Feb. 21, 1940. Henry A.H. Boot and John T. Randall, working at the University of Birmingham, England, create the first practical magnetron. The magnetron, a resonant-cavity microwave generator, is vital in the development of airborne radar.
March 26, 1940. Boeing company pilot Eddie Allen, on loan to Curtiss Wright, makes the first flight of the CW-20T company demonstrator at St. Louis. The CW-20 is the prototype for the C-46 Commando transport, the largest and heaviest twin engine aircraft to see service with the Army Air Forces. It also will see action in the Korean War and the early stages of the Vietnam conflict.
May 16, 1940. President Roosevelt calls for 50,000 military airplanes a year.
July 10, 1940. The Luftwaffe attacks British shipping in the English Channel docks in South Wales. These actions are the first in what will become the Battle of Britain.
Aug. 13–Oct. 5, 1940. Against overwhelming odds, Royal Air Force pilots fend off the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain and ward off German invasion of the British Isles. The Luftwaffe loses 1,733 aircraft and crews.
Sept. 17, 1940. Adolf Hitler announces that Operation Sea Lion, the German invasion of Great Britain, “has been postponed indefinitely.” This effectively marks the end of the Battle of Britain, although fighting would continue.
Oct. 8, 1940. The Royal Air Force announces formation of the first Eagle Squadron, a Fighter Command unit to consist of volunteer pilots from the US.
Oct. 26, 1940. Company pilot Vance Breese makes the first flight of the North American NA-73, the prototype for the P-51 Mustang, at Inglewood, Calif. During World War II, P-51 pilots would record more than half of the air-to-air victories in Europe, and the aircraft would serve as long-range bomber escort in the Pacific.
Nov. 25, 1940. Company test pilot William K. “Ken” Ebel makes the first flight of the Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber (there was no prototype) at the company’s Middle River, Md., plant. Although development difficulties would plague the aircraft, the B-26 would go to have distinguished career in World War II.
Nov. 25, 1940. The prototype for the deHavilland D.H. 98 Mosquito, developed in just 11 months, flies for the first time at Hatfield, England. A fighter version flies on May 15, 1941, followed by a reconnaissance version on June 10, 1941. The Mosquito, made primarily of a plywood and balsa laminate, was very fast (nearly 400 mph for the fighter and bomber versions; 425 mph for the recce version), very maneuverable, with long range. It would see action all over the world, including with USAAF units in Europe.
Dec. 31, 1940. The prototype of the H8K four-engine, long range reconnaissance flying boat is completed at the Kawanishi factory near Osaka, Japan. It flies for the first time several weeks later. Given the Allied code name “Emily,” the H8K was massive (124 foot wingspan, 92 foot length, and 30 foot height), heavily armed, maneuverable, and fast (approximately 290 mph). Allied pilots would come to regard it as one of the hardest Japanese aircraft to shoot down.
January 1941. War Department announces establishment of the 99th Pursuit Squadron and the Tuskegee training program for black pilots at Tuskegee, Ala.
Jan. 9, 1941. The Avro Lancaster heavy bomber prototype makes its first flight at Woodford, England. The four-engine Lancaster can carry 14,000 pounds of bombs and has a range of 1,600 miles. The Lancaster was used to carry the 22,000-pound ‘Tallboy’ bomb, the largest conventional bomb used by the Allies.
March 22, 1941. The first black flying unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, is activated. It becomes one of three squadrons of the 332nd Fighter Group—known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
April 11, 1941. With the possibility that the US would be drawn into World War II and that all of Europe could be in Axis hands, the Army Air Corps invites Consolidated and Boeing to submit design studies for a bomber capable of achieving 450 mph at 25,000 feet, a range of 12,000 miles at 275 mph, and a payload of 4,000 pounds of bombs at maximum range. This study results in the Convair B-36.
April 18, 1941. Local newspaper publisher Amon G. Carter and Army Air Corps Maj. Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold break ground for the new Consolidated Aircraft plant in Fort Worth, Texas. The $50 million plant, which would produce B-24s and B-32s during World War II and later the B-36, B-58, F-111 and F-16 aircraft, is completed a year later, 100 days ahead of schedule.
April 22, 1941. During the battle for Greece, Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Marmaduke Thomas St. John “Pat” Pattle, flying a Hawker Hurricane, shoots down three German fighters, and then is himself shot down by Messerschmitt Bf-110s. He crashes into the Aegean Sea. Officially credited with 23 aerial victories, he may have had as many as 20 more, which would have made him the RAF’s leading ace of World War II; however, most records are lost when the British evacuate Greece.
May 6, 1941. Company test pilot Lowery Brabham makes the first flight of the Republic XP-47B Thunderbolt at Farmingdale, N.Y. The P-47, the heaviest single-engine fighter ever built in the US, will see action in every theater in World War II as both a high-altitude escort fighter and as a low-level fighter bomber.
May 13–14, 1941. In the first mass flight of bombers over the Pacific, 21 B-17s fly from Hamilton Field, Calif., to Hickam Field, Hawaii, in 13 hours, 10 minutes.
June 20, 1941. The Army Air Forces, with Lt. Gen. H.H. “Hap” Arnold as Chief, is established and comprises the Office of the Chief of Air Corps and the Air Force Combat Command.
June 26, 1941. Royal Air Force Pilot Officer James E. “Johnnie” Johnson, flying a Supermarine Spitfire, records his first aerial victory, shooting down a German Messerschmitt Me-109 over France. Johnson goes on to record a total of 38 “kills”— all fighters — to become the RAF’s leading ace of World War II.
June 27, 1941. The experimental—and by this time militarily obsolete—Douglas XB-19 bomber is flown for the first time by Army Air Forces Lt. Col. Stanley Umstead and Maj. Howard G. Bunker (with a crew of five) at Clover Field, Santa Monica, Calif. The XB-19, with a wingspan of 212 feet, a length of 132 feet, and a height of 42 feet is the largest aircraft built until the B-36 six years later.
July 8, 1941. The RAF makes a daylight attack on Wilhelmshaven, Germany, using Boeing Fortress Is. This is the first operational use of the B-17 Flying Fortress.
Aug. 7, 1941. The Grumman XTBF-2 torpedo bomber prototype makes its first flight at Bethpage, Long Island, NY. Officially nicknamed Avenger, the TBF/TBM (the General Motors-built version) series made its debut at the Battle of Midway in 1942 and would serve with the Navy in a variety of roles, including antisubmarine warfare and as an airborne early warning radar aircraft until 1954. Called “Turkey” by pilots, the Avenger would serve in the air arms of several other countries until the early 1960s. A total of 9,839 aircraft of all versions would be built.
Aug. 12, 1941. The first AAF rocket-assisted takeoff of an airplane is made by Capt. Homer Boushey, a Wright Field test pilot, at Dayton, Ohio. Boushey flies a civilian Ercoupe airplane with rockets attached to its wings.
Aug. 27, 1941. Pilot Officer William R. “Wild Bill” Dunn, an American volunteer pilot flying a Hawker Hurricane with the Royal Air Force, is the first US citizen to become an ace when he records his fifth and sixth aerial victories (downing two Messerschmitt Bf-109Fs) over western Belgium. Dunn is flying with 71 Squadron, one of three RAF Eagle Squadrons that are composed of American volunteers.
Oct. 20, 1941. Japan’s Mitsubishi Ki-46, the first truly high performance reconnaissance aircraft, makes its first operational sortie over Malaysia. First flown in late November 1940, the high speed, high altitude (375 mph at 19,000 feet) Ki-46, is given the Allied code name “Dinah.”
Dec. 1, 1941. Civil Air Patrol is established.
Valor: A CAP for the Sub Threat
Dec. 7, 1941. At 7:55 a.m. local time, the Imperial Japanese Navy air force strikes military facilities at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, (including Hickam and Wheeler Fields) in a surprise attack. The first wave consists of 183 aircraft (91 dive bombers, 49 torpedo bombers, and 43 fighters). The second wave began 45 minutes later and consisted of 170 aircraft (80 dive bombers, 54 torpedo bombers, and 36 fighters). In less than two hours, crews flying the 274 aircraft dropped 152.7 tons of bombs and torpedoes. Only 25 AAF fighter pilots got into the air, mainly against the second wave. Maj. Truman H. Landon, leading a flight of unarmed and out of fuel Boeing B-17s flying from California, has to land at Hickam Field in the middle of the raid. These aircraft were virtually ignored by the Japanese, and only one was destroyed and three were damaged. Damage to the US forces in Hawaii, however, was devastating: 2,403 were killed and 1,178 injured (including civilians, roughly 4,500 casualties): Five battleships were sunk (although one was later raised) and three more were damaged; two other ships were sunk; and three cruisers and three destroyers were damaged. Of the 231 US Army aircraft in Hawaii, only 79 were usable; of 169 US Navy aircraft, 82 survived the attack; and 47 of 48 US Marine aircraft were destroyed. Fortunately, the Navy’s Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers were at sea at the time of the attack.
Dec. 7, 1941. 2nd Lt George Welch gets his P-40 into the air over Pearl Harbor and shoots down four Japanese aircraft.
Valor: Pearl Harbor and Beyond
Dec. 8, 1941. The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, company test pilot Robert Stanley makes the first flight of the Bell XP-63 Kingcobra, a bigger and more powerful version of the P-39, at Buffalo, N.Y.
Dec. 10, 1941. Five B-17s of the 93rd Bomb Squadron, 19th Bomb Group, carryout the first heavy bomb mission of World War II, attacking a Japanese convoy near the Philippines and also sinking the first enemy vessel by US aerial combat bombing.
Dec. 10, 1941. Legend says that Colin Kelley sank a Japanese battleship and received the Medal of Honor. Neither assertion is factual. However, Capt. Colin P. Kelley Jr., was a genuine hero. Three days after Pearl Harbor, Kelly’s B-17—lightly armed and without fighter escort—attacked a Japanese landing force in northern Luzon. With the B-17 hit by enemy fighters and burning, Kelly ordered the crew to bail out but the aircraft went down before he could escape himself. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.
Dec. 10, 1941. Marine Capt. Henry Elrod, flying one of the last remaining Grumman F4F Wildcats on Wake Island, shoots down a Mitsubishi G3M (Allied code name “Nell”) bomber. The next day, sinks the destroyer Kisaragi when his two 100-pound bombs detonate depth charges stowed on the ship’s deck and it explodes. Out of aircraft, the pilots of VMF-211 become traditional Marines and Elrod leads troops in ground combat and is killed on Oct. 23. For his actions in the war’s first month, he is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1946, retroactively becoming the first Marine Medal of Honor recipient in World War II.
Dec. 11, 1941. Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr., the author of “High Flight,” the best known poem about aviation, is killed when his Supermarine Spitfire collides with another airplane over Britain. He was only 19 years old. An American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force, Magee had written “High Flight” in Aug. or Sept. and mailed a copy to his parents in Washington, D.C.
Dec. 12, 1941. Capt. Jesus Villamor, flying an obsolete Boeing P-26, manages to shoot down a Japanese bomber over the Philippines. This was the only aerial victory credited to a pilot while flying the “Peashooter,” the AAF’s first monoplane fighter.
Dec. 16, 1941. Lt. Boyd “Buzz” Wagner becomes the first American USAAF ace of World War II by shooting down his fifth Japanese airplane over the Philippines.
Dec. 20, 1941. Led by Claire L. Chennault and flying old shark-mouthed P-40 fighters, the American Volunteer Group—the legendary “Flying Tigers” —begins combat operations over China against the Japanese invaders. Before they are integrated into the US Army Air Forces on July 4, 1942, the Flying Tigers shoot down 300 Japanese aircraft, while losing 50 of their own airplanes and nine pilots.
Feb. 20, 1942. When his wingman’s guns jams, Navy Lt. (j.g.) Edward “Butch” O’Hare, flying a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, finds himself the only thing standing between nine attacking Japanese bombers and his ship, the USS Lexington off New Britain. He shoots down five of the Mitsubishi G4M (Allied code name ‘Betty’) bombers and forces the crews of another four to miss their target. O’Hare, the Navy’s first ace of World War II, is awarded the Medal of Honor.
Feb. 23, 1942. B-17s attack Rabaul, the first Allied raid on the newly established Japanese base.
