Chronology: 1930-1939


Jan. 8–29, 1930. Maj. Ralph Royce leads a mass flight of AAC pilots flying Curtiss P-1C Hawks from Selfridge Field, Mich., to Spokane, Wash., and back during severe winter weather to gain experience for flying in the Arctic. Royce is awarded the 1930 Mackay Trophy for the flight.

April 12, 1930. Led by Capt. Hugh Elmendorf, 19 pilots of the 95th Pursuit Squadron set an unofficial world record for altitude formation flying over Mather Field, Calif. The P-12 pilots reach 30,000 feet, shattering the old record of 17,000 feet.

May 3, 1930. Laura Ingalls performs 344 consecutive loops. Shortly afterward, she tries again and does 980. In another flight during 1930, she does 714 barrel rolls, setting a pair of records that few people have cared to challenge.

May 15, 1930. Ellen Church, a registered nurse, becomes the world’s first airline stewardess as she serves sandwiches on a Boeing Air Transport flight between San Francisco and Cheyenne, Wyo. She sits in the jumpseat of the Boeing Model 80A.

June 20, 1930. Randolph Field, Tex., the “West Point of the Air,” is dedicated.

Oct. 25, 1930. Transcontinental commercial air service between New York and Los Angeles begins.


March 10, 1931. Army Air Corps Capt. Ira C. Eaker attempts to set the transcontinental speed record in the Lockheed Y1C-17, a special version of the civilian Vega. Taking off from Long Beach, Calif., Eaker gets as far as Tolu, Ky., before he has to make a forced landing in a field because of air in the fuel lines. Eaker had traveled 1,740 miles at an average speed of 237 mph, which, if he had been able to complete the flight, would have shattered the existing coast-to-coast speed mark.

May 9, 1931. The A-2 leather flight jacket is approved for production.

The Jacket That Lives Forever

July 31, 1931. Air Corps Tactical School begins moving from Langley Field in Virginia to Maxwell Field in Alabama to take advantage of more propitious climate and facilities for expansion.

Sept. 4, 1931. AAC Lt. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle wins the first Bendix Trophy transcontinental race, flying the Laird Super Solution from Los Angeles to Cleveland with an average speed of 223.058 mph. Total flying time is nine hours, 10 minutes. He then flies on to New York to complete a full flight across the continent.

Sept. 26, 1931. The keel of USS Ranger (CV-4), the first aircraft carrier designed and built as such, is laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock, in Newport News, Va.

Sept. 29, 1931. Flying in the same aircraft that won the last Schneider Cup seaplane race, Royal Air Force Flt. Lt. George Stainforth pushes the recognized absolute speed record past 400 mph as he hits 407.001 mph in the Supermarine S.6b at Lee-on-Solent, England.

Oct. 3–5, 1931. Americans Clyde “Upside Down” Pangborn and Hugh Herndon Jr. make the first nonstop transpacific flight from Japan to America, in a Bellanca monoplane. The trip takes 41 hours, 13 minutes.

Dec. 22, 1931. Maj. Gen. Benjamin D. Foulois takes the oath as Chief of Air Corps.

Dec. 29, 1931. The Grumman XFF-1 prototype makes its first flight at Curtiss Field, Valley Stream, NY. The FF-1, later known as “FiFi” from its designation, is the US Navy’s first aircraft with an air-cooled radial engine, enclosed cockpits, and fully retractable landing gear. It is Grumman’s first aircraft project.


March 20, 1932. Company pilot Les Tower makes the first flight of the Boeing XP-936 (later redesignated XP-26) at Boeing Field in Seattle, Wash. The P 26, nicknamed “Peashooter,” is the first monoplane fighter produced for the Army Air Corps, the first all metal fighter, and the last AAC fighter with an open cockpit.

Aug. 25, 1932. Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to complete a nonstop transcontinental flight, Los Angeles to New York City.

