April 22, 1939: The Lockheed Vega Model 2 Starliner made its first flight with Harry Downs at the controls. The flight took place at Plant B-1 in Burbank, Calif. The aircraft was a prototype five-seat feeder airliner produced by the Vega Airplane Company, a subsidiary of Lockheed. It was designed to be powered by an unusual powerplant, consisting of two Menasco piston engines coupled together to drive a single propeller. A single example was built, flying in 1939, but no production followed. During the first flight, the aircraft made an emergency landing when the propeller entered fine-pitch. Flight testing continued after repairs, but another forced-landing occurred after the undercarriage failed to extend. Repaired again, the Starliner completed its flight test program, flying a total of 85 hours before the aircraft was sold to a movie studio for use as a non-flying prop. Found to be too small for airline use, the Starliner was discontinued with the need for Lockheed and Vega to concentrate on military contracts, but the Starliner name would later be reused on the Lockheed L-1649 Starliner.
April 22, 1960: Capt. James A. McDivitt became the first graduate in the history of the Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to win all three of the school’s outstanding performance awards. He went on to become a NASA astronaut in the Gemini and Apollo programs.
April 22, 1962: Jacqueline Cochran set 18 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) records in one day flying a Lockheed L-1329 JetStar, construction number 5003, FAA registration N172L, and named The Scarlett O’Hara. The route of her flight was New Orleans–Boston–Gander–Shannon–London–Paris–Bonn, with refueling stops at Gander and Shannon. The Lockheed L-1329 JetStar was the first in a category of small-to-medium-sized jet transports that would become known as the “business jet.” Like many Lockheed airplanes, it was designed by a team led by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, and he retained the first prototype as his personal transport.
April 23, 1941: At North American Aviation’s Inglewood, Calif., factory, test pilot Louis Sanford Wait takes the very first production Mustang Mk.I, AG345, (c/n 73-3098) for its first flight. The Royal Air Force had contracted with NAA to design and build a new fighter with a 1,200 horsepower Allison V-1710 supercharged 12-cylinder engine. The first order from the British Purchasing Commission was for 320 airplanes, and a second order for another 300 soon followed. The Mustang Mk.I (NAA Model NA-73) was a single-place, single-engine fighter primarily of metal construction with fabric control surfaces. It was 32 feet, 3 inches long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 5/16-inches and height of 12 feet, 2½ inches. The airplane’s empty weight was 6,280 pounds and loaded weight was 8,400 pounds.
April 23, 1956: The first flight of the Douglas C-133A Cargomaster took place. It was flown from Long Beach to Edwards by Douglas test pilot J.C. Armstrong. The four-engine turboprop was a strategic cargo aircraft with rear-loading doors, and was designed to transport ballistic missiles and other bulky cargo items.
April 24, 1917: Lt. Col. Billy Mitchell made the first flight by an American officer over German lines, flying with a French pilot. Before long, Mitchell had gained enough experience to begin preparations for American air operations. Mitchell rapidly earned a reputation as a daring, flamboyant, and tireless leader. In May, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In September 1918, he planned and led nearly 1,500 British, French, and Italian aircraft in the air phase of the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, one of the first coordinated air-ground offensives in history. He was elevated to the rank of (temporary) brigadier general on Oct. 14, 1918, and commanded all American air combat units in France. He ended the war as Chief of Air Service, Group of Armies, and became Chief of Air Service, Third Army after the armistice. He returned from Europe with a fervent belief that within a near future, possibly within ten years, air power would become the predominant force of war, and that it should be united entirely in an independent air force equal to the Army and Navy.
April 24, 1933: The Grumman JF Duck, piloted by Grumman test pilot Paul Hovgard, made its first flight. The Duck was an American single-engine amphibious biplane built by Grumman for the U.S. Navy during the 1930s. The J2F Duck was an improved version of the JF, with its main difference being a longer float. The Duck’s main pontoon was part of the fuselage, almost making it a flying boat, although it appears more like a standard aircraft with an added float.
