March 11, 1918: Lt. Paul Baer becomes the first AEF Air Service member awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Baer was an American fighter pilot for the U.S. Army Air Service in World War I. He was credited with nine confirmed victories and seven unconfirmed victory claims. Baer joined the Lafayette Flying Corps in 1917, being posted to Escadrille N.80 from August 1917 to January 1918.
He transferred to the Lafayette Escadrille in January 1918 to transition into the 103rd Aero Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Service. He scored his first aerial victory for the 103rd, on March 11, 1918; it was the first triumph by a pilot of an Air Service unit. Baer scored his fifth victory on April 23, 1918, making him the first Air Service ace.
However, Baer was not the first American ace; that honor went to the Frederick Libby, who flew as an observer/gunner with the Royal Flying Corps. He continued to score; on May 22, he brought down his ninth victim to lead all American pilots. However, he was shot down during this victory, and fell into German hands. He would remain a prisoner of war until after the armistice. If his seven unconfirmed wins had been verified, he would have been one of the leading American aces.
March 11, 1958: A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-47E-LM Stratojet accidently drops a nuclear bomb onto a family home in Mars Bluff, S.C. The aircraft was scheduled to fly to the United Kingdom and then to North Africa as part of Operation Snow Flurry. The aircraft was carrying nuclear weapons on board in the event of war with the Soviet Union breaking out. Air Force Capt. Bruce Kulka, who was the navigator and bombardier, was summoned to the bomb bay area after the captain of the aircraft, Capt. Earl Koehler, had encountered a fault light in the cockpit indicating that the bomb harness locking pin did not engage.
As Kulka reached around the bomb to pull himself up, he mistakenly grabbed the emergency release pin. The Mark 6 nuclear bomb dropped to the bomb bay doors of the B-47 and the weight forced the doors open, sending the bomb 15,000 feet down to the ground below. Two sisters, six-year-old Helen and nine-year-old Frances Gregg, along with their nine-year-old cousin Ella Davies, were playing 200 yards from a playhouse in the woods that had been built for them by their father Walter Gregg, who had served as a paratrooper during World War II.
The bomb struck the playhouse. Its conventional high explosives detonated, destroying the playhouse, and leaving a crater about 70 feet wide and 35 feet deep. Fortunately, the fissile nuclear core was stored elsewhere on the aircraft. The explosion injured all three girls, as were Walter, his wife Effie and son Walter, Jr. Seven nearby buildings were damaged.
The family of the victims, who received $54,000, sued the United States Air Force. The incident made domestic and international headlines.
March 11, 1974: Lt. Hiroo Onoda, an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who fought in World War II and was a Japanese holdout, surrendered. After the war ended, Onoda spent 29 years hiding out in Philippines until his former commander travelled from Japan to formally relieve him from duty by order of Emperor Shiwa in 1974. He held the rank of second lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army. In this photograph, Onoda is seen handing his military samurai sword to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.
March 12, 1917: A German submarine sinks an unarmed U.S. merchant ship, the steamship Algonquin on the same day that President Woodrow Wilson gives executive order to arm U.S. merchant ships. Algonquin was one of the first American merchant ships to leave the U.S. after Germany had announced its submarine blockade. She left New York on Feb. 20, carrying food stuffs. She flew the U.S. flag, and had the flag painted on her side. About 65 miles off the coast of the Isles of Scilly, she encountered a German U-boat. The U-boat fired about 20 shells from a distance of 4,000 yards. These failed to sink the ship, so men from the submarine boarded the ship and detonated bombs to sink her. The crew of 26 men, put off in small boats and after 27 hours, landed on the English coast.
March 12, 1944: In order to protect airmen forced to abandon aircraft at high altitudes, a two-month study began at Muroc Army Air Field on the magnitude and duration of the forces involved in parachute openings at various altitudes and airspeeds. This was the AMC Parachute Dropping Program, directed by the chief, Aero Medical Laboratory, Lt. Col. W. Randolph Lovelace II.
