April 29, 1945: The first flight of Operation Manna and Operation Chowhound took place, flying food packages to civilians in Nazi occupied areas of The Netherlands. By early 1945, the situation was growing desperate for the three million or more Dutch still under German control. Prince Bernhard appealed directly to Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, but Eisenhower did not have the authority to negotiate a truce with the Germans. While the prince got permission from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eisenhower had Air Commodore Andrew Geddes begin planning immediately. On 23 April, authorization was given by the Chief of Staff, George Marshall. Allied agents negotiated with Reichskommissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart and a team of German officers.
The truce had not yet been agreed to by Germany, but on April 29, Operations Manna and Chowhound began. The first night, to test the feasibility of the project, two Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster four-engine long range heavy bombers of No. 101 Squadron — Bad Penny, crewed by Canadians, and a second ship flown by an Australian crew — were loaded with food at RAF Ludford Magna and flew into The Netherlands at barely 50 feet above the ground. To drop the food they simply opened the bomb bay doors and the bags and packages fell to the starving people below. Operation Manna ran April 29 to May 7. Chowhound ran May 1-8. Between the two operations, more than 11,000 tons of food was distributed.
April 29, 1963: Category II Performance Tests were completed on a Cessna T-37C trainer equipped with two 65-gallon tip tanks and two bomb racks. The tests demonstrated that the “Tweety Bird” would be capable of providing training for ground support warfare under the Military Aid Program, and serving as a limited war ground support vehicle.
April 29, 2013: After nearly three years of unpowered testing, Virgin Galactic’s commercial spacecraft SpaceShipTwo (VSS Enterprise) made its first powered flight. Released by its jet-powered mothership White Knight Two after a 45-minute climb at an altitude of 48,000 feet over the Mojave Desert, SpaceShipTwo burns its engine for 16 seconds, climbing to 55,000 feet and reaching a speed of Mach 1.2 before gliding to a landing at Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, Calif., after 10 minutes of independent flight. Mark Stuckey is the pilot and Mike Alsbury the co-pilot for the flight.
April 30, 1952: The first North American Aviation F-86H Sabre fighter-bomber made its first flight with test pilot Joseph A. Lynch, Jr., in the cockpit. It was flown from the Inglewood, Calif., factory to Edwards Air Force Base for evaluation and testing. The F-86A, E and F Sabres were air superiority fighters; he F-86D and L were all-weather interceptors, but the F-86H was a fighter bomber, designed to attack targets on the ground with guns bombs and rockets.
The two pre-production aircraft were built at Inglewood, but all production airplanes were built at Columbus, Ohio. The two pre-production YF-86Hs were unarmed. The F-86H Sabre became operational in 1954. By the time production ended, 473 F-86H Sabres were built. By 1958 all that remained in the U.S. Air Force Inventory were reassigned to the Air National Guard, with the last one retired in 1972.
April 30, 1962: Though it had been airborne briefly just a few days earlier on April 26, “Article 121”, the first Lockheed A-12, took off from a Top Secret facility at Groom Lake, Nev., on its “official” first flight. Lockheed test pilot “Lou” Schalk, Jr. was in the cockpit. The 72,000-pound aircraft lifted off the 8,000-foot runway at 196 mph. During the 59-minute test flight, Schalk kept the airspeed to just 391 mph, but climbed to 30,000 feet while he tested systems and handling characteristics. He described the airplane as very stable and extremely responsive. The A-12 was a top secret reconnaissance airplane built for the Central Intelligence Agency under the code name “Project Oxcart.” It was the replacement for the Agency’s high-flying but subsonic U-2 spy plane which had become vulnerable to radar-guided surface-to-air missiles. The A-12 could fly faster than Mach 3 and higher than 80,000 feet — so fast and so high that no missile could reach it. By the time missile site radar locked on to an A-12 and a missile was prepared to fire, the Oxcart had already flown beyond the missile’s range.
April 30, 1963: Betty Miller, a 37-year-old flight instructor from Santa Monica, Calif., took off from Oakland, Calif., in a twin-engine Piper PA-23-160 Apache H on the first let of her flight to Australia. When she landed in Brisbane, Australia on May 12, 1963, she became the first woman to complete a solo Trans-Pacific flight. The flight had Miller fly from Oakland to Oahu, Hawaii; Hawaii to Canton Island, about half way between Hawaii and Fiji; and Canton Island to Fiji. Instead of flying the final leg, Fiji to Brisbane, she was forced to divert to Noumea, New Caledonia because of bad weather. Leaving Noumea, she arrived in Brisbane after crossing 7,400 miles of ocean, and spending 51 hours and 38 minutes in the air.
April 30, 1966: Air Force Flight Test Center test pilot Col. Joseph F. Cotton saved XB-70 Valkyrie #2 from destruction following an in-flight emergency in which the landing gear failed to lower into position. He crawled to a relay box containing two malfunctioning terminals and short-circuited them with a paper clip, whereupon the gear extended normally.
