Feb. 11, 1939: Shortly after its first flight, 1st Lt. Benjamin Kelsey, U.S. Army Air Corps, took the prototype Lockheed XP-38 on a record-breaking transcontinental flight from March Field, Calif., to Mitchel Field, N.Y. Kelsey departed March Field at 6:32 a.m. and flew to Amarillo, Texas, for the first of two refueling stops. Remaining on the ground for 22 minutes, Kelsey headed to Wright Field, for his second refueling stop.
Kelsey arrived at Mitchel Field, New York at 4:55 p.m., EST, but other airplanes in the traffic pattern delayed his landing. On approach, the XP-38 was behind several slower training planes, so Kelsey throttled back the engines. When he tried to throttle up, the carburetor venturis iced and the engines would not accelerate, remaining at idle. The airplane crashed on a golf course short of the airport.
The total elapsed time was 7 hours, 45 minutes, 36 seconds but Kelsey’s actual flight time was 7 hours, 36 seconds. The prototype had averaged 340 mph and had reached 420 mph during the Wright Field-to-Mitchel Field segment.
Kelsey’s transcontinental flight failed to break the transcontinental speed record set two years earlier by Howard R. Hughes by 17 minutes, 11 seconds. It should be noted, however, that Hughes H-1 Racer flew non-stop from coast to coast, while the XP-38 required two time-consuming fuel stops.
The XP-38 was damaged beyond repair, but its performance on the transcontinental flight was so impressive that the Air Corps ordered 13 YP-38s from Lockheed.
Feb. 11, 1945: The Consolidated Vultee XP-81 made its first flight at Muroc Army Airfield, Calif. Two prototype aircraft were ordered on Feb. 11, 1944, that were designated XP-81. The engine selection was an attempt to couple the high-speed capability of the jet engine with the endurance offered by the propeller engine. The XP-81 was designed to use the General Electric TG-100 turboprop engine (later designated XT31 by the U.S. military) in the nose, driving a four-bladed propeller and a GE J33 turbojet in the rear fuselage. The turboprop would be used for normal flight and cruising and the turbojet added for high-speed flight.
The first XP-81 (serial 44-91000) was completed in January 1945 but because of developmental problems the turboprop engine was not ready for installation. A decision was then made to mount a complete V-1650-7 engine package from a P-51D aircraft in place of the turboprop for initial flight tests. This was done in a week and the Merlin-powered XP-81 was sent to the Muroc. During 10 flight test hours, the XP-81 displayed good handling characteristics except for inadequate directional stability due to the longer forward portion of the fuselage (this was rectified by enlarging the vertical tail). While 13 YP-81 pre-production aircraft had been ordered, the capture of Guam and Saipan eliminated the need for long-range, high-speed escort fighters and then, just before VJ Day the contract was cancelled, after 85 percent of the engineering was completed. The YP-81 was to be essentially the same as the prototype but with a lighter and more powerful GE TG-110 (XT41) turboprop engine, the wing moved aft 10 inches (0.25 m), and armament of either six .50 caliber machine guns or six 20 mm cannon.
After the XP-81 was returned to Vultee Field, the TG-100 turboprop was installed and flight-testing resumed, including the first flight by an American turboprop-powered aircraft on Dec. 21, 1945. However, the turboprop engine was not able to produce its designed power; producing only the same output as the Merlin (1,490hp or 1112 kW) with the resultant performance limited to that of the Merlin-engine version. With the termination of hostilities, the two prototypes continued to be tested until 1947 when they were both consigned to a bombing range as photography targets.
Feb. 11, 1975: Mission control personnel used the new automated flight test data system operationally for the first time, to monitor the third test sortie of the B1-A Lancer.
Feb. 11, 2006: Steve Fossett set the absolute world record for “distance without landing” by flying his GlobalFlyer from the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., around the world eastbound, then upon returning to Florida, continuing across the Atlantic a second time to land in Bournemouth, England. The official distance was 25,766 statute miles and the duration was 76 hours 45 minutes.
