This Date in Aviation History: December 2 - December 4
ttyymmnn last edited by ttyymmnn
T-34B Mentor aircraft from Training Squadron 5 (VT-5) (US Navy)
December 2, 1948 – The first flight of the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor. For many years, the North American T-6/SNJ Texan was the primary trainer for US military pilots, as well as many other air forces around the world. Over 15,000 Texans were built following its first flight in 1935, and its rugged design and and adaptability to many different missions made it a tough act to follow. Nevertheless, Walter Beech, who had founded the Beechcraft Aircraft Company in 1932, rolled the dice following WWII and began development of what was dubbed the Beechcraft Model 45 to serve as a replacement for the venerable Texan, even though the US military had expressed no interest in a new trainer, nor did they have the budget for one at the time.
The popular Beechcraft Bonanza formed the basis for the T-34 Mentor (Bill Larkins)
Based largely on the Beechcraft Bonanza, the Model 45 went through three design concepts, one of which employed the Bonanza’s signature V-tail, though in the end, Beech adopted a traditional tailplane to appeal to conservative military brass. The Bonanza fuselage was narrowed, and a bubble canopy was installed to allow better visibility for the tandem cockpit. The aircraft was also significantly strengthened to hold up under the rigors of military training. Power for the Mentor came from a Continental E225 flat six-cylinder engine that offered 225 hp, and production of two main variants began in 1953: the T-34A for the US Air Force, and the T-34B for the US Navy, which was optimized for carrier operations. Both versions entered service in 1953.
The prototype of the Beechcraft Model 73 Jet Mentor, which was passed over by the US Navy in favor of another unsuccessful jet trainer, the Temco TT Pinto (US Navy)
But with the jet engine becoming the primary powerplant for military aircraft, Beechcraft began another internal project to develop the T-34 into a jet trainer. This resulted in the Model 73 Jet Mentor, which was powered by a single Continental J69 turbojet. However, when the Navy passed on the Jet Mentor, and the Air Force chose the Cessna T-37 Tweet as their jet trainer, the Jet Mentor was abandoned after construction of just a single prototype. The piston-powered T-34 remained in service, though initial production halted in 1959.
Beechcraft T-34C Turbo Mentor (US Navy)
But the idea of a jet-powered Mentor never quite died, and T-34 production was restarted in 1973 at the request of the US Navy for a turboprop-powered variant. This aircraft, powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turboprop engine, was designated the T-34C and remained in service until the 1990s. In all, more than 2,300 Mentors were built throughout the two production runs, and many remain in private hands where they frequently perform on the air show circuit.
Brewster F2A-1 Buffalo of the US Navy in 1941 (US Navy)
December 2, 1937 – The flight of the Brewster F2A Buffalo. History remembers and lionizes the great fighters of the Second World War, aircraft such as the North American P-51 Mustang or the Supermarine Spitfire, powerful and nimble fighters that clawed enemy aircraft from the skies, helped the Allies win the war, and are still revered today for their performance and beauty. The Brewster Buffalo, however, does not hold such a place in the pantheon of great fighters, and, in the years since WWII, the Buffalo has come to be regarded as a failure, a symbol of obsolescent technology and poor design. However, that scorn, for what is arguably an ungainly fighter, is not entirely warranted.
Brewster XF2A-1 prototype (US Navy)
The story of the Buffalo began in 1935, when the US Navy requested a new fighter to replace the Grumman F2F biplane. They accepted three entrants into the competition for a production contract: the Buffalo, the biplane Grumman XFF-1 which would eventually be developed into the F4F Wildcat, and a navalized version of the Seversky P-35, which was quickly eliminated for its lack of speed. By the design standards of the 1930s, the Buffalo was a truly modern aircraft. It boasted all-metal, flush-riveted, stressed aluminum construction, split flaps, and hydraulically operated retractable landing gear. It’s Wright R-1820 Cyclone radial engine provided a stout 950 hp, and the Buffalo had an impressive climb rate for its day, though its single-stage supercharger severely limited high altitude performance. The Buffalo also lacked self-sealing fuel tanks or armor plating to protect the pilot, features that became standard on later American fighters. Armament was provided by a single .50 caliber machine gun and a single .30 caliber machine gun, both mounted in the nose.