Feb. 23, 1942. First American air headquarters in Europe in World War II, US Army Bomber Command, is established in England, with Brig. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, commanding.
March 7, 1942. The first five African American pilots graduate from training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. By the end of the war, the Tuskegee Airmen would include 950 pilots and open the door to the armed forces for other African Americans.
March 9, 1942. The US Army is reorganized into three autonomous forces: Army Air Forces, Ground Forces, and Services of Supply.
March 26, 1942. Company pilot John F. Martin (and crew) make the first flight of the Douglas C-54 at Clover Field, Santa Monica, Calif. This long range heavy transport will gain fame in World War II, the Berlin Airlift, and the Korean War.
April 1942. Thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of the Japanese endure the Bataan Death March—or die.
April 8, 1942. The first flight of supplies takes place over “The Hump”—a 500-mile air route from Assam, India, over the Himalayas, to Kunming, China, where the Chinese continue to resist Japanese forces. By Aug., Tenth Air Force will be ferrying over 700 tons a month to these troops who were cut off by the Japanese control of the Burma Road.
Launching the 1st Air Commandos: An Interview with 103-year-old Dick Cole
April 12, 1942. Relaying a request from the pilots of the 94th Pursuit Squadron at March Field, Calif., to improve morale, Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s World War I “ace of aces,” asks Gen. H.H. “Hap” Arnold to restore the “Hat in the Ring” emblem to the 94th PS. The 94th had been forced to change in 1924 to the Indian Head emblem used by the World War I-era 103rd Aero Squadron because of possible commercial endorsement concerns with the Rickenbacker automobile. Arnold agrees.
April 18, 1942. Sixteen North American B-25s, commanded by Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, take off from USS Hornet (CV-8) and bomb Tokyo. For planning and successfully carrying out this daring raid, Doolittle is promoted to brigadier general (skipping the grade of colonel) and is awarded the Medal of Honor.
“The Doolittle Raid,” Air Force Magazine, April 1992 (not yet online)
April 27, 1942. The first contingent of 1,800 Army Air Forces personnel to be sent to Europe sails from Boston, headed for Liverpool. The first crews, flying 18 Boeing B-17s, will leave the US on June 23, and after flying the main ferry route through Labrador, Greenland, and Iceland, and reach England on July 1.
May 4–8, 1942. The Battle of the Coral Sea becomes the first naval engagement fought solely by aircraft.
May 7-8, 1942. On the first day of the Battle of the Coral Sea, Navy Lt. John Powers, flying a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bomber from the USS Yorktown scores a hit on the Japanese carrier Shoho. The next day, a burst of Japanese gunfire injures both Powers and his radioman/gunner and holes one of the SBD’s fuel tanks. Streaming fire, Powers holds his drop to point-blank range on the Japanese carrier Shokaku. The 1,000 pound bomb sets off a secondary explosion that damages the ship so severely that it later sinks. He crashes in flames just beyond the carrier. Powers is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
May 8, 1942. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Navy Lt. (j.g.) William E. Hall, with radioman/gunner S1C John Moore, engages four Japanese Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers (Allied code name ‘Kate’) attempting to attack the USS Lexington (CV-3) and shoot down two of them. Jumped by three pilots flying Mitsubishi A6M Zeros (‘Zekes’), Hall claims two, while Moore gets credit for shooting down the other. Injured during the fight. For this and other actions during the battle, Hall is awarded the Medal of Honor.
May 14, 1942. The first captured German aircraft arrives in the United States for evaluation. The aircraft, a Messerschmitt Bf-109E that had previously been evaluated by the British, is delivered to Wright Field, Ohio.
May 26, 1942. Contract test pilot Vance Breese makes the first flight of the Northrop XP-61 Black Widow from Northrop Field in Hawthorne, Calif. The Black Widow is the Army Air Forces’ first purpose-designed night fighter.
May 30, 1942. The Sikorsky XR-4 Hoverfly, the prototype of the world’s first production helicopter and the only US helicopter to see action in World War II, is officially accepted by the Army Air Forces at Wright Field, Ohio. Company pilot C.L. “Les” Morris had flown the prototype 761 miles from the Stratford, Conn., factory to Wright Field in five days and 16 flights, and Igor Sikorsky was the passenger on the last hop from Springfield, Ohio, to the base. They were met by Orville Wright when they arrived.
June 3–4, 1942. In the Battle of Midway, three US carriers destroy four Japanese carriers while losing one of their own, inflicting a major defeat on the Japanese fleet.
June 12, 1942. In the first mission against a European target, 13 B-24s of HALPRO Detachment fly from Egypt against the Ploesti, Romania, oil fields.
June 4, 1942. After his squadron commander is shot down in the Battle of Midway, Marine Capt. Richard Fleming, flying a Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless dive bomber, leads an attack on the Japanese carrier Hiryu, dropping his bomb from an altitude of 400 feet and scoring a hit, despite heavy antiaircraft fire and fighter attacks. He returns to the airstrip on the island with 175 holes in his aircraft. The next day, flying an obsolete Vought SB2U-3 Vindicator, he attacks the cruiser Mikuma, but the aircraft is shot down and both he and gunner PFC George Toms are killed. Fleming is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
June 26, 1942. The Grumman XF6F-1 prototype makes its first flight at Bethpage, Long Island, NY. In two years of combat, Naval aviators flying Hellcats (as the type was later officially nicknamed) would account for the destruction of 5,216 Japanese aircraft, while British F6F pilots in the South Pacific added 47 more, and British and American Hellcat pilots downed 13 German aircraft in Europe. Approximately 270 F6Fs were lost in air combat, but with a grand total of 5,216 Axis aircraft destroyed, Hellcat pilots recorded a 19:1 kill ratio. A total of 12,275 Hellcats were built and the type remained in service with several foreign countries until 1961.
July 4, 1942. US crews of the 15th Bombardment Squadron, operating British Boston IIIs (the RAF version of the Douglas A-20 Havoc), fly the first Army Air Forces bomber mission over Western Europe. Four aerodromes in The Netherlands were attacked.
July 4, 1942. The Flying Tigers are incorporated into the AAF as the 23rd Pursuit Group.
Valor: They Said It Couldn’t Be Done
July 7, 1942. A B-18 of 396th Bombardment Squadron sinks a German submarine off Cherry Point, N.C., in first sure aerial victory off the Atlantic coast by aircraft.
July 10, 1942. Company test pilot Ben O. Howard makes the first flight of the Douglas XA-26 Invader prototype at El Segundo, Calif. The A-26 would experience development difficulties, but Invaders would be used to great effect in World War II and Korea, and would be recalled to service in Vietnam.
July 18, 1942. The all-jet powered Messerschmitt Me-262 Schwalbe (“Swallow”) prototype makes its first flight at Leipheim, Germany. (A piston-engine powered version had been flown the previous year). The Me-262 is the world’s first jet to enter operational service. In just over a month in 1944, Jagdverband a squadron hand assembled by Gen. Adolf Galland, the Luftwaffe’s chief of fighters, shoots down 45 Allied bombers.
Aug. 7, 1942. Capt. Harl Pease Jr., had flown a mission on Aug. 6 in his Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, which lost an engine near Rabaul, New Britain. He was forced to return to his base in Australia. He was not scheduled for the next day’s missions and all serviceable airplanes had crews assigned. He locates an unserviced bomber, somehow persuades the crew chief to get it in shape, and, with a volunteer crew, joins the day’s mission against the enemy at an airfield near Rabaul. When the formation is intercepted by approximately 30 enemy fighter pilots, Pease’s crew destroys several Zeroes before dropping his bombs as planned. The fight lasts 25 minutes until the group dives into cloud cover. After leaving the target, Pease’s aircraft falls behind and the enemy ignites one of his bomb bay fuel tanks. He is seen dropping the flaming tank, but the airplane and crew do not return to base. Pease is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, and in 1957, the (now closed) air base at Portsmouth, N.H., will be named Pease AFB in his honor.
Valor: Rabaul on a Wing and a Prayer
Aug. 17, 1942. The first American heavy bomber mission in western Europe in World War II is flown by B- 17s of the 97th Bombardment Group against the Rouen-Sotteville railyards in France.
Aug. 30, 1942. Marine Capt. John L. Smith, flying a Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat, shoots down four Japanese aircraft over Guadalcanal. From Aug. 21 through the middle of October, Smith shoots down 19 Japanese aircraft. For this feat and his leadership in which his squadron shot down 126.5 aircraft, he appears on the cover of Life Magazine and is awarded the Medal of Honor.
Sept. 9, 1942. The three Royal Air Force squadrons (Nos. 71, 121, and 133), which are composed of American volunteers, are transferred to the Army Air Forces and reformed into the 4th Fighter Group. The pilots of the Eagle Squadrons, which had flown Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires, had been in combat since mid 1941.
Sept. 21, 1942. Company test pilot Eddie Allen and crew make the first flight of the Boeing XB-29 Superfortress in Seattle, Wash. Designed as a replacement for the B-17 and B-24, the B-29 is considered the ultimate World War II bomber.
Oct. 1, 1942. The Bell XP-59A lifts off from Rogers Dry Lake, Calif., with Bell test pilot Robert Stanley at the controls. It is the first flight of a jet airplane in the United States. The next day, Col. Lawrence C. “Bill” Cragie becomes the first AAF pilot to fly a jet when he makes the type’s “official” first flight.
Oct. 2, 1942. Marine Maj. Bob Galer, leading a force of a dozen Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats, goes against nine Mitsubishi G4M (Allied code name “Betty”) bombers over Guadalcanal, but quickly realizes he has been caught in an ambush, as 36 Mitsubishi A6M Zero (‘Zeke’) fighters swoop down. He fights his way out of the engagement, shooting down two Zeros. By October, his total of aerial victories will reach 13. Galer was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism and leadership.
Oct. 16, 1942. At the end of a five-hour ferry flight and nearly out of fuel, Marine Lt. Col. Harold Bauer, leading a flight of Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats, encounters nine Aichi D3A dive bombers (Allied code name “Val”) attacking the USS McFarland, a transport bringing vital supplies to Guadalcanal. The other 18 US aircraft have to land, but Colonel Bauer, remaining airborne, catches four of the attackers as they withdraw and shoots three down and forces the fourth to crash land. He then lands with his aircraft running on fumes. On Nov. 14, Bauer is shot down and his body is never recovered. He is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Oct. 25, 1942. In two missions over Guadalcanal, Capt. Joe Foss, the executive officer of VMF-121, shoots down five Japanese aircraft, becoming the Marine Corps’ first “ace in a day.” Foss’s total of aerial victories eventually reaches 26, making him the first American pilot in World War II to match Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker’s World War I record. Foss is awarded the Medal of Honor. After the war, he moves to the Air National Guard and becomes national president of the Air Force Association.
Nov. 2, 1942. NAS Patuxent River, Md., is established as the Navy’s test center for aircraft and equipment.
Nov. 8, 1942. Col. Demas T. Craw, the deputy executive officer of the 2nd Bomb Command, Maj. Pierpont M. Hamilton, assistant chief of staff for intelligence for the landings in North Africa, and one infantryman come ashore with the first wave of the 9th Infantry Division at Port Lyautey, French Morocco, in a clandestine effort to secure an armistice from the Vichy French commander. The Americans get behind the Vichy lines, but Craw is killed as their vehicle is attacked. Hamilton and the enlisted driver are captured. With a full scale attack eminent, the French commander in Casablanca agrees to a armistice with Hamilton, who, after reaching a US tank on the beach, radios Gen. George S. Patton to stop the action. Both Craw and Hamilton are awarded the Medal of Honor. Hamilton’s service career would extend into the mid 1950s. He will pass away in 1982.
Nov. 8–11, 1942. Army pilots take off from carriers to support the invasion of North Africa. The P-40 pilots then touch down at land bases.
Nov. 9, 1942. The Piper L-4, the Piper Cub in its military incarnation, is flown into combat for the first time, as three aircraft take off from a Navy aircraft carrier deck to spot for ground forces going ashore in the invasion of North Africa. The L-4s are piloted by Lt. William Butler (with Capt. Brenton Deval sitting in the back seat), Lt. John R. Shell, and Capt. Ford Allcorn.
