May 6, 1935: The prototype Curtiss-Wright Model 75 made its first flight in Buffalo, N.Y. The aircraft was designed by Donovan Reese Berlin, and featured an all-metal construction, with fabric-covered control surfaces. The Model 75 was a single-seat, single-engine low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. The Model 75 would later be developed into the P-36 Hawk for the U.S. Army Air Corps (and would be the H75A-1 in France, and the Mohawk Mk.1 in the United Kingdom). Later, the 10th production P-36 was modified to become the prototype XP-40.
May 6, 1941: The prototype Republican Aviation Corporation XP-47B Thunderbolt made its first flight. The flight, eight months after the prototype was ordered, was piloted by Lowery Brabham, took off from the company’s factory in Farmingdale, N.Y., and landed at Mitchell Field, N.Y. During the flight, burning oil from the exhaust duct caused so much smoke that the pilot considered bailing out. He decided to stay with the aircraft and upon landing said, “I think we’ve hit the jackpot!”
A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were built, more than any other Allied fighter type. In aerial combat, it had a kill-to-loss ratio of 4.6:1. The P-47, though, really made its name as a ground attack fighter, destroying aircraft, locomotives, rail cars, and tanks by the many thousands. It was one of the most successful aircraft of World War II.
May 6, 1944: The Douglas XB-42 Mixmaster, American experimental bomber aircraft, made its first flight in Palm Springs, Calif. The Mixmaster was an experimental bomber aircraft, designed for a high top speed. The unconventional approach was to mount the two engines within the fuselage driving a pair of contra-rotating propellers mounted at the tail in a pusher configuration, leaving the wing and fuselage clean and free of drag-inducing protrusions.
Two prototype aircraft were built, but the end of World War II changed priorities and the advent of the jet engine gave an alternative way toward achieving high speed. In December 1945, Capt. Glen Edwards and Lt. Col. Henry E. Warden set a new transcontinental speed record when they flew the XB-42 from Long Beach, Calif., to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., approximately 2,300 miles, in just 5 hours and 17 minutes. The XB-42 set a speed record of 433.6 mph.
May 6, 1968: Astronaut Neil Armstrong ejects at about 200 feet, from Bell Aerospace Lunar Landing Research Vehicle No. 1, known as the “Flying Bedstead”, at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center, Ellington AFB, Houston, Texas, as it goes out of control. Had he ejected 1/2 second later, his chute would not have deployed fully. Armstrong suffers a bit tongue. The accident investigation board found that the fuel for the vehicle’s attitude control thrusters had run out and that high winds were a major factor. As a result, the decision was made by JSC management to terminate further LLRV flights, as the first LLTV was about to be shipped from Bell to Ellington to begin ground and flight testing.
May 6, 1985: Space Shuttle Challenger landed on lakebed runway 17L on Rogers Dry Lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., after a seven-day mission in space. This was the second flight of the European Space Agency’s Spacelab pressurized module, and the first with the Spacelab module in a fully operational configuration. The flight also included two squirrel monkeys and 24 rats in special cages, the second time American astronauts flew with live non-human mammals aboard the shuttle.
May 7, 1918: The Curtiss 18T, unofficially known as the Wasp and by the United States Navy as the Kirkham, made its first flight. It was an early American triplane fighter aircraft designed by Curtiss for the U.S. Navy. The aircraft was intended to protect bombing aircraft over France, and a primary requisite for this job was speed. Speed was not the triplane’s only salient feature: an 18T-2 set a new altitude record in 1919 of 34,910 feet. The streamlined and very “clean” fuselage contributed to the aircraft’s performance. The basic construction was based on cross-laminated strips of wood veneer formed on a mold and attached to the inner structure. The technique was a refinement of that used on the big Curtiss flying boats.
May 7, 1943: U.S. Army Air Corps Col. Frank Gregory made the first helicopter landing aboard ship with a Sikorsky R-4, in Long Island Sound. The landing was part of 23 landings and takeoffs to determine the feasibility of operating helicopters from the decks of merchant ships for antisubmarine patrols. The takeoffs and landings were from the SS Bunker Hill. The Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A, designated the XR-4 by the U.S. Army Air Corps, established the single main rotor/anti-torque tail rotor configuration. It was a two-place helicopter with side-by-side seating and dual flight controls.