April 24, 1943: At Ellington Field in Texas, the first class of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, Class 43-1, graduated from the four-month flight training program and earned their wings as U.S. Army pilots. Distinguished guests at the graduation included Jacqueline Cochran, Director of Women’s Flying Training Command; Adm. L.O. Colbert, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey whose daughter was member of graduating class; and Col. Walter H. Reed, commanding office, Ellington Field. The class entered with 38 trainees and 24 graduated. Each woman had a civil pilot’s license and at least 200 hours of flight time. More than 25,000 women applied and approximately 1,900 were accepted. By the end of the war, 1,074 had graduated. The Women Airforce Service Pilots were civilian employees of the United States Department of War. Although the WASPs received the same primary, basic and advanced flight training as their U.S. Army Air Force male counterparts, they were not military personnel. Following graduation from their flight training, some pilots went on to specialized training in heavy bombers or fighters. The WASPs were not combat pilots. They tested newly-manufactured aircraft for acceptance by the military, delivered these airplanes from factories to Air Corps bases around the country, ferried aircraft across oceans, and flew transport missions. All of these women provided a great service to their country during a time of war, but even more so to the generations of women who would follow their path.
In 1977, for their World War II service, the members were granted veteran status, and in 2009 awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
April 24, 1946: The MiG-9 made its first flight in the Soviet Union. The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-9 was the first turbojet fighter developed by Mikoyan-Gurevich in the years immediately after World War II. It used reverse-engineered German BMW 003 engines. Categorized as a first-generation jet fighter, it was moderately successful, but suffered from persistent problems with engine flameouts when firing its guns at high altitudes due to gun gas ingestion. A number of different armament configurations were tested, but nothing solved the problem. Several different engines were evaluated, but none were flown as the prototype of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 promised superior performance. A total of 610 aircraft were built, including prototypes, and they entered service in 1948 with the Soviet Air Forces.
April 24, 1946: The Yakovlev Yak-15 made its first flight in the Soviet Union. The Yakovlev Yak-15 was a first-generation Soviet turbojet fighter developed by the Yakovlev design bureau immediately after World War II. It used a reverse-engineered German Junkers Jumo 004 engine. Along with the Swedish Saab 21R, it was one of only two jets to be successfully converted from a piston-powered aircraft and enter production. A total of 280 aircraft were built in 1947. Although nominally a fighter, it was mainly used to qualify piston-engine-experienced pilots to fly jets.
April 24, 1961: Film crews from Essex Productions began work on the full-length feature movie, “X-15.” The film starred Charles Bronson and David McLean as test pilots. During the following weeks, scenes were filmed at the B-52/X-15 Servicing Area, the X-15 engine test area, NASA’s Flight Research Center, and the lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
April 24, 1990: Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a mission to place the Hubble Space Telescope in Earth Orbit. The STS-31 flight crew were: Loren J. Shriver, commander; Charles F. Bolden, Jr., pilot; Steven A. Hawley, mission specialist; Kathryn D. Sullivan, mission specialist; and Bruce McCandless II, mission specialist.
The Hubble Space Telescope is named after Edwin Hubble, an early 20th century astronomer who discovered galaxies beyond our own Milky Way galaxy. It is an optical Ritchey–Chrétien telescope (an improved Cassegrain reflector). Star light enters the telescope and is collected by a large 7 foot, 10.5 inch diameter hyperbolic mirror at the back end. The light is reflected forward to a smaller hyperbolic mirror, which focuses the light and projects it back through an opening in the main reflector. The light is then gathered by the electronic sensors of the space telescope. These mirrors are among the most precise objects ever made, having been polished to an accuracy of 10 nanometers.
