1B Lancer is rolled out at the Rockwell International facility at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif.




Sept. 5, 1944: U.S. Army Air Corps Lt. William H. Allen was a fighter pilot assigned to the 343rd Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group, based at RAF Wormingford, England. After escorting a bombing mission to Stuttgart, Allen, flying his North American Aviation P-51, Pretty Patty II, and his flight, which included Lt. William H. Lewis, attacked an airfield north of Göppingen, Germany. Allen became an Ace in one day when he shot down five Heinkel He 111 twin-engine bombers as they took off at two-minute intervals. The flight of Mustangs shot down a total of 16 enemy aircraft.



Douglas C-74 Globemaster, Long Beach, CA | Note oil derricks on Signal Hill, C-47 Skytrains, and B-17 Flying Fortresses 1945

Sept. 5, 1944: The Douglas C-74 Globemaster made its first flight at Long Beach, Calif., with Ben O. Howard at the controls. The flight lasted 79 minutes. The Globemaster was a United States heavy-lift cargo aircraft. The aircraft was developed after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The long distances across the Atlantic and, especially, Pacific oceans to combat areas indicated a need for a transoceanic heavy-lift military transport aircraft. Douglas Aircraft Company responded in 1942 with a giant four-engine design.

Development and production modifications issues with the aircraft caused the first flight to be delayed until September 5, 1945, and production was limited to 14 aircraft when the production contract was canceled following V-J Day. Although not produced in large numbers, the C-74 did fill the need for a long-range strategic airlifter, in which capacity the subsequent Douglas C-124 Globemaster II was used by the Air Force for many years.




Sept. 5, 1960: U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Thomas H. Miller set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Speed Over a 500-kilometer Closed Course Without Payload with a McDonnell F4 Phantom II. The fighter averaged 1,216.78 mph over the triangular course in the California and Nevada desert. Miller took off from Edwards AFB, Calif.

The Phantom carried three external fuel tanks. Miller climbed to 38,000 feet, then dropped the two wing tanks over the Salton Sea. The Phantom II continued to accelerate with both engines in afterburner while climbing to 48,000 feet. At Mach 1.6, 30 miles from the starting gate over Edwards, Miller dropped the empty 600-gallon centerline tank. He crossed the gate at 42,200 feet at Mach 1.76 and continued to accelerate.

Miller entered the first turn near Lone Pine, Calif., at 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) at Mach 2.04. The second turn was over Beatty, Nev., the location of a radar and telemetry facility that was operated as part of the NASA High Speed Flight Station’s High Range. The F-4 had descended slightly to 49,000 feet while accelerating to Mach 2.05.

Miller was now headed back toward Edwards and the gate on the longest leg of the triangular course. He crossed the finish line at 46,000 feet and Mach 2.10. The total time on the course, gate to gate, was 15 minutes, 19.2 seconds. When the airplane crossed the gate over Edwards, only 900 pounds of fuel remained.

“The only way to get on the ground with the engines running was a split-S maneuver with a near-vertical dive, speed brakes out and engines at idle power,” said Miller. “This provided positioning for a straight-in approach to the runway at Edwards AFB. Flaps and wheels were lowered at the last minute when I knew I had the runway made, even if the engines quit. Fortunately, they didn’t flame out until I touched down.”




Sept. 5, 1983: Space Shuttle Challenger landed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., following a successful STS-8 mission. Challenger landed on Runway 0040L, in the program’s first night landing.




Sept. 5, 1984: Space Shuttle Discovery, OV-103, completed its first space flight, STS-41-D, when it landed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., at 6:37 a.m., PDT. It had completed 97 orbits of the Earth. The total duration of its flight was 6 days, 56 minutes, 4 seconds.

The purpose of the mission was to place three communications satellites into orbit, and to deploy an experimental solar panel array. Various other experiments were also carried out. A highlight of the mission was the onboard filming by the crew of footage for the IMAX film, The Dream Is Alive. Discovery is the space shuttle fleet leader, having made 39 orbital flights, more than any other shuttle.




Sept. 6, 1910: Blanche Stuart Scott makes the first solo airplane flight by a woman in the United States, which was subsequently recognized by the Early Birds of Aviation. In 1910, Scott became the second woman to drive an automobile across the United States, driving from New York to San Francisco.

The publicity surrounding the automobile journey brought her to the attention of Jerome Fanciulli and Glenn Curtiss who agreed to provide her with flying lessons in Hammondsport, N.Y. She was the only woman to receive instruction directly from Curtiss. He fitted a limiter on the throttle of Scott’s airplane to prevent it gaining enough speed to become airborne while she practiced taxiing on her own.

On September 6 either the limiter moved or a gust of wind lifted the biplane and she flew to an altitude of 40 feet before executing a gentle landing. Her flight was short and possibly unintentional, but Scott is credited by the Early Birds of Aviation as the first woman to pilot and solo in an airplane in the United States, although Bessica Medlar Raiche’s flight on Sept. 16 was accredited as first by the Aeronautical Society of America at the time.

