05 May 2014

This Week in Aviation History – May 5th-11th


This week in Spartan College’s review of aviation history, the first American reached space, another American caused a ruckus after crashing his spy plane in Russia, and the first supersonic woman was born.


May 5th, 1961: Alan Shepard becomes the first American in outer space as part of Project Mercury. His flight was sub-orbital and lasted 15 minutes 28 seconds. Shepard’s career was held back during most of the 1960s by Meniere’s disease, an inner-ear disorder. However, after surgery, he eventually went to the moon as the commander of Apollo 14, where he famously hit a few golf balls.


May 7th, 1960: Nikita Khrushchev announces that the U-2 plane that crashed in Russia on May 1st was, in fact, a military spy jet– and he has the pilot, Gary Powers, alive and well to prove it. Americans had been insisting the plane was a NASA weather research aircraft.

Coming in the days before a major summit between the US and USSR, the revelation of this cover-up becomes an embarrassment for President Eisenhower. After hearing that Powers had been captured, he reportedly turned to his secretary and said “I would like to resign.”

May 8, 1945: V-E Day: Germany surrenders on May 7th, officially ending World War II in Europe. On the 8th, celebrations break out in Britain and America. President Harry S Truman, turning 61 on the 8th, calls it his most enjoyable birthday ever. He dedicates the victory to the late president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died three weeks earlier.

May 9, 1917: The Pacific Aero Products Company, owned by one William E. Boeing, changes its name to “Boeing Aircraft Company”.


May 11, 1906: Birth of Jacqueline Cochrane (1906-1980) in Muscogee, Florida. “Jackie” Cochrane was a pioneering aviator– a gifted racer, a devoted member of the Armed Forces, and a gutsy test pilot. She became the first woman to go supersonic in 1953, in a Canadair F86 borrowed from the Canadian Air Force. She would also be the first woman to take-off and land on an aircraft carrier, the first woman to pilot a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean, and the first woman to go Mach 2.

In the above Air Force picture from 1953, she is talking shop with Chuck Yeager and Canadian test pilot Bill Longhurst while standing on the wing of her F86.