Brewster F2A-1 Buffalo sporting McClelland Barclay dazzle camouflage design #2 in 1940 (US Navy)
The first variant, the F2A-2, attempted to address some of the shortcomings of the F2A by providing increased armament and a more powerful engine, but the resulting weight gain nullified any performance improvements. The final version, the F2A-3, added improved range and provision for underwing stores, but the Navy and Marine Corps had already lost confidence in the Buffalo. By 1940 it was clear that the chubby fighter was completely outclassed by more agile Japanese aircraft such as the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and Nakajima Ki-43 (Oscar), and the remaining Buffalos were retired from combat following the Battle of Midway and transferred to Navy training squadrons in the US mainland. British experience with the Buffalo in Malaya and Burma was little better, with aircraft prone to oil leaks that fouled windscreens and speeds well under the manufacturer’s billing. Still, four Commonwealth pilots managed to become aces in the Buffalo early in the war.
Finnish Air Force B-239. The Finnish Air Force employed a blue swastika as its symbol from 1918-1945. Before being co-opted by the Nazi Party, the swastika was an ancient symbol of the sun and good fortune. (Finnish Government)
Despite the difficulties faced by Allied pilots, the Buffalo fared much better elsewhere, particularly in the hands of Finnish pilots, who liked the Buffalo and flew it with great effect. The export model was known as the B-239, and Finland’s greatest ace, Ilmari Juutilainen, scored 34 of his eventual 94.5 victories while flying a Buffalo against Russian opponents. Cooler weather, better maintenance practices, and superior tactics translated into greater success for the plucky fighter, and the Buffalo served with distinction during the Continuation War. Just over 500 Buffalos were built, and they ended their service in 1948.
Pan Am Boeing 747-212B(SF) lands at London Heathrow Airport in 1989 (JetPix)
December 4, 1991 – Pan American Airways ceases operations after 63 years of service. Following the First World War, the aviation and airline industries grew at a rapid pace, as fledgling commercial airlines began to stretch their tendrils further and further across the globe. But as the airlines grew, their mission became as much about spreading national influence abroad as hauling passengers and mail to far flung destinations. And in the years immediately after WWI, the encroachment of foreign carriers in the western hemisphere was viewed by America as a threat to national security.
Sikorsky S-40 flying boat, the first aircraft to bear the iconic Pan Am Clipper name (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
In 1919, the government of Germany joined with Colombia to form the world’s second airline, the Sociedad Colombo Alemana de Transportes Aéros (SCADTA, or Colombian-German Air Transport Partnership). SCADTA’s stated mission was to carry mail from Bogota to the US via Panama, but the United States government was none too keen on having such heavy German influence over the first airline in the Americas, which they felt could threaten the vital canal gateway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In response to this perceived threat, US Army Air Corps Major Henry H. “Hap” Arnold and Major Carl Spaatz, both of whom would go on to play significant roles in the Second World War, created a shell company known as Pan American Airways on March 14, 1927. With US government support, Pan Am soon had exclusive contracts to carry mail to Central and Latin America, making sure that no other American companies would outbid them. Thus began a 63-year history of Pan Am being the de facto, though not official, flag-carrier airline of the US, and its blue globe logo became as much a symbol of the United States abroad as the Stars and Stripes.
Pan Am Boeing 314 Clipper, known as Yankee Clipper (US Library of Congress)
Under the leadership of Juan Trippe, Pan Am grew rapidly by aggressively buying small airlines and expanding mail and passenger routes in South America. In 1937, Pan Am began providing Sikorsky S-42 seaplane service to Europe, and had started pushing westward from the US to Hawaii and the Far East with aircraft such as the Boeing 314 Clipper, which made the world’s first transatlantic passenger flight, and the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, the first pressurized airliner to enter commercial service. Pan Am also became the first airline to complete a circumnavigation of the globe with paying passengers.
A Pan Am Boeing 707 Clipper Charmer lands at Miami in 1968 (clipperarctic)
Following WWII, Pan Am undertook modernization of its fleet, and soon became a leader in the innovation of the airline industry. As the world entered the jet age, Pan Am inaugurated its first transatlantic jet service in 1958 as the launch customer for the Boeing 707, and later served as the launch customer for the Boeing 747, the world’s first wide-body airliner. Pan Am was also an industry leader in its use of computerized reservation services, teaming with IBM to develop the PANAMAC system that was housed in their iconic Manhattan skyscraper, the largest office building in the world at the time. At Pan Am’s peak in the 1960s, the airline carried 6.7 million passengers and served 86 countries with stops on every continent except Antarctica.