Scott subsequently became a professional pilot. On Oct. 24, 1910, she made her debut as a member of the Curtiss exhibition team at an air meet in Fort Wayne, Ind. She was the first woman to fly at a public event in America. Her exhibition flying earned her the nickname “Tomboy of the Air.” She became an accomplished stunt pilot known for flying upside down and performing “death dives,” diving from an altitude of 4000 feet and suddenly pulling up only 200 feet from the ground.

In 1912 Scott contracted to fly for Glenn Martin and became the first female test pilot when she flew Martin prototypes before the final blueprints for the aircraft had been made. In 1913 she joined the Ward exhibition team. She retired from flying in 1916 because she was bothered by the public’s interest in air crashes and an aviation industry which allowed no opportunity for women to become mechanics or engineers.




Sept. 6, 1943: Northrop’s experimental fighter, the XP-56 Black Bullet was trucked to the Muroc lakebed and made its first flight, flown by company test pilot John Myers. The XP-56 was a near-tailless design with a pusher engine driving contra-rotating propellers. It was the first aircraft to be constructed entirely of magnesium.




Sept. 6, 1978: The first production F-16 multirole fighter aircraft arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., from Fort Worth, Texas.




AAF personnel at Clark Field, Philippines, get their first look at a Consolidated B-32 Dominator in May 1945. Comparable to the B-29 in size and performance, B-32s saw service with only one bomber squadron before war’s end. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Sept. 7, 1942: The Consolidated B-32 Dominator made its first flight. The Dominator was an American heavy strategic bomber built for U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, which had the distinction of being the last Allied aircraft to be engaged in combat during World War II.

It was developed by Consolidated Aircraft in parallel with the Boeing B-29 Superfortress as a fallback design, should the B-29 prove unsuccessful. The B-32 only reached units in the Pacific during mid-1945, and subsequently saw only limited combat operations against Japanese targets before the end of the war.

Most of the extant orders of the B-32 were canceled shortly thereafter and only 118 B-32 airframes of all types were built. In this photograph, Army Air Force personnel at Clark Field, Philippines, get their first look at a Consolidated B-32 Dominator in May 1945. Comparable to the B-29 in size and performance, B-32s saw service with only one bomber squadron before war’s end.




Sept. 7, 1956: Capt. Iven C. Kincheloe, on his last assigned X-2 flight, flew the research plane to 126,200 feet, establishing a new unofficial world altitude record and becoming the first human to fly above 100,000 feet.




Sept. 7, 1961: As a consultant to Northrop Corporation, Jackie Cochran flew a T-38 Talon to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 500-kilometers, flying from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to Beatty, Nev., Lone Pine, Calif., and back to Edwards. Her speed averaged 680.749 mph. During August and September 1961, Cochran set series of speed, altitude, and distance records with the T-38.




Sept. 7, 1997: The Lockheed Martin F-22, with chief test pilot Alfred “Paul” Metz at the controls, took the first F-22A Block 1 Engineering and Manufacturing Development Prototype for its first flight at Dobbins ARB, Ga. The fighter flew for just under one hour, reaching an altitude of 20,000 feet. Previously employed by Northrop Corporation, in 1990, Paul Metz had also made the first flight of the Raptor’s rival, the YF-23A Advanced Tactical Fighter prototype.

Metz was a 1976 graduate of the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, Calif.

The Raptor is an American single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft developed for the U.S. Air Force. As the result of the U.S. Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) program, the aircraft was designed as an air superiority fighter, but also has ground attack, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence capabilities.

The prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, built most of the F-22’s airframe and weapons systems and conducted final assembly, while Boeing provided the wings, aft fuselage, avionics integration, and training systems. The Air Force had originally planned to buy a total of 750 ATFs. However, in 2009, the program was cut to 187 operational aircraft due to high costs, a lack of air-to-air missions due to the focus on counterinsurgency operations at the time of production, a ban on exports, and development of the more affordable and versatile F-35, with the last F-22 delivered in 2012.




Sept. 8, 1939: The Vultee 48, a prototype of the P-66 Vanguard, made its first flight. The aircraft was a U.S. Army Air Forces fighter aircraft. It was initially ordered by Sweden, but by the time the aircraft were ready for delivery in 1941, the United States would not allow them to be exported, designating them as P-66s and retaining them for defensive and training purposes. Eventually, a large number were sent to China where they were pressed into service as combat aircraft with mixed results.




Sept. 8, 1988: The B-1B CTF completed the first automatic terrain-following flight of a B-1B Lancer bomber with the system in “hard ride” at 200 feet over mountainous terrain. This was considered the ultimate milestone for the B-1B ATF.




Sept. 8, 1999: The Helios Prototype flew for the first time at the Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. The Helios Prototype was the fourth and final aircraft developed as part of an evolutionary series of solar- and fuel-cell-system-powered unmanned aerial vehicles. AeroVironment, Inc. developed the vehicles under NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology program.

