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The Boeing 747, one of the most iconic aircraft in history.

Aviation, or air transport, refers to the activities surrounding mechanical flight and the aircraft industry. Aircraft includes fixed-wing and rotary-wing types, morphable wings, wing-less lifting bodies, as well as lighter-than-air craft such as balloons and airships.

Aviation began in the 18th century with the development of the hot air balloon, an apparatus capable of atmospheric displacement through buoyancy. Some of the most significant advancements in aviation technology came with the controlled gliding flying of Otto Lilienthal in 1896; then a large step in significance came with the construction of the first powered airplane by the Wright brothers in the early 1900s. Since that time, aviation has been technologically revolutionized by the introduction of the jet which permitted a major form of transport throughout the world.

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Color Autochrome Lumière of a Nieuport Fighter in Aisne, France 1917
One of the many innovations of World War I, aircraft were first used for reconnaissance purposes and later as fighters and bombers. Consequently, this was the first war which involved a struggle for control of the air, which turned it into another battlefield, alongside the battlefields of land and sea.

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Kittinger's record-breaking skydive from Excelsior III
Credit: United States Air Force

Captain Joseph Kittinger steps from a balloon-supported gondola at the altitude of 102,800 feet (31.3 km), or almost 20 miles on August 16, 1960, as part of Project Excelsior, a series of high-altitude parachute jumps, testing a system that would allow a safe controlled descent after a high-altitude aircraft ejection. In freefall for 4.5 minutes at speeds up to 625 mph (1,005 km/h) and temperatures as low as −94°F (−70°C), he opened his parachute at 17,500 feet (5.3 km). The whole descent took 13 minutes and 45 seconds. This is the current world record for the highest parachute jump and was the longest freefall until Adrian Nicholas broke the record in 1998 with a wing suit skydive lasting 4 minutes 55 seconds.

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...that George H. W. Bush flew a TBF Avenger while he was in the U.S. Navy?


...that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight contains the world's oldest airworthy survivor of the Battle of Britain, alongside ten other historic aircraft - two of which fought over Normandy on D-Day? ... that Jimmy Doolittle commanded a 22 plane demonstration celebrating the opening of Henderson, Kentucky's Audubon Memorial Bridge in 1932?

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Space Shuttle Discovery

NASA's Space Shuttle, officially called the Space Transportation System (STS), is the spacecraft which was used by the United States government for its human spaceflight missions. At launch, it consists of a rust-colored external tank (ET), two white, slender Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs), and the orbiter, a winged spaceplane which is the space shuttle in the narrow sense.

The orbiter carries astronauts and payload such as satellites or space station parts into low earth orbit, into the Earth's upper atmosphere or thermosphere. Usually, five to seven crew members ride in the orbiter. The payload capacity is 22,700 kg (50,000 lb). When the orbiter's mission is complete it fires its Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) thrusters to drop out of orbit and re-enters the lower atmosphere. During the descent and landing, the shuttle orbiter acts as a glider, and makes a completely unpowered ("dead stick") landing.

  • Span: 78.06 ft (23.79 m)
  • Length: 122.17 ft (37.24 m)
  • Height: 58.58 ft (17.25 m)
  • Engines: 3 Rocketdyne Block 2 A SSMEs
  • Cruising Speed: 25,404 ft/s (7,743 m/s, 27,875 km/h, 17,321 mi/h)
  • First Flight: August 12, 1977 (glider), April 12, 1981 (powered).
  • Operational Altitude: 100 to 520 nmi (185 to 1,000 km)
  • Number built: 6 (+2 mockups)
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William Lendrum Mitchell (full shot).jpg
Billy Mitchell (1879–1936) was an early aviation pioneer who rose to become a chief of the U.S. Army Air Service. Mitchell was born in Nice, France and raised on his family estate near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He attended George Washington University before enlisting in the Army at age 18 during the Spanish–American War. Due to his family connection he quickly received a commission Signal Corps where he had the opportunity to witness a flight demonstration by the Wright brothers in 1908. In 1916 he took private flight lessons and was transferred to the Aeronautical Division.

Mitchell deployed to France in 1917 when the United States entered World War I. While there he was promoted to brigadier general and placed in command American combat air units in France. After the war Mitchell was appointed the deputy director of the Air Service became a passionate advocate of air power. In 1921 he set up a demonstration to show the capability of airpower against naval vessels. During the course of the demonstrations aircraft successfully sank a captured German destroyer, the light crusier Frankfurt, and the battleship Ostfriesland.