April 30, 2004: The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) officially certified that an Air Force Flight Test Center B-1B Lancer had set 45 world records and broken five previously set records. This feat had been accomplished during the course of two flights at the Center’s 2003 Open House Oct. 25 and 26, 2003.
May 1, 1940: The Douglas SBD Dauntless, an American World War II naval dive bomber made its first flight. The SBD (Scout Bomber Douglass) Dauntless was manufactured by Douglas Aircraft from 1940 through 1944, and was the United States Navy’s main carrier-based scout/dive bomber from mid-1940 through mid-1944. The SBD was also flown by the United States Marine Corps, both from land air bases and aircraft carriers. The aircraft was developed at the Douglas El Segundo, Calif., facility. One land-based variant of the SBD — omitting the arrestor hook — was purpose-built for the U.S. Army Air Forces, as the A-24 Banshee. This photograph shows the SBD production line in El Segundo.
May 1, 1951: The Experimental Flight Test Pilot School, newly transferred from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and renamed, opened its first classes at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The TPS shared its facility with the Base Transient Maintenance Hangar, Bldg T-1011. Pictured are Royal Canadian Air Force Flight Lieutenants Christie, Bennette and Greene, who had transferred from Wright-Patterson to complete their test pilot training.
May 1, 1960: A CIA Lockheed U-2A, 56-6693, Article 360, flown by Francis Gary Powers is shot down by a SA-2 (Guideline) missile near Degtyarsk in the Soviet Union during an overflight codenamed Operation Grand Slam, the 24th and most ambitious deep-penetration flight of the U-2 program. Powers parachuted down and was captured. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced on May 7 to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, and thus the world, that a “spyplane” has been shot down but intentionally makes no reference to the pilot. Powers is later produced in a “show trial.” On Feb. 10, 1962, 21 months after his capture, Powers is exchanged along with American student Frederic Pryor in a spy swap for Soviet KGB Col. Vilyam Fisher (aka Rudolf Abel) at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin, Germany. In this photograph, Gary Powers (left) is shown with U-2 designer Kelly Johnson in 1966.
May 1, 1963: Jacqueline Cochran took off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and over a 62-mile closed-circuit she set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world speed record for women of 1,203.7mph in a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. In her autobiography, Cochran described the flight. “The 100 kilometer closed course was so damn difficult. Imagine an absolutely circular racetrack, about a quarter of a mile wide, on the ground with an inner fence exactly 63 miles long. Now, in your mind’s eye, leave the track and get into the air at 35,000 feet. Fly it without touching the fence in the slightest. It’s tricky because if you get too far away from the inner fence, trying not to touch, you won’t make the speed you need to make the record. And if you get too close, you’ll disqualify yourself.
“Eyes are glued to the instrument panel. Ears can hear the voice of the space-positioning officer. You are dealing in fractions of seconds. And your plane isn’t flying in flat position. It’s tipped over to an 80-degree bank to compensate for the circle. That imaginary inner fence may be to your left, but you don’t head your plane left. That’d lose altitude. Instead, you pull the nose up a bit and because the plane is so banked over, you move closer to the fence. You turn.”
May 1, 1965: During flight tests, the YF-12As set a speed record of 2,070.101 miles per hour and altitude record of 80,257.86 feet, and demonstrated promising results with its unique weapon system.
May 1, 2013: A Boeing X-51A WaveRider unmanned scramjet demonstration aircraft detaches from a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress and reaches Mach 4.8 (3,200 mph) powered by a booster rocket. It then separates cleanly from the booster, ignites its own engine, accelerates to Mach 5.1 (3,400 mph), and flies for 240 seconds — setting the record for the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight in history — before running out of fuel and plunging into the Pacific Ocean off Point Mugu, Calif., after transmitting 370 seconds of telemetry. The flight — the fourth and last planned X-51A test flight and the first successful one — completes the X-51 program.
May 2, 1925: The Douglas C-1 biplane made its first flight at Santa Monica, Calif. The C-1 was the first aircraft assigned in the new “C” category for cargo aircraft. The aircraft design was based on several earlier and similar designs developed by Douglas in the early 1920s (including the Douglas World Cruisers used in the first round-the-world flight in 1924). The C-1 featured an enclosed passenger compartment capable of carrying six passengers or about 2,500 pounds of cargo. A trap door was placed in the lower fuselage to allow large and/or heavy cargo (particularly aircraft engines) to be lifted directly into the cargo compartment. An auxiliary door for passengers and light cargo was included on the right side of the center fuselage. Seventeen additional aircraft were ordered in 1926 and 1927 for the U.S. Army Air Corps as C-1Cs and were slightly larger than the original C-1s. Several C-1s were used in test programs — as an engine testbed, as a prototype air ambulance and as refueling aircraft for early air-to-air refueling experiments.
May 2, 1955: The U.S. Army Aviation Service Test Division, a new tenant at Edwards, began performance evaluation flight tests (Phase IV) on the Sikorsky H-34A helicopter.