A Pan Am Airbus A300 Ciipper Boston at Princess Juliana Airport, St. Maarten, in 1986 (Eduard Marmet)
But in the 1970s, the oil crisis led to higher fuel prices, and passenger numbers dropped. Pan Am found themselves buried under massive amounts of debt, particularly over the acquisition of new aircraft. The company declared bankruptcy on January 8, 1991, becoming the third US carrier to close its doors in the face of economic hardship and competition from other airlines. After attempting to acquire domestic airlines and selling off major portions of its assets, the remainder of the company was purchased by Delta Air Lines. Pan Am’s final fight was made by a Boeing 727 named Clipper 436, with service from Barbados to Pan Am’s original home base of Miami. Before landing, the crew performed a fly-by down the Miami runway as a tribute to one of America’s most storied and historic airlines.
A Grumman S-2 Tracker armed with torpedoes and with its MAD boom extended (US Navy)
December 4, 1952 – The first flight of the Grumman S-2 Tracker. During World War I, submerged German U-boats prowled the seas virtually undetected and wreaked havoc on both military and civilian shipping. Maritime reconnaissance aircraft patrolled the skies in hopes of catching a glimpse of a submarine on the surface, but the airplane’s role in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) was largely limited to forcing the subs to submerge. Developments in sonar between the wars helped surface ships detect submerged submarines during World War II, but airplanes were still relegated to a strictly reconnaissance or attack role, and were unable to detect submerged submarines on their own. It wasn’t until the development of airborne radar systems that aircraft took on the role of both finding and destroying enemy submarines, but early detection gear was too large to fit into a single aircraft and still be capable of operating from US Navy carriers. The Navy’s initial solution was to split the load between two aircraft, one hunter and one killer. Grumman developed the AF Guardian system of two planes, but clearly, this was just a stopgap measure until a dedicated ASW aircraft could be developed. That aircraft was the Grumman S-2 Tracker, the first dedicated, all-in-one ASW aircraft in US Navy history.
A Grumman S-2A Tracker of anti-submarine squadron VS-29 “Tromboners.” Note the spotlight on the right wing. (US Navy)
The Tracker was powered by two Wright R-1820 Cyclone radial engines mounted on a high wing, an arrangement that allowed for the most unobstructed space possible inside the fuselage. The rear of the large engine nacelles housed sonobuoys that were dropped into the ocean to locate submerged submarines. For tracking, the crew relied on an AN/APS-38 radar that was housed in a retractable radome, as well as a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) boom in the tail that detected tiny variations in the Earth’s magnetic field to snoop out submerged subs. A 70-million candlepower search light was also fitted to the starboard wing. For attack, the S-2 carried two torpedoes or a single nuclear depth charge, and hard points on the wings carried rocket pods, depth charges, or four additional torpedoes.
A Grumman S2F-3 Tracker of anti-submarine squadron VS-36 "Grey Wolves," with its MAD boom extended, passes over the Tench-class submarine USS Sirago (SS 485) in 1962 (US Navy)
The need for the Tracker was so great, and the Navy was so sold on the design, that they ordered two prototypes and 15 production aircraft at the same time, with the first aircraft entering service in 1954. The Tracker was soon upgraded with modern electronics, and the S-2B received the Jezebel passive long-range acoustic search equipment. Jezebel worked in conjunction with an active acoustic echo ranging detection system, codenamed Julie, that used explosive charges to locate underwater submarines. Further refinements brought the S-2C, which was an enlarged aircraft that could carry yet more electronic snooping hardware, and the S-2D, which had a larger wing, more fuel capacity, and more sonobuoys stored in the engine nacelles. The Tracker was widely exported to western allies, and nearly 1,300 were produced, including approximately 100 that were built under license by de Havilland in Canada, aircraft which received the designation CS2F.