April 24, 2001: The Northrop Grumman-built RQ-4 Global Hawk flies automatically from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to Australia non-stop and unrefueled. This is the longest point-to-point flight ever undertaken by an unmanned aircraft, the first pilotless aircraft to cross the Pacific Ocean, and took 23 hours and 23 minutes. The Global Hawk is operated by the U.S. Air Force, and is used as a High-Altitude Long Endurance platform covering the spectrum of intelligence collection capability to support forces in worldwide military operations. The U.S. Navy has developed the Global Hawk into the MQ-4C Trition maritime surveillance platform.
April 25, 1922: Known as the Stout ST-1, the first all-metal airplane designed for the U. S. Navy makes its first flight piloted by Eddie Stinson. The Stout ST was a twin-engine torpedo bomber built for the U.S. Navy. It pioneered the American use of metal construction and the cantilever “thick wing” design concepts of German aeronautical engineer Hugo Junkers, themselves pioneered in the second half of 1915. The US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics had a requirement to review several types of torpedo-carrying aircraft. Prototypes of the Curtiss CT, Stout ST, Fokker FT and Blackburn Swift F were evaluated at the Anacostia Naval Yard. William Bushnell Stout approached the Navy with his all-metal torpedo bomber design. He estimated the aircraft would cost $50,000 each to produce. The aircraft was built in Detroit, Mich., over a two-year period. Navy officials visited the facility frequently to inspect the new metal-forming and construction methods. The aircraft was a twin engine conventional geared mid-winged monoplane. Its primary feature was its corrugated metal construction, a new technique and different from the tube-and-fabric airplanes of the time. In addition, the internally supported cantilever wing developed for the Stout Batwing was employed. The aircraft was test flown successfully, however, the airplane showed signs of inadequate longitudinal stability. The first flight was witnessed by William A. Moffett, chief of Navy Aeronautics. Stinson suggested changes to the aircraft, but none were made. At an acceptance ceremony, a Marine pilot stalled the aircraft and crashed it. The pilot survived, but all orders for the aircraft were canceled by the Navy.
April 25, 1956: At Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., test pilot U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Frank Kendall “Pete” Everest was airdropped from a Boeing EB-50D Superfortress in the Bell X-2 supersonic research rocket plane, serial number 46-674. This was the 10th flight of the X-2 program, and only the third powered flight. For the first time, Everest fired both chambers of the Curtiss-Wright XLR25 rocket engine. On this flight, the X-2 reached Mach 1.40 and 50,000 feet. It was the first time an X-2 had gone supersonic.
April 25, 1958: Performance flight-testing began on the Fairchild C-123J, a standard medium troop and cargo transport equipped with skis and modified for Arctic operations. In addition to its two normal R2800-99W reciprocating engines, the C-123J carried two 1,000-pound thrust J44-R-3 turbojet engines.
April 25, 1990: In orbit 380 miles above Earth, the crew of Discovery (STS-31) released the Hubble Space Telescope from the cargo bay. This satellite was designed to study the universe in ultraviolet, visible and infrared light, with a clarity never before seen.
April 25, 1996: The NC-141A Electric Starlifter made its first flight since it had been converted to power-by-wire/fly-by-wire aileron controls. The Electric Starlifter program explored the use of these controls in order to save weight and increase serviceability rates of line aircraft.
April 26, 1939: The U.S. Army Air Corps placed an order for 524 Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawks, the largest production order for any U.S.-built fighter since World War I. The total cost was $12,872,398. The aircraft was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit, designed by Chief Engineer Donovan Reese Berlin. It was developed from Berlin’s radial-engine P-36 Hawk. The P-40 was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear (including the tail wheel). Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed. The first production P-40 Warhawks made its first flight April 4, April 1940, and the 8th Pursuit Group at Langley Field, Va., was the first unit to be equipped with the P-40.
After 200 P-40s were produced for the Air Corps, production was interrupted to allow Curtiss-Wright to build 100 Hawk 85A-1 export variants for the French Armée de l’air, and then engaged with the invading forces of Nazi Germany. However, none of the aircraft had been delivered when France surrendered June 22, 1940, and the order was then assumed by the British Royal Air Force.
