Aviation History Facts: May

May 1

  • In 1942… Squadron No. 588 of the Soviet Air Force, an all-woman night-bombing unit equipped with Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, is formed in the USSR. (AYY)
  • In 1952… Trans World Airways (TWA), British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and Air France launch the world’s first scheduled tourist-class flights on their transatlantic routes from New York, London and Paris. (AYY)
  • In 1960… A Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, piloted by U.S. Air Force Col. Francis Gary Powers, is shot down over the Soviet Union by a surface-to-air missile (SAM). (OTM)
  • In 1963… Jacqueline Cochran takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to set a 100-km (62-mile) closed-circuit world speed record for women of 1,203.7mph in a Lockheed Starfighter. (AYY)

May 2

  • In 1925… The Douglas C-1 biplane makes its first flight at Santa Monica, California and during the month completes trials at McCook Field. (F&F)
  • In 1952… The world’s first regularly scheduled, fare-paying, jet passenger service opens with the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Comet 1 flight from London to Johannesburg. (F&F)
  • In 1958… Roger Carpentier beats Watkin’s two-week-old world altitude record when he flies to 79,452 feet in a Sud-Ouest SO 9050 in Istres, France. (AYY)
  • In 1966… British European Airways (BEA) opens the first jet service between London Heathrow and Glasgow, using de Havilland Comet 4Bs. (AYY)

May 3

  • In 1907… The Wright brothers are elected honorary members of the Vienna Aviation Club, Austria. (AYY)
  • In 1923… U.S. Air Service Fokker T-2 pilots Lts. Oakley G. Kelly and John A. Macready complete the first non-stop flight across the United States in 26 hours, 50 minutes, 38.4 seconds from Roosevelt Field, Long Island to Wickenburg, Arizona. (F&F)
  • In 1952… The first landing at the North Pole is made by Americans Lt. Col. William P. Benedict and Lt. Col. J. O. Fletcher on a ski-and-wheel equipped Air Force Douglas C-47. (OTM)
  • In 1976… Pan Am’s 747SP Clipper Liberty Bell returns after a world record for a round-the-world flight of 1 day, 22 hours, 26 minutes: it took off on May 1 and refueled in Delhi and Tokyo. (AYY)

May 4

  • In 1911… The U.S. War Department approves a suggestion that S.C.No.1 (the Wright Flyer accepted by the Army August 2, 1909) be put at the disposal of the Smithsonian Institution for exhibition purposes following refurbishment. (F&F)
  • In 1924… The first helicopter flight in a closed circle is made in France by Etienne Oehmichen’s helicopter No.2. The previous month, it established a world record by flying 1,182 feet (360 meters). (OTM)

May 5

  • In 1930… The first solo flight from England to Australia by a woman is made by British Amy Johnson in a De Havilland D.H.60G Moth. She flies from Croydon, England to Darwin, Australia in 19 days. (OTM)
  • In 1961… Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr., U.S. Navy, becomes the second man to explore space when he rides his Mercury Freedom 7 capsule, launched by a Redstone missile, to 115 miles above the Earth. It is three weeks since Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight. (AYY)
  • In 1968… The first non-stop Atlantic crossing by an executive jet aircraft is made as a Grumman Gulfstream II lands in London, England after completing a 3,500-mile (5,633 km) flight from Teterboro, New Jersey. (OTM)

May 6

  • In 1896… After four years of work and failed flights, Samuel P. Langley succeeds in obtaining good results with his steam-powered, model-size, tandem-wing airplane. His model No.5 makes a flight of 3,300 feet (c. 1 km). (OTM)
  • In 1908… The Wright brothers fly for the first time since 1905, at Kitty Hawk. Wilbur pilots the 1905 Flyer III, modified so that the pilot and a passenger can sit erect, on a flight of just over 1,000 feet. (AYY)
  • In 1919… The first commercial flight, from Canada to United States, occurs as a Canadian Curtiss aircraft flies 150 pounds of raw furs from Toronto to Elizabeth, New Jersey. It is not a non-stop flight. (OTM)
  • In 1941… Igor Sikorsky pilots the Sikorsky VS-300 helicopter in Stratford, Connecticut, on a flight of 1 hour, 32 minutes, 26 seconds, a world endurance record for a helicopter (AYY)