Grumman C-1A Trader approaching the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CVA 64) ca. 1974 (US Navy)
A Grumman E-1B Tracer of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 121 (VAW-121) in 1971 (US Navy)
While the Tracker and its ASW equipment gear proved to be an excellent sub hunter, the aircraft itself was useful in other ways. With the electronic tracking gear removed, the large internal space could be used for cargo, and Grumman developed a variant stripped of all electronics and weapons which was called the C-1 Trader. The Trader performed the Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) role until the arrival of the Grumman C-2 Greyhound in 1966. The Tracker was further developed into the E-1 Tracer, the first purpose-built airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft which sported a large radome to track aircraft near the carrier battle group. But the remarkable Tracker wasn’t done yet. In the 1970s, Conair Aerial Firefighting converted surplus Trackers into the Conair Firecat, with all military equipment removed and replaced by an 870 gallon tank for dropping fire retardant. Power for the Firecat comes from a pair of turboprop engines. The US Navy retired their Trackers by 1976, but a handful of aircraft remain in service with the Argentine and Brazilian Navies.
December 2, 1993 – The launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-61, the first mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The HST was launched into Earth orbit in 1990, but faulty optics from an incorrectly ground mirror resulted in distorted images. In one of the most complex Shuttle missions ever, seven specially trained astronauts performed five extended extra-vehicular activity (EVA) operations and replaced the High Speed Photometer with the COSTAR corrective optics package, installed the new Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, replaced four gyroscopes, and upgraded the computers. Following the repairs, the HST was then boosted to a higher orbit. NASA considered the mission a complete success when Hubble began transmitting some of the sharpest images of the cosmos ever taken. Four additional servicing missions were flown, the last in 2009.
December 2, 1976 – The first flight of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Though NASA originally considered using a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy to transport the Space Shuttle, they instead chose to modify a Boeing 747-100 airliner for the task, since the jumbo jet employed a low wing and the C-5 would have to remain the property of the US Air Force. The first SCA (N905NA) was acquired from American Airlines in 1974, and a second (N911NA) was acquired from Japan Airlines in 1988 as a spare following the Challenger disaster. Modifications included the installation of mounting points for the Shuttle, a strengthened fuselage, improved avionics, more powerful engines, and the addition of vertical stabilizers at the end of the horizontal stabilizers for added control when the Shuttle was mounted. The SCA participated in glide tests of the original Shuttle Enterprise (OV-101), and ferried Shuttles from landings in California and New Mexico back to the launch site in Florida. Both SCAs were retired in 2012 at the end of the Space Shuttle program.
December 2, 1945 – The first flight of the Bristol Type 170 Freighter. The 170 was originally created as a measure to keep employees of the Bristol Aeroplane Company working while the huge and ultimately unsuccessful Bristol Brabazon was under development. Placement of the cockpit above the cargo hold helped accommodate as large a payload as possible, and clamshell doors at the front facilitated cargo loading and unloading. An all-passenger variant was developed, called the Wayfarer, as well as a car-ferrying version that allowed passengers to bring their cars along on trips to the European Continent. Bristol built 214 Freighters between 1945-1958, and they served numerous civilian and military carriers around the world.
December 3, 2003 – The first flight of the Honda HA-420 HondaJet, the first aircraft developed by Honda Aircraft Company. The HondaJet was designed in Japan and manufactured in the United States at Honda’s factory in Greensboro, North Carolina. The maiden flight was performed by a proof-of-concept aircraft, not a final production model, and Honda announced in 2006 that it would commercialize the new light business jet. In March 2015, the HondaJet received its Provisional Type Certification from the FAA, and the aircraft is currently under production, with the first of approximately 100 orders delivered in 2018.
December 3, 1973 – Pioneer 10 returns the first close-up images of Jupiter. Pioneer 10 was launched on March 3, 1972 and reached Jupiter in November 1973. The probe eventually transmitted 500 images as it passed as close as 82,000 miles to our Solar System’s largest planet. The pictures returned by Pioneer 10 were of a higher quality than any image ever taken from Earth, and were displayed back on Earth in real time in a presentation that received an Emmy Award. The photographs allowed scientists to determine that Jupiter is composed mostly of liquid, and scientists could also discern weather patterns on the planet based on observations of Jupiter’s clouds. After passing Jupiter, Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to achieve escape velocity from the Solar System. If left undisturbed, it will continue towards the star Aldebaran, more than 68 light years away, though it will require more than two million years to reach the star at its current speed.
