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10 Milestone Flights

You wouldn't have wanted to be along on most of them.

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Doolittle took off. The flight extended 15 miles, during which he executed two 180-degree turns. In the landing, he used a short-range radio beacon system to home in on the runway, and the artificial horizon to keep his craft level. Copilot Kelsey never once had to use his duplicate controls. All in all, the flight was as uneventful as it was historic.

7. First jet flight

The first flight in a jet aircraft was made on August 27, 1939, by a German, Erich Warsitz. His airplane, a Heinkel He 178, was powered by an 838-pound-static-thrust Heinkel HeS38 turbojet engine, designed by Hans von Ohain. Wary of the engine, Warsitz carried a hammer to use in case he had to escape the cockpit.

He took off from the Heinkel Airfield in Marieneke, Germany, reached a speed of more than 400 mph, remained airborne for seven minutes, then landed. The engine’s only misbehavior: On takeoff, it sucked in a bird.

8. First Inflight Hijacking

Not all milestone flights are records to take pride in. The first inflight hijacking took place on July 16, 1948, when four Chinese passengers demanded control of a Cathay Pacific Consolidated Catalina OA-10 seaplane en route from Macao to Hong Kong. When the pilot refused to give in, the hijackers shot and killed him and his copilot. The pilot’s body fell on the control stick, putting the Catalina, Miss Macao, into a dive. The aircraft smashed into the sea off Macao, and 25 of the 26 people aboard were killed. The sole survivor was the hijackers’ leader.

9. First flight to break the sound barrier

No, it isn’t really a “barrier,” but something seemed to break on October 16, 1947, when U.S. Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. He was flying a rocket-powered Bell X-1 over Muroc Dry Lake in California when he passed Mach 1, “and in that moment,” reported Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff, “on the ground, they heard a boom rock over the desert floor—just as the physicist Theodore von Kármán had predicted many years before.”

 

At that point, Yeager had reached an altitude of about 43,000 feet. The atmosphere was so thin it held almost no light-reflecting dust. “The sky turned a deep purple,” wrote Wolfe, “and all at once the stars and moon came out—and the sun shone at the same time….[Yeager] was simply looking out into space.” The X-1’s foray beyond Mach 1 lasted a little more than 20 seconds. The fame Yeager earned for the flight: 55 years and still going strong.

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