Dec. 31, 1934: Helen Richey made the first scheduled civil flight by a female pilot, flying a Ford Trimotor on the Washington to Detroit route. Central Airlines of Greensburg, Penn., later part of United Airlines, had hired her earlier in the year. She was eventually forced to step down from the cockpit by the all-male pilots union. After leaving Central Airlines, Richey continued to perform at air shows. In 1936 she teamed with Amelia Earhart in a transcontinental air race, the Bendix Trophy Race. Richey and Earhart came in fifth, beating some all-male teams. Later, Richey flew with the British Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II. In addition to being the first female commercial airline pilot, Richey also was the first woman sworn in to pilot air mail and one of the first female flight instructors.
Dec. 31, 1938: The Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner NX19901 made its first flight at Boeing Field, Seattle, Wash. At the controls were test pilot Eddie Allen, and co-pilot Julius A. Barr. The Model 307 was a four-engine commercial airliner that used the wings, tail surfaces, engines and landing gear of the production B-17B Flying Fortress heavy bomber. The fuselage was circular in cross section to allow for pressurization. It was the first pressurized airliner and because of its complexity, it was also the first airplane to include a flight engineer as a crewmember. The Boeing Model 307 was operated by a crew of five and could carry 33 passengers. During World War II, TWA sold its Stratoliners to the United States government which designated them C-75 and placed them in transatlantic passenger service. In 1944, the 307s were returned to TWA and they were sent back to Boeing for modification and overhaul. The wings, engines and tail surfaces were replaced with those from the more advanced B-17G Flying Fortress. The last one in service was retired in 1951.
Dec. 31, 1958: The Zero-Length Launch Program using an F-100, was completed. The zero-length launch system was a method whereby jet fighters and attack aircraft could be near-vertically launched using rocket motors to rapidly gain speed and altitude. Such rocket boosters were limited to a short-burn duration, being typically solid-fuel and suitable for only a single use, being intended to drop away once expended. The majority of ZELL experiments, which including the conversion of several front-line combat aircraft for trialling the system, occurred during the 1950s amid the formative years of the Cold War. As envisioned, the operational use of ZELL would have employed mobile launch platform to disperse and hide aircraft, reducing their vulnerability in comparison to being centralised around established airbases with well-known locations. While flight-testing had proved such systems to be feasible for combat aircraft, no ZELL-configured aircraft were ever used operationally. The emergence of ever-capable missiles had greatly reduced the strategic necessity of aircraft for the nuclear strike mission, while questions over practicality had also played a role.
Dec. 31, 1968: The Tupolev Tu-144 made its first flight. The Tu-144 was a Soviet supersonic passenger airliner designed by Tupolev in operation from 1968 to 1999. The Tu-144 was the world’s first commercial supersonic transport aircraft with its prototype’s maiden flight two months before the British-French Concorde. The Tu-144 was a product of the Tupolev Design Bureau, an OKB headed by aeronautics pioneer Aleksey Tupolev, and the Voronezh Aircraft Production Association in Voronezh manufactured 16 aircraft. The Tu-144 conducted 102 commercial flights, of which only 55 carried passengers, at an average service altitude of 52,000 feet and cruised at a speed of around 1,400 mph) (Mach 2). The Tu-144 first went supersonic on June 5, June 1969, four months before Concorde, and on May 26, 1970, became the world’s first commercial transport to exceed Mach 2. Reliability and developmental issues, together with repercussions of the 1973 Paris Air Show Tu-144 crash and rising fuel prices, restricted the viability of the Tu-144 for regular use. The Tu-144 was introduced into passenger service with Aeroflot between Moscow and Almaty on Dec. 26, 1975, but withdrawn less than three years later after a second Tu-144 crashed on May 23, 1978. The Tu-144 remained in commercial service as a cargo aircraft until cancellation of the Tu-144 program in 1983. The Tu-144 was later used by the Soviet space program to train pilots of the Buran spacecraft, and by NASA for supersonic research until 1999. The Tu-144 made its final flight on June 26, 1999.
Jan. 1, 1914: Tony Jannus flew a Benoist XIV biplane flying boat from St. Petersburg to Tampa in Florida with a paying passenger. This was the first scheduled commercial airplane flight — the company was the Airboat Line — and ran until May 5, 1914. The fare for the 22-mile over-water flight was $5 with a surcharge if the passenger weighed more than 200 pounds.