Dec. 1942. The first issue of the AAF’s Air Force Magazine is published. It succeeds the Army Air Forces Newsletter.
Dec. 4, 1942. Ninth Air Force B-24 Liberator crews, based in Egypt, bomb Naples—the first American attacks in Italy.
Dec. 27, 1942. 2nd Lt. Richard I. Bong, who would later go on to be America’s leading ace of all time and receive the Medal of Honor, records his first aerial victory. Bong recorded all of his victories while flying the Lockheed P-38, scoring more than half of his aerial victories while flying with the 9th Fighter Squadron.
Jan. 1, 1943. US Marine Corps dive and torpedo bombers are jumped by Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zeros (Allied code name “Zeke”) in the Solomon Islands. Marine 1st Lt. Jefferson DeBlanc, flying cover, engages the Zeros, but abandons that fight to take on Mitsubishi F1M (“Pete”) floatplanes now attacking the bombers. He shoots down two and disperses the others before the Zeros reappear. Low on fuel, he shoots down three Zeros before bailing out of his severely damaged Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat. In 1946, he is recalled to active duty specifically to go to the White House to “trade in” the Navy Cross, originally awarded for this action, for the Medal of Honor.
Jan. 5, 1943. Army Air Forces Maj. Gen. Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz is appointed commander in chief of the Allied Air Forces in North Africa.
Jan. 5, 1943. Brig. Gen. Kenneth N. Walker leads an effective daylight bombing raid against shipping in the harbor at Rabaul, New Britain, scoring direct hits on nine enemy vessels. His airplane is disabled and forced down by enemy fighters. As commanding general of the 5th Bomber Command, Walker had repeatedly accompanied his B-24 and B-25 units on bombing missions deep into enemy territory and developed a highly efficient technique for bombing when opposed by enemy fighter planes and by anti- aircraft fire. For conspicuous leadership above and beyond the call of duty at an extreme hazard to life, he is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. In 1949, the now closed Roswell Army Air Field in New Mexico is renamed Walker AFB in his honor.
Jan. 9, 1943. Famed Boeing test pilot Edmund T. “Eddie” Allen and Lockheed test pilot Milo Burcham make the first flight of the Lockheed C-69 transport (the military version of the Model 49 Constellation) at Burbank, Calif. Allen was on loan to Lockheed for the occasion.
Jan. 27, 1943. The first American air raid on Germany is made by Eighth Air Force B-17 crews against Wilhelmshaven and other targets in the northwestern part of the country.
Feb. 15, 1943. It is announced that Maj. Gen. Ira C. Eaker will succeed Maj. Gen. Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz as commander of AAF’s Eighth Air Force.
Feb. 18, 1943. First class of 39 flight nurses graduates from AAF School of Air Evacuation, Bowman Field, Ky.
Feb. 27, 1943. RAF Bomber Command announces that the Allied air forces have made 2,000 sorties in the past 48 hours.
March 1–3, 1943. In the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, land-based airplanes sank every ship in a Japanese convoy en route to resupply and reinforce the Japanese garrison on New Guinea.
March 2–4, 1943. A Japanese attempt to reinforce Lae, New Guinea, is foiled by aircraft of the Southwest Pacific Air Forces during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Modified B-25s are used for the first time in low- level skip bombing techniques. More than 60 enemy aircraft are destroyed, and some 40,000 tons of Japanese shipping are sunk.
March 5, 1943. The Gloster F.9/40, the prototype of the Meteor jet fighter, makes its first flight at Glouscestershire, England. The Meteor is the Royal Air Force’s first operational jet and is the only Allied jet fighter to see combat in World War II.
March 10, 1943. Fourteenth Air Force is formed under the command of Maj. Gen. Claire L. Chennault.
March 19, 1943. Lt. Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold is promoted to four-star rank, a first for the Army Air Forces.
April 4, 1943. The B-24 Lady Be Good, returning from a bombing mission, overshoots its base at Soluch, Libya, and is not heard from again. In 1959, the wreckage will be found by an oil exploration party 440 miles into the Libyan desert.
April 7, 1943. Marine 1st Lt. James E. Swett, flying a Grumman F4F-4 ,shoots down eight Aichi D3A (Allied code name “Val”) dive bombers near Guadalcanal, setting the Marine Corps record for aerial victories in a single flight. He later receives the Medal of Honor.
April 8, 1943. The Republic P-47 enters combat, as Thunderbolt pilots escort B-17s over Europe. The 56th and 78th Fighter Groups were the first to equip with the “Jug.”
April 15, 1943. In action in the Solomon Islands, Marine 1st Lt. Kenneth Walsh, whose group is outnumbered six to one, repeatedly dives his plane into an enemy formation. Although his plane is hit numerous times, he shoots down two Aichi D3A (Allied code name “Val”) dive bombers and a Mitsubishi A6M Zero (‘Zeke’). Two weeks later, Walsh shoots down four Zeros. After being hit with machine gun and cannon fire, he ditches off Vella Lavella. For his actions on these two missions, he receives the Medal of Honor .
April 18, 1943. P-38 pilots from Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, intercept and shoot down two Mitsubishi “Betty” bombers over Bougainville. The aerial ambush kills Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned the Pearl Harbor attack.
April 21, 1943. Navy Capt. Frederick M. Trapnell becomes the first Naval aviator to pilot a jet powered aircraft when he flies the Bell XP-59 Airacomet at Muroc, Calif., as an exchange pilot.
May 1, 1943. SSgt. Maynard H. Smith flies his first mission as a gunner aboard a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress with the 306th Bomb Group’s 423rd Squadron over Europe. On return, over St. Nazaire, France, his bomber is subjected to intense enemy antiaircraft fire and fighter airplane attacks, being hit several times with fires in the radio compartment and waist sections. Three of the crew bail out over water. On his own, Smith succeeds in extinguishing the flames, renders first aid to a wounded crew member, mans the workable guns, and throws exploding ammunition overboard. He is later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, one of only four AAF enlisted men to receive the award in World War II.
May 6, 1943. USAAF Capt. H. Franklin Gregory, flying the Sikorsky XR-4 Hoverfly, makes the first helicopter landing on a ship as he touches down on the S.S. Bunker Hill riding at anchor in Long Island Sound, N.Y.
May 17, 1943. Eleven crews flying Martin B-26s take off from England for a low level bombing mission in Holland. One turns back because of mechanical difficulty. The remaining 10 aircraft are all shot down. This mission results in a change in tactics, as from that point on, Marauder crews bomb from medium altitudes of 10,000 to 15,000 feet where they will suffer only light losses to anti-aircraft fire.
May 17, 1943. The Memphis Belle, a 91st Bomb Group Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress, becomes the first heavy bomber in the European Theater to complete 25 combat missions and return to the United States, where the crew and aircraft went on a war bonds tour. The aircraft received its name from the leader of its primary crew, then-Lt. Robert Morgan, who named it after his girl friend, Margaret Polk of Memphis. Noted Hollywood director (Lt. Col.) William Wyler produced a wartime documentary of the Memphis Belle.
May 18, 1943. An aerial bombing offensive is opened against the island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Italy, to weaken it for invasion. As landing craft approached the island on June 11, its defenders surrendered, completely exhausted from weeks of being bombed. This marked the first time a major military objective had surrendered because of airpower.
May 30, 1943. All organized Japanese resistance ceases on Attu in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska. Attu was recaptured by American forces at a fearful cost in lives; all but 28 members of the Japanese garrison sacrificed themselves.
June 15, 1943. The 58th Bombardment Wing, the Army Air Forces’ first B-29 unit, is established at Marietta, Ga.
June 15, 1943. The world’s first operational jet bomber, the German Arado Ar-234V-1 Blitz, makes its first flight.
June 16, 1943. Capt. Jay Zeamer Jr. volunteers as pilot of a bomber to photograph the formidable defended area of Buka, Solomon Islands. Although 20 enemy fighters were taking off from the airfield, Zeamer proceeds with his mapping run. In the attack, he is injured in both arms and legs, but maneuvers the damaged airplane so skillfully that his gunners fight off the enemy for 40 minutes, destroying five planes. In wavering consciousness, he turns over the controls and directs the flight to a base 580 miles away. Zeamer is later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Valor: Battle Over Bougainville
June 16, 1943. 2nd Lt. Joseph R. Sarnoski volunteers as a bombardier on a Consolidated B-24 Liberator crew for an important photographic mission covering the heavily defended Buka area in the Solomon Islands. When the mission is nearly completed, approximately 20 enemy fighter pilots intercept the aircraft. At the nose guns, Sarnoski fights off the first attackers, allowing the pilot to finish the plotted course. When a frontal attack extensively damages the airplane and seriously injures five of the crew, he continues firing and shoots down two enemy airplanes, despite his own injuries. A 20 mm shell bursts in the nose, knocking him into the catwalk under the cockpit. He crawls back to his post and continues firing until he collapses on his guns and dies. Sarnoski is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Valor: Battle Over Bougainville
July 2, 1943. AAF Lt. Charles Hall shoots down a German FW-190 over Sicily, becoming the first black US flier to down an Axis airplane.
July 6, 1943. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bruce A. Van Voorhis, piloting a Consolidated PB4Y-1 Privateer, reportedly attacks the Japanese base on Hare (Greenwich) Island in the Carolines, and “makes six bold, ground- level attacks to demolish the enemy’s vital radio station, installations, antiaircraft guns, and to destroy one fighter plane in the air and three on the water. Caught in his own bomb blast, [he] crashed into the lagoon.” He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. After the war, it is determined that little damage was inflicted on the radio station and that Commander Van Voorhis was likely shot down while make a low approach to the airfield.
July 6, 1943. Mladshy Leitenant (Captain) Ivan Kozhedub, flying a Lavochkin La-5 fighter, records his first aerial victory. Kozhedub would eventually reach 62 “kills,” making him the Soviet Union’s all-time leading ace.
July 19, 1943. Rome is bombed for the first time. Flying from Benghazi, Libya, 158 B-17 crews and 112 B-24 crews carry out a morning raid. A second attack is staged in the afternoon.
July 21, 1943. War Department Field Manual 100-20, reflecting lessons of North Africa Campaign, states: “Land power and airpower are co-equal and interdependent forces; neither is an auxiliary of the other.”
July 28, 1943. 2nd Lt. John C. Morgan is copilot of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress when it is attacked and damaged by enemy fighter pilots; the pilot is injured and falls over the aircraft’s control yoke. Morgan takes the controls and, despite the frantic struggles of the semiconscious pilot, pulls the airplane back into formation. Hearing no fire from the bomber’s gunners, he believes they have bailed out. He decides to continue the flight unassisted to and over the target and back to safety to protect any crew members still on board. For two hours, he flies in formation with one hand on the controls and the other holding off the struggling pilot before the navigator enters the cockpit and pulls the pilot off. The mission is completed and the aircraft and crew return safely. Morgan was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. He was shot down over Germany on March 6, 1944, and held as a prisoner of war until May 1, 1945.
Aug. 1, 1943. Staging from Benghazi, 177 Ninth Air Force B-24s drop 311 tons of bombs from low level on the oil refineries at Ploesti during Operation Tidal Wave. Forty-nine aircraft are lost, and seven others land in Turkey. This is the first large-scale, minimum-altitude attack by AAF heavy bombers on a strongly defended target. It is also the longest major bombing mission to date in terms of distance from base to target. Five AAF officers, Col. Leon Johnson, Col. John R. Kane, Lt. Col. Addison E. Baker, Maj. John L. Jerstad, 2nd Lt. Lloyd Hughes would be awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions. More AAF Medals of Honor were awarded for this mission than any other in the service’s history.
Valor: The Ordeal of Sad Sack II
Aug. 5, 1943. The Women’s Auxiliary Ferry Squadron (WAFS), comprising women flyers with commercial licenses, is merged with the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, which had been formed to recruit and train women pilots for ferrying duties. The new organization, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), is led by famed aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran.
Valor: The WASPs of World War II
Aug. 6, 1943. The Fourteenth Air Force insignia, a winged, pouncing tiger under the Army Air Forces star, is officially approved. The insignia, which had been the symbol of the American Volunteer Group in China, was drawn at the request of Gen. Claire Chennault, the AVG commander, by Hank Porter, an artist with Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. The idea for the design, however, was originated by Roy Williams, who will become the “Big Mouseketeer” on the “Mickey Mouse Club” television show in the 1950s.