Nov. 19, 1932. National monument to Wilbur and Orville Wright is dedicated at Kitty Hawk, N.C.


April 4, 1933. The Navy dirigible USS Akron (ZRS-4) hits the sea during a training flight off the East Coast and breaks up. Of a crew of nearly 80, only three survive. Among the casualties is Rear Adm. William A. Moffett, head of the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics.

April 24, 1933. The Grumman XJF-1 amphibian prototype flies for the first time at Farmingdale, Long Island, N.Y. Later officially nicknamed Duck, the JF/J2F series served a number of roles with the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard during World War II. A number of J2F-6s were transferred to the US Air Force and redesignated OA-12 after the war for air-sea rescue duties.

July 15–22, 1933. Famed aviator Wiley Post, flying the Lockheed Vega Winnie Mae, becomes the first person to fly around the world solo. The 15,596-mile flight takes seven days, 18 hours, 49 minutes, 30 seconds at an average speed of 134.5 mph.

Sept. 4, 1933. Jimmy Wedell sets a world landplane speed record of 304.98 mph in the Wedell-Williams racer over Glenview, Ill.

Dec. 31, 1933. The prototype Soviet Polikarpov I-16 Mosca is flown for the first time. When the type enters service in 1934, it is the first monoplane fighter to have fully retractable landing gear.


Feb. 19, 1934. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issues an Executive Order canceling existing airmail contracts because of fraud and collusion. The Army Air Corps is designated to take over airmail operations.

Valor: AACMO—Fiasco or Victory?

May 1, 1934. Navy Lt. Frank Akers makes a blind landing in a Berliner-Joyce OJ-2 at College Park, Md., in a demonstration of a system intended for aircraft carrier use. In subsequent flights, he makes takeoffs and landings between NAS Anacostia, D.C., and College Park under a hood without assistance.

May 19, 1934. The first flight of the Ant-20 Maxim Gorki, at this time the world’s largest aircraft, is made in the Soviet Union. The aircraft was designed by Andrei Tupolev.

June 1, 1934. Army Air Corps airmail operations are terminated.

June 4, 1934. The Navy’s USS Ranger aircraft carrier is commissioned at Norfolk, Va.

June 7, 1934. The Cincinnati Reds become the first major league baseball team to fly commercially, as all but six members of the team fly to (and later from) Chicago for a three-game series with the Cubs. The other six players are hesitant to fly and take the train.

June 18, 1934. Boeing begins company-funded design work on the Model 299 aircraft, which will become the B-17 bomber.

July 18, 1934. AAC Lt. Col. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold leads a flight of 10 Martin B-10 bombers on a six-day photographic mapping mission to Alaska.

July 19, 1934. Under the command of Lt. Col. H.H. “Hap” Arnold, 10 crews flying Martin B-10s leave Bolling Field, D.C., to prove the feasibility of sending an aerial force to Alaska in an emergency and to provide training for personnel flying across isolated and uninhabited areas. The crews arrive in Fairbanks on July 24. Over the next few weeks, numerous exploratory flights are made, including mapping 23,000 square miles in only three days. The crews leave Fairbanks on Aug. 16 and return to Bolling Field on Aug. 20. Arnold would later be awarded the 1934 Mackay Trophy for leading the flight.

Dec. 31, 1934. Helen Richey, flying a Ford Trimotor from Washington, D.C., to Detroit, becomes the first woman in the US to pilot an airmail transport aircraft on a regular schedule.


Feb. 12, 1935. The Navy airship USS Macon (ZRS-5) crashes off the California coast with two fatalities out of a crew of 83. This loss effectively ends the Navy’s rigid airship program.

March 1, 1935. General Headquarters (GHQ) Air Force is created at Langley Field, Va. It is a compromise for those seeking a completely independent Air Force and the War Department’s General Staff, which wants to retain control of what is thought of as an auxiliary to the ground forces.

