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On This Day: 1961

Aviation events for 1961

January 3: A Finnair airplane crashes near Kvevlax, Finland because of an inebriated pilot. Read more...
January 12: First Italian launching of scientific sounding rocket in cooperative program with United States, a Nike-Cajun launched from a range in Sardinia to a height of over 100 miles, and released a cloud of sodium vapor visible for many miles.
January 13: Convair B-58 Hustler, jet bomber powered by four GE J-79 engines, broke six world speed records, Maj. H. J. Deutschendorf, U.S. Air Force, as pilot. On first closed-course run, the Hustler averaged 1,200.194 miles per hour, and it averaged 1,061.808 miles per hour on both runs carrying a payload of 4,408 pounds and a crew of three.
January 14: Final assembly of first Saturn flight vehicle (SA-1) was completed.
January 19: Report of the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences stated that life in some form on other planets of the solar system may possibly exist, but that evidence of this is not available today.
January 19: Iris rocket, new solid-propellant single-stage sounding rocket, failed to attain programmed flight from Wallops Island, reaching only 86 miles' altitude instead of 160 miles.
January 19: NASA selected Hughes Aircraft Co. for placing of a major subcontract by Jet Propulsion Laboratory to build seven Surveyor spacecraft designed for soft landings on the Moon.
January 19: Marshall Space Flight Center awarded contract to Douglas and Chance Vought to study launching manned exploratory expedition into lunar and interplanetary space from Earth orbits.
January 19: Federal Communications Commission allocated a radio frequency to the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. to establish the first space satellite communications link between Europe and the United States on an experimental basis, a program calling for NASA launching of a series of experimental communication satellites capable of relaying telephone calls, television programs, and other messages across the Atlantic.
January 19: NASA announced indefinite suspension of the programming of the wide-angle camera in Tiros II, the experimental weather observation satellite launched on November 23, 1960.
January 23: Final test flight of USAF Atlas D traveled 5,000 miles to target down Atlantic Missile Range, representing 35 successes, 8 partials, and 6 failures in 49 test launchings for D model.
January 24: A US Air Force B-52G on a 24-hour alert mission breaks up and crashes near Goldsboro, North Carolina. The crew safely ejects, but the plane manages to drop both of its Mark 39 nuclear bombs in the process. One of the warheads manages to complete 5 of the 6 steps needed to detonate, but thankfully does not. The other hits the ground at high speed and disintegrates, with the radioactive core burying itself deep underground to the point that it cannot be recovered. The USAF purchased the surrounding land to prevent theft.
January 31: Mercury-Redstone 2 (MR-2), carrying Ham the Chimp, carries the first hominid into sub-orbit. The flight lasted just over 16 minutes, where Ham operated a lever, as trained, to prove that tasks could be performed in space.
January 31: USAF launches Samos spy satellite to replace U-2 flights.
February 1: X-15 (No. 1) flown to 49,780 feet by John B. McKay, NASA test pilot, at Edwards, California.
February 1: USAF Minuteman successful on first test launch from AFMTC, a three-stage solid-propellent ICBM with full guidance, all tested on its first launching.
February 1: The space surveillance system (Spasur) was formally commissioned at the Naval Weapons Laboratory, Dahlgren, Va., under the operational control of the North American Defense Command.
February 2: First telecast of a solar eclipse.
February 2: NASA-AEC Space Nuclear Propulsion Office invited industry to submit proposals for participation in development of Nerva (nuclear engine for rocket vehicle application), a part of Project Rover initiated in 1955 by USAF-AEC.
February 3: The US Air Force Strategic Air Command commences Operation Looking Glass, a continuous airborne alert intended to provide continuity of nuclear command in the event that the USSTRATCOM Global Operations Center at Offut AFB, Nebraska, the Raven Rock Military Complex in Pennsylvania and the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon were destroyed. EC-135 Looking Glass aircraft were was in the air 24 hours a day for over 29 years until July 24, 1990, several months after the fall of
February 4: Sputnik 7 launches into Earth orbit; probable Venus probe failure.
February 12: The U.S.S.R. launches Venera 1 towards Venus.
February 13: Soviet Union fires a rocket from Sputnik V to Venus.
February 15: Members of a US skating team are among 73 killed when Belgian airliner Sabena Boeing 707 crashes during its landing approach near Brussels, Belgium.
February 16: U.S. satellite Explorer 9 is launched.
March 7: The # 2 North America X-15 becomes the fist manned aircraft to exceed Mach 4 when pilot Capt. Robert M. White reaches a speed of 2,905 mph which, at the altitude of 77,450 ft., is Mach 4.43.
March 9: 1st animal returned from space, dog named Blackie aboard Sputnik 9.
March 14: Adria Airways is founded.
March 25: Explorer 10 launched into elongated Earth orbit (177/181,000 km).
March 28: Air Afrique is formed.
