Sept. 24, 1929: U.S. Army Air Corps Lt. James H. Doolittle made the first completely blind airplane takeoff, flight, and landing, solely by reference to instruments on board his aircraft. Flying from the rear cockpit of a civil-registered two-place Consolidated NY-2 Husky training airplane, NX7918, Doolittle had his visual reference to earth and sky completely cut off by a hood enclosure over his cockpit. A safety pilot, Lt. Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, rode in the forward cockpit, but the entire flight was conducted by Doolittle. He took off from Mitchel Field, N.Y., climbed out, flew a 15-mile set course and returned to Mitchel Field and landed. The experimental gyroscopic compass, artificial horizon and a precision altimeter were developed by Elmer Sperry, Jr., and Paul Kollsman, both of Long Island, N.Y.
Sept. 24, 1954: The Bell X-1B made its first flight, flown by Lt. Col. Jack Ridley. Like the X-1A, this second-generation aircraft was built for dynamic stability and air load investigations at higher altitudes and speeds than the three original X-1 aircraft. The X-1B was also to be used as a test bed for the X-15’s reaction control system.
Sept. 24, 2010: The 418th Flight Test Squadron concluded flight testing to evaluate modifications of the C-17 Globemaster III formation flight system. The system enabled pilots to monitor and fly the large transport aircraft with other C-17s at the same altitude and distance in any weather condition. The FFS testing took about two weeks to complete at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Sept. 25, 1960: At Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Navy Cmdr. John Franklin “Jeff” Davis flew a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom II to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers Without Payload, averaging 1,390.24 miles per hour. Davis flew the 62-mile circular course at an altitude of 45,000 feet.
Sept. 25, 1974: Northrop’s F-5F made its first flight, piloted by Hank Chouteau. The F-5F was a two-seat trainer version of the company’s F-35E Tiger II, and featured a completely new fuselage.
Sept. 25, 1986: The X-Wing, a one-of-a-kind helicopter/fixed wing aircraft built by Rotor Systems Research, arrived at NASA’s Dryden facility aboard a Super Guppy transport. The craft was designed to take off, hover, and land like a helicopter but cruise like a conventional aircraft.
The X-Wing was one of many concepts proposed to combine the hovering capabilities of a helicopter with the speed potential of fixed wing aircraft. It used a large-diameter four-bladed stiff rotor system that can be stopped in flight to become an X-wing. It had the promise of breaking the trend of Vertical Take-Off and Landing aircraft where higher speed requires higher hovering disc loadings. Additionally, it achieved fixed-wing flight without the need for a separate wing, promising a lower weight empty fraction (empty weight/gross weight) over those concepts that need both a rotor system and a wing. Because of its low-hovering disc loading plus the power to fly at high subsonic speeds, a two-engine X-wing aircraft could hover and fly a good portion of its flight envelope on only one engine.
The Aero Spacelines Super Guppy was a large, wide-bodied cargo aircraft used for hauling outsize cargo components. It was the successor to the Pregnant Guppy, the first of the Guppy aircraft produced by Aero Spacelines. Five were built in two variants, both of which were colloquially referred to as the “Super Guppy.” The Super Guppy was “the only airplane in the world capable of carrying a complete S-IVB stage,” the third stage of the Saturn V rocket. The Super Guppy performed this role several times during the Apollo program.
Sept. 25, 1992: NASA’s Mars Observer blasted off on a $980 million mission to the Red Planet. However, the probe disappeared just before entering Martian orbit in August 1993.
Sept. 26, 1929: The second known “first flight” of an aircraft from Rogers Dry Lake took place. Jack Northrop trucked his first experimental flying wing-type aircraft, the X-216H, to Muroc Dry Lake, where Eddie Bellande took it on its first two official flights. The single-engine pusher proved to be 25 percent faster than equivalent conventional designs. In the photograph, Bellande is on the left and Northrop is on the right.
Sept. 26, 1942: The reassembled Bell XP-59A Airacomet rolled out of its hangar and its engines were started for the first time.
Sept. 26, 1965: The Ling-Temco-Vought A-7 Corsair II made its first flight. The Corsair II was a carrier-capable subsonic attack fighter. It was a derivative of the Vought F-8 Crusader, an earlier fighter. Compared to the Crusader, it had a shorter, broader fuselage, and a longer-span wing but without the Crusader’s variable-incidence feature. Development was rapid: from first flight on Sept, 26, 1965, the aircraft entered squadron service with the Navy on Feb. 1, 1967; by the end of that year, A-7s were being deployed overseas for the Vietnam War.