They were built to develop the technologies that would allow long-term, high-altitude aircraft to serve as atmospheric satellites, to perform atmospheric research tasks as well as serve as communications platforms. It was developed from the NASA Pathfinder and NASA Centurion aircraft.

The Helios was developed to demonstrate the ability to reach and sustain horizontal flight at 100,000 feet altitude on a single-day flight, and to maintain flight above 50,000 feet altitude for at least four days, both on electrical power derived from non-polluting solar energy.

The flight concluded prematurely after a small parachute, designed to keep the aircraft within a restricted airspace zone over the lakebed in case of a loss of control, unexpectedly deployed after an apparent electrical system failure.

On June 26, 2003, the Helios Prototype broke up and fell into the Pacific Ocean about 10 miles west of the Hawaiian Island Kauai during a remotely piloted systems checkout flight in preparation for an endurance test scheduled for the following month. In this photograph, the Helios Prototype flying wing is shown near the Hawaiian islands of Niihau and Lehua during its first test flight on solar power.




Sept. 9, 1923: The Curtiss R2 C-1 made its maiden flight. The aircraft was a racing aircraft designed for the U.S. Navy in 1923 by Curtiss. It was a single-seater biplane with a monocoque fuselage and staggered single-bay wings of unequal span braced with I-struts. The aircraft’s advanced streamlining featured a top wing mounted directly to the top of the fuselage and surface-mounted radiators for cooling the engine. The aircraft was originally designed and built as a landplane under the Navy designation R2C-1, of which two examples were produced. One was converted into a seaplane version known as the R2C-2 the following year.




Sept. 9, 1944: The United States Army Air Forces Air Technical Service Command Flight Test Training Unit was established at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Maj. Ralph C. Hoewing was named Officer in Charge. The Army’s test pilots would henceforth receive formal classroom and cockpit instruction in flight testing theory and techniques, instead of informal “on the job” training. The school was modeled after the Royal Air Force’s new Empire Test Pilots’ School at Boscombe Down.

Army Air Forces Flying Training Command’s mission was conducting the flying program for new Army pilot candidates and air cadets. The program was divided into stages including primary, advanced, and specific classification such as pursuit, twin engine and multi-engine. These phases were prelude to Operational or Replacement training or crew training.

Army Air Forces Training Center was created as a result of the merger between Army Air Forces Flying Training Command and the Army Air Forces Technical Training Command on July 31, 1943. Constituted and established on Jan. 23, 1942, its mission was to train pilots, flying specialists, and combat crews. During its lifetime, the command struggled with the challenge of a massive wartime expansion of the air forces. Throughout 1942, the need for combat crew personnel far exceeded the current and contemplated production of the command’s flying training schools.

The expansion of housing and training facilities, instructors, as well as the procurement of aircraft and other equipment, though at a breakneck pace, constrained the rate of increase of production.

Facilities were used to their maximum capacity as quickly as they could be stood up. Some schools were expanded while they were still under construction. New airfields had to be located in areas with sufficient flying space free of other air traffic, and the West Coast training center faced the extraordinary requirement to avoid sites near the internment camps for Japanese-Americans.




Capt. Charles B. DeBellevue, Vietnam Ace F-4D Phantom at Udorn AB, Thailand As a captain, DeBellevue became the first non-pilot ace and the leading ace in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. He was an F-4 weapon system officer with the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Sept. 9, 1972: Capt. Charles DeBellevue, a Weapons System Officer flying on F-4D and F-4E Phantom II fighters, became the high-scoring American Ace of the Vietnam War when he and his pilot, Capt. John A. Madden, Jr., shot down two MiG 19 fighters of the Vietnam People’s Air Force, west of Hanoi. DeBellevue was assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base.

With Capt. Richard S. Ritchie, he had previously shot down four MiG 21 fighters using AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles. Then while flying a combat air patrol in support of Operation Linebacker, he and Madden used two AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles to destroy the MiG 19s. These were Madden’s first two aerial victories, but for DeBellevue, they were number five and six.

“We acquired the MiGs on radar and positioned as we picked them up visually,” DeBellevue said. “We used a slicing low-speed yo-yo to position behind the MiG-19s and started turning hard with them. We fired one AIM-9 missile, which detonated 25 feet from one of the MiG-19s. We then switched the attack to the other MiG-19 and one turn later we fired an AIM-9 at him.

“I observed the missile impact the tail of the MiG,” he continued. “The MiG continued normally for the next few seconds, then began a slow roll and spiraled downward, impacting the ground with a large fireball. Our altitude was approximately 1,500 feet at the moment of the MiGs impact.”

After becoming the war’s highest-scoring American ace, DeBellevue was sent to Williams Air Force Base, Ariz., for pilot training. He became an aircraft commander of F-4E Phantom IIs. DeBellevue later went on to command the 6500th Air Base Wing at Edwards AFB, Calif. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1998, after 30 years of service.


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