This was Fossett’s second of three record breaking flights. The first was Feb. 28 to March 3, 2005, when he took off from Salina, Kansas, returning to Salina after 67 hours, 1 minute and 10 seconds. The third was in March 2005, when Fossett made a third flight around the world in order to break the absolute record for “Distance over a closed circuit without landing” (with takeoff and landing at the same airport). He took off from Salinas on March 14, 2006, and returned on March 17, 2006 after flying 25,262 statute miles. His aircraft, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, had a carbon fiber reinforced plastic airframe with a single Williams FJ44 turbofan engine. It was designed and built by Burt Rutan and his company, Scaled Composites, for long-distance solo flight. The fuel fraction, the weight of the fuel divided by the weight of the aircraft at take-off, was 83 percent.
There are only seven absolute world records for fixed-wing aircraft recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and Fossett broke three of them in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer. Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager previously held all three records, from their flight in the Voyager in 1986. Fossett contributed the GlobalFlyer to the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection. It is on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Fossett flew the plane to the Center and taxied the plane to the front door.
Feb. 12, 1959: The last B-36J built and the last one in operational U.S. Air Force service, Serial Number. 52-2827, left Biggs Air Force Base, Texas, where it had been on duty with the 95th Heavy Bombardment Wing, and flown to Amon Carter Field in Fort Worth, where it was put on display. The scrapping of the B-36 began in February 1956 with the aircraft being replaced with the B-52. Within two years, all B-36s, except five used for museum display, had been scrapped at Davis–Monthan AFB, Ariz. The aircraft is now on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum.
Feb. 12, 1962: NASA test pilot Milton “Mitt” Thompson made the first flight of the Paraglider Research Vehicle (Parasev) at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The unique craft was developed to explore the concept of returning Gemini and Apollo spacecraft to Earth using a hang-glider type wing. Gus Grissom is on the left of the photograph.
Feb. 12, 1973: A U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter, tail number 66-0177 from Norton Air Force Base, Calif., and nicknamed the Hanoi Taxi landed in Hanoi, North Vietnam, as part of Operation Homecoming – the mission to return prisoners of war from Vietnam. There were 40 former POWs on that first flight. One of the POWs on the first flight was Navy Cmdr. Everett Alvarez Jr., the first American pilot to be shot down in North Vietnam and, by the war’s end, the second longest-held POW there. Alvarez had spent eight-and-a-half years in captivity.
Feb. 13, 1943: The Vought F4U Corsair made its operational debut in the Solomon Islands. Flown by the U.S. Marine Corps’ Fighter Attack Squadron-124, the aircraft assisted P40s and P-38s in escorting a formation of Consolidated B-24 Liberators on a raid against a Japanese airfield at Kahili.
Feb. 14, 1953: The Bell X-1A made it first glide flight, flown by Bell test pilot Jean Ziegler. This second-generation aircraft was designed with twice the performance potential of its predecessors, in order to investigate aerodynamic phenomena at altitudes above 90,000 feet and speeds beyond Mach 2.
Feb. 14, 1990: Voyager 1 took the first “family portrait” of the Solar System as seen from outside, which includes the image of planet Earth known as Pale Blue Dot. Soon afterward, its cameras were deactivated to conserve energy and computer resources for other equipment. The camera software has been removed from the spacecraft, so it would now be complex to get them working again. Earth-side software and computers for reading the images are also no longer available. Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA on Sept. 5, 1977, as part of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System and interstellar space beyond the Sun’s heliosphere. Launched 16 days after its twin, Voyager 2, Voyager 1 has been operating for more than 44 years, and still communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and to transmit data to Earth. Real-time distance and velocity data is provided by NASA and JPL. At a distance of 14.483 billion miles from Earth as of January 21, 2022, it is the most distant artificial object from Earth. The probe made flybys of Jupiter, Saturn and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. As part of the Voyager program and like its sister craft Voyager 2, the spacecraft’s extended mission is to locate and study the regions and boundaries of the outer heliosphere and to begin exploring the interstellar medium. Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause and entered interstellar space on Aug. 25, 2012, making it the first spacecraft to do so.