May 7

  • In 1936… Amy Mollison lands at Wingfield Aerodrome, Cape Town, South Africa, to set a new record of 3 days, 6 hours, 26 minutes for a flight from England. (AYY)
  • In 1937… The first successful pressurized airplane cabin is achieved in the Lockheed XC-35. (OTM)
  • In 1979… Air France is the first airline to operate the Lockheed L-1011-500, a long-range version of the TriStar with shorter fuselage, more powerful engines, and improved aerodynamics. (AYY)

May 8

  • In 1926… The first federal legislation regulating civil aeronautics is passed by the U.S.Congress. The Air Commerce Act authorizes the Weather Bureau to provide meteorological service over routes designated by the Secretary of Commerce. (OTM)
  • In 1935… The U.S. Commerce Department announces in Washington, D.C. that blind-landing radio equipment developed by a U.S. Army Air Corps team under Captain Hegenberger is to be installed at all major airports between New York and Los Angeles. (AYY)
  • In 1973… The Airbus A300B prototype makes the type’s first fully automatic landing in Toulouse, France. (AYY)

May 9

  • In 1926… The first airplane flight over the North Pole is made by Americans Lt. Cdr. Richard E. Byrd and Floyd Bennett in a Fokker F-VII/3m. Their total distance from Spitzbergen, Norway is 1,600 miles (2,575 km). (OTM)
  • In 1932… U.S. Army Air Corps Captain A. F. Hegenberger has become the first pilot in the world to make a “blind” landing using instruments alone, with no back-up co-pilot on board in Dayton, Ohio. (AYY)
  • In 1936… The German airship Hindenburg lands at Lakehurst, New Jersey after its first scheduled transatlantic flight. (OTM)
  • In 1983… The first all-woman flight crew to fly a round trip across the Atlantic is the Air France C-141 crew form the 18th Military Airlift Squadron, McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey. (OTM)

May 10

  • In 1919… The recently formed Avro Transport Company in Manchester opens Britain’s first scheduled air service. A fare of four guineas (£4.20) is being charged for the journey of 50 miles. The company is using four of Avro 504K aircraft, modified to carry two passengers. (AYY)
  • In 1961… A Convair B-58A cruises at a speed of 1,302mph (2,095kph) and wins the Blériot trophy, created 30 years ago for the first airplane to maintain a speed of more than 2,000 kph for more than 30 minutes in a closed circuit. (AYY)
  • In 1983… Airspur Helicopters introduces the Westland 30 helicopter into scheduled airline service. (AYY)

May 11

  • In 1911… Edouard Niéport, a racing cyclist before he went into aircraft construction, sets a new speed record of 74.4mph flying his “Nieuport” monoplane powered by a 28-hp engine. (AYY)
  • In 1926… The first airship flight over the North Pole and the first crossing of the Arctic Ocean is made by Roald Amundsen of Norway, Umberto Nobile of Italy, Lincoln Ellsworth of the United States, and their crew in an Italian-built semi-rigid airship, N-1, Norge. (OTM)
  • In 1927… Charles Lindbergh lands his new Ryan airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, in St. Louis after a record non-stop overnight flight from San Diego of 14 hours, 25 minutes. (AYY)

May 12

  • In 1949… The USSR ends its blockade of Berlin, Germany; the Western airlift continues to build up supplies in the city. (AYY)
  • In 1963… American flyer Betty Miller lands in Brisbane, Australia, to complete the first transpacific flight by a woman; she left Oakland, California, on April 30. (AYY)
  • In 1964… American flyer Joan Merriam Smith lands her Pipe Apache to complete the second round-the-world flight by a woman; she took 56 days. (AYY)

May 13

  • In 1927… Colonial Air Transport offers a sightseeing trip from Teterboro, New Jersey, around New York City for just $8, less than the price of a similar trip in a taxi. (AYY)
  • In 1940… The first successful free flight of a true helicopter is made by Igor I. Sikorsky’s single-rotor VS-300. (OTM)

