17 January 1911: Taking off from the U.S. Army’s Selfridge Field (the closed Tanforan race track at San Bruno, California) at approximately 10:45 a.m., Eugene Burton Ely flew his Curtiss-Ely pusher to San Francisco Bay where he landed aboard the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) as it lay at anchor.
A temporary wooden deck had been erected aboard the ship at the Mare Island shipyard. Built of wood, it was 133 feet, 7 inches (40.7 meters) long and 31 feet, 6 inches (9.6 meters) wide. Twenty-two manila hemp cables were stretched across the deck at 3-foot (0.9-meter) intervals. These were to catch hooks mounted beneath Ely’s airplane and drag it to a stop. Each cable had a 50-pound (22.7 kilogram) sand bag at each end. The bags were precisely weighed so that the Curtiss would not slew to one side. A guideway was laid out on the deck with 2-inch × 4-inch (5 × 10 centimeter) planks, and 2-foot (0.6-meter) high barriers were at each edge of the flight deck.
Captain Charles Fremont Pond, commanding Pennsylvania, offered to take the ship to sea in order that Ely would have the advantage of a head wind down the flight deck, but as winds in the bay were 10 to 15 miles per hour (4.5–6.7 meters per second), Ely elected to have the cruiser remain anchored.
About ten minutes after Ely took off, he was overhead the anchored ship. He set up his approach and when he was approximately 75 feet (23 meters) astern of Pennsylvania, he cut his engine and glided to a landing. The airplane was flying at about 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour) when the hooks engaged the cables, which quickly slowed it to a stop. Eugene B. Ely landed aboard USS Pennsylvania at 11:01 a.m.
This was the very first time that an airplane had landed aboard a ship. The use of arresting wires would become common with aircraft carrier operations.
Ely and his wife, Mabel, were guests of Captain Pond for lunch. Photographs were taken and 57 minutes after his landing, he took off for the return flight to Selfridge Field.
Ely unsuccessfully tried to interest the Navy in employing him as an aviator. He and Mabel traveled the country, “barnstorming,” making flight demonstrations and entering aviation meets. He was killed at Macon, Georgia, 19 October 1911, when he was unable to pull out of a dive.
17 January 1966: A United States Air Force Boeing B-52G-115-BW Stratofortress, 58-0256, and its 7-man crew, along with a second B-52, were flying an Airborne Nuclear Alert patrol over the Mediterranean Sea. The bomber, call sign “Tea 16,” was armed with four Mark 28 nuclear bombs carried in its bomb bay.
At approximately 10:30 a.m., the two B-52s rendezvoused with two Boeing KC-135A-BN Stratotankers, based at Morón Air Base, Spain, for the second aerial refueling of the mission. The aircraft were at 31,000 feet (9,448 meters) off the southern coast of Spain.
Major Larry G. Messinger, a veteran of World War II, aboard as a relief pilot, was flying Tea 16 from the left seat. The aircraft commander, Captain Charles J. Wendorf, was in the right, co-pilot’s seat, while 1st Lieutenant Richard J. Rooney, the assigned co-pilot, rode in a jump seat behind them.
Major Messinger later said, “We came in behind the tanker, and we were a little bit fast, and we started to overrun him a little bit. . . .”
B-52G 58-0256 collided with the refueling boom of “Troubadour 14” (KC-135A 61-0273). The boom penetrated the bomber’s fuselage, broke structural members and the left wing broke off. The B-52 exploded. The fully-loaded tanker, on fire, went into a steep dive. At 1,600 feet (488 meters), it also exploded.
The four crewmen aboard the tanker were killed. Three of the seven men on the B-52 ejected, and the co-pilot, who was not in an ejection seat, literally fell out of the disintegrating bomber. The navigator’s parachute did not open and he was killed. Three others were unable to escape the doomed airplane and were also killed.
As the B-52 broke apart, the four nuclear bombs it carried in the bomb bay fell free. Three of them fell near the fishing village of Palomares. In two of these, the conventional explosives that “implode” the plutonium to start a chain reaction, detonated on impact, but a nuclear explosion did not occur. However, plutonium was scattered over the area. The third bomb was recovered intact, though it was slightly damaged. The retarding parachute of the fourth Mark 28 opened and it was carried offshore by the wind and fell into the Mediterranean Sea.
A massive recovery operation took place. The fourth bomb was recovered after five months. It had come to rest in an underwater canyon at a depth of 2,550 feet (777 meters).
558 acres (226 hectares) of land in and around Palomares was contaminated. The soil was removed and placed in steel barrels for transportation to the United States for burial at the Savannah River Plant, a nuclear reservation in South Carolina.
The Mark 28 was a two-stage radiation-implosion thermonuclear bomb which was designed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory and produced from January 1958 to May 1966. In 1968, it was redesignated B-28. More than 4,500 were manufactured in as many as 20 variants. Explosive yield varied between 70 kilotons and 1.45 megatons. The B-28-Y1 in the photograph above is a 1.1 megaton weapon. The bomb remained in service until 1991.