Feb. 14, 2012: The Boeing YAL-1A Airborne Laser Test Bed departed Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for the last time as it headed for The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed weapons system was a megawatt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser mounted inside the modified Boeing 747-400F. It was primarily designed as a missile defense system to destroy tactical ballistic missiles while in boost phase. The YAL-1 with a low-power laser was test-fired in flight at an airborne target in 2007. A high-energy laser was used to intercept a test target in January 2010, and the following month, successfully destroyed two test missiles. Funding for the program was cut in 2010 and In December 2011 it was reported that the project was to be ended after 16 years of development and a cost of over $5 billion. The aircraft was ultimately scrapped in September 2014 after all usable parts were removed.
Feb. 15, 1941: The Curtiss XP-46, a U.S. prototype fighter aircraft, made its first flight. It was a development of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation in an effort to introduce the best features found in European fighter aircraft in 1939 into a fighter aircraft which could succeed the Curtiss P-40, then in production. A U.S. Army Air Corps specification, based upon a Curtiss proposal, was the basis for an order placed in September 1939 for the XP-46. The requirements called for a single-engine, low-wing aircraft, slightly smaller than the P-40, and with a wide-track, inward-retracting landing gear. The selected powerplant was a 1,150 hp Allison V-1710-39 V-12 engine. The planned armament included two .50 inch synchronized machine guns in the forward fuselage and provisions for eight .30 inch wing-mounted guns. The USAAC later added requirements for self-sealing fuel tanks and 65 pounds of armor, the weights of which were to adversely affect performance. In 1940 the British Purchasing Commission placed an order for the P-46 as a replacement for the P-40, the name ‘Kittyhawk’ being allocated by the Air Ministry in anticipation of receiving the aircraft. However, the U.S. Army Air Corps asked Curtiss in July 1940 — while the XP-46 prototypes were under construction — to prioritize an upgraded P-40, featuring the engine intended for the XP-46. This would also avoid disruptions to the production line caused by any switch to a new airframe. The British order for the P-46 was later cancelled, and the ‘Kittyhawk’ name subsequently applied to the upgraded P-40. Two prototypes, designated XP-46A, were nevertheless delivered to the U.S. Army. The type’s performance during trials was found to be inferior to the then-contemporary P-40D. As the P-46 offered no significant improvement on the P-40, the program was cancelled.
Feb. 15, 1946: The Douglas XC-112A made its first flight. In 1944, the U.S. Army Air Corps had requested a faster, higher-flying variant of the Douglas C-54E Skymaster, with a pressurized cabin. Douglas Aircraft Company developed the XC-112A in response. It was completed Feb. 11, 1946, and made its first flight fou4 days later. With the end of World War II, military requirements were scaled back and no orders for the type were placed. Douglas saw a need for a new post-war civil airliner to compete with the Lockheed L-049 Constellation. Based on the XC-112A, the prototype Douglas DC-6 was built and made its first flight four months later, June 29, 1946. The Air Force ordered the 26th production Douglas DC-6 as a presidential transport, designated VC-118, The Independence. Beginning in 1951, the Air Force ordered a variant of the DC-6A as the C-118A Liftmaster military transport and MC-118A medical transport. The U.S. Navy ordered it as the R6D-1. A pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and a navigator flew the Douglas DC-6 on longer flights. It was designed to carry between 48 and 68 passengers, depending on variant.
Feb. 15, 1958: The first Convair B-58 Hustler (s/n 55-665) arrived at the Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for Phase IV testing, concluding a combined delivery and flight test. The four-engine delta winged aircraft was the world’s first bomber designed to sustain supersonic speeds during its mission profile.
