Feb. 25, 1929: The world’s first major air evacuation comes to an end when Britain’s Royal Air Force flies out the last of 586 civilians from Kabul to the safety to India. The airlift involves nationals of about 20 countries. The Kabul Airlift was an air evacuation of British and a number of European diplomatic staff and their families conducted by the Royal Air Force from Kabul between Dec. 28, 1928, and Feb. 25, February 1929. The airlift included people of 11 different nationalities being rescued and taken to India. The evacuation was conducted after forces of a bandit, Habibullah Kalakani, attacked Kabul in opposition to the Afghan king, Amanullah, leading to British fears that its legation would be isolated and cut off.
Directed by Sir Geoffrey Salmond, aircraft types available for the airlift of passengers and baggage, included seven Vickers Victoria aircraft, one Handley Page Hinaidi, 24 Airco DH.9As and two Westland Wapitis. The airlift was challenging as it required aircraft to fly over and in-between the Hindu Kush mountains that peaked 10,000 feet, and it also occurred during the bitterly cold winter, but the operation was ultimately successful.
Feb. 25, 1945: The Bell XP-83 makes its first flight. The XP-83 was a United States prototype escort fighter designed by Bell Aircraft during World War II. It first flew in 1945. As an early jet fighter, its limitations included a lack of power, and it was soon eclipsed by more advanced designs. The early jet fighters consumed fuel at a prodigious rate which severely limited their range and endurance.
In March 1944, the U.S. Army Air Forces requested Bell to design a fighter with increased endurance and formally awarded a contract for two prototypes on July 31, 1944. Bell had been working on its “Model 40” interceptor design since 1943. It was redesigned as a long-range escort fighter while retaining the general layout of the P-59 Airacomet. The two General Electric J33-GE-5 turbojet engines were in each wing root which left the large and bulky fuselage free for fuel tanks and armament. The fuselage was an all-metal semi-monocoque capable of carrying 1,150 gallons of fuel.
In addition, two 250-gallon drop tanks could be carried. The cabin was pressurized and used a small and low bubble style canopy. The armament was to be six 0.5-inch machine guns in the nose. Early wind tunnel reports had pinpointed directional instability but the “fix” of a larger tail would not be ready in time for flight
testing. The first prototype was flown by Bell’s chief test pilot, Jack Woolams, who found it to be under-powered and unstable. The limited flight testing provided satisfactory flight characteristics although spins were restricted until the larger tail fin was installed. The second prototype did incorporate the extended tail and an aileron boost system. One unique characteristic was the XP-83’s refusal to slow down due to its sleek aerodynamic shape and lack of drag brakes. This meant that test pilots were forced to fly “stabilized approaches,” i.e. very long and flat landing approaches.
The first prototype was used in 1946 as a ramjet testbed with an engineer’s station located in the fuselage behind the pilot. On Sept. 14, 1946, one of the ramjets caught fire forcing pilot, “Slick” Goodlin and engineer Charles Fay, to bail out. The second prototype flew on Oct. 19 and was later scrapped in 1947. Apart from range, the XP-83 was inferior to the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, and this led to the cancellation of the XP-83 project in 1947.
Feb. 25, 1949: A Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket made a successful rocket-assisted takeoff form the lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The Skyrocket was a rocket and jet-powered research supersonic aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company for the U.S. Navy.
Feb. 25, 1965: The first Douglas DC-9 twin-engine airliner took off from Long Beach Airport on its first flight. In the cockpit were Chief Engineering Test Pilot George R. Jansen, DC-9 Program Test Pilot Paul H. Patten, and Flight Test Engineer Duncan Walker. The flight last 2 hours, 13 minutes, and landed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., where the test program would continue.
Feb. 25, 1975: Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager flew his final Air Force sortie at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in an F-4C Phantom II (s/n 63-7264) before retiring from the service on March 1. Yeager was conducting a safety inspection of Edwards at the time. During his career, General Yeager flew 180 different aircraft types and accumulated 10,131.6 flight hours.
Feb. 26, 1942: Japanese bombers attack the first United States aircraft carrier, USS Langley, CV-1. The Langley was converted in 1920 from the collier USS Jupiter (Navy Fleet Collier No. 3) and was also the U.S. Navy’s first turbo-electric powered ship. While ferrying a cargo of U.S. Army Air Force P-40s to Java, she was attacked by nine twin-engine Japanese bombers of the Japanese 21st and 23rd Naval Air Flotillas and so badly damaged that she had to be scuttled by her escorts.