March 30: NASA civilian pilot Joseph A Walker takes X-15 169,600' (51,690 m).
April 1: VIASA - the flag carrier of Venezuela - commences operations.
April 3: Naval Research Laboratory reported that Lofti, small piggyback satellite on Transit III-B launched on February 21, demonstrated that very low frequency radio signals pass through the ionosphere into space, thus opening new area for communications development.
April 4: Three astronauts selected for Mercury-Redstone flight (MR-3) were ordered to take refresher course in Navy centrifuge at Johnsville, PA.
April 8: USAF Discoverer XXIII placed into polar orbit from Pacific Missile Range but reentry capsule stayed in orbit.
April 12: At 9:07 am, Moscow time, the Soviet rocket Vostok 1 takes off from Tyuratam in central Asia, launching Flight-Major Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin into space and the history books. After a single orbit, the first human in space lands safely back at the space center at Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Read more...
April 17: Cuban exiles using B-26 Invaders begin the campaign to free Cuba from Fidel Castro. Read more...
April 21: USAF Major Robert White pilots the X-15A research airplane from Edwards Air Force Base in California on its first flight at full throttle, reaching a speed of 3,074 mph at an altitude of 79,000 feet, before climbing to 105,100 feet.
April 28: Little Joe 5-B launched Mercury spacecraft from Wallops Station, which provided abort test under severe atmospheric flight conditions.
April 29: Saturn booster firing of 30 seconds using timer at predetermined setting was successful in flight qualification test.
May 2: Manned Mercury-Redstone (MR-3) launch postponed because of rain squalls in the recovery area.
May 3: First silo launching of an ICBM, a USAF Titan at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
May 5: 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.
May 9: Senator Robert S. Kerr, chairman of the Senate Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee, told a group at the National Radio and Television Convention that President Kennedy accepted the views of NASA and congressional leaders in approving the manned Mercury-Redstone flight of May 5.
May 10: 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.
May 11: Jet Propulsion Laboratory briefed NASA headquarters on the Venus radar tracking experiment, after 2 months of intensive study begun on March 10.
May 12: USAF announced plans to institute special course for the instruction of space pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, and it was activated in June.
May 13: NASA legislative program for the 87th Congress was submitted (S. 1857 and H.R. 7115), asking for authority to lease property, authority to acquire patent releases, elimination of the CMLC, replacement of semiannual reports to Congress with an annual one, and authority to indemnify contractors against unusually hazardous risks.
May 14: AEC's Tory II-A-1 experimental powerplant for atmospheric ramjet vehicles underwent first power tests, a part of USAF Project Pluto.
May 15: In testimony before House Appropriations Committee, Hugh L. Dryden revealed that simulated free-flight speeds just under 30,000 miles per hour had been achieved at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA.
May 27: 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.
May 27: Dr. Lloyd V. Berkner, Chairman of the Space Science Board of the NAS, stated: 'Since, as space activity becomes more difficult and advanced, the space effort will be limited by our knowledge of space at any time, leadership in space science must soon become one of the controlling factors in acquiring space leadership generally.' Berkner spoke at the first National Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Space held at Tulsa, Okla.
June 1: United Air Lines absorbs Capital Airlines to become the largest airline in the West, with a fleet of 267 aircraft.
June 22: A Royal Air Force Avro Vulcan makes the first non-stop flight from England to Australia.
July 1: The RAF deploys Hawker Hunter combat aircraft to reinforce Kuwait, which is under threat from Iraq. Simultaneously it deploys Canberras and Valiant aircraft to Malta.
July 5: General Curtis LeMay of the Air Force, expresses interest in a bomber version of the A-12.The Q-bay located behind the cockpits (later the ANS bay) was envisioned as the bomb bay.
August 24: Beginning this day through October 12, U.S. aviatrix Jacqueline Cochrane flying a Northrop T-38A Talon sets a wide range of records for women (altitude of 56,071 ft., a distance of 1,492 mi., a 100-km (62.14 mi.) closed circuit speed record of 784.337 mph and 15-km (9.32 mi.) course speed of 844.2 mph).
September 12: A predecessor of the first Harrier fighter jet, the experimental Hawker Siddeley P.1127 makes the first transition between horizontal and vertical flight.
October 21: First flight of the Breguet Atlantique.
December 1: Britannia Airlines founded.
December 4: The National Air and Space Museum receives the Douglas C-54 transport Sacred Cow used by Presidents Roosevelt and Truman.
December 11: The first American military aircraft are based in Vietnam, as the U.S. Army's 8th and 57th Transportation Companies (Light Helicopter), arrive at Saigon, South Vietnam. They are equipped with 32 H-21C Shawnee transport helicopters.

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