The A-7 also proved attractive to other services, soon being adopted by the United States Air Force and the Air National Guard to replace their aging Douglas A-1 Skyraider and North American F-100 Super Sabre fleets. Improved models of the A-7 would be developed, typically adopting more powerful engines and increasingly capable avionics.
American A-7s would be used in various major conflicts, including the Invasion of Grenada, Operation El Dorado Canyon, and the Gulf War. The A-7 was largely replaced by newer generation fighters such as the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. In this photograph, the first YA-7D Corsair II sits on the flightline at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Tail number 67-14582 was delivered to Edwards for flight testing on April 6, 1968. This aircraft was transferred to the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., on Sept 28, 1992, and sold for reclamation in June 2001.
Sept. 27, 1956: Test pilot Capt. Milburn “Mel” Apt lost his life during a flight test mission. Apt was making his first flight in the Bell X-2 and flew it to an unofficial record speed of Mach 3.196, thus becoming the first person to exceed Mach 3. It is reported that during an attempt to turn the aircraft back to Edwards, it began to oscillate in all axes and departed controlled flight. Apt’s last radio transmission was, “There she goes,” before he fell into unconsciousness two times. His effort to parachute from the escape capsule failed and he was killed instantly when the X-2 hit the desert floor.
Sept. 27, 1964: Capt. Michael N. Antoniou flew the number two Bell YUH-1D-BF Iroquois, 60-6029, Bell Helicopter serial number 702, from Edwards Air Force Base non-stop to Rogers, Ark. The distance flown was 1,348.81 miles and established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Distance Without Landing. Antoniou was a project test pilot assigned to the U.S. Army Aviation Test Activity at Edwards. The 60-6029 was modified by Bell to reduce aerodynamic drag and weight. The windshield wipers, door handles, main rotor stabilizer bar and associated dampers, tail rotor drive shaft cover and 42-degree gear box cover had been removed. Gaps at the doors, crew steps, tail boom cargo compartment, etc., were sealed with tape.
Sept. 27, 1991: A dedication ceremony was held for the Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale, Calif. The Airpark is an annex of the Air Force Flight Test Museum and is located on East 25th Street at Rancho Vista Boulevard in Palmdale. Today the airpark has the world’s only display of a Lockheed SR-71A together with its Blackbird predecessor the first A-12, along with the once ultra-secret D-21 drone and the only remaining U-2 “D” model in the world, plus other exhibits.
Sept. 28, 1950: NACA test pilot John Griffith made the first NACA flight of the X-4 Bantam research aircraft. The X-4 was designed to test a semi-tailless wing configuration at transonic speeds. Many engineers believed in the 1940s that such a design, without horizontal stabilizers, would avoid the interaction of shock waves between the wing and stabilizers. These were believed to be the source of the stability problems at transonic speeds up to Mach 0.9.
Two aircraft had already been built using a semi-wingless design: the rocket-powered Me-163 Komet flown by Germany in World War II, and the British de Havilland DH.108 Swallow built after the war. The Army Air Forces signed a contract with the Northrop Aircraft Company on June 11, 1946, to build two X-4s. The first X-4 (serial number 46-676) was delivered to Muroc Air Force Base, Calif., in November 1948. It underwent taxi tests, and made its first flight on Dec. 15, 1948, with Northrop test pilot Charles Tucker at the controls.
Winter rains flooded Rogers Dry Lake soon after, preventing additional X-4 flights until April 1949. The first X-4 proved mechanically unreliable and made only 10 flights. Walt Williams, the head of the NACA Muroc Flight Test Unit (as Armstrong was then known) called the aircraft a “lemon.” The second X-4 (serial number 46-677) was delivered during the halt of flights, and soon proved far more reliable. It made a total of 20 contractor flights. Despite this, the contractor flight program dragged on until February 1950, before both aircraft were turned over to the Air Force and the NACA. The first X-4 never flew again, serving as a spare parts bin for the second aircraft.
NACA instrumented the second X-4 to conduct a short series of flights with Air Force pilots. These included Chuck Yeager, Pete Everest, Al Boyd, Richard Johnson, Fred Ascani, Arthur Murray and Jack Ridley. The flights were made in August and September of 1950.
Sept. 28, 1972: The Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., completed the first Air Force preliminary evaluation of the flying qualities of the McDonnell Douglas F-15A.
Sept. 29, 1948: The Vought XF7U-1 Cutlass made its first flight at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The Cutlass was a U.S. Navy carrier-based jet fighter and fighter-bomber of the early Cold War era. It was a tailless aircraft for which aerodynamic data from projects of the German Arado and Messerschmitt companies, obtained at the end of World War II through German scientists working on the projects, contributed, though Vought designers denied any link to the German research at the time. The F7U was the last aircraft designed by Rex Beisel, who was responsible for the first fighter ever designed specifically for the U.S. Navy, the Curtiss TS-1 of 1922.