Feb. 16, 1932: The Glenn L. Martin Co. Model 123, designated XB-907 by the U. S. Army Air Corps made its maiden flight. The prototype was tested at Wright Field. The airplane reached a maximum speed of 197 miles per hour at 6,000 feet. Recommendations for modifications were made, and Martin upgraded the prototype to the XB-907A configuration (Martin Model 139), which was then designated XB-10 by the Air Corps, with the serial number 33-139. Martin increased the XB-907A’s wingspan from 62 feet, 2 inches to 70 feet, 7 inches, and the engines were upgraded. The Army then ordered 48 production airplanes. The XB-907 would be developed into the Martin B-10 bomber.
Feb. 16, 1944: The Curtiss SC Seahawk made its first flight at the Columbus, Ohio Curtiss plant. The Seahawk was a scout seaplane designed by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company for the U.S. Navy. The Seahawk gradually replaced the existing Curtiss SO3C Seamew and Vought OS2U Kingfisher in the late stages of the war and into peacetime. Work began in June 1942, following a Navy Bureau of Aeronautics request for observation seaplane proposals. Curtiss submitted the Seahawk design on Aug. 1, 1942, with a contract for two prototypes and five service test aircraft awarded on Aug. 25. A production order for 500 SC-1s followed in June 1943, prior to the first flight of the prototypes. Flight-testing continued through April 28 April, when the last of the seven pre-production aircraft took to the air. Nine further prototypes were later built, with a second seat and modified cockpit, under the designation SC-2; series production was not undertaken.
The first serial production Seahawks were delivered on Oct. 22, 1944, to the USS Guam. All 577 aircraft eventually produced for the Navy were delivered on conventional landing gear and flown to the appropriate Naval Air Station, where floats were fitted for service as needed. Capable of being fitted with either float or wheeled landing gear, the Seahawk was arguably America’s best floatplane scout of World War II. However, its protracted development time meant it entered service too late to see significant action in the war. It was not until June 1945, during the pre-invasion bombardment of Borneo, that the Seahawk was involved in military action. By the end of the war, seaplanes were becoming less desirable, with the Seahawk being replaced soon afterward by helicopters.
Feb. 16, 1965: Following two months of repair and modification, the Category I test team flew the North American XB-70 Valkyrie to a speed of Mach 1.6. During this flight, piloted by Joe Cotton, the Air Induction System was adjusted and the hinged wing tips folded full down to 65 degrees for the first time.
Feb. 17, 1956: With test pilot Herman Richard “Fish” Salmon at the controls, the Lockheed YF-104A service test prototype made its first flight. The aircraft, the first of 17 pre-production YF-104As, incorporated many improvements over the XF-104 prototype, the most visible being a longer fuselage. On Feb. 28, 1956, YF-104A 55-2955 became the first aircraft to reach Mach 2 in level flight. The YF-104A was later converted to the production standard and redesignated F-104A. The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was a single-place, single-engine, Mach 2 interceptor, and was designed by a team lead by the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson. Lockheed built 153 of the F-104A Starfighter initial production version. Lockheed and its licensees, Canadair, Fiat, Fokker, MBB, Messerschmitt, Mitsubishi and SABCA, produced a total of 2,578 F-104s of all variants. By 1969, the F-104A had been retired from service. The last Starfighter, an Aeritalia-built F-104S ASA/M of the Aeronautica Militare Italiana, was retired in October 2004.
Feb. 17-18, 1962: At Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Maj. Walter Fletcher Daniel set four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale time-to-altitude records with a Northrop T-38A-40-NO Talon, serial number 61-0849. The supersonic trainer reached 9,843 feet in 35.624 seconds; 19,685 feet in 51.429 seconds; 29,528 feet in 1 minute, 04.758 seconds; and 39,370 feet in 1 minute, 35.610 seconds. The Northrop T-38 was the world’s first supersonic flight trainer. Between 1959 and 1972, Northrop built 1,187 T-38s at its Hawthorne, Calif., factory. The record-setting T-38, 61-0849, was retired to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., in 1993. It was later removed from storage and assigned to the 415th Flight Test Flight, Randolph Air Force Base, and Texas, where it remained until March 2007. The aircraft is now at the Air Force Flight Test Museum, Edwards AFB.