May 2, 1957: The first flight in the Performance and Qualitative Stability (Phase IV) evaluation of the Northrop F-89J Scorpion was carried out. The F-89J was intended as a substantial upgrade to the straight-winged interceptor, with additional underwing weapons stations that increased the ability to carry a combination of MB-1 Genie nuclear missiles and up to four GAR-2 Falcon homing air-to-air missiles.
May 2, 1977: As part of the first women in the Undergraduate Pilot Training Program, 1st Lt. Christine E. Schott became the first woman to solo in a Northrop T-38A Talon at Williams AFB, Ariz. Class 77-08, which started Sept. 19, 1976, included 10 women and 36 men. Class 77-08 received their silver wings on Sept. 2, 1977. Later, Schott would become the first Air Force female to qualify as an aircraft commander on the C-9A Nightingale.
May 2, 1988: The 100th and final B-1B Lancer was delivered to the U.S. Air Force. The B-1B was built at the Rockwell International facility at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif. The Air Force currently has 62 B-1Bs in its inventory.
May 3, 1994: The first C-17 Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System (LAPES) drop was performed, on Rogers Dry Lake.
May 3, 2006: The Global Vigilance Combined Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., completed the first-ever wet runway taxi testing of an unmanned vehicle — the Global Hawk. The tests validated the UAV’s anti-skid braking system and gathered braking performance data on wet runways.
May 3, 2013: The Solar Impulse aircraft, HB-SIA, the world’s first solar-power aircraft capable of operating day and night, took off from Moffett Field, Calif., on the first leg of its attempt to become the first solar-powered aircraft to fly across the United States. Flying for 18 hours and 18 minutes, the aircraft landed at Phoenix Goodyear Airport in Phoenix, Ariz. The next leg started May 22, with the aircraft landing at JFK Airport in New York on July 6. The aircraft requires no fuel because it uses photovoltaic cells in its wings to supply it with power and charge its batteries for use at night.
May 4, 1924: The Sikorsky S-29-A, piloted by Igor Sikorsky, made its first flight and resulted in a forced landing on a golf course, seriously damaging the aircraft. The crash was caused by low engine rpm leading to insufficient thrust due to excessive pitch of the propellers. This was the first aircraft Sikorsky designed and built after coming to the United States — hence the special “-A” suffix. After rebuilding the aircraft, two 400 hp Liberty L-12 engines were installed. The second flight on Sept. 25 was very successful. Flight testing revealed the S-29-A was able to maintain altitude on one engine at a speed of 75 mph.
May 4, 1927: The Boeing TB made its first flight. The TB was an American torpedo bomber biplane designed by the U.S. Navy and built by Boeing in 1927. The TB was an improved version of the Martin T3M. It was constructed of all dural, with a fabric covering. The equal-span wings were large and unstaggered, and could be folded aft, reducing the span to 21 feet, 8 inches for storage. The wheeled undercarriage was a conventional configuration that could be interchanged with floats. As a landplane, the main gear units carried twin wheels. The underside of the fuselage incorporated a glazed station for the bombardier. Even before the three XTB-1s were delivered, the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics had changed its opinion about what was needed in a torpedo bomber, and based on experience with the NAF XTN-1 had decided that a twin-engine aircraft would better suit the role. Having thus been made redundant, no TBs past the three prototypes were built.
May 4, 1950: The prototype reconnaissance platform Northrop YRB-49A, made its first flight from Hawthorne, Calif., to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. After only 13 flights, testing ended April 26, 1951. It was then flown back to Northrop’s headquarters from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on what would be its last flight. There, this remaining flying wing sat abandoned at the edge of Northrop’s Ontario airport for more than two years. It was finally ordered scrapped on Dec. 1, 1953. The YRB-49A was a reconnaissance version of the YB-49 Flying Wing that had been cancelled on March 15, 1950. Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington ordered the YB-49s chopped up and the materials smelted down. Symington turned down a request from the Smithsonian for the Air Force to donate one of these big wings to its collection of pioneering Northrop aircraft.
May 5, 1961: U.S. Navy Cmdr. Alan Shepard, Jr., becomes the first American and second man to explore space when he rides his Mercury Freedom 7 capsule, launched by a Redstone missile, to 115 miles above the Earth. Shepard’s mission was a 15-minute suborbital flight with the primary objective of demonstrating his ability to withstand the high g-forces of launch and atmospheric re-entry. During the flight, Shepard observed the Earth and tested the capsule’s attitude control system, turning the capsule around to face its blunt heat shield forward for atmospheric re-entry. He also tested the retrorockets which would return later missions from orbit, though the capsule did not have enough energy to remain in orbit. After re-entry, the capsule landed by parachute on the North Atlantic Ocean off the Bahamas. Shepard and the capsule were picked up by helicopter and brought to U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain. Shepard’s flight came three weeks after Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union became the first man in space.