Regarded as a radical departure from traditional aircraft design, the Cutlass suffered from numerous technical and handling problems throughout its short service career. The type was responsible for the deaths of four test pilots and 21 other U.S. Navy pilots. Over one quarter of all Cutlasses built were destroyed in accidents. In this photograph, the first production F7U-1 launches from the aircraft carrier USS Midway, July 25, 1951. The Cutlass was retired by the Navy on March 2, 1959.
Sept. 29, 1954: McDonnell’s twin-engine jet fighter, the F-101A Voodoo, made its first flight. Robert C. “Bob” Little took the interceptor to Mach 1.2 in level flight. The F-101 was an enormously successful follow-on to an earlier McDonnell design — the XF-88 Voodoo. All F-101s built were production aircraft, there were no prototypes.
Sept. 29, 1964: The first take-off and landing of the LTV-Hiller-Ryan XC-142, a vertical take-off transport, takes place in Dallas, Texas. The aircraft has four 2,850-hp General Electric turboprops mounted on the wings that can pivot 90 degrees to allow for a vertical take-off. The XC-142 was a tri-service tiltwing experimental aircraft designed to investigate the operational suitability of vertical/short takeoff and landing transports.
Following the conventional takeoff on Sept. 19, it completed its first transitional flight (taking off vertically, changing to forward flight, and landing vertically) on Jan. 11, 1965. Its service sponsors pulled out of the program one by one, and it eventually ended due to a lack of interest after demonstrating its capabilities successfully. The aircraft never proceeded beyond the prototype stage. In 1966, while tests were still underway, the Air Force requested a proposal for a production version, the C-142B.
Since the Navy had backed out by this time, the Navy carrier compatibility requirement could be eliminated, which dramatically reduced the empty weight. Other changes proposed for this version included a streamlined cockpit, larger fuselage, upgraded engines and simplified engine maintenance. After reviewing the C-142B proposal, the tri-services management team could not develop a requirement for a V/STOL transport. XC-142A testing ended, and the remaining flying copy was turned over to NASA for research testing from May 1966 to May 1970. In this photograph, the XC-142A conducts a flight test at the NASA Langley Research Center, Va., in 1969.
Sept. 29, 1990: The Lockheed YF-22A made its first flight, flown by Lockheed chief test pilot Dave Ferguson. Designed and built by Lockheed, Boeing and General Dynamics, the new fighter subsequently beat the YF-23A in the ATF competition and was ordered into production.
Sept. 29, 1995: The Jet Propulsion Laboratory closed its facility at North Base/Edwards Air Force Base, and its permit to operate was terminated. The facility was created in June 1945 as a rocket test site, and eventually consisted of 571 acres, 70 buildings, six test stands, two test-stand barricades and an open burn unit. It was a division of the California Institute of Technology and NASA. It provided solid propellant mixing, casting, and x-ray technical support to the Air Force Phillips Laboratory on Leuhman Ridge.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory was a federally funded research and development center and a National Aeronautics Space Administration field center within the state of California. Founded in the 1930s, the laboratory was owned by NASA and managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology for NASA. The laboratory’s primary function was the construction and operation of planetary robotic spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.
Among the laboratory’s major projects were the Mars Science Laboratory mission, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, the NuSTAR X-ray telescope, the SMAP satellite for earth surface soil moisture monitoring, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. It was responsible for managing the JPL Small-Body Database and provides physical data and lists of publications for all known small Solar System bodies. JPL’s Space Flight Operations Facility and Twenty-Five-Foot Space Simulator are designated National Historic Landmarks.
Sept. 29, 2004: SpaceShipOne made a successful spaceflight from the Mojave Air and Space Port, the first of two needed to win the Ansari X Prize. With Mike Melvill at the helm, the spacecraft reached Mach 2.92, and flew for 24 minutes and 11 seconds. Five days later, on Oct. 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne made a second flight to space, and won the Ansari X Prize. SpaceShipOne reached orbit after being launched from a mother ship, “White Knight.” Both craft were developed and flown by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, which was a joint venture between Paul Allen and Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan’s aviation company.
During its test program, SpaceShipOne set a number of important “firsts,” including first privately funded aircraft to exceed Mach 2 and Mach 3, first privately funded, crewed spacecraft to exceed 100km altitude, and first privately funded, reusable crewed spacecraft. The Ansari X Prize was a space competition in which the X Prize Foundation offered a $10 million prize for the first non-government organization to launch a reusable crewed spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. It was modeled after early 20th-century aviation prizes and aimed to spur development of low-cost spaceflight. SpaceShipOne’s official model designation is Scaled Composites Model 316. In this Scaled Composites photograph, SpaceShipOne sits below the mothership, White Knight as it flies above Southern California.