May, 7, 1991: Space Shuttle Endeavour arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, after being flown on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft from NASA’s Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center, Edwards Calif. In 1987, the U.S. Congress approved the construction of Endeavour to replace the Challenger that was destroyed in 1986. NASA chose, on cost grounds, to build much of Endeavour from spare parts rather than refitting the Space Shuttle Enterprise, and used structural spares built during the construction of Discovery and Atlantis in its assembly. Endeavour rolled out of the Rockwell facility at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif., on April 25, 1991.
May 7, 1992: Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off for its first flight, STS-49, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The primary goal of the nine-day mission was to retrieve an Intelsat VI satellite which had failed to leave low earth orbit two years before, attach it to a new upper stage, and relaunch it to its intended geosynchronous orbit. After several attempts, the capture was completed with the only three-person extra-vehicular activity in space flight history. It would also stand until STS-102 in 2001 as the longest EVA ever undertaken.
May 8, 1945: Victory in Europe Day! Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader, committed suicide April 30, 1945 during the Battle of Berlin and Germany’s surrender was authorized by his successor, Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz. The act of military surrender was first signed at 2:41 a.m., on May 7 in SHAEF HQ at Reims, and a slightly modified document, considered the definitive German Instrument of Surrender, was signed May 8 in Karlshorst, Berlin. “The German High Command will at once issue orders to all German military, naval and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 23.01 hours Central European time on 8 May 1945,” said Article 2 of the German Instrument of Surrender.
Upon the defeat of Germany, celebrations erupted throughout the western world, especially in the UK and North America. More than one million people celebrated in the streets throughout the UK to mark the end of the European part of the war. In London, crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by their daughters and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace before the cheering crowds. Churchill went from the palace to Whitehall where he addressed another large crowd: “God bless you all. This is your victory. In our long history, we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best.”
In the United States, the event coincided with President Harry Truman’s 61st birthday. He dedicated the victory to the memory of his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage less than a month earlier, on April 12. Flags remained at half-staff for the remainder of the 30-day mourning period. Truman said of dedicating the victory to Roosevelt’s memory and keeping the flags at half-staff that his only wish was “that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day.”
Later that day, Truman said that the victory made it his most enjoyable birthday. Great celebrations took place in many American cities, especially in New York’s Times Square. Tempering the jubilation somewhat, both Churchill and Truman pointed out that the war against Japan had not yet been won. In his radio broadcast at 3 p.m., May 8, Churchill told the British people that: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing (as Japan) remains unsubdued.” In America, Truman broadcast at 9 a.m., and said it was “a victory only half won.”
May 8, 1989: NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis landed on Runway 22 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., following a successful mission to launch the Magellan Venus mapping probe. This was NASA’s 29th shuttle mission, the fourth flight for Space Shuttle Atlantis and the fourth since the Challenger Disaster.
May 9, 1933: The Vought XF3U-1, an American two-seat, all-metal biplane fighter prototype made its first flight. Built for the U.S. Navy, the XF3U was designed to meet the Bureau of Aeronautics 1932 Design Specification No. 111, which called for a high-performance fighter with a fixed undercarriage and powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1535 Twin Wasp Junior air-cooled radial engine.
Of the seven proposed aircraft the XF3U and the Douglas XFD were chosen. The XF3U was the first all-metal aircraft produced by Vought. The aircraft was also equipped with an enclosed cockpit. During flight testing in 1933, it outperformed the Douglas entry and was chosen the winner. However, the Navy no longer was interested in two-seat fighters, and therefore only the one XF3U prototype aircraft was built. The XF3U subsequently evolved into a dive bomber and became the XSBU prototype for the SBU-1 Corsair.
May 9, 1937: The Lockheed XC-35, American twin-engine made its first flight. The XC-35 was a twin-engine, experimental pressurized airplane. It was the second American aircraft to feature cabin pressurization, initially described as a “supercharged cabin” by the Army. The XC-35 was a development of the Lockheed Model 10 Electra that was designed to meet a 1935 request by the U.S. Army Air Corps for an aircraft with a pressurized cabin.