Aug. 17, 1943. Eighth Air Force bombers attack the Messerschmitt works at Regensburg, Germany, and ball-bearing plants at Schweinfurt in a massive daylight raid. German fighters down 60 of the 376 American aircraft.
Against Regensburg and Schweinfurt
Aug. 18, 1943. While leading a formation of North American B-25 Mitchell bombers against the heavily defended Japanese air base at Wewak, New Guinea, Maj. Ralph Cheli’s aircraft is intercepted and damaged. Although a crash is inevitable, only after the bombing and strafing run is completed and the base heavily damaged does Cheli relinquish the formation lead. He then ditches the B-25 in the sea. Captured by the Japanese, he dies on March 6, 1944, when, while being transferred to Japan, the troop ship that he was on was bombed and sunk. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Wewak.
Aug. 31, 1943. The Grumman F6F Hellcat goes into operational use with VF-5 off USS Yorktown (CV-10) in an attack on Marcus Island, 700 miles south of Japan. Hellcat pilots will account for nearly three-fourths of all Navy air-to-air victories in World War II.
Sept. 12, 1943. German commandos, led by Capt. Otto Skorzeny, help Italian dictator Benito Mussolini break out of a hotel in Gran Sasso where he is being held prisoner. Skorzeny and Il Duce escape in a Fieseler Fi-156 Storch observation airplane.
Sept. 27, 1943. P-47s with belly tanks go the whole distance with Eighth Air Force bombers for a raid on Emden, Germany.
Oct. 11, 1943. Col. Neel E. Kearby volunteers to lead a reconnaissance mission over a heavily defended Japanese base near Weewak, New Guinea. After completing the mission and shooting down a stray fighter, Kearby sights 12 enemy bombers and 36 fighters, and despite being low on fuel, gives his flight the signal to press the attack. He personally shoots down three aircraft in quick succession and then shoots down two enemy aircraft that were pursuing his wingman. He pulls his flight together in the clouds and then escapes to safety. For his actions on this date, Kearby was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Oct. 14, 1943. Eighth Air Force conducts the second raid on the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt, Germany. As a result, the Germans will disperse their ball-bearing manufacturing. The raid becomes known as “Black Thursday,” since only 228 of the 291 B-17s sent on the raid actually put their bombs on the target. Sixty B-17s were shot down over the continent, five more crashed in England because of battle damage, 12 more had to be scrapped because of battle damage or crash landings, and 121 bombers had to be repaired before flying again. The human toll was even higher, as 600 men were lost over enemy territory, and there were five dead and 43 airmen wounded on the B-17s that did return. Only 35 German fighters were shot down.
Oct. 17, 1943. Marine Corps Maj. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington and his squadron shoot down eight Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zeros. Before being shot down and captured in 1944, Boyington records 22 aerial victories. For his leadership of the Black Sheep squadron and his officially credited 28 victories (six of them with the Flying Tigers in China), he is first awarded the Navy Cross, and later the Medal of Honor.
Oct. 31, 1943. Over New Georgia in the Solomon Islands, a Chance Vought F4U-2 Corsair aviator accomplishes the Navy’s first successful radar-guided interception.
Nov. 2, 1943. Maj. Raymond H. Wilkins leads a formation of eight North American B-25 Mitchells against enemy shipping in Simpson Harbor, Rabaul, New Britain, on his 87th combat mission. Starting the attack, his airplane is hit almost immediately, the right wing is damaged and control is rendered extremely difficult. He holds fast, leads his squadron into the attack, strafes a group of small harbor vessels and then, at low level, attacks an enemy destroyer, which explodes. He also attacks and explodes a transport. As he begins to withdraw, a heavy cruiser bars the path, so he goes in for a strafing run to neutralize the cruiser’s guns and attract their fire. Wilkins’s airplane is damaged beyond control and crashes into the sea. He is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic self-sacrifice. Wilkins AFS at Shelby, Ohio, was named in his honor during its period of activation.
Nov. 20, 1943. The stage play “Winged Victory” opens on Broadway. The Army Air Forces sponsored play, penned by famed playwright Moss Hart, tells the story of the AAF Training Command and the efforts of cadets to earn their wings. The cast of nearly 300 are all service members and includes such personalities as SSgt. Edmund O’Brien, Sgt. Barry Nelson, Cpl. Karl Malden, and Cpl. Red Buttons. The play is later produced as a Hollywood film.
Nov. 22–26, 1943. At the Cairo Conference, President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill, along with Chiang Kai-Shek, agree that B-29s will be based in the China-Burma-India theater for strikes on the Japanese home islands.
Dec. 5, 1943. P-51 pilots begin escorting US bombers to European targets. Ninth Air Force begins Operation Crossbow raids against German bases where secret weapons are being developed.
Dec. 20, 1943. A 20 mm cannon shell explodes in the radio compartment of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress during the bombing of Bremen, seriously injuring TSgt. Forrest L. Vosler. At about the same time, a direct hit on the tail gunner wounds him and damages his guns. Vosler keeps up a steady stream of fire, even after another enemy shell explodes, wounding him in the face and neck and lodging pieces of metal in both eyes. When the pilot decides to ditch, Vosler, working entirely by touch, gets the radio equipment up and running and sends out distress signals despite lapsing into unconsciousness. When the airplane is ditched, he gets out on the wing himself and holds the wounded tail gunner from slipping off until the other crew members could help them into the dinghy. For his actions, President Roosevelt later presents Vosler the Medal of Honor at the White House.
Valor: Ordeal by Flak and Fighter
Dec. 24, 1943. First major Eighth Air Force assault on German V-weapon sites is made when 670 B-17s and B-24s bomb the Pas de Calais area of France.
Jan. 8, 1944. Developed in only 143 days, the prototype Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star, Lulu Belle, makes its first flight at Muroc Dry Lake (later Edwards AFB), Calif., with Milo Burcham at the controls. It is the first American fighter to exceed 500 mph in level flight.
Jan. 11, 1944. While escorting a group of B-17s and B-24s near Oschersleben, Germany, Lt. Col. James H. Howard engages a group of German Bf-109s and Bf-110s climbing to attack the bombers. Howard shoots downs one of the fighters and his squadron mates shoots down eight more. Realizing the “Big Friends’ are now unprotected, he climbs and single-handedly takes on 30 fighters attacking the bombers without waiting for his wingman or the rest of his squadron. He shoots down at least four of the attackers and then three of his six .50 cal. machine guns jam. Even though his fuel is low, he continues to press the fight and damages two more aircraft. He survives the engagement and is later awarded the Medal of Honor. He is the only pilot flying a North American P-51 Mustang to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II.
Jan. 11, 1944. The first US use of forward-firing rockets is made by Navy TBF-1C Avenger crews against a German submarine.
Jan. 22, 1944. Mediterranean Allied Air Forces fly 1,200 sorties in support of Operation Shingle, the amphibious landings at Anzio, Italy.
Feb. 3, 1944. Marine 1st Lt. Robert Hanson is shot down and killed while attacking a radar site at Cape St. George, New Ireland Island. In six months of action in the South Pacific, Hanson recorded 25 victories, including 20 enemy aircraft in six missions over 13 days in January 1944. He is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Feb. 11, 1944. Despite constant mortar shelling and gunfire from Japanese shore installations and waves up to 15 feet high, Navy Lt. (j.g.) Nathan Gordon lands his Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina seaplane in Kavieng Harbor, New Ireland Island, four separate times (including flying directly over the enemy base on approach for the last landing) and rescues three Army Air Force crews whose North American B-25 Mitchells had been shot down. He is awarded the Medal of Honor. Gordon later serves as the governor of Arkansas for 20 years.
Feb. 15, 1944. The Nazi-occupied Abbey of Monte Cassino, Italy, is destroyed by 254 American B-17, B- 25, and B-26 crews attacking in two waves. The ruins of the abbey will not be captured by Fifth Army until May 18, 1944.
Feb. 20, 1944. The first mission of “Big Week”—six days of strikes by Eighth Air Force (based in England) and Fifteenth Air Force (based in Italy) against German aircraft plants —is flown.
Feb. 20, 1944. Coming off bombing a target in Europe, 1st Lt. William R. Lawley Jr.’s Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is attacked by 20 enemy fighters, is heavily damaged, and falls out of formation. With eight wounded crew members, a dead copilot, one engine on fire, and severe personal injuries, Lawley brings the bomber under control. Two crew members are too severely wounded to bail out, so Lawley attempts to land the aircraft. He evades additional enemy fighters, remains at his post, and refuses first aid until he collapses and is revived by the bombardier. Coming over the English coast, one engine runs out of fuel, and another starts to burn. Lawley manages to crash land at a fighter base. He is later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions and goes on to complete a career in the Air Force.
Valor: One Turning and One Burning
Feb. 20, 1944. After a bombing run on enemy installations at Leipzig, Germany, a 510th Bomb Squadron Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is attacked, killing the copilot, severely wounding the pilot and radio operator, and extensively damaging the aircraft. SSgt. Archibald Mathies and 2nd Lt. Walter E. Truemper fly the aircraft back to their home station at Polebrook, England, where all but Mathies and Truemper bail out. The 510th BS commander orders them from the ground to abandon the crippled aircraft, but they refuse to desert the injured pilot. On their third attempt to land, the airplane crashes into an open field, killing Mathies, Truemper, and the injured pilot. Mathies and Truemper are posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor; Mathies is one of only four AAF enlisted men to receive the award in World War II.
March 4, 1944. B-17s of the Eighth Air Force conduct the first daylight bombing raid on Berlin.
March 5, 1944. British Brig. Gen. Orde Wingate’s Raiders, popularly known as Chindits, are flown by US pilots in Waco CG-4A gliders to “Broadway,” a site near Indaw, Burma, in a daring night operation. Wingate will be killed 19 days later in an airplane crash.
March 6, 1944. In the first major USAAF attack on Berlin, 660 heavy bombers unload 1,600 tons of bombs.
March 16, 1944. NACA proposes that a jet-propelled transonic research airplane be developed. This ultimately leads to the Bell X-1.
March 25, 1944. Fifteenth Air Force crews temporarily close the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria. This mission, against the Aviso viaduct, is the first operational use of the VB-l Azon (Azimuth Only) radio- controlled bomb.
April 11, 1944. Led by Royal Air Force Wing Commander R.N. Bateson, six de Havilland Mosquitos of No. 613 Squadron bomb an art gallery at The Hague where population records are kept. These records, many of which were destroyed, were used by the Gestapo to suppress the Dutch resistance.
April 11, 1944. On a bombing mission to Germany, AAF 1st Lt. Edward S. Michael’s Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is singled out by a swarm of enemy fighter pilots who riddle the airplane from nose to tail, follow it as it loses altitude, and continues firing, wounding the copilot, wrecking the cockpit instruments, and seriously wounding Michael in the right thigh. He orders the crew to bail out and seven crew members jump, but the bombardier stays as his parachute was shot up and useless. Disregarding his own injuries, Michael continues evasive action for 45 minutes, continuing into France through heavy flak, until he loses consciousness from loss of blood. The copilot takes over and gets to England and an RAF airfield. Michael awakens and takes the controls to land the crippled aircraft. Despite bomb bay doors that are jammed open, no hydraulic system, altimeter, or airspeed indicator, a ball turret that is jammed with the guns pointed down, and flaps that will not respond, Michael lands the B-17. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on this flight.
April 12, 1944. AAF Maj. Richard I. Bong records three aerial victories in a single mission to bring his personal tally to 28, for which he is recognized amid much hoopla as surpassing the total of America’s World War I “Ace of Aces,” Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker. Rickenbacker even sent Bong a case of scotch.
April 25–26, 1944. The first combat rescue by helicopter takes place, as AAF 2nd Lt. Carter Harman, flying a Sikorsky YR-4 Hoverfly, lifts a downed L-1 pilot and the three injured British soldiers he was carrying out of the jungle in Burma one at a time. AAF Col. Philip Cochran, commander of the 1st Air Commando Group, later writes, “Today, the ‘egg beater’ went into action and the damn thing acted like it had good sense.”
