28 March 1935: Near Roswell, New Mexico, Robert H. Goddard successfully launched the first gyroscopically-stabilized liquid-fueled rocket. In a 20-second flight, the A Series rocket, number A-5, reached an altitude of 4,800 feet (1,463 meters) and traveled 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) down range. Its speed was 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour). During the flight, the rocket corrected its flight path several times.
The A Series rockets were of varying lengths and mass. The representative A-series rocket displayed at the National Air and Space Museum is 15 feet, 4½ inches (468.63 centimeters) long with a diameter of 9 inches (22.86 centimeters). The span across the fins is 1 foot, 9½ inches (54.61 centimeters). It weighs 78.5 pounds (35.6 kilograms). The rocket was fueled with gasoline and liquid oxygen, pressurized with nitrogen.
A gyroscope controlled vanes placed in the engine’s exhaust, providing stabilization during powered flight.
Goddard flew the A-sereies 14 times between 15 January and 29 October 1935.
The National Air and Space Museum describes the rocket’s construction:
“Aluminum skin, thin gauge, a long tail section from bottom of fins to bottom of mid-section. Aluminum skin also on parachute section and nosecone wholly of spun aluminum except for steel attachment screw. Steel skin (for greater strength and insulation) below nosecone, over mid-section (over propellant tanks), and around small section above fins. One steel tube or pipe on each side of rocket, along propellant section; one smaller diameter copper tube on one side. Steel nozzle and other interior components. Fabric parachute.”
Goddard is the “Father of Modern Rocketry.” Many of his developments were copied by German engineers as they developed the V2 rocket of World War II. And this led to America’s own post-War rocket developments, including the mighty Saturn V moon rocket.
28 March 1913: Lieutenants Thomas DeWitt Milling and William C. Sherman, Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps, United States Army, set two American Cross-Country Nonstop Records for Distance and Duration by flying a single-engine Burgess Model H Military Tractor (also known as the Burgess-Wright Model H) biplane from Texas City to San Antonio, Texas, a distance of 220 miles (354 kilometers), in 4 hours, 22 minutes.
During the flight Lieutenant Sherman drew a map of the terrain.
Aero and Hydro reported:
American Cross-Country Nonstop Records.—The Aero Club of America, on recommendation of its Contest Commitee, has adopted the following, relative to cross-country flying, nonstop records: Duration—Aviator With Passenger.—Lieutenant T. DeWitt Milling, Texas City, Tex., to San Antonio, Tex., March 28, 1913, Burgess-Wright tractor biplane, 70-horsepower Renault motor; time, four hours, 22 minutes.
Distance—Aviator With Passenger.—Lieut. T. DeWitt Milling, Texas City, Tex., to San Antonio, Tex., Burgess-Wright tractor biplane, 70-horsepower Renault motor; distance covered, 220 miles.
—AERO AND HYDRO, Noel & Company, Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, Volume VI, No. 10, 7 June 1913, at Page 190, Column 1
The U.S. Army Signal Corps purchased six Model H biplanes for $7,500, each. They were assigned serial numbers S.C. 9 and S.C. 24–S.C. 28.
The Burgess Model H was a two-place, single-engine biplane which could be ordered with either wheeled landing gear or floats. It was built by the Burgess Company and the Curtiss Aeroplane and Engine Company, under license from Wright.
The biplane was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.458 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 6 inches (10.516 meters), and weighed 2,300 pounds (1,043 kilograms)
The airplane was powered by a normally-aspirated, air-cooled, 6.949 liter (424.036 cubic inch displacement) Renault Limited left-hand tractor 90° V-8 engine with a compression ratio of 4.12:1. The engine produced 70 horsepower at 1,750 r.p.m., burning 50-octane gasoline. The V-8 drove a two-bladed propeller at one-half of crankshaft speed. (The propeller was driven by the camshaft.) This engine, also known as the Type WB, was manufactured by three British companies: Renault Limited, Rolls-Royce Limited, and Wolseley Motors Limited.
The airplane had a maximum speed of 72 miles per hour (116 kilometers per hour).