April 26, 1942: The North American XB-28 Dragon made its first flight. The Dragon was an aircraft proposed by North American Aviation to fill a strong need in the U.S. Army Air Corps for a high-altitude medium bomber. It never entered production, with only two prototypes being built.
The order for a high-altitude medium bomber was put out on Feb.13, 1940, and first flew on April 25, 1942.The XB-28 was based on North American Aviation’s highly successful B-25 Mitchell, but as it evolved it became a completely new design, much more reminiscent of the Martin B-26 Marauder. The overall configuration of the B-25 and XB-28 were fairly similar; the most important distinction was that the twin tail of the B-25 was changed to a single tail on the XB-28. It was among the first combat aircraft with a pressurized cabin. The XB-28 proved an excellent design, with significantly better performance than that of the B-25, but it was never put into production. High-altitude bombing was hampered significantly by factors such as clouds and wind, which were frequent occurrences in the Pacific. At the same time, medium bombers were becoming much more effective at lower altitudes. The gains in aircraft performance that came with high-altitude flight were not considered sufficient to justify switching from low-altitude bombing. Even though the Army Air Forces rejected the XB-28 as a bomber, they ordered another prototype. Designated XB-28A, it was meant to explore the possibility of use as a reconnaissance aircraft. The XB-28A crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Southern California after the crew bailed out on Aug. 4, 1943.
April 26, 1951: The Lockheed X-7 made its first flight. The Lockheed X-7, dubbed the “Flying Stove Pipe,” was an American unmanned test bed of the 1950s for ramjet engines and missile guidance technology. It was the basis for the later Lockheed AQM-60 Kingfisher, a system used to test American air defenses against nuclear missile attack. Besides the surface to air missile tests, the X-7 project was also used to test communication equipment for acceleration tests, testing aerodynamics, booster propellants, thermodynamics, and parachutes. The X-7 was launched at speed release from the underside of either a B-29 or B-50 carrier plane. The jet would then take over and build up speed to its top speed of 1,000 mph, but was later redesigned to push Mach 4.3. The recovery method of the X-7 rocket plane was a new and simple design for a test plane of its kind but functioned as designed. A multi-stage parachute was deployed after the jet had exhausted its fuel, slowing its descent. Once it had reached the ground, the long metal rod on the end of the nose penetrated the ground, keeping the plane upright and preventing damage to structure of the X-7. In 1954, the modified X-7 underwent significant changes and was renamed the X-7A-3. The wing shape was altered, and two small boosters were added to the plane, one under each wing. Due to these alterations, the drop method previously used was changed.
April 26, 1962: At a secret location in the Mojave Desert of Nevada, Lockheed Chief Test Pilot Louis Wellington “Lou” Schalk, Jr., was scheduled to take the first Project Oxcart aircraft (A-12) for a high-speed taxi test on the specially constructed 8,000-foot runway. However, he had received secret, specific instructions from designer Kelly Johnson to take the craft, known as “Article 121,” airborne. Schalk roared down the runway and lifted off.
He flew at about 20 feet for two miles. The super-secret aircraft was oscillating badly so he set it down straight ahead on the dry lakebed and disappeared into a cloud of dust and flying sand. Johnson said that it “was horrible to watch.” A few minutes later, the needle nose of Article 121 appeared out of the dust as Schalk taxied back to the runway. It turned out that some equipment had been hooked up backwards. Subsequent flights were made without difficulty. This was the actual first flight of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Top Secret A-12 reconnaissance aircraft. The “official” first flight would come several days later.
Article 121 is on public display at Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale, Calif. After it is stripped of its black paint coating, it will be displayed in natural titanium, and eventually moved to the Flight Test Museum currently under construction at the Edwards Air Force Base West Gate.