May 11, 1944. Operation Strangle (March 19–May 11) ends. Mediterranean Allied Air Forces’ operations against enemy lines of communication in Italy total 50,000 sorties, with 26,000 tons of bombs dropped.
May 21, 1944. Operation Chattanooga Choo-Choo—systematic Allied air attacks on trains in Germany and France—begins.
May 29, 1944. The concept of the “frangible” bullet (a ceramic filled round developed by Bakelite Corp. and Duke University that disintegrates on impact) for aerial gunnery training is tried out for the first time at Buckingham Field, Fla. Capt. Charles T. Everett flies a heavily armored A-20 nicknamed Alclad Nag, and is fired on in mid air by a gunner in the top turret of the Boeing YB-40, a heavily armed B-17.
June 2, 1944. The first shuttle bombing mission, using Russia as the eastern terminus, is flown. AAF Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, head of Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, flies in one of the B-17s.
June 5, 1944. A crew flying a North American B-25 Mitchell, approaching a target over Wimereaux, France, is hit repeatedly by anti-aircraft fire that seriously cripples the bomber, kills the pilot, and wounds several crew members including Lt. Col. Leon R. Vance Jr., whose right foot is nearly severed. Despite his injury and with three engines lost to the flak, he leads his formation over the target, bombing it successfully. He realizes the bomber is approaching a stall with the last engine failing, so he cuts the power, feathers the engine, and puts the aircraft in a steep glide to maintain airspeed. As they reach the English coast, he orders the crew to bail out, knowing they will reach land safely. However, he receives an interphone message that leads him to believe one injured crew member was unable to jump; he decides to ditch the ship in the channel to give the crew member a chance of survival. Vance, after being pinned in the wreckage as it begins to sink, is then thrown clear by an explosion. After clinging to a piece of floating wreckage and inflating his life vest, he begins to search for the crew member whom he believed to be aboard. Failing to find anyone, he begins swimming and is rescued within an hour by an air-sea rescue craft. Vance was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. Later, while being evacuated to the US, his aircraft went down without a trace between Iceland and Newfoundland. In 1949, Enid Army Air Base, Okla., is redesignated Vance AFB in his honor.
June 6, 1944. Allied pilots fly approximately 15,000 sorties on D-Day. It is an effort unprecedented in concentration and size.
“Airpower Made D-Day Possible ” Air Force Magazine, June 1984 (not yet online)
June 9, 1944. Allied units begin operations from bases in France.
June 13, 1944. The first German V-1 flying bombs fired in combat are launched against England. Four of 11 strike London.
June 15, 1944. Forty-seven B-29 crews, based in India and staging through Chengdu, China, attack steel mills at Yawata in the first B-29 strike against Japan.
June 19, 1944. In two sorties during the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. David McCampell, flying a Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat nicknamed Minsi III, shoots down seven Japanese aircraft, five Yokosuka D4Y (Allied code name “Judy’” bombers in the morning and two Mitsubishi A6M Zero (‘Zeke’) fighters in the afternoon. Campbell will become the Navy’s all-time leading ace, with 34 victories.
June 19–20, 1944. “The Marianas Turkey Shoot”: In two days of fighting, the Japanese lose 476 aircraft. American losses are 130 planes.
June 22, 1944. The GI Bill is signed into law.
June 23, 1944. After dropping his bombs on the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, 2nd Lt. David R. Kingsley’s Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, which had been damaged in the raid, is attacked by three German Bf-109 pilots. The bombardier administers first aid to the wounded, and once the bailout bell rings, he helps his wounded crew mates put on their parachutes. However, the tail gunner’s harness can’t be located and Kingsley willingly gives up his harness. The B-17 continues to fly for several minutes on automatic pilot, then crashes and burns. For his gallant, heroic action in saving the life of the tail gunner and his own self sacrifice, Kingsley is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
July 2, 1944. Lt. Ralph “Kid” Hofer, who had recorded 15 victories in a period of seven months, is shot down and killed 300 miles south of Budapest, Hungary. He is believed to have been downed by Maj. Erich Hartmann, the leading ace of World War II. Hofer’s P-51 is one of seven US aircraft to be downed by Hartmann, who recorded 352 confirmed air-to-air victories, most of which came against Russian pilots.
July 3, 1944. The P-61 Black Widow, the only night fighter the US built during World War II, flies its first operational intercept mission in Europe.
“Night Fighters,” Air Force Magazine, January 1992 (not yet online)
July 5, 1944. The Northrop MX-324, the first US rocket-powered airplane, is flown for the first time by company pilot Harry Crosby at Harper Dry Lake, Calif.
July 6, 1944. A Northrop P-61 Black Widow crew records the type’s first victory, as 1st Lt. Francis Eaton (pilot), 2nd Lt. James E. Ketchum (radar operator), and SSgt. Gary Anderson (gunner) intercept and shoot down a Japanese Betty bomber. The Black Widow is the AAF’s first purpose-designed night fighter.
July 9, 1944. During an effective attack against vital oil installations in Ploesti, Romania, 1st Lt. Donald D. Pucket’s Consolidated B-24 Liberator receives direct hits from anti aircraft fire just after “bombs away.” One crew member is instantly killed, six others are severely wounded, and the aircraft is badly damaged. After regaining control of the airplane and turning it over to his copilot, Pucket calms the crew, administers first aid, surveys the damage, and jettisons all guns and equipment but the airplane continues to lose altitude. He orders the crew to bail out, but three members are too badly wounded. After the other crew members jump, he refuses to abandon his airplane and is last seen fighting to regain control before crashing on a mountainside. Pucket is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
July 9, 1944. Parts of wrecked and captured Fiesler Fi-103 “buzz bombs” are delivered to Wright Field, Ohio, for evaluation. Seventeen days later, Ford Motor Co. finishes building a copy of the Argus pulse jet motor, and by Oct., Republic is chosen to build copies of the bomb’s airframe. The US-built duplicates are called JB-1 “Loons.”
July 22, 1944. In the first all-fighter shuttle, Italy-based US P-38 Lightnings and P-51 Mustangs of Fifteenth Air Force attack Nazi airfields at Bacau and Zilistea, northeast of Ploesti, Romania. The planes land at Russian bases.
July 27, 1944. The executive committee of NACA discusses robots and their possibilities for military and other uses.
July 29, 1944. A Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber piloted by Capt. Howard R. Jarrell is damaged by flak during an attack on the Showa Steel Works at Ashan, Japan. Unable to make the flight back to the Marianas, Jarrell lands on the small Soviet airfield at Tarrichanka where he and the crew are interned. Two other B-29s fall into Soviet hands by the end of the year, and the Soviet government asks the Tupolev Design Bureau to copy the advanced American aircraft. The Tupolev-built copies are designated Tu-4, the Soviet Union’s first strategic bomber.
Aug. 4, 1944. The first Aphrodite mission (a radio-controlled B-17 carrying 20,000 pounds of TNT) is flown against V-2 rocket sites in the Pas de Calais section of France.
Aug. 9, 1944. Capt. Darrell R. Lindsey leads a formation of 30 Martin B-26 Marauders on a hazardous mission to destroy the L’Isle Adam railroad bridge, one of the few spans remaining over the Seine River in occupied France. Facing fierce resistance and violent ground fire, with his right wing enveloped in flames from the burning engine, he completes the bombing run, then orders the crew to bail out. He holds the swiftly descending airplane in a steady glide until the rest of the crew jumps to safety. He refuses the bombardier’s offer to lower the aircraft’s landing gear so that Lindsey might escape through the nose landing gear wheel well. The right fuel tank explodes, the airplane goes into a steep dive, and explodes on impact. Lindsey is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Valor: The Bridge at L’Isle Adam
Aug. 14, 1944. AAF Capt. Robin Olds records his first victory while flying with the 434th Fighter Squadron in the ETO. He would go on to tally 11 more victories by July 4, 1945. His next aerial victory would come on Jan. 2, 1967, during the Vietnam War, making him the only American ace to record victories in nonconsecutive wars.
Aug. 28, 1944. Eighth Force’s 78th Fighter Group claims the destruction of an Me-262, the first jet to be shot down in combat.
Sept. 1, 1944. Company pilot Robert Stanley makes the first flight of the Bell RP-63A Kingcobra, a highly unusual modification to the P-63 that allowed the aircraft to be used as a piloted target. These “Pinball” aircraft were heavily armored (even the cockpit glazing was extra thick), and gunnery students would fire “frangible” bullets made of lead and plastic at these aircraft in flight.
Sept. 8, 1944. The German V-2, the world’s first ballistic missile, is first used in combat. Two strike Paris; two more are launched against London.
Sept. 14, 1944. AAF officers Col. Floyd B. Wood, Maj. Harry Wexler, and Lt. Frank Reckord fly into a hurricane in a Douglas A-20 to gather scientific data.
Sept. 17, 1944. Operation Market Garden begins: 1,546 Allied aircraft and 478 gliders carry parachute and glider troops in an airborne assault between Eindhoven and Arnhem in the Netherlands in an effort to secure a Rhine crossing at Arnhem.
Sept. 20, 1944. The 10,000th Republic P-47 rolls off the assembly line at Farmingdale, N.Y., to much fanfare, including aviatrix Jackie Cochran, the head of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, dubbing the aircraft 10 Grand. Ten months later, the 15,000 P-47 would come off the assembly line.
Oct. 24, 1944. In one of the greatest feats of airmanship ever, Navy Cmdr. David McCampbell and his wingman, Lt. Roy Rushing, engage 80 Japanese aircraft during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Rushing shoots down six aircraft while McCampbell bags nine, the most victories ever recorded by an American pilot in a single engagement. Normally based on the USS Essex, McCampbell, instead, recovers on the USS Langley with barely enough fuel remaining to taxi up the deck. He is later awarded the Medal of Honor.
Oct. 25, 1944. While flying escort to the first Japanese kamikaze (“Divine Wind”) suicide mission, Warrant Officer Hiroyhosi Nishizawa, Japan’s leading ace, records his 86th and 87th victories (both Grumman F6F Hellcats), the final aerial victories of his career. Led by Lt. Yukio Seki, three of the four kamikaze aircraft strike their target, the escort carrier USS St. Lo, and inflict heavy damage. The carrier later sinks.
Oct. 26, 1944. During a one airplane strike against a Japanese convoy in the South Pacific, Maj. Horace Carswell scores two direct hits on a tanker, but the Consolidated B-24 Liberator he was flying suffers severe damage. With only two engines operating, Carswell manages to nurse his aircraft to landfall. When a third engine fails, he orders the crew to bail out, but with his parachute damaged beyond use, he opts to try a crash landing to save an injured crew member. He crashes into a mountain during the attempt and is killed. He is later posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. Carswell AFB (now Joint Reserve Base), Tex. is named in his honor.
Nov. 1, 1944. A Boeing F-13 (photoreconnaissance B-29) crew makes the first flight over Tokyo since the 1942 Doolittle Raid.
Nov. 2, 1944. Severely wounded when the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress he was navigating was hit with three antiaircraft shells, 2nd Lt. Robert E. Feymoyer refused an injection of morphine to keep his head clear so he could direct his aircraft out of danger. Unable to rise from the floor, he asked to be propped up to see his charts and instruments. He successfully directed the navigation of the B-17 for 2.5 hours, avoided enemy flak, and returned to England. Only when it arrived over the English Channel did he allow an injection. He died shortly after being removed from the aircraft once on the ground. He was later posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Valor: I Am the Captain of my Soul
Nov. 3, 1944. The Japanese start their Fu-Go balloon weapon offensive against the United States. These balloons are carried across the Pacific on the jet stream and release bomblets over the US.
Nov. 9, 1944. Only seconds from the target at the marshaling yards at Saarbrucken, Germany, and with three of their Boeing B-17’s engines on fire, fire raging in the cockpit, an inoperative interphone system, and with a wounded flight engineer and a radio operator whose arm had been severed below the elbow, 1st Lt. Donald J. Gott (pilot) and 2nd Lt. William E. Metzger Jr. (copilot) make the decision to hit the target and then try to fly to friendly territory in an attempt to save the radio operator’s life. Proceeding alone, the crippled bomber makes it to Allied held territory where most of the crew bails out safely. The flight crew then banks to land in an open field. At an altitude of 100 feet, the B-17 explodes, crashes, and explodes again. The three crewmen are killed instantly. For their loyalty to their crew and for making the ultimate sacrifice, Gott and Metzger are posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Nov. 10, 1944. Thirty-six B-25s of Fifth Air Force attack a Japanese convoy near Ormoc Bay, Philippines, sinking three ships.
