On This Date

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Dec. 18, 1958: Project SCORE, the world’s first communications satellite, is launched. A product of a highly secretive project, SCORE (Signal Communications by Orbiting Relay Equipment) was launched aboard the Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Once in orbit, it relayed the first message sent to Earth from space – a short statement by American President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

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Dec. 18, 1972: President Richard Nixon announces that the United States will engage North Vietnam in Operation Linebacker II, a series of Christmas bombings, after peace talks collapsed with North Vietnam on Dec. 13.

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Dec. 18, 1981: First flight of the Russian heavy strategic bomber Tu-160, Blackjack, the world’s largest combat aircraft, largest supersonic aircraft and largest variable-sweep wing aircraft built.

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Dec. 19, 1946: War broke out in Indochina, as troops under Ho Chi Minh launched widespread attacks against the French.

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Dec. 19, 1958: First radio broadcast from space. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you via a satellite circling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America’s wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere.”

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Dec. 19, 1972: Apollo 17, America’s last Apollo moon landing mission, returns to earth.

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Dec. 19, 2000: The Boeing X-32A completed its first aerial refueling. Three contacts were made with a KC-10 tanker at 20,000 feet, traveling at 235 knots.

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Dec. 20, 1941: First battle of the American Volunteer Group, better known as the “Flying Tigers” in Kunming, China, during World War II. The First American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Republic of China Air Force in 1941–1942, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was composed of pilots from the United States Army Air Corps, Navy, and Marine Corps, recruited under President Franklin Roosevelt’s authority before Pearl Harbor and commanded by Claire Lee Chennault. Their Curtis P-40B Warhawk aircraft, marked with Chinese colors, flew under American control. Their mission was to bomb Japan and defend the Republic of China, but many delays meant the AVG flew in combat after the U.S. and Japan declared war.

The group consisted of three fighter squadrons of around 30 aircraft each that trained in Burma before the American entry into World War II, to defend the Republic of China against Japanese forces. The AVG were officially members of the Republic of China Air Force. The group had contracts with salaries ranging from $250 a month for a mechanic to $750 for a squadron commander, roughly three times what they had been making in the U.S. forces. While it accepted some civilian volunteers for its headquarters and ground crew, the AVG recruited most of its staff from the U.S. military.

The Flying Tigers began to arrive in China in April 1941. The group first saw combat on Dec. 20, 1941, 12 days after Pearl Harbor (local time). It demonstrated innovative tactical victories when the news in the U.S. was filled with little more than stories of defeat at the hands of the Japanese forces, and achieved such notable success during the lowest period of the war for both the U.S. and the Allied Forces as to give hope to America that it might eventually defeat Japan. AVG pilots earned official credit and received combat bonuses for destroying 296 enemy aircraft, while losing only 14 pilots in combat. The combat records of the AVG still exist and researchers have found them credible. On July 4, 1942, the AVG was disbanded and replaced by the 23rd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Forces, which was later absorbed into the U.S. Fourteenth Air Force with General Chennault as commander. The 23rd FG went on to achieve similar combat success, while retaining the nose art, on the left-over P-40s.

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Dec. 20, 1952: An AFFTC test team began Phase II flight tests of the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Company’s YB-60 at the Convair facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The YB-60 was a jet-powered swept wing derivative of the B-36, with which it shared many components. It was in competition with Boeing’s YB-52 to succeed the B-36 Peacemaker as the Air Force’s primary heavy long-range strategic bomber.

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Dec. 20, 1957: The initial production version of the Boeing 707 makes its first flight.

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Dec. 21, 1945: Convair’s XP-81 made its first flight with the GE TG-100 (XT-31) turboprop installed. According to the Edwards History Office, this was the first turboprop flight in the United States, and marked the first time that an airplane had ever flown with combined turboprop and turbojet power. Because of excessive propeller vibration at high rpm, the flight was terminated after five minutes.

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Dec. 21, 1960: Category II systems evaluation began on the North American T-39 Sabreliner. The twin-engine trainer and light transport was the first aircraft to be tested under a dual program by the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Agency.

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Dec. 21, 2005: The C-130J completed Phase 2 of OT&E, culminating nearly five years of Developmental and Operational testing. This phase involved airdrops of heavy equipment, personnel, and container delivery systems, plus new upgrades and participation in a Joint readiness Training Center exercise with the Army at Fort Polk, Louisiana. The turboprop C-130J had 40 percent greater range and 24 percent more speed than the C-130E and –H models. Pictured in this Edwards History Office file photo is the aircraft in flight over Edwards in June 2001.

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Dec. 22, 1964: A one million-pound thrust, solid rocket motor was successfully fired at the Rocket Propulsion Laboratory on Leuhman Ridge. The 120″ diameter motor was under development for the Titan III Space Launch Vehicle Program.

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Dec. 23, 1974: The Rockwell International B-1A Lancer made its first flight from Palmdale, landing at Edwards AFB. The aircraft commander was Rockwell test pilot and retired Air Force Col. Charles Bock, Jr., with Air Force pilot and B-1 JTF director Col. Emil “Ted” Sturmthal, and flight test engineer Richard Abrams. The 70-minute, 250-mile flight was made within reach of the Rogers Dry Lake runways, during which basic flight evaluation was conducted.

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Dec. 23, 1986: Richard “Dick” Rutan and Jeana Yeager landed their ultra-long-range aircraft Voyager on Rogers Dry Lake after completing the first non-stop, unrefueled flight around the world. The Voyager stayed in the air for nine days, three minutes and 44 seconds. (File photo of the Voyager flying over the compass rose, courtesy of Edwards History Office).

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Dec. 24, 1941: The 30th Bombardment Group arrived at Muroc Army Airfield to conduct antisubmarine patrols and train bomber crews for other units. The 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron arrived at Muroc that same evening to patrol the coastal zone. These groups flew the YB-17 Flying Fortress, like the one pictured here, B-18 Bolo and LB-30 (an export version of the B-24 Liberator) bombers.

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