Jan. 1, 1943: The sole Lockheed XP-49, a development of the P-38 Lightning, first flown Nov. 11, 1942, suffers a crash landing at Burbank, Calif., when the port landing gear fails to lock down due to a combined hydraulic and electrical problem. The pilot was Joe C. Towle. Repaired, it returns to flight on Feb. 16, 1943, and is sent to Wright Field, Ohio, for further testing. Despite improved performance over the P-38, difficulties with the new engines, as well as the success of the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang, leads to no additional orders or production.
Jan. 1, 1962: The Navy SEAL teams were established with Teams One and Two, formed with personnel from Underwater Demolition Teams. The teams were stationed on both U.S. coasts: Team One at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, in San Diego, Calif., and Team Two at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, in Virginia Beach, Va. According to founding SEAL team member Roy Boehm, the SEALs’ first missions were directed against communist Cuba. These consisted of deploying from submarines and carrying out beach reconnaissance in a prelude to a proposed U.S. amphibious invasion of the island. On at least one occasion Boehm and another SEAL smuggled a CIA agent ashore to take pictures of Soviet nuclear missiles being unloaded on the dockside.
Jan. 2, 1929: Evelyn “Bobbi” Trout flew a Golden Eagle 12 hours and 11 min at the Metropolitan Airport in Los Angeles, setting a new non-refueling endurance record for women. This flight shattered the previous record, held by Viola Gentry, by more than 4 hours. However, this record was short lived, as Elinor Smith broke the record once again on Jan. 30, 1929, flying 13 and half hours. Determined to take back the record, Trout flew from Mines Field on Feb. 10, 10, 1929, returning this time after more than 17 hours. This flight also broke the record for the first all-night flight by a woman as well as the new women’s solo endurance record. In the same year on June 16, Trout flew a 90-horse power Golden Eagle Chief to an altitude of 15,200 feet breaking the light class aircraft altitude record. Modifying the same aircraft to use a 100 horse power engine, Trout flew from Clover Field in Santa Monica, Calif,, to the first Women’s Transcontinental Air Derby together with other women aviators including Amelia Earhart. During the nine-day race, they experienced difficulties navigating using road maps, Trout, Earhart, Gentry and the other ladies managed to communicate under such circumstances; this led to the development of the Ninety-Nines: International Organization of Women Pilots.
Jan. 2, 1930: Leroy Grumman, Leon Swirbul, and William Schwender found the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation at Baldwin on Long Island, N.Y.
Jan. 2, 1954: Air Force Col. Willard W. Millikan flew a North American Aviation F-86F-25-NH Sabre named Minuteman, from Los Angeles International Airport to New York in 4 hours, 6 minutes, 16 seconds, averaging 595.91 mph. Millikan departed Los Angeles at 10:10:55 a.m., EST, and flew most of the route at 40,000 feet. After expending the fuel in his two 670-gallon wing tanks, he dropped them over the southwest desert. The Sabre crossed over Colorado Springs, Colo.,, at 11:28 a.m., EST. At 12:26 p.m., Millikan made a refueling stop at Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha, Neb., where a waiting 20-man crew attached two full wing tanks to the Sabre and he was airborne after only 6 minutes, 28 seconds on the ground. Millikan dropped the second set of tanks over Lake Michigan. Millikan crossed the finish line at Floyd Bennett Field at 2:19 p.m., EST. His engine flamed out as the aircraft ran out of fuel at 5,000 feet. Millikan made a “dead stick” landing at Idlewild Airport, New York City at 2:23 p.m., EST. “My tank was dry,” he said. “I had to glide in. When I arrived on the ground I did not have a drop of fuel.” After refueling at Idlewild, Millikan took off at 3:57 p.m., and flew back to Mitchel Field, landing there at 4:07 p.m., EST. The North American Aviation F-86 was a single-seat, single-engine day fighter designed by Edgar Schmued and the same team at North American that designed the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter. The F-86F was the third variant, with improvements over the earlier F-86A and F-86E. Millikan’s Minuteman was a Block 25 F-86F Sabre built at Columbus, Ohio. The Sabre was the first fighter to incorporate swept wings, which improved flight at high subsonic speed by reducing aerodynamic drag and delaying the onset of compressibility effects. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept 35 degrees based on captured German technical data and extensive wind tunnel testing.