Nov. 24, 1944. The first XXI Bomber Command raid is made when 88 B-29s bomb Tokyo.
Dec. 12, 1944. While a light rain falls, Gen. Douglas MacArthur presents the Medal of Honor to Maj. Richard I. “Dick” Bong in ceremonies at Tacloban, Philippines. While officially cited for shooting down eight enemy aircraft from Oct. 10 to Nov. 15, 1944, Gen. George Kenney had also submitted his MOH recommendation because he wanted to recognize Bong for being the leading American ace of all time. He had 36 (of what would eventually be 40) confirmed aerial victories at the time.
Dec. 15, 1944. Bound for France, famed band leader Army Maj. Glenn Miller and two others take off from England in a Noorduyn C-64 Norseman and are never heard from again. Several possible causes for the disappearance are formulated, but none is ever proven.
Dec. 15, 1944. President Roosevelt signs legislation creating the five-star ranks of General of the Army and Admiral of the Fleet.
Dec. 17, 1944. The 509th Composite Group, assembled to carry out atomic bomb operations, is established at Wendover, Utah.
Dec. 17,1944. AAF Maj. Richard I. Bong, America’s leading ace of all time, records his 40 and final aerial victory.
Dec. 21, 1944. Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold becomes General of the Army—the first airman to hold five- star rank.
Dec. 24, 1944. While leading a formation of Boeing B-17s over Liege, Belgium, Brig. Gen. Frederick W. Castle’s aircraft loses an engine and he relinquishes the formation lead. His aircraft is immediately attacked by German fighters, but he refuses to drop his bomb load (which would have allowed him to pick up speed) since he is over friendly troops. Castle also refuses to leave the B-17 until his crew bails out. After another German attack, the B-17 explodes and the aircraft plunges earthward, carrying Castle to his death. For his dedication to his crew, Castle is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The now closed Castle AFB, Calif., was named for him.
Dec. 25–26, 1944. AAF Maj. Thomas B. “Mickey” McGuire volunteers to lead a squadron of 15 airplanes as protection for heavy bombers attacking Mabalaent Airdrome. As the formation crosses Luzon, it is attacked by 20 Japanese fighters and McGuire shoots down three enemy airplanes. He receives the Medal of Honor not only for this mission but for his accomplishments as the second leading ace of all time. He has 38 aerial victories and is second only to Maj. Richard Bong’s 40 victories. The next month, McGuire is killed in action while leading four P-38s over an enemy-held airstrip on Los Negros Island.
Jan. 11, 1945. Capt. William A. Shomo sets the AAF all-time record of seven enemy air victories in a single engagement. Flying a North American P-51 Mustang with 2nd Lt. Paul M. Lipscomb as his wingman, Shomo takes off from Mindoro in the Philippines to check if Japanese airdromes in the northern part of Luzon are occupied. He sees an enemy bomber and 12 fighters flying approximately 2,500 feet above him and in the opposite direction, and, despite the 13:2 odds, orders an attack. He closes on the enemy formation and scores hits on the leading airplane of the third element, which explodes in midair. He then attacks the second element from the left side of the formation and shoots another fighter down in flames. When the enemy pilots form for counterattack, Shomo moves to the other side of the formation and hits a third fighter which explodes and falls. Diving below the bomber he puts a burst into its underside and it crashes and burns. Pulling up from this pass he encounters a fifth airplane firing head on and destroys it. He next dives upon the first element and shoots down the lead airplane; then, diving down to 300 feet in pursuit of another fighter he catches it with his initial burst and it crashes in flames. Meanwhile, Lipscomb shoots down three planes, while the three remaining fighters escape through a cloud bank. Shomo is promptly promoted to major and is later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
Jan. 20, 1945. Army Air Forces Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay succeeds Brig. Gen. Haywood “Possum” Hansell as commander of XXI Bomber Command in the Mariana Islands.
Feb. 3, 1945. A total of 959 B-17 crews carry out the largest raid to date against Berlin by American bombers.
Feb. 15, 1945. Podpolkovnik (Lt. Col.) Ivan Kozhedub, while on a lone reconnaissance patrol in a Lavochkin La-7, shoots down a German Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter in what the leading Soviet ace would call “a lucky shot.” This is the only German jet downed by a Soviet pilot during World War II.
Feb. 19, 1945. The Marine V Amphibious Corps, with air and sea support, lands on Iwo Jima. The capture of this small spit of volcanic rock has important considerations for the Army Air Forces, as the island’s three airfields will be used as emergency landing fields for Marianas-based B-29s and as a base for fighter operations. By March 26, the island will be secured, at a cost of more than 19,000 Japanese and 6,520 American lives.
Feb. 20, 1945. Secretary of War Henry Stimson approves plans to establish a rocket proving ground near White Sands, N.M.
Feb. 25, 1945. B-29 crews begin night incendiary raids on Japan; 334 aircraft drop 1,667 tons of firebombs and destroy 15 square miles of Tokyo.
March 9, 1945. In a change of tactics in order to double bomb loads, Twentieth Air Force sends more than 300 B-29s from the Marianas against Tokyo in a low-altitude, incendiary night raid, destroying about one-fourth of the city.
March 11, 1945. The greatest weight of bombs dropped in a USAAF strategic raid on a single target in Europe falls on Essen, Germany, as 1,079 bomber crews release 4,738 tons of bombs.
March 14, 1945. The first Grand Slam (22,000-pound) bomb is dropped from an Avro Lancaster flown by Royal Air Force Squadron Leader C.C. Calder. Two spans of the Bielefeld railway viaduct in Germany are destroyed.
March 18, 1945. Some 1,250 US bombers, escorted by 670 fighters, deal Berlin its heaviest daylight blow—3,000 tons of bombs on transportation and industrial areas.
March 18, 1945. Company test pilot LaVerne Brown makes the first flight of the Douglas XBT2D-1, the prototype of the A-1 Skyraider, at El Segundo, Calif. The Navy will put this aerial dump truck to great use as an attack aircraft in Korea and in Vietnam. The Air Force will also use the “Spad” (as USAF pilots called it) in Vietnam as an attack aircraft and to cover rescue missions.
March 27, 1945. B-29 crews begin night mining missions around Japan, eventually establishing a complete blockade.
April 9, 1945. The last B-17 rolls off the line at Boeing’s Seattle plant.
April 10, 1945. The last Luftwaffe wartime sortie over Britain is made by an Arado Ar-234B pilot on a reconnaissance mission out of Norway.
April 10, 1945. Thirty of 50 German Me-262 jet fighters are shot down by US bombers and their P-51 escorts. The German fighters shoot down 10 bombers—the largest loss of the war in a single mission covered by jets.
April 12, 1945. While flying in the lead Boeing B-29 (nicknamed City of Los Angeles) on a strike to Koriyama, Japan, SSgt. Henry Erwin launches a phosphorous smoke marker to aid in the assembly of the group over the rendezvous point. The marker explodes in the launch tube and is shot back into the aircraft. Disregarding his personal safety and now blinded, Erwin picks up the burning marker and stumbles toward the cockpit. He runs into the hinged navigator’s table but puts the phosphorus marker under his arm and lifts the table. He makes it to the cockpit and drops the marker out the copilot’s window. Suffering third degree burns over most of his upper body and near death, Erwin’s Medal of Honor citation is prepared as soon as the crew lands. It is approved in only two days. Miraculously, Erwin, one of four AAF enlisted men to receive the Medal of Honor, survives his ordeal.
Valor: Red Erwin’s Personal Purgatory
April 12, 1945. On the same day US President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies, the destroyer USS Mannert L. Abele is sunk near Okinawa by a Japanese pilot flying a rocket-powered Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka (Cherry Blossom) suicide attack aircraft. The Abele is the first ship ever to be sunk by a piloted bomb.
April 17, 1945. Flak Bait, a Martin B-26B Marauder, completes a record 200th bombing mission. The aircraft, which has now flown more missions over Europe than any other Allied aircraft in World War II, will go on to complete two more missions.
April 19, 1945. Podpolkovnik (Lt. Col.) Ivan Kozhedub, flying a Lavochkin La-7 fighter, shoots down two Focke-Wulf FW-190s near Berlin. Already the Soviet Union’s all-time leading ace, these two “kills” push his victory total to sixty-two. He made 520 combat sorties during the war. Later promoted, Marshal (General) Kozhedub was three times named Hero of the Soviet Union.
April 23, 1945. Flying Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateers, Navy crews from VPB-109 launch two Bat missiles against Japanese ships in Balikpapan Harbor, Borneo. This is the first known use of automatic homing missiles during World War II.
April 24–25, 1945. In three attacks over two days, 1st Lt. Raymond L. Knight destroys 14 enemy aircraft on the ground at Ghedi and Bergamo airfields in Italy’s Po Valley. On each sortie, Knight comes in on the deck through anti-aircraft fire to reconnoiter the fields to locate German aircraft hidden under heavy camouflage. His Republic P-47 Thunderbolt sustains severe damage in the second attack. He returns the next morning to Bergamo and destroys his 14th aircraft. His aircraft is damaged again, but he refuses to bail out, and dies en route to base when he crashes in the Apennine Mountains. Knight is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
May 8, 1945. Maj. Erich Hartmann, flying a Messerschmitt Me-109 in his last combat mission, records one final aerial “kill,” bringing his total to 352 aircraft, the most in history by any pilot in any country. He lands, and with his airfield under artillery fire by advancing Soviet troops, he orders the men of his squadron to destroy their aircraft and he leads them in the opposite direction to the American lines, where Jagdgeshwader 52 surrenders en masse. The Americans turn Hartmann over to the Russians and he is imprisoned in a Soviet gulag for 10 years. He retires from the re-formed German Air Force in 1973.
May 8, 1945. V-E Day. The war ends in Europe.
June 16, 1945. Company pilot Joseph Barton makes the first flight of the North American XP-82 Twin Mustang at Inglewood, Calif. The P-82, later redesignated F-82, was the last propeller-driven fighter acquired in quantity by the Army Air Forces. It looked like two P-51 fuselages married to one wing, but in reality, was a totally new design.
June 22, 1945. Okinawa is declared captured by US forces. The price paid to capture this island—16,000 men, 36 ships, and 800 aircraft—is a key consideration in the decision to use the atomic bombs on Japan.
June 26, 1945. B-29 crews begin nighttime raids on Japanese oil refineries.
June 27, 1945. Gen. Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz, commander of strategic forces in Europe, inspects a group of captured Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighters at Melun, Germany. The jets are flown by members of “Watson’s Whizzers,” the unofficial name of the US foreign technology evaluation group led by Col. Harold E. Watson and sent to Europe at the end of the war as part of Project Lusty.
July 8, 1945. The last of 40 captured German aircraft, including Arado Ar-234 and Messerschmitt Me-262 jets and unusual propeller-driven types such as the Dornier Do-335, arrive at Cherbourg, France. The aircraft were flown to France by members of “Watson’s Whizzers.” The aircraft were hoisted aboard the British aircraft carrier H.M.S. Reaper, which then delivered the aircraft to the United States.
July 16, 1945. The world’s first atomic bomb is successfully detonated at Trinity Site, a desert location near Alamogordo, N.M. The weapon (referred to as “the gadget”) is the prototype of the “Fat Man” plutonium bomb and has an explosive yield of 19 kilotons.
Aug. 6, 1945. The “Little Boy” (uranium) atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, from the B-29 Enola Gay, commanded by AAF Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr.
The Decision That Launched the Enola Gay
Aug. 6, 1945. AAF Maj. Richard I. Bong, America’s all-time leading ace, is killed in a P-80 accident. He had 40 confirmed victories.
Aug. 9, 1945. The “Fat Man” atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, from the B-29 Bockscar, commanded by AAF Maj. Charles W. Sweeney.