March 12, 1947: The Douglas Cloudster II made its first flight. The Cloudster II was an American prototype five-seat light aircraft of the late 1940s. It was of unusual layout, with two buried piston engines driving a single pusher propeller. Only a single example was built, which flew only twice, as it proved too expensive to be commercially viable.
March 12, 1998: The X-38 made its first drop test. The X-38 was a spacecraft design planned for use as a future International Space Station emergency crew return lifeboat. Flight research with the X-38 at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, now Armstrong FRC, began with an unpiloted captive-carry flight in which the vehicle remained attached to its future launch vehicle, Dryden’s B-52 008. There were four captive flights in 1997 and three in 1998, plus the first drop test on March 12, 1998, using the parachutes and parafoil.
Further captive and drop tests occurred in 1999. In March 2000 Vehicle 132 completed its third and final free flight in the highest, fastest, and longest X-38 flight to date. It was released at an altitude of 39,000 feet and flew freely for 45 m-seconds, reaching a speed of over 500 miles per hour before deploying its parachutes for a landing on Rogers Dry Lakebed. The X-38 project cancellation was announced on April 29, 2002, as a cost-cutting measure.
March 13, 1969: Apollo 9 ends after a 10-day test of the Lunar Module in Earth’s lower orbit. Apollo 9 was the third human spaceflight in NASA’s Apollo program. Flown in low Earth orbit, it was the second crewed Apollo mission that the United States launched on a Saturn V rocket and was the first flight of the full Apollo spacecraft: the command and service module (CSM) with the Lunar Module (LM).
The mission was flown to qualify the LM for lunar orbit operations to prepare for the first Moon landing by demonstrating its descent and ascent propulsion systems, showing that its crew could fly it independently, then rendezvous and dock with the CSM again, as would be required for the first crewed lunar landing. Other objectives of the flight included firing the LM descent engine to propel the spacecraft stack as a backup mode (as would be required on the Apollon 13 mission), and use of the portable life support system backpack outside the LM cabin.
The three-man crew consisted of Commander James McDivitt, Command Module Pilot David Scott, and Lunar Module Pilot Rusty Schweickart. During the 10-day mission, they tested systems and procedures critical to landing on the Moon, including the LM engines, backpack life support systems, navigation systems and docking maneuvers. After launching on March 3, 1969, the crew performed the first crewed flight of a lunar module, the first docking and extraction of the same, one two-person spacewalk (EVA), and the second docking of two crewed spacecraft. The mission concluded on March 13 and was a complete success. It proved the LM worthy of crewed spaceflight, setting the stage for the dress rehearsal for the lunar landing, Apollo 10, before the ultimate goal, landing on the Moon.
March 14, 1918: The first aerial patrol by the First Pursuit Group is flown in France.
March 14, 1947: The Lockheed L-749 Constellation made its first flight and received certification that same month. The L-749 was a derivative of its L-649 Constellation with fuel tanks to increase its maximum range by 1,000 statute miles. In March 1947, 1,200 jobs were lost at Lockheed, bringing production of the aircraft to a near stand-still. This was due to the end of military production from World War II bringing a reduction in the number of needed workers.
A large order from the U.S. Air Force for 10 L-749As, designated C-121 Constellation, saved the Constellation program from cancellation. The U.S. Navy followed in, ordering two L-749As as PO-1Ws (later WV-1s). The first L-749A off the production lines were destined for the military. Production of the L-749A ended in 1951 to give way to its stretched successor, the L-1049 Super Constellation.
March 15, 1957: A United States Navy ZPG-2 non-rigid airship sets a new unrefueled endurance record when it lands at Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., having remained aloft for 264 hours, 12 minutes, beating the record set by the Graf Zeppelin in 1929. The airship departed NAS South Weymouth, Mass., on March 4, reaching the south-west tip of Portugal by the evening of March 7 despite adverse headwinds for some of the way, passed by Casablanca, Morocco, on the morning of March 8, then turned back westwards over the Cape Verde Islands towards the Caribbean Sea, eventually landing at NAS Key West, Fla., on the evening of March 15. The flight had covered a distance of 9,448 miles in 264.2 hours, and had not only broken the lighter-than-air distance record of 6,980 miles set by the Graf Zeppelin rigid airship in 1929 but also the aircraft endurance record without refueling.