The Influence of Frank Andrews

March 9, 1935. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering announces the existence of the Luftwaffe in an interview with London Daily Mail correspondent Ward Price. This statement implies a gross violation of the Versailles Treaty, which prohibits Germany from having an air force.

March 21, 1935. Company pilot Bill Wheatley, with chief engineer I.M. “Mac” Laddon as a passenger, makes the first flight of the Consolidated XP3Y-1, the forerunner to the Catalina patrol bomber/rescue aircraft, at NAS Anacostia, D.C. The “P-Boat” would be produced for more than 10 years and would become the most numerous, (3,200+ including more than 300 for the Army Air Forces) and quite possibly, the most famous flying boat ever.

April 1, 1935. Contract test pilot Eddie Allen, on loan from Boeing, makes the first flight of the North American NA-16, the prototype of the AT-6 Texan and BC-1 trainer, at Dandalk, Md. Nearly every Army Air Forces pilot, a majority of British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand pilots, and thousands of US Navy aviators in World War II would train in the AT-6.

July 28, 1935. Company test pilot Les Tower and crew make the first flight of the Boeing Model 299, the prototype of the B-17 bomber, at Seattle. The airplane was given the nickname “Flying Fortress” by the newspapers, and the name was trademarked by Boeing prior to the type’s first flight. The B-17 was the first truly modern bomber.

The Fabulous Fortress

Aug. 15, 1935. Famed Pilot Wiley Post and humorist Will Rogers are killed in a crash of the hybrid Lockheed Orion-Explorer shortly after takeoff near Point Barrow, Alaska.

Aug. 20, 1935. The Boeing Model 299, the prototype of the B-17 Flying Fortress, is flown to Wright Field, Ohio, for its official tests, flying 2,100 miles nonstop in nine hours. The Model 299 would crash on Oct. 30 when a gust lock is inadvertently left on the elevators and airplane goes out of control on takeoff.

When the Fortress Went Down

September 1935. The Messerschmitt Bf-109a fighter prototype makes its first flight at Augsburg, Germany. More than 32,000 Bf-109s will be built (including post-war versions in Spain and Czechoslovakia) in a multitude of versions, making it the second most produced aircraft of all time. (Most produced: Ilyushin II-2; see entry for Dec. 30, 1939.)

Sept. 15, 1935. Alexander P. deSeversky sets a recognized class for record speed over a three-kilometer course (piston-engine amphibians) of 230.41 mph in a Seversky N3PB at Detroit.

Sept. 17, 1935. The TC-14 airship makes its maiden flight from Scott Field, Ill. Assembled at Scott Field, the TC-14 was then the largest non-rigid airship in the world and the largest ever constructed in the US.

Nov. 6, 1935. The Hawker F.36/34, the prototype of the Hurricane, makes its first flight. It is the first Royal Air Force monoplane fighter and the first to exceed 300 mph. During the Battle of Britain in 1940, Hurricane pilots would carry the brunt of the fighting.

Nov. 11, 1935. In a joint National Geographic–Army Air Corps stratosphere project, Capt. Albert W. Stevens and Capt. Orvil A. Anderson soar to 72,395 feet enclosed in the gondola the Explorer II, surpassing all previous altitude records.

Nov. 22, 1935. First trans–Pacific airmail flight, in China Clipper, by AAC Capt. Edwin C. Musick, takes place from San Francisco to Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam, and Manila.

Dec. 17, 1935. Company pilot Carl Cover, along with Fred Stineman (copilot), and Frank Collbohm (flight engineer) make the first flight of the Douglas Sleeper Transport, the first of 10,654 DC-3s and derivatives Douglas will build between 1935 and 1947 takes place at Clover Field, Santa Monica, Calif. The US military will use the military version, the C-47, in three wars. A number of civilian and foreign “Gooney Birds” were still in use in the late 1990s.

The Grand Old Gooney Bird


Feb. 19, 1936. Airpower advocate Billy Mitchell dies in New York City at the age of 57. He is buried in Milwaukee, Wis.