Thomas Milling was issued the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale‘s pilot certificate number 30, and the Army’s Military Aviator Certificate No. 1. He was the first U.S. military officer authorized to wear a military aviator badge as part of his uniform.
28 March 1910: Henri Marie Léonce Fabre (29 November 1882 – 30 June 1984) flew his Hydroavian, the first seaplane, at Étang de Berre, a lagoon about 25 kilometers (15½ miles) west of Marseille, on the Mediterranean coast of France. The airplane, named Le Canard, flew 457 meters (1,499 feet).
The Hydroavian is 8.45 meters (27 feet, 8.67 inches) long with a wingspan of 14 meters (45 feet, 11.18 inches) and height of 3.70 meters (12 feet, 1.67 inches). It has an empty weight of 380 kilograms (838 pounds) and the gross weight is 475 kilograms (1,047 pounds).
Fabre’s airplane was powered by a normally-aspirated, air-cooled, 7.983 liter (487.140-cubic-inch-displacement) Société des Moteurs Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine which produced 50 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed wooden propeller in a left-hand, pusher configuration. The Omega 7 is 79.2 centimeters (2 feet, 7.2 inches) long, 83.8 centimeters (2 feet, 9.0 inches) in diameter, and weighs 75.6 kilograms (166.7 pounds). The prototype of this engine is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air & Space Museum.
Though it was damaged in a crash in 1911, Le Canard was restored and is in the collection of Musée de l’air et de l’espace.
27 March 1977: The deadliest accident in the history of aviation occurred when two Boeing 747 airliners collided on the runway on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. 583 people died.
A terrorist incident at Gran Canaria International Airport (LPA) on the island of Gran Canaria resulted in the airport being closed for flight operations. This forced many trans-Atlantic airliners to divert to the smaller Los Rodeos Airport (TFN) on Tenerife. The ramp and taxiways at Los Rodeos were congested and refuelers were overwhelmed by the increased traffic, which led to many delays.
Los Rodeos Airport has only one runway, Runway 12/30, with a parallel taxiway and four short taxiways joining the two.
Pan American World Airways’ Flight 1736, a Boeing 747-121, FAA registration number N736PA, named Clipper Victor ¹ was ready for takeoff with 380 passengers and crew, but had to “back taxi” on Runway 12 (“One-Two”) because the parallel taxiway was jammed with airplanes. The airliner proceeded east-southeast, intending to exit the runway to the parallel taxiway after passing by the congestion around the terminal.
Also on the runway was Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij (KLM) Flight 4805, a Boeing 747-206B, PH-BUF, named Rijn (“Rhine”). The KLM jumbo jet had 248 passengers and crew members on board. Flight 4805 had back-taxied for the entire length of Runway 12, then made a 180° turn to align itself with Runway 30, the “active” runway.
Weather at the time of the accident was IFR, with low clouds and fog. Visibility on the runway was restricted to about 1,000 feet (305 meters). Takeoff rules required a minimum of 2,300 feet (701 meters). What happened next was a misunderstanding between the air traffic controllers and the crew of both airliners.
The control tower instructed KLM 4805 to taxi into position on Runway 30 (“Three-Zero”) for takeoff, and to hold there for release. The Pan Am airliner was told to taxi off the runway and to report when clear. The tower controllers could not see either airliner because of the fog, and their flight crews could not see each other.
The aircraft commander of the Dutch airliner, that company’s Chief Pilot and Chief Flight Instructor, Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen Van Zanten, apparently misunderstood what was occurring and radioed to the tower that he was taking off. He then accelerated.
The crew in the Pan Am airliner heard the KLM pilot report that he was taking off, immediately turned left and ran the engines up to full throttle in order to try to get off the runway. With the KLM 747 accelerating through the fog, its flight crew belatedly realized that the other airliner was still ahead of them. Too late to stop, they applied full power and pulled the nose up trying to takeoff. The tail of their airplane actually dragged over sixty feet (18 meters) on the runway because its extreme nose up angle.
KLM 4805 lifted off about 300 feet (91 meters) from Pan Am 1736, and because of the high angle of attack, its nose wheel actually passed over American airliner’s fuselage, but the rest of the Dutch airplane hit at 140 knots (259 kilometers per hour). Clipper Victor was ripped in half, caught fire and exploded. Rijn crashed about 250 yards (229 meters) down the runway, and it also caught fire and exploded.