Jan. 2, 1967: The National Supersonic Transport program, formed by President John F. Kennedy for the purpose of subsidizing the design of a Concorde-fighting supersonic airliner, awards a contract to Boeing for its 2707 SST design. Despite 115 orders from 25 different airlines, the program would lose its funding in 1971, forcing Boeing to lay off 60,000 workers.
Jan. 2, 1968: Two pilots assigned to Edwards escaped serious injury after they abandoned their F-111A some 25 miles southeast of the base due to an in-flight fire. They were the first aircrew to use the F-111’s emergency escape module.
Jan. 2, 1989: The Tupolev TU-204, the Soviet Union’s first airliner fitted with a fly-by-wire control system, makes its maiden flight. The aircraft is a twin-engined medium-range jet airliner capable of carrying 210 passengers, designed by Tupolev and produced by Aviastar-SP and Kazan Aircraft Production Association. First introduced in 1989, it is intended to be broadly equivalent to the Boeing 757, with slightly lower range and payload, and has competitive performance and fuel efficiency in its class. It was developed for Aeroflot as a replacement for the medium-range Tupolev Tu-154 trijet. The latest version, with significant upgrades and improvements, is the Tu-204SM, which made its maiden flight on Dec. 29, 2010.
Jan. 3, 1966: The second prototype of the XB-70 achieved a speed of Mach 3.05 at 72,000 feet, marking the first time that the aircraft type had flown at three times the speed of sound.
Jan. 3, 1966: The third (of five) Ling-Temco-Vought XC-142As, 62-5923, suffers major landing gear and fuselage damage during landing on 14th Cat II flight at Edwards AFB, Calif., having logged only 14:12 hours, Cat II flight time. The U.S. Air Force decided to use wing from this airframe to repair XC-142A No. 2, 62-5922, which suffered major damage on Oct. 19, 1965. Other useful items are salvaged from airframe no. 3, and the cannibalized fuselage is scrapped in the summer of 1966.
Jan. 4, 1936: The Vought SB2U Vindicator made its first flight. The Vindicator was an American carrier-based dive-bomber developed for the U.S. Navy, the first monoplane in this role. Vindicators still remained in service at the time of the Battle of Midway, but by 1943, all had been withdrawn to training units. It was known as the Chesapeake in Royal Navy service. In 1934, the United States Navy issued a requirement for a new Scout Bomber for carrier use, and received proposals from six manufacturers. The specification was issued in two parts, one for a monoplane, and one for a biplane. Vought submitted designs in both categories, which would become the XSB2U-1 and XSB3U-1 respectively. The biplane was considered alongside the monoplane design as a “hedge” against the Navy’s reluctance to pursue the modern configuration.
The SB2U was evaluated against the Brewster XSBA-1, Curtiss XSBC-3, Great Lakes XB2G-1, Grumman XSBF-1 and Northrop XBT-1. All but the Great Lakes and Grumman submissions were ordered into production. Accepted for operational evaluation on July 2, 1936, the prototype XSB2U-1, BuNo 9725, crashed on Aug. 20, 1936. Its successful completion of trials led to further orders, with 56 SB2U-1s ordered on Oct. 26, 1936, and a further 58 of a slightly modified version, the SB2U-2, on Oct. 6, 1938. The SB2U is prominently featured in the 1941 film Dive Bomber.
The Vindicator served aboard the aircraft carriers USS Saratoga, USS Lexington, USS Ranger and the USS Wasp. The Vindicator also saw service with the U.S. Marine Corps, the French Navy and the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy.
Jan. 4, 1945: The Chase YCG-14 assault glider made its first flight. The CG-14, also known as the G-14 or Model MS.1, was an assault glider manufactured by Chase Aircraft for the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. The aircraft failed to progress beyond the prototype stage, being overtaken by larger, improved glider designs. It was the first aircraft to be developed by Chase after its founding in 1943, the CG-14 was developed in preference to the Laister-Kauffman CG-10. Constructed from marine-grade mahogany, as spruce was being used by the war effort in higher priority projects, the XG-14 featured improved crash protection when compared to preceding gliders. Following successful flight trials the aircraft was developed into two improved versions, the wood-and-metal XCG-14A and the enlarged YCG-14A. The CG-14 was one of the few glider projects to be continued after the end of the war; however, an improved aircraft, the XCG-18, quickly superseded it.