March 5, 1936. Vicker’s chief test pilot “Mutt” Summers makes the first flight of the Supermarine Type 300 from Eastleigh Airport in Hampshire, England. The brainchild of designer R.J. Mitchell, this prototype is the first of 18,298 Merlin-powered Spitfires of all marks to be built by 1945.

June 15, 1936. The Vickers Wellington medium bomber prototype makes its first flight at Brooklands, England. With its unique geodetic structure and cloth covering, the Wellington (or “Wimpy” as crews came to call it) was fairly lightweight for a bomber but was quite strong. It later serves in several other roles, including aerial detonation of sea mines. More than 11,400 aircraft will be built, forming the backbone of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command for the first two years of World War II.

Sept. 4, 1936. Louise Thaden and Blanche Noyes become the first women to win the Bendix Trophy transcontinental race from New York to Los Angeles in a Beech Model 17 Staggerwing with an average speed of 165.346 mph. Total flying time is 14 hours, 55 minutes.

Dec. 21, 1936. The prototype of the Junkers Ju-88 V1 medium bomber makes its first flight at Dessau, Germany. In production at the beginning of World War II, the aircraft, which was modified for a wide variety of uses ranging from reconnaissance to night fighter to serving as an unmanned cruise missile, was still in production in 1945.


Jan. 15, 1937. Company pilot James N. Peyton makes the first flight of the Beech Model 18A, the progenitor of the AT-7 Navigator navigation trainer, the AT-11 Kansas bombardier trainer, the C-45 Expeditor utility transport that would be in service until 1963, and F-2, the Army Air Forces’ first specialized mapping and photo reconnaissance aircraft.

April 12, 1937. Frank Whittle bench-tests the first practical jet engine in laboratories at Cambridge University in England.

May 6, 1937. The German dirigible Hindenburg (LZ-129) burns while mooring at Lakehurst, N.J., killing 36 people.

May 21, 1937. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan leave from San Francisco in a Lockheed Electra on a round-the-world flight that ends on July 2, 1937, when they disappear in the Pacific.

June 30, 1937. Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, the Chief of the Army Air Corps, is forced to terminate the AAC’s lighter-than-air balloon program because Congress did not provide sufficient funding. Three weeks later, the Navy agrees to accept the transfer of the Air Corps’ lighter-than-air assets.

July 20, 1937. First shoulder sleeve insignia authorized for an independent American air unit—for GHQ Air Force.

Aug. 23, 1937. The first completely automatic landing of an aircraft occurs at Dayton, Ohio. A Fokker C- 14B parasol wing transport flown by Capt. George V. Holloman takes off from Wright Field, and after its automatic equipment is switched on, it turns toward Patterson Field, gradually descends, and then lands without any assistance from the human pilot or from the ground using a ground radio system that consists of five transmitting beacons. Capt. Carl J. Crane, the system’s inventor, and Holloman are later awarded the Mackay Trophy.

Sept. 1, 1937. Army Air Corps 1st Lt. Benjamin Kelsey makes the first flight of the Bell XFM-1 Airacuda multiplace fighter at Buffalo, N.Y. Both the airplane and the concept prove to be dismal failures. The Airacuda turns out to be a maintenance nightmare, and the multiplace fighter concept is just not practical.

Sept. 2, 1937. The Grumman XF4F-2 monoplane fighter makes its first flight at Bethpage, Long Island, NY. Officially nicknamed Wildcat in 1941, the F4F series would become the US Navy’s most important fighter in the first half of World War II.

Oct. 15, 1937. The Boeing XB-15 makes its first flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, under the control of test pilot Eddie Allen.


Feb. 17, 1938. Six Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, under the command of AAC Lt. Col. Robert Olds, leave Miami, Fla., on a goodwill flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The return trip to Langley Field, Va., is the longest nonstop flight in Army Air Corps history.