Feb. 26, 1949: A Boeing B-50A Superfortress named Lucky Lady II, took off from Carswell Air Force Base, Texas, and with inflight refueling, circumnavigated the Earth non-stop, landing back at Carswell on March 2, after 94 hours, one minute. The bomber had traveled 23,452 miles. Lucky Lady II was the backup aircraft for this flight, but became primary when the first B-50, Global Queen, had to abort with engine problems. Four inflight refuelings were required using the looped hose method. Two KB-29M tankers of the 43rd Air Refueling Squadron were placed at air bases along the Lucky Lady II’s route, at the Azores, Saudi Arabia, the Philippine Islands and Hawaiian Islands.
On their arrival at Carswell, the crew of Lucky Lady II was met by Secretary of the Air Force W. Stuart Symington, Jr., Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Roger M. Ramey, commanding 8th Air Force, and Lt. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, Strategic Air Command. Each member of the crew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. They also were awarded the Mackay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year.
On Aug. 13, 1950, at 11:25 a.m., the B-50A with Capt. Warren E. Griffin in command of the aircraft, was on a maintenance test flight and returning to its base, Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Ariz., when all four engines failed. Unable to reach the runways, Griffin landed in the desert approximately two miles southeast. Though the landing gear were down, the bomber was severely damaged with all four propellers bent, the belly dented and its tail breaking off. The 11-man crew were uninjured except for the bombardier, 1st Lt. Theodore Hastings, who was scratched by cactus which entered the cockpit through the broken Plexiglas nose. The Superfortress was damaged beyond economical repair and was stricken from the Air Force inventory. The unrestored fuselage of Lucky Lady II is at the Planes of Fame Air Museum, Chino, Calif.
Feb. 26, 1955: The first supersonic ejection takes place when North American test pilot George F. Smith ejects himself from his diving North American F-100 “Super Sabre” off Laguna Beach, Calif. Smith ejected at 777 mph (Mach 1.05) as the crippled aircraft passed through 6,500 feet in a near-vertical dive. The force of the wind blast hitting him as he came out of the cockpit knocked him unconscious. Estimates are that he was subjected to a 40-G deceleration. His parachute opened automatically, and he came down approximately one-half mile off Laguna Beach. Fortunately, he hit the water very close to a fishing boat crewed by a former U.S. Navy rescue expert.
The F-100 dived into the Pacific Ocean approximately a quarter mile offshore between Dana Point and Laguna Beach. Smith was unconscious for six days, and when he awoke, he was blind in both eyes. After four surgeries and seven months in the hospital, he recovered from his supersonic ejection and returned to flight status.
Feb. 26, 1966: A Saturn IB launch vehicle carried the first complete Block 1 Apollo Command and Service Module on a 37 minute, 19.7 second unmanned suborbital test flight. Liftoff was from Launch Complex 34 at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla. This flight was a demonstration of the combined Apollo Command Module and the Service Module. The Apollo capsule reached a maximum altitude of 305.8 miles and landed near Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, 5,267 miles from Cape Canaveral. The Apollo spacecraft was recovered by USS Boxer. The flight was successful, though several problems occurred. These were identified and corrected on the following production vehicles.
Feb. 27, 1945: The Curtiss XF15C made its first flight. The XF15C-1 was a mixed-propulsion fighter prototype of the 1940s. It was among a number of similar designs ordered by the U.S. Navy before pure-jet aircraft had demonstrated their ability to operate from carriers and the mixed-propulsion designs were abandoned. Only three prototypes were constructed, the first one having crashed in testing while the second was scrapped and the last survives to this day.
Feb. 27, 1956: At Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., NACA chief test pilot Joe Walker made the first local flight of its assigned F-104. This inaugurated 37 continuous years of Starfighter service with NACA’s High Speed Flight Station (HSFS) at Edwards AFB. The Mach 2 fighter type stayed in service with the facility until Feb. 3, 1994.
Feb. 27, 1963: Hughes Tool Company, Aircraft Division, test pilots Raleigh Fletcher and James A. Vittitoe made the first flight of the prototype Model 369, helicopter. The Hughes Model 369 was built in response to a U.S. Army requirement for a Light Observation Helicopter. It was designated YOH-6A, and the first aircraft received U.S. Army serial number 62-4211. It competed with prototypes from Bell Helicopter Company (YOH-4) and Fairchild-Hiller (YOH-5). All three aircraft were powered by a lightweight Allison Engine Company turboshaft engine. The YOH-6A won the three-way competition and was ordered into production as the OH-6A Cayuse. It was nicknamed “Loach,” an acronym of the initials, “L O H.”