April 26, 1966: Maj. Paul J. Gilmore, aircraft commander, and 1st Lt. William T. Smith, pilot, flying McDonnell F-4C-23-MC Phantom II 64-0752, shot down the first Vietnam People’s Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 of the Vietnam War. They were part of a three-ship formation of F-4s flying escort for two RB-66s launching from Da Nang. In the first photo, we see Gilmore (left) and Smith with their F-4C Phantom II. In the second photo, we see a U.S. Air Force ordnance technician prepare to load four AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles (top row) and four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided air-to-air missiles (bottom row) aboard an F-4C. This aircraft, F-4C-23-MC Phantom II 64-0793, is from the same production block as the fighter flown by Gilmore and Smith, on April 26, 1966.
April 26, 1967: Col. Joe Cotton and NASA test pilot “Fitz” Fulton, who had recently retired from the U.S. Air Force, conducted the first XB-70 flight of the NASA/U.S. Air Force Flight Research Program.
April 27, 1911: The Aeronautical Division of the U.S. Signal Corps accepted its second airplane, a Curtiss Model D Type IV, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The airplane was built by Glenn H. Curtiss’ Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company at Hammondsport, N.Y. It was known as a “Curtiss Pusher,” as it was propelled by a propeller behind the engine. The aircraft was a canard configuration with elevators mounted in front. It had tricycle landing gear. The airframe was primarily spruce and ash, with flying surfaces covered with doped fabric. It was easily disassembled for transport on Army wagons.
April 27, 1965: Ryan XV-5A Vertifan, 62-4505, noses over from 800 feet and crashes at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., during a demonstration in front of several hundred reporters, military personnel, and civilians. Ryan test pilot Willis Louis “Lou” Everett, flying at 180 knots, prepares to transition from conventional flight to fan mode but the aircraft unexpectedly pitches down. Everett attempts low-altitude ejection but seat fails, his chute snags on the high tail, and he is killed. The Vertifan was a jet-powered V/STOL experimental aircraft in the 1960s.
April 27, 2011: The Boeing Phantom Ray made its first flight. The Phantom Ray is an American demonstration stealth unmanned combat air vehicle developed by Boeing using company funds. The autonomous Phantom Ray is a flying wing around the size of a conventional fighter jet.
The Phantom Ray project, called “Project Reblue” internally at Boeing, was first conceived in mid-2007, and started in earnest in June 2008. The project was secret within the company, except for a small number of executives and engineers, until May 2009. Developed by the Boeing Phantom Works, the Phantom Ray is based on the X-45C prototype aircraft, which Boeing originally developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems program in 2002. The Phantom Ray was not aimed at any particular military program or competition, although Boeing considered using the design as an entry for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike program. The Phantom Ray was unveiled on May 10, 2010, in St. Louis, Mo. In November 2010, low-speed taxi tests were carried out in St. Louis. The demonstrator aircraft was to perform 10 test flights over six months, supporting missions such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; suppression of enemy air defenses; seek-and-destroy; electronic attack; hunter/killer; and autonomous aerial refueling. Boeing anticipated that the Phantom Ray would be the first of a series of new prototype aircraft. The Phantom Ray was scheduled to make its maiden flight in December 2010 from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, but this was later rescheduled and flew from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., having been carried there by the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. The Phantom Ray flew to 7,500 feet and reached a speed of 178 knots, flying for a total of 17 minutes.
April 28, 1919: Using the Type A 28-foot backpack parachute, volunteer Leslie Irvin jumped from a de Havilland DH9 biplane at 100 mph, and 1,500 feet above the ground and manually pulled the ripcord fully deploying his chute at 1,000 feet. Irvin became the first American to jump from an airplane and manually open a parachute in midair. The chute performed flawlessly, although Irvin broke his ankle on landing.
A B-1B Lancer conducted the first successful three-bay, 81-shape release of Mk-82 conventional weapons shapes over the Edwards Precision Impact Range Area, or PIRA.