December 3, 1944 – The rescue of survivors from the destroyer USS Cooper. While on a mission to intercept Japanese supply ships near the Philippine Islands, USS Cooper (DD 695) was torpedoed by a Japanese destroyer and sunk with the loss of 191 crewmen. 168 were rescued, including 56 who were loaded into a single US Navy Consolidated PBY Catalina belonging to Patrol Bombing Squadronn VPB-34 and commanded by Lt. Joe Frederick Ball. A second PBY recovered 48 survivors. For his actions in rescuing a record number of victims, Ball received the Navy Cross. The citation reads in part:
[Ball] carried out the entire rescue with consummate skill and with total and repeated disregard for his personal safety, remaining on the water for almost an hour with many enemy planes in the vicinity, and repeatedly taxiing his plane well within point-blank range of guns on the enemy-held coastline and of two enemy warships, in his effort to pick up survivors. When his plane could hold no more, he was forced to make a run of three miles in order to get off the water.
December 4, 1965 – The launch of Gemini 7, the fourth manned flight of the Gemini program and the 12th manned American space flight. In the longest mission to date, astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell remained in orbit for 14 days and circled the Earth 206 times. The primary goal of the Gemini 7 was to act as a passive target for a rendezvous in space with Gemini 6A, which was launched 11 days after Gemini 7. Gemini 6A astronauts Walter “Wally” Schirra and Thomas Stafford maneuvered to within one foot of Gemini 7, and could have docked had the two spacecraft been fitted with docking equipment. After the rendezvous, Borman and Lovell spent three more days in space with little more to do than read books to pass the time. The pair returned to Earth on December 18.
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3point8isgreat last edited by
"...even though the US military had expressed no interest in a new trainer, nor did they have the budget for one." What ended up changing that the military ended up buying them? Just a case of realizing they eventually would need new planes?
@3point8isgreat I'd have to review this, but it probably needs the words "at the time."
Exage03040 last edited by
December 3, 1944 – The rescue of survivors from the destroyer USS Cooper. While on a mission to intercept Japanese supply ships near the Philippine Islands, USS Cooper (DD 695) was torpedoed by a Japanese destroyer and sunk with the loss of 191 crewmen. 168 were rescued, including 56 who were loaded into a single US Navy Consolidated PBY Catalina belonging to Patrol Bombing Squadronn VPB-34 and commanded by Lt. Joe Frederick Ball. A second PBY recovered 48 survivors. For his actions in rescuing a record number of victims, Ball received the Navy Cross.
That must have been what was the influence of Black Cats from Call of Duty World at War!
@exage03040 The Black Cats were really a thing, flying matte black PBYs against Japanese shipping at night. During the Guadalcanal campaign, the Americans basically owned the waters during the day, while the Japanese, who were better at night engagements, owned the night. It went back and forth like this for some time, so having night bombers to harass the Japanese made good sense.
Now, for bonus points, what's this?
Chariotoflove last edited by
the rigors of military training
I'm guessing code for "abuse from newbie pilots?"
BaconSandwich last edited by BaconSandwich
Now, for bonus points, what's this?
BaconSandwich last edited by
@Cé-hé-sin In all seriousness, I'm not sure. I'm guessing something European. My first thought was Crossley, but I really don't know my older cars, or my older European cars. My other thought was a Morris, or a Hindustan Ambassador.
@baconsandwich I'm guessing some variation of the Hillman Minx
The chrome strip going back halfway along the door and the chrome at the front of the rear wheelarch fit
@cé-hé-sin It’s a car.
Everybody takes shots at Brewster for the Buffalo but their Buccaneer/Bermuda was even worse.
As for the Tracker the piston powered fire-bomber conversion has been a common sight in the BC sky for ages during fire season. As I understand it though, all the Provincial governments have said they will no longer hire anything that burns Avgas so they're probably gone from now on. I fly with a guy who worked as an AME at Conair back when the DC-6s were nearing retirement and who works for Cascade these days. One of the aircraft I worked on at BCIT when I took the AME program was a Tracker, still in RCN colours. The only thing we did to it was to inspect and test the gasoline heater unit. Those things terrify me. Crawling around inside was fun though. Discovering that a previous class had somehow managed to overflow Avgas and fill the engine covers and the drip pans placed under the engine was not fun. Fortunately we noticed that before we started playing around with the hellfire tube in the nose.
SmugAardvark last edited by
Interesting coincidence, I wore a Pan Am shirt today. Totally neglected to remember it was the anniversary of their termination of service.