March 15, 1959: The first B-52G arrived at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for an 800-hour Category III systems reliability test.
March 15, 1966: The Lockheed C-141A Starlifter began Air Drop Mode Evaluation flights. The objective was to evaluate the transport’s airdrop capability in terms of accuracy, effects of airdrop maneuvers on accuracy, and operational considerations.
March 15, 1967: The first Sikorsky HH-53B, 66-14428, made its maiden flight at Stratford, Connecticut. In the cockpit were Sikorsky test pilots James R. (“Dick”) Wright and Patrick A. Guinn. The helicopter would be called the “Super Jolly Green Giant.” A variant of the UnitedS tates Navy/Marine Corps CH-53A Sea Stallion, the Super Jolly Green Giant was the largest, most powerful, and fastest helicopter in the United States Air Force inventory. Configured for combat search and rescue and special operations, the HH-53B was equipped for inflight refueling and was armed with three General Electric GAU/2A 7.62 mm miniguns or .50-caliber Browning machine guns. The HH-53B can be visually distinguished from other H-53s by the two diagonal sponson support struts on each side of the fuselage.
March 15, 2007: The YAL-1 Airborne Laser conducted the first in-flight test firings of its Target Illuminator Laser (TIL). Multiple beams of photons were directed against an NKC-135E Big Crow target aircraft off the California coastline. The kilowatt-class TILtracks a potential target and measures atmospheric turbulence for the YAL-1’s main weapon, the megawatt-class COIL.
March 16, 1926: Robert Goddard launches the first liquid-fueled rocket near Auburn, Mass. Goddard was an American engineer, professor, physicist, and inventor who is credited with creating and building the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket. Goddard successfully launched his rocket on March 16, 1926, which ushered in an era of space flight and innovation. He and his team launched 34 rockets between 1926 and 1941, achieving altitudes as high as 1.6 miles and speeds as fast as 550 mph.
Goddard’s work as both theorist and engineer anticipated many of the developments that would make spaceflight possible, and he has been called the man who ushered in the Space Age. Two of Goddard’s 214 patented inventions, a multi-stage rocket (1914), and a liquid-fuel rocket (1914), were important milestones toward spaceflight.
Although his work in the field was revolutionary, Goddard received little public support, moral or monetary, for his research and development work. He was a shy person, and rocket research was not considered a suitable pursuit for a physics professor. The press and other scientists ridiculed his theories of spaceflight. As a result, he became protective of his privacy and his work. He preferred to work alone also because of the aftereffects of a bout with tuberculosis.
Years after his death, at the dawn of the Space Age, Goddard came to be recognized as one of the founding fathers of modern rocketry, along with Robert Esnault-Pelterie, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and Hermann Oberth. He not only recognized early on the potential of rockets for atmospheric research, ballistic missiles and space travel but also was the first to scientifically study, design, construct and fly the precursory rockets needed to eventually implement those ideas.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center was named in Goddard’s honor in 1959. He was also inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame in 1966, and the International Space Hall of Fame in 1976.
March 16, 1947: The Convair CV-240 made its first flight. The CV-240 was an American airliner that Convair manufactured from 1947 to 1954, initially as a possible replacement for the ubiquitous Douglas Douglas DC-3. Featuring a more modern design with cabin pressurization, the 240 series made some inroads as a commercial airliner and had a long development cycle that produced various civil and military variants. Though reduced in numbers by attrition, various forms of the “Convairliner” continue to fly in the 21st century. In this photograph, a CV-240 is on display at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, Calif.
March 16, 1966: During Gemini VIII, American astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and David Scott performed the first orbital docking of their spacecraft to an Agena target vehicle, becoming the first coupling of two spacecraft. This was a critical task to master before attempting to land on the Moon, a mission that required several dockings and undockings of spacecraft.