All 248 people aboard the Royal Dutch Airlines airplane were killed. Miraculously, there were 61 survivors from the Pan Am Clipper, including the co-pilot, but the remaining 335 died.
The 747-100 series was the first version of the Boeing 747 to be built. It was operated by a flight crew of three and was designed to carry 366 to 452 passengers. It is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). The interior cabin width is 20 feet (6.096 meters), giving it the name “wide body.” Its empty weight is 370,816 pounds (168,199 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 735,000 pounds (333,390 kilograms).
The 747-100 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A high-bypass ratio turbofan engines. The JT9D is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single-stage fan section, 14-stage compressor (11 high- and 3 low-pressure stages) and 6-stage turbine (2 high- and 4 low-pressure stages). The engine is rated at 46,950 pounds of thrust (208.844 kilonewtons), or 48,570 pounds (216.050 kilonewtons) with water injection (2½-minute limit). This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).
The 747-100 has a cruise speed of 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The maximum certificated operating speed is 0.92 Mach. The airliner’s maximum range is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).
The Boeing 747 has been in production for 48 years. More than 1,520 have been delivered to date. 205 of these were the 747-100 series. The U.S. Air Force has selected the Boeing 747-8 as the next presidential transport aircraft.
¹ Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747 Clipper Victor was the very first Boeing 747 in service. It made its first commercial passenger flight, New York to London, 22 January 1970. Another airliner, Clipper Young America, was scheduled to make that flight but suffered mechanical problems shortly before departure. Clipper Victor was substituted, but Pan Am changed the airliner’s name to Clipper Young America. On 2 August 1970, N736PA was hijacked to Cuba, and afterwards, to avoid the negative publicity, the name of the 747 was changed back to Clipper Victor.
27 March 1968: Colonel Yuri Alekseevich Gagarin, Pilot-Cosmonaut of the Soviet Union, was killed in the crash of a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15UTI two-place trainer near the village of Novoselova, Vladamir Oblast, Russia.
Colonel Gagarin was on a routine training flight with an instructor, Colonel-Engineer Vladimir Sergeyevich Seregin. (Seregin was the commanding officer of the cosmonauts’ training regiment at the Cosmonaut Training Center.) The weather was poor, with rain, snow, wind and low clouds. His last reported altitude was 4,200 meters (13,780 feet).
A Sukhoi Su-15 on test flight inadvertently passed very close to the MiG at supersonic speed. The Sukhoi’s test had been planned for 10,000 meters (32,808 feet), but the pilot actually was flying much lower, passing through clouds, and the interceptor came within an estimated 15–20 meters (49–66 feet) of the trainer. Its wake vortices put Gagarin’s airplane into a spin from which he and Seregin were unable to recover. 55 seconds after Gagarin’s last radio transmission, the MiG-15 crashed. Both men were killed.
Yuriy Alekseyevich Gagarin (Юрий Алексеевич Гагарин) was born at Klushino, a village in Smolensk Oblast, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, 9 March 1934. He was the third of four children of Alexey Ivanovich Gagarin and Anna Timofeyevna Gagarina. The family, workers on a collective farm, were displaced by the German invasion of 1941.
Gagarin was drafted by the Soviet Army in 1955 and was sent to flight school. Gagarin received a commission as a lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force in 1957 and was promoted to senior lieutenant two years later.
Lieutenant Gagarin was one of nineteen pilots selected for the space program in 1960. This was further reduced to six cosmonaut candidates. Gagarin and Gherman Titov were the final Two candidates for the first manned space launch, with Gagarin being chosen.
Yuri Gagarin was the first human to fly into space when he orbited Earth aboard Vostok I, 12 April 1961. The spacecraft was a spherical Vostok 3KA-3 capsule carried aloft by a Vostok-K rocket. Gagarin made one orbit of the Earth and began reentry over Africa. As the spacecraft was descending through 7,000 meters (20,966 feet), he ejected from the capsule and parachuted to the ground, landing near Engels, Saratov Oblast, at 0805 UTC.