Feb. 27, 1970: NASA test pilot William “Bill” Dana flew the rocket-powered HL-10 to more than 90-thousand feet, the highest altitude reached in the HL-10 lifting body flight research program. One of the Edwards History Office file photo shows Bill Dana standing on the lakebed near the HL-10 while the B-52 “mothership” flies overhead; the other photo captures him on the lakebed with the flight crew and aircraft.
Feb. 28, 1927: The Curtiss F7C Seahawk made its first flight. The Seahawk was a carrier-capable biplane fighter aircraft of Marine Corps. The F7C was Curtiss’ first aircraft designed expressly for the Navy, rather than a modified Army type. While clearly a descendant of the P-1 Hawk, its wings were constant chord rather than tapered, and the upper wing had a slight sweepback. After some modification demanded by the Navy, 17 production aircraft F7C-1 Seahawks were built, and entered service in the U.S. Marine Corps’ VF-5M at Quantico, Va. In 1930 VF-9M organized the Marines’ first aerobatic stunt team, “The Red Devils,” with F7Cs featuring red painted noses. They continued in service until 1933.
Feb. 28, 1946: Republic Aircraft Corporation’s XP-84 Thunderjet made its first flight, flown by Republic test pilot Wallace A. “Wally” Lien. The single-engine straight-winged fighter was the first of a highly successful series of fighters, ground attack and reconnaissance aircraft which served the U.S. Air Force and NATO for many years.
Feb. 28, 1962: Chief Warrant Officer Edward J. Murray was successfully ejected from a B-58 flown by Maj. “Fitz” Fulton at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to become the first human to test a sealed escape capsule.
Feb. 28, 1964: The first flight of an accelerated Category II test program of the North American YAT-28E took place. The aircraft was a T-28 Trojan heavily modified to a ground attack/trainer configuration for counter-insurgency warfare.
Feb. 28, 1991: Operation Desert Storm concluded as President George H.W. Bush declared, “Kuwait is liberated, Iraq’s army is defeated,” and announced that the allies would suspend combat operations at midnight, Eastern Time. On Aug. 2, 1990, the Iraqi Army invaded and occupied Kuwait, which was met with international condemnation and brought immediate economic sanctions against Iraq by members of the UN Security Council. UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. president George H. W. Bush deployed forces into Saudi Arabia and urged other countries to send their own forces to the scene. An array of nations joined the coalition, forming the largest military alliance since World War II.
Most of the coalition’s military forces were from the US, with Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and Egypt as leading contributors, in that order. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia paid around US $32 billion of the US$60 billion cost. The initial conflict to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait began with an aerial and naval bombardment on Jan. 17, 1991, continuing for five weeks. This was followed by a ground assault on Feb. 24. This was a decisive victory for the coalition forces, who liberated Kuwait and advanced into Iraqi territory. The coalition ceased its advance and declared a ceasefire 100 hours after the ground campaign started.
Aerial and ground combat was confined to Iraq, Kuwait, and areas on Saudi Arabia’s border. Iraq launched Scud missiles against Israel and coalition targets in Saudi Arabia.
Feb. 28, 1998: It was a chilly Saturday morning when the RQ-4A Global Hawk Block-20 UAV took-off autonomously for its first flight. The unmanned aircraft flew a pre-programmed mission plan and remained in Edwards’ airspace before landing an hour later, because the FAA hadn’t yet given approval to operate the UAV in non-military airspace. Over the next few years, the world’s first fully autonomous long-range, high-altitude surveillance and reconnaissance UAV won the Collier Trophy as the nation’s greatest achievement in aeronautics for 2000. The platform showed so much promise that the ongoing test program was interrupted when it deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations to support coalition forces in Afghanistan while the aircraft was still in development.
March 1, 1912: Capt. Albert Berry makes the first parachute descent from a powered airplane in America when he jumps from a Benoist aircraft that is being flown by the company pilot, Anthony Jannus. The aircraft is flying at a height of 1,500 feet over Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Mo. The 36-foot diameter parachute was contained in a metal canister attached to the underside of the plane — when Berry dropped from the plane his weight pulled the parachute from the canister. Rather than being attached to the parachute by a harness Berry was seated on a trapeze bar. According to Berry he dropped 400 feet before the parachute opened.
March 1, 1946: Gen. Carl Spaatz became commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces, taking over from Gen. Hap Arnold. As commander of Strategic Air Forces in Europe in 1944, he successfully pressed for the bombing of the enemy’s oil production facilities as a priority over other targets. He became Chief of Staff of the newly formed U.A. Air Force in 1947. Spaatz had been present at Reims when the Germans surrendered to the Americans on May 7, 1945; at Berlin when they surrendered to the Soviets on May 8; and aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered on Sept. 2. He was the only man of general rank or equivalent present at all three of these acts of surrender.