The XC-35 was delivered to Wright Field, Ohio in May 1937, made its first performance flight on Aug. 5, and was involved in an extensive flight-testing program for which the Army Air Corp was awarded the Collier Trophy. The lessons learned from the XC-35 played a key role in the development of the Boeing 307 Stratoliner and the B-29 Superfortress, which was to be the first mass-produced pressurized aircraft. The Air Corps brass were so confident in the new technology that they allowed the XC-35 to be used as an executive transport for Louis Johnson, the Assistant Secretary of War and future Secretary of Defense. In 1943, NACA pilot Herbert H. Hoover flew the XC-35 into thunderstorms to gather data on the effects of severe weather on aircraft in flight.
May 9, 1941: The German submarine U-110 is captured by the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. On board is the latest Enigma machine which Allied cryptographers later use to break coded German messages.
May 9, 1949: The initial flight of Republic’s rocket assisted jet fighter, the XF-91 Thunderceptor, took place piloted by Carl Bellinger. The aircraft was unusual in several respects. Its swept back wings were wider and thicker at the tip than the root; its dual-wheel landing gear retracted outward; and it carried an auxiliary jet motor at the base of its tail.
May 9, 1957: First Lt. David Steeves departed Hamilton AFB, Calif., heading for Craig AFB, Ala., in T-33A Shooting Star. The aircraft and pilot, however, disappeared without a trace and Steeves was declared dead by the U.S. Air Force. Fifty-four days later, he emerged from the Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Steeves stated there had been an in-flight emergency and he had ejected. Unable to locate the downed trainer, officials eyed him with suspicion and there were rumors he had traded the jet to the Russians or flown it to Mexico. As the rumors persist, his military career was in ruins, and he requested separation. He returned to civilian life and eventually died in an aircraft accident in 1965. In 1977, Boy Scouts hiking in the national park discover the canopy of his T-33. The serial numbers on the canopy show it to be from Steeves’ T-33.
May 9, 1962: The Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe, a twin-engine heavy-lift helicopter designed by Sikorsky Aircraft for the U.S. Army made its first flight. It is named after Tarhe (whose nickname was “The Crane”), an 18th century chief of the Wyandot Native American tribe. The United States Army eventually purchased 105, designating them CH-54. Used in Vietnam for transport and downed-aircraft retrieval, it was highly successful. As of 2014, it holds the helicopter record for highest altitude in level flight at 36,000 feet, set in 1971, and fastest climb to 10,000, 20,000, and 30,000 feet. The Skycrane can hold its cargo up and tight against its center spine to lessen drag and eliminate the pendulum effect when flying forward, as well as winch vehicles up and down from a hovering position, so the helicopter can deploy loads while hovering.
May 10, 1946: The first successful launch of a captured V-2 ballistic missile in the United States took place at White Sands Proving Ground, N.M. The rocket reached in altitude of 70.9 miles and traveled 31 miles down range, all with a burn time of 59 seconds. A static test firing of a V-2 had taken place on March 15, 1946, and a rocket was launched on April 16, 1946, but the rocket crashed a short way from the launch site. The V2, or Vergeltungswaffen 2 was a ballistic missile but had no accuracy and could only hit general areas Germany used it against England, France, The Netherlands, and Belgium as a terror weapon.
More than 3,200 V-2 rockets were launched against these countries. At the close of World War II, the Allies captured many partially completed missiles, as well as components and parts, transferring them to the United States. Additionally, many German engineers and scientists surrendered or were captured by the Allies. Under Operation Paperclip, Wernher von Braun and many other scientists, engineers and technicians were brought to the United States to work with the U.S. Army’s ballistic missile program at Fort Bliss, Texas, White Sands Proving Grounds, and Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Ala. Tests of the V-2 rockets led to the development of U.S. rockets for the military and NASA’s space program.
May 10, 1967: The M2-F2 lifting body aircraft was seriously damaged in a landing accident on the lakebed, injuring NASA test pilot Bruce A. Peterson. The aircraft impacted the lakebed and rolled several times, coming to rest on its top. The aircraft subsequently was rebuilt with a center fin and a reaction flight control system and was redesignated M2-F3. This was the 16th and final glide flight for the M2-F2. Film taken of the accident was later widely viewed in the popular television series, “The Six-Million Dollar Man.”