March 16, 1976: The F-1 control-figured vehicle (CCV) flight test program began. The first prototype had been fitted with a pair of canards and an auxiliary flight control computer. The CCV program explored the use of non-conventional flight modes to enhance the operational capabilities of modern, high-performance fighters.
March 17, 1937: Amelia Earhart, flying her Electra 10E Special, left the Oakland Municipal Airport in California heading for Honolulu, Hawaii, on the first leg of her round-the-world flight attempt. On board, along with Earhart, were her friend and adviser, Albert Paul Mantz, navigator Frederick J. Noonan and radio operator/navigator Harry Manning.
Due to lubrication and galling problems with the propeller hubs’ variable pitch mechanisms, the aircraft needed servicing in Hawaii. Ultimately, the Electra ended up at the U.S. Navy’s Luke Field on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. The flight was due to resume three days later from Luke Field with Earhart, Noonan and Manning on board, heading to Howland Island, a small island in the Pacific. The flight never left Luke Field. During the takeoff run, there was an uncontrolled groundloop, the forward landing gear collapsed, both propellers hit the ground, the plane skidded on its belly, and a portion of the runway was damaged.
The cause of the ground-loop is controversial. Some witnesses at Luke Field, including the Associated Press journalist, said they saw a tire blow. Earhart thought either the Electra’s right tire had blown and/or the right landing gear had collapsed. Some sources, including Mantz, cited pilot error. With the aircraft severely damaged, the flight was called off and the aircraft was shipped by sea to the Lockheed Burbank in Southern California facility for repairs. In this photograph, Earhart and her crew pose in front of the Electra. From left: Paul Mantz, co-pilot; Earhart, pilot; Captain Harry Manning, radio operator/navigator; and Captain Frederick J. Noonan, also a navigator, at Oakland Municipal Airport, Calif.
March 17, 1947: The prototype of the United States first jet-powered bomber, the North American Aviation XB-45 Tornadomade a one-hour first flight at Muroc Army Airfield in Southern
California with company test pilot George William Krebs at the controls. The XB-45 was a four-engine prototype bomber. The B-45 served with both the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force. A total of 143 were built, including the three XB-45 prototypes.
March 17, 1954: A special performance test series began on the Douglas YC-124B Globemaster II.
March 17, 1966: First flight of the Bell X-22. The X-22 was an American V/STOL X-plane with four tilting ducted fans. Takeoff was to selectively occur either with the propellers tilted vertically upwards, or on a short runway with the nacelles tilted forward at approximately 45 degrees. Additionally, the X-22 was to provide more insight into the tactical application of vertical takeoff troop transporters such as the preceding Hiller X-18 and the X-22’s successor, the Bell XV-15.
Another program requirement was a true airspeed in level flight of at least 525 km/h. In 1962, the U.S. Navy announced their request for two prototype aircraft with V/STOL capability, powered by four ducted fan nacelles. Bell Helicopters already had extensive experience with VTOL aircraft and was able to utilize an already developed test mockup. In 1964 the prototype, internally referred to by Bell as Model D2127, was ordered by the Navy and received the X-22 designation.
It was unveiled at an event in Niagara Falls in May 1965. Three-bladed propellers were mounted on four wings and synchronized through a wave-interconnection system, were connected to four gas turbines which, in turn, were mounted in pairs on the rear wings. Maneuvering was achieved by tilting the propeller blades in combination with control surfaces (elevators and ailerons), which were located in the thrust stream of the propellers. In contrast to other tilt-rotor craft (such as the Bell XV-3), transitions between hovering and horizontal flight succeeded nearly immediately. However, interest increased more towards VTOL and V/STOL properties, not the specific design of the prototype. Due to failure of a propeller control, described by test pilot Stanley Kakol as the only non-redundant component in the power chain, the prototype crashed on Aug. 8, 1966, and technicians stripped it for components to make the second prototype flight capable. The fuselage was still used as a simulator for some time afterwards. Although the ducted fan propellers were considered usable, they were not used again on a U.S. military aircraft until the F-35B.