May 14

  • In 1908… The first passenger flies in an airplane. Wilbur Wright takes Charles W. Furnas of Dayton, Ohio on a 28 3/5 seconds flight that covers 600 meters at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. (OTM)
  • In 1909… Samuel Cody makes the first powered airplane flight of more than one mile in Britain. He flies the British Army Aeroplane No.1 from Laffans Planin to Danger Hill in Hampshire at average height of 30 ft. (F&F)
  • In 1915… The U.S. Navy contracts with the Connecticut Aircraft Company for its first airship. (AYY)

May 15

  • In 1918… The first regular air mail service begins with regular flights between Washington, D.C. and New York City. It is operated by the U.S. Army Signal Corps. (OTM)
  • In 1919… The U.S. Post Office Department begins its first air mail service operations between Chicago and Cleveland, later extended to New York and San Francisco. A De Havilland D.H.4-A is carrying the mail (OTM)
  • In 1921… Laura Bromwell loops in New York State 199 times in I hour, 20 minutes, setting a new women’s record for consecutive loops. (AYY)
  • In 1930… The first airline stewardess is Ellen Church, a nurse who flies on the Boeing Air Transport flight between San Francisco, California and Cheyenne, Wyoming. (OTM)

May 16

  • In 1919… The first transatlantic flight is made in stages by the U.S. Navy’s Curtis N-4 seaplane flown by Lt. Cdr. A. C. Read and his crew. (OTM)
  • In 1929… At the first Academy Award ceremonies in Los Angeles, the Oscar for Best Picture for 1927-1928 goes to the Paramount movie, Wings. This World War I flying epic remains a classic today. (OTM)
  • In 1968… A British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Super VC10 on a routine service from Chicago and Montreal makes the airline’s first fully automatic approach and landing in London. (AYY)

May 17

  • In 1900… French-born gliding pioneer Octave Chanute replies to a letter from the Wright brothers. He recommends they study gliding tests carried out by a number of innovators, including Louis-Pierre Mouillard and Percy Pilcher. (AYY)
  • In 1919… The War Department in Washington, D.C. orders the use of the national insignia on all U.S. military aircrafts. (AYY)
  • In 1997… The first flight of the McDonnel Douglas X-36 tailless fighter technology demonstrator, power for which is provided by a 700 lb. s.t. Williams International F112 turbofan. The fighter takes off from Edwards AFB, California. (AYY)

May 18

  • In 1907… Wilbur Wright sails for Europe to discuss the sale of his Flyer III in London, Paris, Moscow and Berlin. (AYY)
  • In 1910… International talks open in Paris to draw up a legal basis for flight between countries. (AYY)
  • In 1949… The city’s first helicopter, built on Pier 41 by the Hudson River, opens in New York City. (AYY)
  • In 1953… American Jacqueline Cochran becomes the first woman to fly faster than the speed of sound while flying a Canadian-built North American F-86 Sabre. On the same day, she sets the world speed record for women at 652 mph (1,049 km/h). (OTM)
  • In 1966… The first round-the-world solo flight by a woman is made by British pilot Sheila Scott. She flies 29,000 miles (46,670 km) in stages in her Piper Copmmanche Myth Too. (OTM)
  • In 1983… American Airlines carries its 500 millionth passenger. (AYY)

May 19

  • In 1934… The first flight of the Russian Tupolev Ant-20 Maxim Gorkii, at this time the largest aircraft in the world. Powered by eight engines, capable of carrying 80 passengers, it is used mainly as a mobile propaganda office. (OTM)
  • In 1949… The U.S. Navy flying boat Marshall Mars lands after flying from Alameda, near San Francisco, with a record 301 passengers. (AYY)
  • In 1959… The first Boeing 707-436 Intercontinental destined for British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) makes its maiden flight, landing at Boeing Field, Seattle, after 1 hour, 11 minutes in the air. BOAC ordered 15 Intercontinentals in 1956. (AYY)