May 10, 1972: Fairchild Republic’s YA-10A Thunderbolt II made its first flight, flown by company chief test pilot Howard “Sam” Nelson, in Farmingdale, N.Y. The twin-engine, twin-tailed ground attack aircraft was designed around the General Electric GAU-8 Avenger 30mm rotary cannon. One experimental two-seat A-10 Night Adverse Weather (N/AW) version was built by converting an A-10A.
The N/AW was developed by Fairchild from the first Demonstration Testing and Evaluation A-10 for consideration by the Air Force. It included a second seat for a weapons system officer responsible for electronic countermeasures, navigation, and target acquisition. The N/AW version did not interest the U.S. Air Force or export customers. The two-seat trainer version was ordered by the Air Force in 1981, but funding was canceled by U.S. Congress and the jet was not produced. The only two-seat A-10 built now resides at Edwards Air Force Base’s Flight Test Center Museum in California.
May 11, 1934: The Douglas DC-2 makes its first flight. The DC-2 was a 14-passenger, twin-engine airliner that began production in 1934. It competed with the Boeing 247. In 1935, Douglas produced a larger version called the DC-3, which became one of the most successful aircraft in history. Although overshadowed by its ubiquitous successor, it was the DC-2 that first showed that passenger air travel could be comfortable, safe, and reliable.
May 11, 1964: Jacqueline Cochran, flying a new Lockheed-owned F-104G, established a new women’s world speed record over a 15km straightway course at a speed of 1,429.297 mph. She was the first woman to fly faster than Mach 2. In her autobiography, Cochrane wrote “Picture in your mind a rectangular tunnel, 300 feet high, a quarter of a mile wide, and extending 20 miles long through the air at an altitude of 35,000 feet. I had to fly through that tunnel at top speed without touching a side. There were no walls to see but radar and ground instruments let me know my mistakes immediately. Up there at 35,000 feet the temperature would be about 45 degrees below zero. Not pleasant but perfect for what I was doing. Inside the plane you are hot because of the friction of speeding through the air like that. The cockpit was air-conditioned, but when you descend, things happen so fast the plane’s air-cooling system can’t keep up with it. I was always hot and perspiring back on the ground.” Cochran went on to set three speed records in this F-104G. In 1981, under the Military Assistance Program, the U.S. Air Force transferred the aircraft to the Republic of China Air Force.
May 11, 1964: The first prototype North American XB-70A-1-NA Valkyrie rolled out at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, Calif. A crowd of more than 5,000 were on hand for the event. In August 1960, the U.S. Air Force had contracted for one XB-70 prototype and 11 pre-production YB-70 development aircraft. By 1964, however, the program had been scaled back to two XB-70As and one XB-70B. Only two were completed. The B-70 was designed as a Mach 3+ strategic bomber capable of flying higher than 70,000 feet.
May 12, 1949: The Soviet Union lifted its blockade of Berlin. In this photograph, children watch a U.S. cargo plane landing at Tempelhof Airfield in Berlin, 1948.
May 12, 1953: A modified Boeing B-50 Superfortress, carrying the Bell X-2, was conducting a captive carry test over Lake Ontario between the United States and Canada. The bomber was equipped with a system to keep the X-2’s liquid oxygen tank filled as the cryogenic oxidizer boiled off. With Bell’s Chief of Flight Research, test pilot “Skip” Ziegler, in the bomb bay above the X-2, the system operation was being tested. There was an explosion and the X-2 fell from the bomber into Lake Ontario. Ziegler and Frank Wolko, an engineer, died in the incident. Ziegler and an engineer aboard the bomber, Frank Wolko, were both lost. Robert F. Walters, a technician in the aft section of the B-50 with Wolko, was badly burned and suffered an injured eye. The B-50’s pilots, William J. Leyshon and David Howe, made an emergency landing at the Bell Aircraft Corporation factory. The bomber was so heavily damaged that it never flew again. Heavy fog over the lake hampered search efforts. Neither the bodies of Ziegler and Wolko or the wreckage of the X-2 were ever found.