Oct. 8, 1943: The first of two Northrop XP-56 Black Bullet tailless flying wing fighters, tail number 42-1786, suffered a blown left main tire during a high-speed taxi across Muroc Dry Lake, Muroc Army Airfield, Calif. 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. 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. Taxi tests began 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, and the aircraft flew on Sept. 30, 12943, at Muroc. 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.
Oct. 8, 1945: A specially configured B-29 launch aircraft, designated a JTB29A, ferried a Bell XS-1 (s/n 46-063) rocket research airplane to Muroc Army Air Field, Calif.
Oct. 8, 1993: Capt. Pamela A. Melroy and Richard A. Cooper flew a C-17 with a 73,039-kilo payload to an altitude of 9,805 meters. In so doing, they established new official world records for altitude with a 70,000-kilo payload, and for the greatest mass carried to 2,000 meters.
Oct. 9, 1946: Boeing began a B-29 High Altitude Test program to study the effects of using heated fuel to reach high altitudes, and the dropping of photoflash bombs from 40,000 feet.
Oct. 9, 1999: The final flight of an SR-71 Blackbird took place during the Edwards AFB Open House and Air Show. The aircraft was assigned to the NASA Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center. The aircraft was one of two, loaned to NASA by the U.S. Air Force, and used as testbeds for high-speed and high-altitude aeronautical research at Dryden. The aircraft included an SR-71A and SR-71B (the trainer version). The SR-71 was scheduled to fly on Oct. 10 (day two of the air show) but the flight was cancelled and the aircraft never flew again.
Oct. 10, 1956: At 4:15 p.m., after a 20-second ground run, the prototype L-1649 Starliner lifted off from Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, Calif. On the flight deck were company test pilots Herman Richard “Fish” Salmon and Roy Edwin Wimmer. The flight engineer was Glenn Fisher, and John Stockdale served as the flight test engineer. After a 50-minute flight, the new airliner returned to Burbank. When asked, one of the pilots said, “It handles real smooth.” The first production L-1649A was built for Trans World Airways.
Oct. 10, 1972: The competitive fly off between the Northrop YA-9 and Fairchild YA-10 begins, continuing until Dec. 9. Both planes were prototype attack aircraft developed for the U.S. Air Force’s A-Z program. Two prototypes of each aircraft were built, and one experimental two-seat A-10 was built by converting an A-10A. On Jan. 18, 1973, the Air Force announced that the winning aircraft was the A-10. The first unit to receive the A-10 Thunderbolt II was the 355th Tactical Training Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
Oct. 10, 1998: After more than a year of flight testing, Lockheed Martin test pilot Jon Beesley flew the F-22 Raptor beyond Mach 1.0 for the first time. The first production F-22 (s/n 4001), in non-afterburning level flight at 29,000 feet, passed through Mach 1.1 several times.
Oct. 11, 1961: The North American X-15 passed 200,000 feet for the first time, when Maj. Robert M. White took it to an altitude of 217,000 feet. During his descent, the outer panel of the left windshield cracked, but White was unharmed.
Oct. 11, 1968: Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo spacecraft, launched aboard a Saturn 1B rocket from Cape Kennedy Air Force Station in Florida. Onboard were Capt. Walter M. “Wally” Schirra, U.S. Navy, the mission commander, on his third space flight; Maj. Donn F. Eisele, U.S. Air Force, the Command Module Pilot, on his first space flight; and Maj. R. Walter Cunningham, U.S. Marine Corps, Lunar Module Pilot, also on his first space flight. The mission was designed to test the Apollo spacecraft and its systems. A primary goal was the test of the Service Propulsion System (SPS), which included a restartable Aerojet AJ10-137 rocket engine which would place an Apollo Command and Service Module into and out of lunar orbit on upcoming missions. The duration of the flight of Apollo 7 was 10 days, 20 hours, nine minutes, three seconds, during which it orbited the Earth 163 times. The spacecraft splashed down Oct 22, 1968, approximately 230 miles south southwest of Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean, eight miles from the recovery ship, the aircraft carrier USS Essex.
Oct. 11, 1984: Kathryn D. Sullivan becomes the first American woman to perform spacewalk aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. Sullivan joined NASA in 1978 and was part of the first astronaut groups to include women. she and mission specialist David Leestma stepped outside Challenger (mission STS-41-G) and performed a 3.5 hour spacewalk in which they operated a system designed to show that a satellite could be refueled in orbit. She served on three shuttle missions, and later served as undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the first photograph, Sullivan uses binoculars to view Earth during shuttle mission STS-41-G. In the second, Sullivan performs a spacewalk.