May 20

  • In 1784… The first women to ascend in a tethered balloon are the Marchioness de Montalembert, the Contess de Montalenbert, the Contess de Podenas, and Mademoiselle de Ligarde. Their Montgolfier balloon lifts to the length of the restraining rope. (OTM)
  • In 1927… The first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic is made by Charles A. Lindbergh. In his Ryan monoplane Spirit of St. Louis, he covers 3,600 miles in 33 hours, 29 minutes and wins the Orteig Prize of $25,000. (OTM)
  • In 1929… Charles Lindbergh marries Anne, daughter of Dwight W. Morrow, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and author of an influential report on American aviation. (AYY)
  • In 1932… The first solo flight by a woman pilot across the Atlantic is made by American Amelia Earhart. She flies from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland to Londonderry, Northern Ireland in a Lockheed Vega monoplane in 13 hours, 30 minutes. (OTM)

May 21

  • In 1878… Glenn Hammond Curtiss, pioneer of the first years of powered flight and rival of the Wright brothers, is born in Hammondsport, New York. (OTM)
  • In 1946… Royal Dutch Airlines, KLM, inaugurates a scheduled service to New York. It is the first European airline to open post-war flights to New York. (AYY)
  • In 1977… The Concorde makes a special trip from New York to Paris to mark the 50th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight on the same route in the Spirit of St. Louis; the airliner takes just 3 hours, 44 minutes, compared with Lindbergh’s time of 33 hours, 29 minutes. (AYY)

May 22

  • In 1906… The Wright brothers are granted US patent No. 821,393 for their airplane control system. (AYY)
  • In 1929… Pan American Airways inaugurates a new passenger service from Miami, Florida to Managua, Panama with stops at Belize. The journey by a F.VII/3ns takes 56 hours. (AYY)
  • In 1990… The German Luftwaffe flies the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter for the last time before it is withdrawn from service; the airplane was nicknamed “the widow-maker” because of its terrible safety record – in its five years of service, 110 Starfighter pilots were killed. (AYY)

May 23

  • In 1848… Otto Lilienthal, key figure in the history of flying, is born in Anklam, Germany. He became the first man to fly (glide) with both regularity and control. The Wright brothers regarded his 1899 book as their bible. (OTM)
  • In 1908… The first airplane flight in Italy is made by Léon Delagrange in Rome. (OTM)
  • In 1924… The first scheduled air service in Canada begins. Laurentide Air Service Ltd. offers flights between Angliers, Lake Fortune and Rouyn, Quebec. (OTM)
  • In 1955… The first short-haul jet airliner to go into widespread service, the Sud-Aviation SE 210 Caravelle, makes its first flight at Toulouse, France. (OTM)

May 24

  • In 1939… The English Imperial Airways Short Seaplane Cabot is successfully refueled in mid-air by a Handley Page bomber modified to carry 891 gallons of aviation fuel. (AYY)
  • In 1976… Two Concorde supersonic airliners – one in British Airways colors, the other in those of Air France – land at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. They are the first Concordes to visit the USA. (AYY)
  • In 1982… British Airways retires the Boeing 707; its last scheduled flight is from Cairo to Heathrow. (AYY)

May 25

  • In 1905… Ferdinand Ferber makes his first aerial tests in Chalais-Meodon, France with his No.6 bis glider fitted with a 12-hp Peugeot motor. (AYY)
  • In 1910… Orville Wright takes his 82-year-old father for his first airplane ride. Also on this day, Wilbur and Orville fly together for the only time in a six-and-one-half minute flight at Simms Station, near Dayton, Ohio. (OTM)
  • In 1999… The first flight of Airbus A319-133X ACJ, or Airbus Corporate Jet, an airliner-sized business jet takes place. (AYY)

May 26

  • In 1923… Lieutenant H. G. Crocker lands at Gordon, Ontario, to complete a non-stop transcontinental south/north flight from Houston, Texas, of 11 hours, 55 minutes. (AYY)
  • In 1942… The Northrop XP-61 Black Widow night fighter prototype flies for the first time. (AYY)
  • In 1970… The prototype Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic airliner reaches a speed of 1,335mph, becoming the first commercial transport in the world to exceed Mach 2. (AYY)
  • In 1972… Cessna Aircraft Corporation announces completion of the company’s 100,000th aircraft, becoming the first company in the world to achieve such a production figure. (OTM)