Mitchell regularly sparred with his superiors over the role of airpower in the military. In 1925 he was reverted to his permanent rank of colonel and was transferred to San Antonio, Texas. Later that year, after a series of aviation accidents he accused Army and Navy leadership of incompetence and "almost treasonable administration of the national defense." In response he was court-martialed for insubordination, found guilty, and sentenced to a five-year suspension from active duty. Mitchell resigned on 1 February 1926 in lieu of serving the sentence. He continued to advocate airpower as a civilian until his death in 1936. In 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt posthumously promoted Mitchell to major general in recognition of his contributions to air power.

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Today in Aviation

October 17

  • 2009 – RP-C550, a Douglas DC-3 operated by Victoria Air, crashes shortly after take-off from Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Philippines, on a flight to Puerto Princesa International Airport after an engine malfunctions. All four people on board are killed.
  • 2009 – An United States Marine Corps McDonnell Douglas F/A-18D Hornet (164729) from the Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron No. 224 VMFA(AW)-224 based at the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Beaufort, South Carolina experiences a heavy landing at Jacksonville International Airport, Duval County, Florida. The aircraft with two other Marine F/A-18 Hornet aircraft were landing at Jacksonville Airport in preparation for a flyover at the nearby NFL Jacksonville Jaguars game when the aircraft experiences an airborne technical fault and the port landing-gear collapses causing the aircraft to land only on the nose-wheel, starboard undercarriage and the exposed port-side external fuel-tank. The F/A-18 Hornet skidded down the runway with most damage occurring to the grounded external fuel-tank and the 2 Marine crew were uninjured.
  • 2008 – The Russian Air Force grounds all its Mikoyan MiG-29s following a crash in Siberia on this date. The fighter came down 60 kilometers (37 mi) from the Domna airfield during a regular training flight. The pilot ejected safely.
  • 1988Uganda Airlines Flight 775 crashed while attempting to land at Roma-Fiumicino Airport. 33 of the 52 passengers and crew on board were killed.
  • 1982 – The last flight of the CF-104 in Canada. 104646 of AETE was ferried Cold Lake to Trenton by Maj Croll and Capt Youngson.
  • 1977- German Autumn: Four days after it was hijacked, Lufthansa Flight 181 lands in Mogadishu, Somalia, where a team of German GSG 9 commandos later rescues all remaining hostages on board.
  • 1966 – Lockheed U-2D, 56-6951, Article 391, first airframe of the USAF supplementary production, and assigned to the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Laughlin AFB, Texas, crashes this date at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, in a non-fatal accident. Pilot was Maj. Leslie White, who stalled on approach on his first flight. "The pilot survived, but the airplane was washed out," noted Kelly Johnson.
  • 1965 – Over North Vietnam, American aircraft carry out their first successful Iron Hand surface-to-air-missile (SAM) site detection and suppression mission.
  • 1956 – Mae Jemison, American astronaut, was born. Dr. Jemison became the first African American woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992.
  • 1953 – Pilot of an Republic F-84F-1-RE Thunderstreak, 51-1354, is killed in an accident at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
  • 1944 – In the first day of Operation Millet, the British aircraft carriers HMS Indomitable and HMS Victorious launch heavy strikes against Car Nicobar, striking airfields on the island and the harbor and shipping at Nancowry. Japanese antiaircraft fire shoots down three British planes.
  • 1944 – (17–19) Carrier aircraft of Task Force 38 strike targets on Luzon.
  • 1931 – The first hook-on test of the U. S. Navy’s parasite fighter program takes places, as the Curtiss XF9 C-1 prototype successfully docks with the dirigible USS Los Angeles (ZR-3).
  • 1922 – Lt U.S. Army's largest blimp, C-2, catches fire shortly after being removed from its hangar at Brooks Field, San Antonio, Texas for a flight. Seven of eight crew aboard are injured, mostly in jumping from the craft. This accident was made the occasion for official announcement by the Army and the Navy that the use of hydrogen would be abandoned "as speedily as possible." On 14 September 1922, the C-2 had made the first transcontinental airship flight, from Langley Field, Virginia, to Foss Field, California, under the command of Maj H. A. Strauss.
  • 1913 – Imperial German Navy Zeppelin L 2, LZ18, destroyed by an exploding engine during a test flight - the entire crew of 28 was killed.
  • 1900 – On her second flight, the Zeppelin LZ-1 remains aloft for 80 min.


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