Oct. 11, 1990: The Rockwell-Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm X-31, an experimental jet fighter designed to test fighter thrust vectoring technology, made its first flight. It was designed and built by Rockwell and Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm, as part of a joint U.S. and German Enhanced Fighter Maneuverability program to provide additional control authority in pitch and yaw, for significantly more maneuverability than most conventional fighters.
An advanced flight control system provided controlled flight at high angles of attack where conventional aircraft would stall or lose control. Two aircraft were built, of which only one has survived. During the program’s initial phase of flight test operations at the Rockwell Aerospace facility in Palmdale, Calif., the two aircraft were flown on 108 test missions, achieving thrust vectoring in flight, and expanding the post-stall envelope to 40 degrees angle of attack.
Operations were then moved to NASA’s Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., in February 1992 at the request of the Advanced Research Projects Agency. At Dryden, the International Test Organization expanded the aircraft’s flight envelope, including military utility evaluations that pitted the X-31 against similarly equipped aircraft to evaluate the maneuverability of the X-31 in simulated combat.
Oct. 11, 2000: Space Shuttle Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on mission STS-92, the 100th flight of the shuttle program. STS-92 was an International Space Station assembly flight that included seven days docked with the ISS, four spacewalks, and two ingress opportunities. Following the mission, Discovery landed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in something of a homecoming for the pilot, Pamela Melroy (on her first shuttle flight).
Before her selection as an astronaut, Melroy had served as a U.S. Air Force pilot, flying the KC-10. IN June 1991, she attended the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards. Following graduation, she served as a test pilot on the C-17 Globemaster III. Melroy now serves as deputy administrator of NASA.
Oct. 11, 2004: The Airborne Laser program reached an important milestone when the flight turret assembly was delivered to the YAL-1A ABL at South Base, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The large nose turret was the main component in the beam control and tracking system, designed to point and focus the high-energy laser weapon on ballistic targets hundreds of miles away.
Oct. 12, 1954: North American test pilot George “Wheaties” Welch died when the F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre, serial number 52-5764 and the ninth production aircraft, crashed. Welch, flying the ninth production F-100A-1-NA Super Sabre, serial number 52-5764, made a planned 7.3 G pullout from a Mach 1.55 dive to verify the aircraft’s design limits.
A Boeing B-47 Stratojet crew flying at 25,000 feet reported that Welch’s F-100 winged over and began a rapid descent, passing within four miles of their position and diving at a very high speed. The aircraft appeared to be under control but then suddenly disintegrated.
The Super Sabre had encountered Inertial Roll Coupling. It went out of control and then disintegrated. Its nose folded over the windshield, crushing Welch in his seat. The vertical fin broke away. The ejection seat fired but because of the supersonic speeds the parachute was shredded. Welch was still alive when rescue teams arrived. He died while being flown to a hospital by helicopter.
Oct. 12, 1954: The new 15,000-foot runway at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., was dedicated during an ARDC Commander’s Conference. The longest concrete runway in the United States, it also included an 1,800-overrun leading to Rogers Dry Lake, giving it an additional five miles of lakebed runway. The new runway was 300 feet wide with concrete from 17 to 19 inches deep. Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Power, Commander, ARDC and Brig. Gen. Holtoner cut the ribbon. Lt. Col. Frank K. “Pete” Everest, Jr., made the first takeoff and landing, flying an F-100 which was waiting behind the ribbon cutting event.
Oct. 12, 1964: The North American Valkyrie reached supersonic speed (Mach 1.11 at 35,080 feet) for the first time during its third flight. North American test pilot Al White reported a smooth transition from subsonic to supersonic flight.
Oct. 13, 2000: The F-22 No. 1 completed its final test flight. On Nov. 1, it was ferried to Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, where it would complete its career as a live-fire testbed.
Oct 14, 1929: The British Airship R101 made its first flight from Cardington in Bedfordshire. On its first flight, the airship flew a short circuit over Bedford, then set course for London, where it passed over the Palace of Westminster, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the City, returning to Cardington after a flight lasting five hours 40 minutes.
R101 was one of a pair of British rigid airships completed in 1929 as part of a British government program to develop civil airships capable of service on long-distance routes within the British Empire.
It was designed and built by an Air Ministry-appointed team and was effectively in competition with the government-funded but privately designed and built R100.
When built, it was the world’s largest flying craft at 731 feet, and it was not surpassed by another hydrogen-filled rigid airship until the LZ 129 Hindenburg was launched seven years later.
On Oct. 4, 1930, R101 left Cardington for what was supposed to be a flight to Karachi in British India, but actually became its final flight. Early in the morning of Oct. 5, R101 crashed near Allone, France, and caught fire. Forty-six of the 54 passengers and crew were killed immediately, with two dying later of their injuries. The deceased are buried in a common grave in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church in Cardington.