May 27

  • In 1877… A major milestone in Japanese aviation history is accomplished with the first flight of a military balloon. It has a capacity of 14,000 cu.ft. and is inflated with coal gas. (F&F)
  • In 1924… Adrienne Bolland wins the women’s record for looping from Laura Bromwell, performing the feat 212 times in 1 hour, 1 minute in her Caudron 127 in Paris. (AYY)
  • In 1931… A full-scale wind tunnel goes into operation at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Laboratory at Langley Field, Virginia. (AYY)
  • In 1961… The first crossing of the English Channel by a VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft is made by the Short SC.1, which is flown by A. Roberts from England to Paris for the Paris Air Show. (OTM)

May 28

  • In 1912… Capt. Charles de Forest Chandler, commanding officer of the U.S. Signal Corps Aviation School at College Park, Maryland, receives War Department form no. 395 AGO, dated February 2, 1912, which was the first document on U.S. aviation medicine. It dictates that “all candidates for aviation only shall be subject to a vigorous physical examination to determine their fitness for duty.” (F&F)
  • In 1914… Glenn Curtiss successfully flies the refurbished Langley Aerodrome for a distance of approximately 150 ft. at Keuka Lake, Hammindsport, New York. (F&F)
  • In 1920… The first Lewis & Vought VE-7 (Vought Experimental No.7) is delivered to the U.S. Navy. (F&F)

May 29

  • In 1908… The first passenger flight in Europe occurs as Henri Farman takes up Ernest Archdeacon for a brief flight at Issy-les-Moulineaux, France. (OTM)
  • In 1925… Alan Cobham lands the prototype de Havilland D.H.60 Moth after flying 1,000 miles to Zurich, Switzerland and back to Croydon, England in a single day. (AYY)
  • In 1934… The Collier trophy for the year’s outstanding aviation achievement is awarded in Washington, D.C. to Hamilton Standard Propeller Company for the development of the controllable-pitch propeller. (AYY)
  • In 1951… Capt. Charles Blair lands in his F-51 piston-engined Mustang after making the first solo flight across the North Pole in a single-engined aircraft, from Bardufoss, Norway to Fairbanks, Alaska, covering 3,375 miles in 10 hours, 29 minutes. (AYY)

May 30

  • In 1908… The first European flight of over 15 minutes takes place. Léon Delagrange flies his Voisin-Delagrange in France. (OTM)
  • In 1912… Wilbur Wright dies of typhoid fever at the early age of 45. His death marks the end of his extraordinary partnership with his brother Orville, which culminated in 1903 with the first true powered flight in history. (AYY)
  • In 1949… The first use of a Martin-Baker ejection seat in a genuine emergency occurs when pilot J. O. Lancaster ejects himself from the Armstrong Whitworth “flying wing” jet airplane. The seat worked perfectly well. (AYY)

May 31

  • In 1862… Information obtained from Thadeus S. C. Lowe’s balloon observation saves Union forces from defeat at the Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia during the U. S. Civil War. Union General George McClellan is warned by Lowe of Confederate General Albert Johnston’s approaching troops. (OTM)
  • In 1928… The first airplane flight across the Pacific is made by British Capt. Charles Kingsford-Smith and crew in a Fokker F-VIIB/3m. They fly from Oakland Field, California to Brisbane, Australia, 7,389 miles (11,890km), in 83 hours, 38 minutes. On the way, it becomes the first airplane to land in Fiji. (OTM)
  • In 1995… The first flight of the Schweizer RU-38A Twin Condor long-range surveillance aircraft takes place in Elmira, New York. (AYY)

Works Cited

Editor-in-Chief: Bill Gunston, Aviation: Year by Year, Amber Books Limited, London, UK, 2001. (AYY)
Leonard C. Bruno, On the Move: A Chronology of Advances in Transportation, Gale Research Inc., Detroit, MI, 1993. (OTM)
Arthur George Renstrom, Wilbur & Orville Wright: A Chronology, United States, Library of Congress, 1971 (COFC)

Courtesy, U.S. Centennial of Flight