17 January 1932: The 11th Bombardment Squadron, U.S. Army Air Corps, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Charles H. Howard and based at March Field, Riverside, California, flew six Curtiss B-2 Condor bombers to drop food and supplies to the Navajo reservation near Winslow, Arizona. A severe winter storm had isolated the community and caused the deaths of thousands of livestock.
More than 30,000 pounds (13,600 kilograms) of food was dropped to support the 20,000 people of the Navajo and Hopi nations effected by the winter storms.
Lieutenant Howard and the 11th Bombardment Squadron won the Mackay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year. This was the first time that the Mackay was awarded to a group.
Captain Howard was killed in an aircraft accident near Bryan Mill, Texas, 25 October 1936. Howard Air Force Base, Panama, was named in his honor.
The following is excerpted from the Davis-Monthan Aviation Field Register web site:
The Air Corps Newsletter of November 1, 1936 reports his passing and summarizes his flying career:
“An airplane accident on the night of October 25th, near Bryan’s Mill, Texas, cost the lives of Captain Charles H. Howard and Corporal Edward N. Gibson, Air Corps, both of whom were stationed at Langley Field, VA.
“Captain Howard, who enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, during the World War, was an efficient and capable officer, an expert pilot, and was particularly well versed in the field of radio communications.
“. . . after serving for a brief period with Company C, 322nd Field Signal Battalion, Fort Lewis, Washington, he was transferred to Kelly Field, Texas, where he served with the 84th Aero Squadron. . .
“During the next four years, Captain Howard’s duties related mainly to radio communications. . .
“In January 1926, Captain Howard was transferred to the Panama Canal Department, where he served for three years, being on duty with the 7th Observation Squadron at France Field for two years, and with the 25th Bombardment Squadron in the remaining year.
“From Panama, Captain Howard was transferred to Rockwell Field, Calif., when he was assigned to the 11th Bombardment Squadron. He also served as Communications Officer of the 7th Bombardment Group. Later, when the Squadron was transferred to March Field, Calif., he was placed in command thereof.”
It was during this time that he and his crew won the Mackay Trophy.
“During the summer of 1934, Captain Howard piloted one of the B-10 Bombardment planes in the Army Alaskan Flight, from Washington, D.C., to Fairbanks, Alaska, and return. This aerial expedition of ten B-10 airplanes was commanded by Brigadier General Henry H. Arnold. The flight was completed according to a prearranged schedule in exactly one month. In addition to his duties as pilot, Captain Howard served as Assistant Communications Officer of the expedition. . .
“Captain Howard had to his credit over 4,000 hours flying time. He was the author of various articles dealing most interestingly and convincingly with subjects in which he particularly specialized – Bombardment Aviation and Radio Communications.”
—Davis-Monthan Aviation Field Registerhttp://www.dmairfield.com/index.php
The Curtiss B-2 Condor was a large (by contemporary standards) twin-engine biplane bomber, operated by a crew of five. It was 47 feet, 4.5 inches (14.440 meters) long with a 90 foot (27.432 meter) wingspan and overall height of 16 feet, 6 inches (5.029 meters).
The B-2 was powered by two liquid-cooled, normally-aspirated 1,570.381-cubic-inch-displacement (25.734 liter) Curtiss Conqueror V-1570-7 DOHC 60° V-12 engines producing 633 horsepower at 2,450 r.p.m., each, driving three-bladed propellers.
The airplane had an empty weight of 9,300 pounds (4,218.4 kilograms) and loaded weight of 16,591 pounds (7,525.6 kilograms).
The bomber had a maximum speed of 132 miles per hour (212 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and a range of 805 miles (1,296 kilometers).
Although the Condor’s service ceiling was 16,140 feet (4,920 meters), Lieutenant Howard flew one to 21,000 feet (6,400 meters) while conducting an experiment in cosmic ray research for Dr. Robert Andrews Millikan of Caltech, Pasadena, California. (“Service ceiling” is the altitude above which an aircraft can no longer maintain at least a 100 feet per minute/0.5 meters per second rate of climb.)
Defensive armament consisted of six .30-caliber Lewis machine guns, with gunners’ positions at the nose and behind each engine. The B-2 could carry 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms) of bombs.
Including the XB-2 prototype, 13 B-2s were built, and a single B-2A. They were removed from service by 1934 as more modern designs became available.
17 January 1906: Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin’s second airship, LZ 2, designed by Ludwig Dürr, made its first—and only—flight at Lake Constance.
LZ 2 was 414 feet (126.19 meters) long and 38 feet, 6 inches (11.75 meters) in diameter. It had a volume of 366,200 cubic feet (10,370 cubic meters). The rigid structure was built of triangular-section girders that provided light weight and strength. Hydrogen gas contained in bags inside the airship’s envelope gave it buoyancy.