Oct. 14, 1938: The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk made its maiden flight in Buffalo, N.Y. The Warhakw was a U.S. single-engine, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground-attack aircraft, and was a modification of the previous Curtiss P-36 Hawk which reduced development time and enabled a rapid entry into production and operational service.
The Warhawk was used by most Allied powers during World War II and remained in frontline service until the end of the war. It was the third most-produced American fighter of World War II, after the P-51 and P-47; by November 1944, when production of the P-40 ceased, 13,738 had been built. A total of 15 U.S. Army Air Force pursuit/fighter groups, along with other pursuit/fighter squadrons and a few tactical reconnaissance units, operated the P-40 between 1941 and 1945.
On Aug. 14, 1942, the first confirmed victory by a USAAF unit over a German aircraft in World War II was achieved by a P-40C pilot. Second Lt Joseph D. Shaffer of the 33rd Fighter Squadron, intercepted a Focke-Wulf Fw 200C-3 maritime patrol aircraft that overflew his base at Reykjavík, Iceland. Shaffer damaged the Fw 200, which was finished off by a P-38F. In this photograph, a P-40B is shown in flight. This particular aircraft served with an advanced training unit at Luke Field, Ariz.
Oct. 14, 1947: Capt. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. At approximately 45,000 feet above the desert, Yeager fired the rocket engines on the Bell X-1, nicknamed Glamorous Glennis after his wife, he was piloting. The aircraft was carried aloft beneath a modified B-29 Superfortess, where it was air launched. Accelerating to 700 mph, he became the first human to official travel faster than the speed of sound in level flight. The data form this and subsequent flights helped pave the way for many more firsts in the supersonic era.
Oct. 14, 1949: The Fairchild C-123 Provider made its first flight. The Provider was an American military transport aircraft designed by Chase Aircraft and then built by Fairchild Aircraft for the U.S. Air Force. In addition to its Air Force service, which included later service with the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, it also went on to serve most notably with the U.S. Coast Guard and various air forces in Southeast Asia. During the war in Vietnam, the C-123 was used to deliver supplies, to evacuate the wounded, and to spray Agent Orange.
Oct. 14, 1953: The North American X-10 made its first flight. The X-10 (originally designated RTV-A-5) was an unmanned technology demonstrator. It was a subscale reusable design that included many of the design features of the SM-64 Navaho missile. The X-10 was like the development of the Bell X-9 Shrike project, which was based on features of the GAM-63 RASCAL. To facilitate development of the long-range Navaho surface-to-surface cruise missile, North American Aviation developed the RTV-A-5 (Research Test Vehicle, Air Force), or X-10 in 1951.
This vehicle was to prove critical flight technology for the design of the Navaho cruise missile. These included proving the basic aerodynamics to Mach 2, flight testing the inertial guidance unit and flight control avionics to the same speed and validate the recovery system for the next phase in the Navaho program. Preliminary design of the X-10 was completed in February 1951 and the first vehicle was delivered to Edwards Air Force Base in May 1953.
The X-10 was powered by two Westinghouse J40 turbojet engines with afterburners and equipped with landing gear for conventional takeoff and landing. The combination of a delta wing with an all-moving canard gave it extremely good aerodynamics in the transonic and supersonic environments.
It also made the vehicle unstable requiring active computer flight control in the form of an autopilot. Thus, the X-10 is like modern military fighters which are flown by the onboard computer and not directly by the pilot. Though the X-10 was receiving directional commands from a radio-command guidance system, these commands were sent through the on-board computer which implemented the commands. Later X-10s included an N-6 inertial navigation system which completely controlled the vehicle through the cruise portion of the flight. At the time it entered service, the X-10 was one of the fastest turbojet-powered aircraft flown.
From 1953 to 1955 a total of five X-10s flew 15 flights at Edwards AFB. There it reached a maximum flight speed of Mach 1.84, flew 400 miles, and reached an altitude of 41,000 feet. These were performance levels superior to nearly all manned turbojet aircraft (the exception being the YF-104 Starfighter). In 1955 the program moved to Cape Canaveral, Fla., to complete the test program. Here a new set of six X-10 vehicles completed the testing of the N-6 inertial navigation system at supersonic speeds, reach 49,000 feet in altitude, a total flight distance of 627 miles and a peak speed of Mach 2.05. Of all the X-10s built, only one survived the test program: serial 51-9307, the first X-10 to fly. The X-10 took off and landed on its own undercarriage and deployed a parachute to shorten its landing roll, and this photograph shows the X-10 with the parachute deployed.