Aug. 12, 1945. A Douglas C-47 Skytrain piloted by AAF Lt. Col. Robert G. Denson carries former Nazi party officials from Sandweiler Airport near the Luxembourg border to Furth Industrieshafen Airport near Nuremberg to stand trial as war criminals. Among the passengers: Reichsmarshal Herman Goering, Gen. Alfred Jodl, and Adm. Karl Donitz.
Aug. 15, 1945. Navy Lt. Cmdr. T.H. Reidy, commander of VBF 83 and flying a Vought F4U Corsair, records the last confirmed US air-to-air victory of World War II while hostilities are still officially declared, as he shoots down a Nakajima C6N1 Saiun reconnaissance aircraft at 5:40 a.m. local time over Tokyo. Five minutes later, the war officially ends.
Aug. 18, 1945. In the last combat action of any kind against the Japanese in World War II, a pair of Consolidated B-32 Dominators on a reconnaissance flight over Tokyo are attacked by 14 Zeros and Tojos. One US crew member is killed and two are wounded during the attack. B-32 gunners claim two victories and two more probables during the engagement. Both B-32s (one nicknamed Hobo Queen II; the other unnamed) are flown safely back to Okinawa.
Sept. 2, 1945. V-J Day. On board USS Missouri (BB-63), in Tokyo Bay, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and Chief of Staff Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu sign instruments of surrender. (NOTE: Alternatively, V-J Day is regarded by some to be Aug. 15, the date upon which Emperor Hirohito broadcast his radio message, the Imperial Rescript of Surrender, touching off the celebrations normally associated with V-J Day in Allied nations.)
Sept. 2, 1945. After the Japanese sign the instruments of surrender ending World War II, a Douglas C-54 Skymaster crew makes a record run of 31 hours and 25 minutes between Tokyo and Washington, D.C. (with en route stops) to deliver films of the event to the United States. Because of the International Date Line, the trip begins and ends on the same day.
Sept. 20, 1945. At Church Broughton, England, company test pilot Eric Greenwood makes the first flight of an aircraft powered by turboprop engines. A Gloster Meteor F.1 pure jet powered fighter modified to accommodate two Rolls Royce Trent turboprops serves as the test bed.
Oct. 13, 1945. The Army Air Forces Fair begins at Wright Field, Ohio. Designed to display technological advances in aviation made during the war, to show off captured German and Japanese weapons, and to present the AAF story to the American people, the fair draws 500,000 people the first two days and is extended for a week. More than 1,000,000 people from the US and 26 foreign countries will eventually see the more than $150 million worth of equipment on display.
Nov. 6, 1945. The first landing of a jet-powered aircraft on a carrier is made by Ens. Jake C. West in the Ryan FR-1 Fireball, a fighter propelled by both a turbojet and a reciprocating engine. The landing on USS Wake Island (CVE-65) is inadvertent; the plane’s piston engine fails, and West comes in powered only by the turbojet.
Nov. 7, 1945. Royal Air Force Group Capt. Hugh Wilson sets the first post-war recognized absolute speed record and breaks the 600 mph barrier at the same time, as he flies a Gloster Meteor F.4 to a speed of 606.26 mph at Herne Bay, England. This also marked the first time the absolute speed record is held by a jet powered aircraft. The flight broke the previous record, set in 1939, by 137 mph.
Feb. 4, 1946. The Air Force Association is incorporated.
Feb. 9, 1946. Gen. Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz is designated Commanding General, Army Air Forces, succeeding Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold.
Feb. 15, 1946. Thirty-five movie stars, studio executives, and reporters board a Lockheed Constellation piloted by Howard Hughes for the inauguration of TWA daily nonstop service between Los Angeles and New York City. Among the stars are Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, and Edward G. Robinson.
Feb. 28, 1946. Maj. William Lien makes the first flight of the Republic XP-84 at Muroc Dry Lake, Calif. The Thunderjet is the AAF’s first post-war fighter and will be used extensively for ground attack missions in the Korean War. Later designated F-84, the Thunderjet is the first fighter to carry a tactical nuclear weapon.
March 8, 1946. The Bell Model 47 becomes the first rotary wing aircraft to receive Civil Aeronautic Agency certification. The Model 47 would be used by the military as the UH-13.
March 12, 1946. The Army Air Forces School is redesignated as Air University with headquarters at Maxwell Field, Ala.
March 21, 1946. Strategic Air Command, Tactical Air Command, and Air Defense Command are activated.
Strategic Air Command—the Deterrent Force
April 24, 1946. The two prototypes competing to be the Soviet Union’s first jet aircraft are brought to Chkalovskaya flight test center outside of Moscow. The heads of the two design bureaus, “Artyom” Mikoyan and Alexander Yakovlev, meet in the center of the field for a coin toss. Mikoyan wins and test pilot Aleksey Grinchik makes the first flight of the I-300 (the prototype of the MiG-9, which will later carry the NATO reporting name ‘Fargo’). Test pilot M.I. Ivanov then flies the Yak-15 (‘Feather’) for the first time. Both aircraft later go into production.
May 4–16, 1946. Five separate recognized class records for altitude with payload in piston-engine aircraft are set by five different AAF crews flying Boeing B-29A Superfortresses at Harmon Field, Guam. Col. J.B. Warren also sets a separate record for greatest load carried to 2,000 meters.
May 8, 1946. Memphis, Tenn., Mayor Walter Chandler buys the Memphis Belle, the historic Boeing B- 17F whose crew was the first to complete 25 missions in Europe, from the Reconstruction Finance Corp. for $350. When delivered in 1942, this Flying Fortress had cost the government $314,109. An anonymous donor later sends Chandler a check to cover the cost so no tax dollars would have to be spent.
May 17 and 19, 1946. Eight separate recognized class records for speed over a closed course (1,000 and 2,000 kilometers) with payload in piston-engine aircraft are set by two different AAF crews flying Boeing B-29A Superfortresses at Dayton, Ohio.
June 17, 1946. First AAF Scientific Advisory Board meets, chaired by Theodore von Karman.
June 21 and 28, 1946. Six separate recognized class records for speed over a closed course (5,000 kilometers) with payload in piston-engine aircraft are set by two different AAF crews flying Boeing B-29As at Dayton.
June 26, 1946. “Knot” and “nautical mile” are adopted by the Army Air Forces and the Navy as standard aeronautical units of speed and distance.
July 1, 1946. Operation Crossroads, the atomic bomb tests on Bikini Atoll, begins as a Boeing B-29, nicknamed Dave’s Dream, and piloted by Maj. Woodrow “Woody” Swancutt drops a 23 kiloton yield nuclear weapon over a cluster of 70 target ships of various types anchored in the Bikini lagoon. This Able Test is designed to measure the effect of an atomic airburst on ships and unmanned drone aircraft. The bomb, a duplicate of the Fat Man (plutonium) bomb that had been dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, missed its intended target, the former battleship USS Nevada (BB-36) by several thousand yards. However, it destroyed or heavily damaged ships anchored within a half mile of the zero point.
July 21, 1946. Lt. Cmdr. James Davidson makes the first successful takeoff and landing of a jet-powered aircraft from an aircraft carrier. He is flying a McDonnell FH-1 Phantom from USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42).
July 1946. Air Force Magazine becomes the official journal of the Air Force Association.
Aug. 2, 1946. The National Air Museum is established under the Smithsonian Institution.
Aug. 8, 1946. Almost five years after the prototype was ordered, company test pilots Beryl A. Erickson and G.S. “Gus” Green and a crew of seven make the first flight of the mammoth Convair XB-36 prototype at Fort Worth, Tex.
Aug. 17, 1946. Army Air Forces 1st Sgt. Lawrence Lambert ejected at more than 300 mph at 6,000 feet altitude over Osborn, Ohio, from a P-61, dubbed “Jack in the Box,” that had taken off from Patterson Field, Ohio, becoming the first person to test the newly developed pilot ejection seat from a high-speed aircraft.
Aug. 24, 1946. At an air show in Denver, Colo., the US Navy’s four-month old flight demonstration team performs for the first time in its new aircraft, the Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat, and with its new official name: Blue Angels.
Aug. 31, 1946. Famed Hollywood stunt pilot Paul Mantz wins the first post-war Bendix Trophy transcontinental race from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Ohio, in a North American P-51 Mustang with an average speed of 435.501 mph. Total flying time is four hours, 42 minutes. Col. Leon Gray wins the first Bendix Trophy Jet Division race, flying a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star over the same course with an average speed of 494.779 mph. Total flying time is four hours, eight minutes.
Dec. 8, 1946. Company pilot Chalmers “Slick” Goodlin makes the first powered flight of the Bell XS-1 supersonic research aircraft (later redesignated X-1). He reaches Mach .75 and an altitude of 35,000 feet after being released from a Boeing B-29 mother ship.
Jan. 13, 1947. Milton Caniff, who had created the aviation related comic strip “Terry and the Pirates,” starts a new strip, “Steve Canyon,” which, by showing the importance of airpower to the average citizen, becomes an unofficial recruiting tool for the Army Air Forces.
Feb. 27, 1947. Lt. Col. Robert Thacker (pilot) and Lt. John M. Ard (copilot) set the record for the longest nonstop flight by a propeller-driven fighter aircraft when they fly Betty Jo, a slightly modified (no guns or armor) North American P-82B Twin Mustang, 5,051 miles from Hickam Field, Hawaii, to LaGuardia Airport in New York City, in 14 hours and 33 minutes. The crew started with 2,215 gallons of fuel and landed with only 60 gallons left.
March 16, 1947. Company pilots Sam Shannon and Russell R. Rogers make the first flight of the Convair 240 airliner prototype at San Diego. Versions of the 240 would be used by the Air Force as the T-29 navigator trainer and as the C-131 Samaritan medical evacuation/transport aircraft. One aircraft, the NC- 131 variable stability test-bed, was still flying into the 1990s.
March 17, 1947. Company test pilot George Krebs makes the first flight of the North American XB-45 Tornado at Muroc AAF, Calif. The B-45 is the first American four engine jet bomber to fly and it is the first USAF jet bomber to go into production.
June 19, 1947. AAF Col. Albert Boyd sets the recognized absolute speed record, as he flies the Lockheed P-80R to a speed of 623.608 mph at Muroc Dry Lake, Calif.
July 26, 1947. President Harry Truman signs the National Defense Act of 1947, the enabling legislation that will create a separate Air Force. The act was signed on board Sacred Cow, the Douglas VC-54C that serves as the dedicated presidential aircraft, as Truman is preparing to leave Washington for Independence, Mo., to tend to his gravely ill mother.
July 29–30, 1947. Lt. Col. O.F. Lassiter sets a recognized class record for speed over a 10,000-kilometer closed circuit without payload (piston-engine aircraft) of 273.194 mph in a Boeing B-29A Superfortress at Dayton, Ohio.
Aug. 20, 1947. Cmdr. T. Caldwell flew D-558-1 Skystreak to a new world speed record of 640.7 mph.
Aug. 25, 1947. Marine Maj. Marion Carl breaks the recognized absolute speed record set two months previously as he pilots the Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak to a speed of 650.8 mph at Muroc Dry Lake, Calif.
Sept. 18, 1947. The US Air Force begins operations as a separate service, with W. Stuart Symington as its first Secretary. Gen. Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz, Commanding General of the AAF, becomes the first Chief of Staff on Sept. 26.
Sept. 26, 1947. Transfer of personnel, bases, and materiel from the Army to the new Department of the Air Force is ordered by Defense Secretary James W. Forrestal.
The First Five Years of the First 50
Oct. 1, 1947. Company test pilot George S. “Wheaties” Welch, who was one of the few AAF fighter pilots who was able to get airborne during the Pearl Harbor attack, makes the first flight of the North American XP-86 Sabre at Muroc Dry Lake, Calif. The Sabre is the Air Force’s first swept-wing fighter.
Oct. 1, 1947. The Grumman XJR2F-1 amphibian makes its first flight at Bethpage, Long Island, N.Y. Originally nicknamed Pelican, the Albatross, as it was officially named after the second prototype has flown, would go on to serve with the Navy, Coast Guard, several foreign countries, and in Air Force service as the SA-16 and HU-16. During the Korean War, Albatross crews would rescue almost 1,000 United Nations pilots from coastal waters and rivers. The HU-16 would serve with the Air Force until 1975 and with several other countries until 1983.