The airship was powered by two 85 horsepower Daimler engines. It was capable of reaching 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour). The airship’s ceiling was 2,800 feet (850 meters).
An engine failure forced the ship to make an emergency landing close to a small town named Sommersried, Allgäu, in southern Germany, and was so badly damaged by a storm during the night that it had to be scrapped.
Eugene Andrew Cernan was born at Chicago, Illinois, 14 March 1934. He was the second child of Andrew George Cernan, a manufacturing foreman, and Rose A. Cihlar Cernan. Gene Cernan graduated from Proviso East High School, Maywood, Illinois, in 1952.
Cernan entered Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, as an engineering student. He was a midshipman in the U.S. Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C.), and a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity (, serving as treasurer. He was also president of the Quarterdeck Society and the Scabbard and Blade, and a member of the Phi Eta Sigma honor society and Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society. He served on the military ball committee and was a member of the Skull and Crescent leadership honor society. During his Midshipman Cruise in 1955, Cernan served aboard the Worcester-class light cruiser USS Roanoke (CL-145). Cernan graduated from Purdue in 1956 with Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering (B.S.E.E.).
Cernan was commissioned as an ensign, United States Navy, 2 June 1956, and was assigned to flight training. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 1 December 1957. Lieutenant Cernan completed flight school and qualified as Naval Aviator. He was assigned to Attack Squadron 126 (VA-126) at NAS Miramar, San Diego, California, flying the North American Aviation FJ-4B Fury. On 1 June 1960, Cernan was promoted to the rank of lieutenant.
Lieutenant Eugene A. Cernan married Miss Barbara Jean Atchley, 6 May 1960, at San Diego. Mrs. Cernan was a flight attendant for Continental Airlines. They would have a daughter, Tracy. The Cernans divorced 7 July 1981.
Lieutenant Cernan was next assigned to Attack Squadron 113 (VFA-113) at NAS Lemoore, California. VFA-113 (“Stingers”) flew the Douglas A-4C Skyhawk, and deployed aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CVA-19).
Cernan earned a Master of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California, in 1963.
In October 1963, Lieutenant Cernan was selected as an Astronaut for the National Aviation and Space Administration (NASA). He was one of 14 members of NASA Astronaut Group 3, which was announced 18 October 1963.
Gene Cernan was promoted to the rank of commander, United States Navy, 3 June 1966. He flew as pilot of Gemini IX-A, 3-6 June 1966. (Thomas P. Stafford was the command pilot.) The mission included a rendezvous with a Lockheed Agena target vehicle. A planned docking with the Agena could not be carried out because the docking shroud had failed to deploy correctly. On 6 June, Cernan conducted an “EVA” (Extravehicular Activity, of “space walk”). During the 2 hour, 7 minute EVA, numerous difficulties were encountered.
Commander Cernan was next assigned as the backup pilot of Gemini XII and backup lunar module pilot of Apollo 7.
Gene Cernan was the Lunar Module pilot of Apollo 10, the full rehearsal for the first lunar landing, 18 May–26 May 1969. He flew the LM Snoopy to 47,400 feet (14,445 meters) above the lunar surface at 21:29:43 UTC, 22 May.
Cernan was promoted to the rank of captain, United States Navy, 10 July 1970. He was next assigned as the backup to Alan B. Shepard as mission commander for Apollo 14.
On 23 January 1971, Cernan was flying a Bell Model 47G-3B-1 helicopter, NASA 947 (N947NA, serial number 6665), on a proficiency flight, when it crashed in the Indian River near Malabar, Florida. The helicopter was destroyed and Cernan was slightly injured. The official investigation reported the cause as a “misjudgement in estimating altitude.” In his autobiography, Cernan wrote,
“Without ripples, the water provided no depth perception and my eyes looked straight through the clear surface to the reflective river bottom. I had lost sight of the water.“
—The Last Man on the Moon, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999, Chapter 25 at Page 258
Gene Cernan’s third space flight was as commander of Apollo 17, 6–19 December 1972, with Ronald E. Evans as Command Module pilot and Harrison H. Schmitt as the Lunar Module pilot. Cernan and Schmitt were on the surface of the Moon for 3 days, 2 hours, 59 minutes, 40 seconds. During that time they made three excursions outside the lunar lander, totaling 22 hours, 3 minutes 57 seconds.
Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to the Moon in the Twentieth Century. Gene Cernan was the last man to stand on the surface of the Moon.
Gene Cernan retired from the United States Navy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1 July 1976. According to his NASA biography, Cernan had logged 566 hours, 15 minutes of space flight.
In 1987 Cernan married Jan Nanna (née Janis E. _) at Sun Valley, Idaho. She had two daughters, Kelly and Daniele, from a previous marriage.
Captain Eugene Andrew Cernan, United States Navy (Retired) died at a hospital in Houston, Texas. His remains were buried at the Texas State Cemetery at Austin, Texas.