Sept. 30, 1943: The Northrop XP-56 Black Bullet made its maiden flight at Muroc Army Air Field, Calif. The Black Bullet was a unique prototype fighter interceptor built by the Northrop Corporation. It was one of the most radical of the experimental aircraft built during World War II. Ultimately, it was unsuccessful and did not enter production. The initial idea for the XP-56 was quite radical for 1939. It was to have no horizontal tail, only a small vertical tail, used an experimental engine, and be produced using a novel metal, magnesium. The aircraft was to be a wing with a small central fuselage added to house the engine and pilot. It was hoped that this configuration would have less aerodynamic drag than a conventional airplane.
The idea for this single-seat aircraft originated in 1939 as the Northrop N2B model. It was designed around the Pratt & Whitney liquid-cooled X-1800 engine in a pusher configuration driving contra-rotating propellers. The U.S. Army ordered Northrop to begin design work on June 22, 1940, and after reviewing the design, ordered a prototype aircraft on Sept. 26, 1940. However, shortly after design work had begun, Pratt & Whitney stopped development of the X-1800. The Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine was substituted, although it was considered not entirely suitable. The new, 2,000-horsepower engine was 200 horsepower more powerful, but it had a larger diameter and required a larger fuselage to house it. This change delayed the program by five months. It was expected that the new engine would require a 2,000-pound weight increase and cost 14 mph in top speed.
Since this tailless design was novel and considered high risk, it was decided to construct a small, lightweight plane of similar configuration for testing called the Model N-1M. In parallel with the design of the XP-56, successful flight trials of the configuration were conducted utilizing this airframe, confirming the basic layout. Two small Lycoming engines powered this aircraft. These trials confirmed the stability of the radical design, and upon review the Army decided to construct a second prototype, which was ordered on February 13, 1942.
Northrop constructed the XP-56 using magnesium alloy for the airframe and skin, because aluminum was forecast to be in short supply due to wartime demands. At the time there was little experience with magnesium aircraft construction.
First engine runs in the aircraft were conducted in late March 1943, but excessive propeller shaft flex caused the engine to fail. Pratt & Whitney did not send another engine until August, causing a five-month delay. Taxi tests of the XP-56 began on April 6, 1943 and showed a serious yaw problem. At first, it was thought to be caused by uneven wheel brakes, and considerable effort was placed into fixing this problem.
Manual hydraulic brakes were installed before the first flight. Eventually, the yaw problem was traced to a lack of aerodynamic stability. To fix this, the upper vertical stabilizer was enlarged from a mere stub, to one virtually matching the ventral unit in shape and area.
After several flights, the first XP-56 was destroyed Oct. 8, 1943, when the tire on the left gear blew out during a high-speed taxi across Muroc Dry Lake. The pilot, John Myers, survived with minor injuries which he credited to his innovative wearing of a polo player’s helmet. Myers was the test pilot for several of Northrop’s radical designs during the war. A number of changes were made to the second prototype, including re-ballasting to move the center-of-gravity forward, increasing the size of the upper vertical tail, and reworking the rudder control linkages.
This second prototype was not completed until January 1944. The aircraft flew on March 23, 1944. The pilot had difficulty lifting the nose wheel below 160 miles per hour. He also reported extreme yaw sensitivity. This flight lasted less than eight minutes, but subsequent flights were longer, and the nose heaviness disappeared when the landing gear was retracted. Only relatively low speeds were attained, however. While urging NACA to investigate the inability to attain designed speeds, further flight tests were made. On the 10th flight, the pilot noted extreme tail heaviness, lack of power, and excessive fuel consumption. Flight testing was then ceased as too hazardous, and the project was abandoned after a year of inactivity. By 1946, the U.S. Army Air Forces was developing jet-powered fighters and had no need for a new propeller-driven fighter aircraft.
Sept. 30, 1949: The Berlin Airlift officially ended after 15 months. In total the United States Air Force, United States Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force delivered 2,334,374 tons of material nearly two-thirds of which was coal, on 280,290 flights to Berlin. At the height of the Airlift, one plane reached West Berlin every thirty seconds. In all, 101 airmen lost their lives during the airlift. In this photograph, a Douglas C-54 Skymaster on final approach to Flughafen Berlin-Tempelhof.
Sept. 30, 1976: B-1 Phase I testing was completed after 64 sorties and 342.9 flight hours. While it was a combined DT&E and OT&E effort, the primary objective was to generate data for the production of the new bomber.