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Some key dates for your aerospace diary in 2019

Some key dates for your aerospace diary in 2019

In this feature we take a brief look at some significant anniversaries with an aerospace connection coming up in 2019, and point you to the relevant Haynes publications to find out more. 

Iconic airliners

On most people's list of famous airliners, the Boeing 747 and Concorde would be right up there near the top. Both aircraft are instantly recognisable and inspire awe for different reasons. And both aircraft coincidentally flew for the first time 50 years ago this year. 

The 747, more commonly known as the ‘Jumbo Jet’ first took to the skies in February 1969. It was the first wide body aircraft produced, it had a double deck configuration with a distinctive hump for the upper deck, and in two-class layout form could carry around 500 passengers. 

So large was the 747 that Boeing had to build a new production plant for it near Seattle which even today remains the single most voluminous building in the world. The original production estimate was for around 400 aircraft but this giant of the airways has proved so successful that production has now topped over 1,500, it is still in production and it remains a vey common sight in the skies around the world. 

In contrast the Anglo-French Concorde airliner which first flew in March 1969 ultimately proved to be a commercial failure, only 14 examples ultimately entering airline service (with Air France and British Airways). But even today, 16 years after it was retired, Concorde remains a technological marvel and still seems incredibly futuristic in terms of  design concept and capability. 

Powered by four mighty Rolls Royce/Snecma Olympus engines Concorde was capable of cruising at Mach 2 at an altitude of 60,000 feet, allowing it to cross the Atlantic in just under 3.5 hours.  As well as the engineering success this represents, Concorde was also arguably one of the most beautiful aircraft ever built. 

Another aircraft that could justifiably be described as beautiful was the De Havilland Comet. This was the world’s first commercial jet airliner and it first flew in July 1949, 70 years ago this year.

At the time the Comet was seen as a world-beater, giving Britain a clear lead in an airliner market dominated by American manufacturers. However, the lead was effectively lost after structural problems with the Comet 1 led to fatal accidents necessitating extensive modification. 

Nevertheless later models gave good service to a number of airlines and the Comet was also utilised by Royal Air Force Transport Command. The Comet’s airframe was also used as the basis for the successful Nimrod maritime surveillance aircraft which first entered RAF Service 50 years ago this year in October 1969, as a replacement for the Avro Shackleton that first flew 80 years ago this year in March 1949.      

‘The Stringbag’

It’s hard to believe that just 35 years separate the first flight of Concorde and the first flight of the Fairey Swordfish but such was the phenomenal pace of aeronautical progress in the 20th Century. The Swordfish, a slow three-seater biplane, first flew 85 years ago this year. It was used principally by the Royal Navy in the Second World War as a torpedo bomber, although it was already obsolete by the time hostilities began.  

Vulnerable to enemy fighters and ship-born anti-aircraft fire, the ‘Stringbag’ as it was nicknamed nevertheless achieved some notable combat successes in the hands of some very brave pilots, sinking an Italian battleship and damaging two others at the Battle of Taranto in 1940 and playing an important role in the demise of the German battleship Bismark. Indeed the Swordfish is credited with destroying more enemy shipping by tonnage in World War 2 than any other Allied aircraft.

The Second World War begins…

The start of the Second World War was 80 years ago this year, in September 1939. In the run-up to war the Royal Air Force underwent a major modernisation and expansion programme. As well as providing Fighter Command with capable monoplane fighters (in the form of the legendary Hurricane and Spitfire), there was a requirement to enhance the ability of Bomber Command to strike at the German war machine, something it would struggle to do with the relatively light bombers it was equipped with then.

So the Air Ministry issued Specification P.13/36, which ultimately resulted in the development of three four-engined heavy bombers - the Short Sterling, the Handley Page Halifax and the Avro Lancaster. The Sterling first flew 80 years ago this year in May 1939, to be followed by the Halifax soon after in October 1939. Although both aircraft were ultimately considered inferior to their more famous Avro counterpart, both nevertheless served with distinction and made up a significant proportion of the RAF’s heavy bomber fleet during the mid war period. 

D-Day 75

June 6th 2019 sees the 75th anniversary of Operation Neptune - the D-Day landings. The Haynes D-Day Operations Manual ‘provides insights into how science, technology and engineering made the Normandy landings possible’.  Allied air forces flew over 14,000 sorties on D-Day: transporting troops, attacking German defensive positions and communications routes on the ground, and patrolling the skies above the landing beaches.

Around 1200 allied transport aircraft - their wings and fuselages painted with distinctive black and white stripes to aid identification - took part in the initial aerial assault involving three airborne divisions. 

For many months prior to the invasion allied aircraft had been pounding German aircraft factories, fuel supplies and airfields in what was known as ‘Operation Pointblank’, the aim being to diminish German fighter strength in a bid to secure air superiority over the invasion grounds.  This effort was relatively successful and most allied sortieson D-Day went unchallenged by the Luftwaffe.

A series of elaborate deception exercises also helped the Allies gain a foothold. In one of these, on the night before the invasion, RAF bombers flying in very precisely defined patterns dropped strips of metal foil that caused German radar operators to believe that invasion convoys were headed to other locations along the French coast.      

Two American ‘heavies’

The American B-24 Liberator bomber is another famous wartime aircraft that flew for the first time 80 years ago this year. Sharing U.S. heavy bomber duties in tandem with the more famous Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress during World War 2, it also played a key role in anti-submarine guise in the Battle of the Atlantic, helping to close the ‘mid-Atlantic gap’ by virtue of its very long range. It was ultimately to become the most produced bomber in history (with just short of 18,500 built in total).               

On the subject of American-designed bombers, this March sees the scheduled release of a brand new Haynes title dedicated to the huge and somewhat unusual Convair B-36 Peacemaker.  This post-war long range strategic bomber had the longest wingspan of any military aircraft ever and also had no fewer than six piston engines in an unusual ‘pusher’ configuration. 

Four jet engines were added to later models, giving 10 engines in total! The jets assisted take-off and increased speed over the target, but were shut down during normal cruising to conserve fuel. The B-36 was retired in 1959 (superseded by the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress ) - 60 years ago this year.          

Footprints on the moon 

July 20th 2019 sees the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. Although the Apollo programme was driven by cold war rivalry as much as the desire to further scientific knowledge, America’s ‘space race’ success - putting men onto the lunar surface for the first time and then bringing them back to earth safely - remains an incredible technological achievement. 

The first moon landing was a defining moment for mankind, one that is indelibly etched on the popular consciousness. A global TV audience of over half a billion people watched Neil Armstrong ‘take one small step’ onto the grey dusty surface of the ‘Sea of Tranquility’ at 02:56:15 (Coordinated Universal Time) to be followed about 20 minutes later by crew-mate Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin. All the while the third Apollo 11 crew member Michael Collins remained on station high above them piloting the orbiting Command Module.

The three men returned to earth to a heroes’ welcome, but had to spend several weeks in quarantine before they could participate in any celebratory parades.    

To commemorate this historic occasion, Haynes will release a ‘50th Anniversary Special Edition’ Apollo 11 Manual in June that will cover spacecraft technology such as the giant Saturn V rocket, the Lunar Module, Command Module and Service Module, as well as taking a fresh look at the legacy of Apollo 11 and considering what the future may hold for manned space missions and deep space exploration - don’t miss it!             

For more information, check out the relevant Haynes publications via the links in this article. And keep an eye out too for our fantastic new ‘De Havilland Sea Vixen Enthusiasts Manual’due for release in June that will provide insights into the design, construction and operation of the Royal Navy’s iconic cold war twin-boom, twin-turbojet carrier-borne fighter!