March 2, 1918: Lloyd Andrews Hamilton becomes the first American to receive a commission in the British Royal Flying Corps when he is assigned as lieutenant with No. 3 squadron in France. During his service with the Royal Flying Corps, he achieved Ace status with five confirmed kills. Hamilton was later assigned to the U.S. Air Service’s 17th Aero Squadron. During his USAS service he downed three enemy aircraft and two observation balloons, becoming a double ace —once flying under RFC command and once again for USAS. Hamilton was killed on Aug. 24, 1918, aged 24, when his aircraft was hit by defensive fire from German ground forces.
March 2, 1962: The Air Force Flight Test Center was assigned responsibility for the Boeing X-20 air launch flight test program. It was planned that the Dyna-Soar space vehicle would be airdropped from a B-52 carrier aircraft to acquire stability, control, performance, and systems reliability data. This Edwards History Office file photo is of the Dyna-Soar mockup. The program was cancelled before the vehicle was ever produced.
March 2, 1969: The first supersonic airliner prototype, Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde Aircraft 001, registration F-WTSS, made its first flight, taking off from Runway 33 at the AÈroport de Toulouse-Blagnac, Toulouse, France. On the flight deck were André Édouard Marcel Turcat, Henri Perrier, Michel Retif and Jacques Guinard. The flight lasted 27 minutes. Throughout the flight, the “droop nose” and landing gear remained lowered. Concorde was the only commercial airliner capable of cruising at supersonic speeds.
There were two Concorde prototypes (the British Aerospace Corporation built Concorde 002) followed by two pre-production developmental aircraft and sixteen production airliners.
March 2, 1978: Maj. Charles Thomas Fulop and 1st Lt. William A. Stone departed George Air Force Base, Calif., in a Republic F-105G Thunderchief call sign “Thud 71.” Their mission was a routine instrument training flight, making instrument approaches and departures at NAS Point Mugu on the Southern California coast, then return to George AFB. The weather surrounding Point Mugu was poor, with heavy clouds, rain, and fog. Thud 71 made an instrument approach to the airfield and then initiated a missed approach, a normal procedure for a training flight.
However, while climbing out, the pilot, Fulop, radioed Mugu Approach Control that he had a problem and requested an immediate return to George AFB. His request was approved. Approach Control then lost the fighter bomber’s radar transponder signal.
Fulop declared an emergency and requested an immediate return to Point Mugu for landing. He stated that the altimeter had failed and that he was trying to climb above the clouds. Moments later, witnesses in Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park saw the F-105 diving out of the overcast. Fulop initiated the ejection sequence for the Electronics Warfare Officer, Stone, in the back seat. Stone was ejected and parachuted to safety. He suffered a broken arm. The witnesses said that the pilot was obviously steering the Thunderchief away from homes surrounding the open space of Wildwood Regional Park. Thud 71 crashed on the west side of Hill Canyon. The airplane exploded on impact and Fulop was killed.
March 3, 1911: With Capt. Benjamin D. Foulois navigating a course and Phillip Parmelee at the controls, the Wright “Type B” on loan from Robert F. Collier sets an official United States cross-country record from Laredo to Eagle Pass, Texas. It flies the 106 miles in two hours 10 minutes. The flight was the first official military reconnaissance flight.
March 3, 1969: At 11 a.m., EST, Apollo 9 Saturn V, the second manned Saturn V rocket, launches from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla. Aboard are astronauts U.S. Air Force Col. James Alton McDivitt, the Spacecraft Commander; U.S.Air Force Col. David Randolph Scott, Command Module Pilot; and Russell “Rusty” Schweickart (formerly an Air Force pilot), Lunar Module Pilot.
McDivitt and Scott were on their second space flight. Schweickert was on his first. The 10-day Earth orbital mission is used to test docking-undocking with the lunar module, and to certify the LM as flight-worthy. This was necessary before the program could proceed to the next phase: the Moon.
March 3, 1969: The U.S. Navy establishes its Fighter Weapons School at Naval Air Station Miramar, Calif., to improve its fighter pilots’ dogfighting skills. The school will become popularly known as “TOPGUN.”
For more on TOPGUN, visit https://www.aerotechnews.com/blog/2022/02/07/topguns-humble-beginnings-in-a-parking-lot-revealed/ or https://www.aerotechnews.com/blog/2022/02/07/ingrained-evolution-howtopgun-keeps-its-edge/