Oct. 3, 1947. General Order No. 4 is issued, which announces the assignment of officers to various staff positions in the newly created United States Air Force.
Oct. 14, 1947. Capt. Charles “Chuck” Yeager becomes the first pilot to reach supersonic speeds in level flight when he reaches a speed of Mach 1.06 (700 mph) at an altitude of 45,000 feet in the rocket powered Bell XS 1 (later redesignated X-1) over Muroc Dry Lake, Calif. His aircraft was released by a B- 29 mother ship in mid air.
Oct. 21, 1947. The first flight of the Northrop YB-49 flying wing jet bomber is made. The Air Force’s Northrop B-2 stealth bomber, when it debuts in 1989, will bear a family resemblance to this airplane.
Oct. 24, 1947. Company pilots Fred Rowley and Carl Alber make the first flight of the Grumman XJR2F- 1, the prototype of the SA-16 (redesignated HU-16 in 1962) Albatross rescue amphibian, at Bethpage, Long Island, N.Y. Air Force and Navy Albatross crews will rescue nearly 1,100 downed airmen from hostile waters during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Nov. 2, 1947. Howard Hughes’s wooden H-4 Hercules (the Spruce Goose) makes its first (and only) flight over Los Angeles Harbor, Calif. Distance traveled is about a mile.
Nov. 23, 1947. The world’s largest landplane, the Convair XC-99, the cargo version of the B-36 bomber, makes its first flight at Lindbergh Field in San Diego, with company test pilots Russell R. Rogers and Beryl A. Erickson at the controls. (This aircraft would lift a record 100,000-pound payload on April 15, 1949.)
Dec. 17, 1947. The prototype Boeing XB-47 Stratojet bomber makes its first flight from Boeing Field in Seattle, Wash., with company pilots Bob Robbins and Scott Osler at the controls.
The Long Reach of the Stratojet
Dec. 30, 1947. The prototype of the MiG-15 (NATO reporting name “Fagot”) fighter, makes its first flight at the Soviet flight test center at Ramenskoye. Powered by an unlicensed copy of the Rolls-Royce Nene engine, the MiG-15 was flown by Russian and North Korean pilots during the Korean War.
Jan. 2, 1948. The Air Force Technical Museum at Patterson Field, Ohio, is officially established as a successor to the Army Aeronautical Museum. Only small technical items such as engines and cameras are displayed, not full sized aircraft.
Jan. 30, 1948. Orville Wright dies in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, at age 76.
Feb. 20, 1948. The first Boeing B-50 Superfortress is delivered to Strategic Air Command (SAC).
March 22, 1948. Company pilot Tony LeVier makes the first flight of the Lockheed TP-80C, the prototype of the T-33, the world’s first jet trainer, at Van Nuys, Calif.
April 21, 1948. Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal assigns the primary responsibility for air defense of the United States to the Air Force.
April 26, 1948. Based on a study that documented the waste and inefficiency caused by segregation in the Air Force, the Air Force announces that it must “eliminate segregation among its personnel by the unrestricted use of Negro personnel in free competition for any duty within the Air Force for which they may qualify.” It was the first service to announce a policy of racial integration—well before President Truman’s Executive Order on equal opportunity in July 1948.
April 30, 1948. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg succeeds Gen. Carl A. “Tooey” Spaatz as Air Force Chief of Staff.
May 26, 1948. President Truman announces his approval of the bill that establishes the Civil Air Patrol as a civilian auxiliary of the Air Force.
June 1, 1948. Navy and Air Force air transport systems are consolidated into Military Air Transport Service under USAF.
June 11, 1948. Air Force Regulation 65-60 is published, which changes the designations for several Air Force aircraft. Fighters will now have the prefix “F” instead of “P” for pursuit (which dated back to 1925); reconnaissance aircraft will now be designated “R” instead of “F” (ostensibly for “fotographic,” which dated back to 1930); and helicopters will now be designated “H” instead of “R” (for rotary wing). P-80s, P- 82s, and P-84s will now be called F-80s, F-82s, and F-84s.
June 11, 1948. The Office of the Chief of Air Force chaplains is created, almost a year after the creation of the service.
June 12, 1948. President Harry Truman signs the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act (Public Law 625), which allows women to serve as permanent, regular members of the Armed Forces.
June 26, 1948. Operation Vittles, the Berlin Airlift, begins with Douglas C-47 crews bringing 80 tons of supplies into the city on the first day. By the time it ends, on Sept. 30, 1949, the Anglo-American airlift will have delivered a total of 2.3 million tons of food, fuel, and supplies to the beleaguered city.
“Why the Airlift Succeeded,” Air Force Magazine, May 1988 (not yet online)
June 26, 1948. The 7th Bombardment Group at Carswell AFB, Tex., receives the first operational B-36 bomber.
July 16, 1948. The Vickers VC2 Viscount prototype makes its first flight at Wisly, England. It is the worlds’ first turboprop-powered airliner.
Aug. 6, 1948. First B-29s to circumnavigate the globe land near Tucson, Ariz., after leisurely 15-day trip.
Aug. 16, 1948. Company pilot Fred C. Bretcher makes the first flight of the Northrop XF-89 Scorpion all- weather interceptor at Muroc AFB, Calif.
Aug. 23, 1948. Company test pilot Ed Schoch makes the first free flight of the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin parasite fighter, which is intended to be carried in the bomb bay of a B-36 to provide fighter support over a target for the longer range bombers. The XF-85 is lowered on a trapeze during this test from the bomb bay of Monstro, the Boeing EB-29 mother ship over Muroc, Calif. The pilot spools up, unhooks from the trapeze, and begins flying. Schoch is unable to hook back up and then shatters the canopy when he strikes the trapeze. Shaken, Schoch lands the XF-85 safely on the desert.
Sept. 15, 1948. Air Force Maj. Richard L. Johnson, flying a North American F-86A, recaptures the world speed record for the US, streaking over a three-kilometer course at Muroc AFB, Calif., at 670.981 mph.
Sept. 18, 1948. Company pilot Sam Shannon makes the first official flight of the Convair Model 7002, the first true delta-winged aircraft, at Muroc Dry Lake, Calif. (A short hop had been made on June 9.) (The 7002 was to be the prototype for the XF-92, but USAF canceled the design program and accepted the 7002 as the XF-92 in June 1949.) The XF-92 will prove invaluable as a test-bed for delta-wing research.
Oct. 14, 1948. Company test pilot Ed Schoch makes the first successful unhook, free flight, and hook on in the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin parasite fighter over Muroc, Calif. Intended to be carried in the bomb bay of a B-36 for fighter support over a target, the two XF-85s built would only be flown seven times and would only make three successful in-flight hook ups. The project would be abandoned in early 1949 when air refueling proves more practical.
Oct. 15, 1948. Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner assumes command of the newly created American and British Combined Airlift Task Force during the Berlin Airlift.
Oct. 31, 1948. Air Force reveals use of ramjet engines on piloted aircraft, a modified F-80, for first time.
Dec. 2, 1948. Company pilot Vern L. Carstens makes the first flight of the Beech Model 45 demonstrator, the prototype of what will become the T- 34A Mentor. The T- 34 is the Air Force’s first new primary trainer since World War II. Although the Mentor will be phased out of USAF service by 1961, the Navy will use the turboprop powered T-34C for primary instruction until the turn of the century.
Dec. 7–8, 1948. On the seventh anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a 7th Bomb Wing crew flies a Convair B-36B Peacemaker on a 35.5-hour mission from Carswell AFB, Tex., to Hawaii and back to Carswell without refueling. The B-36 was undetected by local air defenses at Pearl Harbor.
Dec. 16, 1948. Company pilot Charles Tucker makes the first flight of the Northrop X-4 Bantam at Muroc AFB, Calif. The X-4 is designed to study flight characteristics of small, swept-wing semitailless aircraft at transonic speeds.
Dec. 17, 1948. The 45th anniversary of the first powered flight is commemorated by the donation of the original Wright Flyer to the Smithsonian Institution. The Flyer was displayed in Britain for many years because of a dispute between the Wrights and the Smithsonian.
Dec. 29, 1948. Defense Secretary Forrestal says the US is working on an “Earth satellite vehicle program,” a project to study the operation of guided rockets beyond Earth’s pull of gravity.
Dec. 31, 1948. The 100,000th flight of the Berlin Airlift is made.
Jan. 19, 1949. The first flight of the Martin XB-61 Matador mobile, short range, surface to surface tactical missile is carried out at Holloman AFB, N.M.
Jan. 25, 1949. The US Air Force adopts blue uniforms.
The Sartorial Splendor of the Air Force That Was
Feb. 4, 1949. The Civil Aeronautics Administration sanctions the use of the ground-controlled approach as a “primary aid” for commercial airline crews.
Feb. 26–March 2, 1949. Lucky Lady II, a SAC B-50A, is flown on the first nonstop flight around the world. The 23,452-mile flight takes 94 hours, one minute and requires four midair refuelings.
March 4, 1949. The US Navy’s Martin JRM-2 flying boat Caroline Mars carries a record 269 passengers from San Diego to San Francisco.
March 4, 1949. Crews flying in the Berlin Airlift haul in excess of one million tons of cargo.
March 15, 1949. Military Air Transport Service establishes Global Weather Central at Offutt AFB, Neb., for support of SAC.
March 26, 1949. USAF’s 10-engined B-36D makes first flight.
April 4, 1949. Meeting in Washington, D.C., the foreign ministers of Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal, along with the US Secretary of State, sign the North Atlantic Treaty, creating NATO.
April 6, 1949. At the height of the Berlin Airlift, Tempelhof Airport sets a ground control approach record for sustained landings—an airplane lands at the field less than four minutes apart for six hours. One ground control approach crew directs the landing of 102 aircraft between 5:50 p.m. and midnight.
April 16, 1949. Company test pilot Tony LeVier and flight test engineer Glenn Fulkerson make the first flight of the YF-94 Starfire prototype from Van Nuys, Calif. The Starfire, actually modified TP-80, is designed to serve as an interim all-weather interceptor.
May 7, 1949. Retired Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold is given the permanent rank of General of the Air Force by a special act of Congress.
May 9, 1949. Republic chief test pilot Carl Bellinger makes the first flight of the XF-91 Thunderceptor jet/rocket hybrid at Muroc AFB, Calif. This unusual aircraft has variable incidence wings of inverse taper design (wider at the tips than at the roots).
May 11, 1949. President Truman signs a bill providing for a 3,000-mile-long guided-missile test range for the Air Force. The range is subsequently established at Cape Canaveral, Fla.
May 12, 1949. The Soviets reopen land and water routes into Berlin. However, Operation Vittles, the Berlin airlift, would continue until Sept. 30 to build a backlog of supplies.
July 27, 1949. The de Havilland D.H. 106 Comet airliner prototype makes its first flight at Hatfield, England. The Comet, which enters revenue service with BOAC (British Overseas Airways Company) in 1952, is the world’s first jet airliner.
Aug. 9, 1949. Navy Lt. J.L. Fruin makes the first emergency escape with an ejection seat in the US near Walterboro, S.C. His McDonnell F2H-1 Banshee is traveling at more than 500 knots at the time.
Aug. 10, 1949. President Truman signs amendments to the National Security Act of 1947, converting the National Military Establishment to the Department of Defense.
Sept. 23, 1949. President Truman announces that the Soviet Union has successfully exploded an atomic bomb.
Sept. 24, 1949. Company pilot Jean “Skip” Ziegler makes the first flight of the North American T-28 Trojan at Inglewood, Calif. While its career as a trainer will be relatively short, the T-28 will later be used as an attack aircraft in the early stages of the US involvement in Vietnam.
Sept. 30, 1949. The Berlin Airlift, gradually reduced since May 12, 1949, officially ends. Results show 2,343,301.5 tons of supplies carried on 277,264 flights. US planes carried 1,783,826 tons. A crew flying a Douglas C-54 Skymaster makes the last flight when it lifts off from Rhein Main.
Oct. 4, 1949. A Fairchild C-82 Packet crew airdrops an entire field artillery battery by parachute at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Nov. 18, 1949. A crew flying a Douglas C-74 Globemaster I, The Champ, lands at RAF Marham, UK, after a 23-hour flight from Mobile, Ala. On board are a transatlantic-record 103 passengers and crew.