Jan. 4, 1952: The North American XA2J-1 Super Savage made its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. North American Aviation from the smaller AJ Savage developed it.
The XA2J was intended to be a turboprop-powered derivative of the AJ Savage, with the design as initially proposed in December 1947 a simple modification of the Savage, with extensive use of components of the earlier aircraft. The design gradually evolved, however, to improve performance and increase compatibility with operations from aircraft carriers, as it was recognized that the AJ Savage was deficient in performance and was a less-than-satisfactory carrier aircraft.
The competing Douglas XA3D, the prototypes of which were ordered the year after construction had begun on the XA2J prototypes, first flew in October 1952. The A3D had far superior performance, which doomed the XA2J.
Jan. 4, 1957: The Brooklyn Dodgers, a major league baseball team owned by Walter O’Malley, became the first professional sports team to own its own airplane when it placed an order for a Convair 440 Metropolitan airliner. The price was $775,000, and the ball club took delivery of serial number 406 in April. The airplane had been added to an existing order for twenty 440s for Eastern Airlines. It varied from Eastern’s only in the installation of an autopilot. The Dodgers’ pilot was Harry R. “Bump” Holman. He began flying for the team in 1950 as a co-pilot on a Douglas DC-3. The Dodgers flew the Metroliner until 1961 when it was sold for $700,000 and exported to Spain. The ball club replaced it with a Lockheed L-188A Electra purchased from Western Airlines.
Jan. 4, 1966: The XC-142A sustained major damage after falling approximately 25 feet while transitioning from level flight to hover. The crew was uninjured.
Jan. 4, 1996: The Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche, an American advanced five-blade armed reconnaissance and attack helicopter prototype, made its first flight. Following decades of development, the RAH-66 program was canceled in 2004 before mass production began, by which point nearly $7 billion had been spent on the program.
Jan. 5, 1939: After she had been missing for 18 months, Judge Clarence Elliot Craig of the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles County declared Amelia Mary Earhart legally dead in absentia, at the request of her husband, George Palmer Putnam II. She and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while enroute from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, to Howland Island in the Central Pacific, July 2, 1937. George Palmer Putnam and Amelia Earhart had met in 1928 while he was interviewing prospects for a transatlantic flight to be sponsored by Amy Phipps Guest. She was selected to make the flight and became the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean, aboard Donald Woodward’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m, Friendship, which was flown by Wilmer Stutz and Louis Gordon. They were married Feb. 7, 1931 at his parents’ home in Noank, Conn.
Jan. 5, 1949: Capt. Chuck Yeager performed the only conventional ground takeoff of the X-1 program. With a limited amount of fuel he took off from the Rogers Dry Lake bed and accelerated to 23,000 feet. Yeager set an unofficial climbing speed record of more than 13,000 feet per minute in the flight.
Jan. 6, 1928: In Nicaragua, Marine Corps Lt. C. F. Schilt lands a Vought O2U-1 “Corsair” in the street of a Nicaraguan village of Quilali to rescue wounded officers. Two Marine patrols were ambushed and cut off by Sandino forces. Schilt risked his life to make 10 flights into the besieged town, evacuating 18 casualties and carrying in a replacement commander and badly needed medical supplies. To make a landing strip on the village’s rough, rolling, main street, the Marines on the ground had to burn and level part of the town, and since his O2U Corsair biplane had no brakes they had to stop it by dragging from its wings as soon as it touched down. Eighteen servicemen are rescued and, for his bravery, Lt. Schilt is awarded the Medal of Honor.
Jan. 6, 1944: The McDonnell XP-67 “Bat” or “Moonbat” made its first flight. The XP-67 was a prototype for a twin-engine, long-range, single-seat interceptor aircraft for the U.S. Army Air Forces. Although the design was conceptually advanced, it was beset by numerous problems and never approached its anticipated level of performance. The project was cancelled after an engine fire destroyed the sole completed prototype.