April 6, 1938. Company pilot James Taylor makes the first flight of the Bell XP-39 Airacobra at Wright Field, Ohio. Nearly 4,800 Lend-Lease P-39s will be used to particularly good effect by Soviet pilots to destroy German tanks.

April 22, 1938. World War I ace Edward V. Rickenbacker buys a majority stake in Eastern Air Lines from North American Aviation for $3.5 million. That sum would roughly cover the cost of a single engine for a Boeing 757 today.

May 15, 1938. US Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes refuses to allow inert helium to be exported to Germany for use in zeppelins. Ickes feels that the gas might be diverted to military purposes.

July 10–14, 1938. Howard Hughes, Harry H.P. Conner, Army Lt. Thomas Thurlow, Richard Stoddard, and Ed Lund set a round-the-world flight record of three days, 19 hours, eight minutes, 10 seconds in a Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra passenger aircraft. The crew travels 14,791 miles.

July 17–18, 1938. Ostensibly aiming for California, Douglas “Wrong-Way” Corrigan, flying a Curtiss Robin, lands in Dublin, Ireland, after a nonstop 28-hour flight from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Aug. 22, 1938. The Civil Aeronautics Act goes into effect. The Civil Aeronautics Authority will now coordinate all nonmilitary aviation. (The Federal Aviation Act, which created the Federal Aviation Administration, will be passed Aug. 15, 1958.)

Sept. 29, 1938. Brig. Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold is named Chief of Army Air Corps, succeeding Maj. Gen. Oscar Westover, who was killed in an airplane crash Sept. 21.

Oct. 14, 1938. Company test pilot Edward Elliott makes the first flight of the Curtiss XP-40 at Buffalo, N.Y. Almost 14,000 P-40s will be built before production ends in 1944.

Oct. 26, 1938. Company test pilot Johnny Cable makes the first flight of the Douglas Model 7B, the prototype of what would become the A-20 Havoc, at El Segundo, Calif. The A-20 would eventually become the Army Air Force’s most produced attack aircraft and would be used in every theater of World War II.

Dec. 12, 1938. At the Nakajima factory near Ota, the Ki-43 Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon) fighter rolls out. It flies for the first time a few weeks later. Given the Allied code name ‘Oscar,’ the Ki-43 was the Japanese Army’s workhorse fighter, serving on all fronts until near the end of World War II. Late in the war, many Ki-46s were modified as kamikaze aircraft.

Dec. 31, 1938. The Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner, the first passenger airplane to have a pressurized cabin, makes its first flight.


Jan. 12, 1939. President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers a special message to Congress calling for strengthening the Army Air Corps. Congress then authorizes $300 million for 5,500 new airplanes.

Jan. 27, 1939. AAC 1st Lt. Benjamin Kelsey makes the first flight of the Lockheed XP-38 at March Field, Calif.

Feb. 4, 1939. The experimental Boeing XB-15 bomber is flown from Langley Field, Va., on an Air Corps mercy flight to Chile. Loaded with medical supplies for earthquake victims, the crew lands at Santiago only 50 hours after leaving Langley, including two refueling stops in Panama and Peru.

Feb. 10, 1939. Company test pilot Paul Balfour makes the first flight of the North American NA-40, the prototype of the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber, at Inglewood, Calif.

Feb. 11, 1939. AAC Lt. Ben Kelsey attempts to break the transcontinental speed record in the Lockheed XP-38 Lightning prototype, even though it has less than five hours of flight time . Flying from March Field, Calif., he records ground speeds of 420 mph and takes only seven hours to reach New York, but crashes on approach to Mitchel Field. The flight, however, convinces the Army Air Corps to order the type into production.

March 5, 1939. Using a hook trailing from their Stinson Reliant, Norman Rintoul, and Victor Yesulantes demonstrate a nonstop airmail system by picking a mail sack off a pole in Coatesville, Pa.

March 30, 1939. Flugkapitan Hans Dieterle sets a world speed record of 463.82 mph in the Heinkel He- 100V-8. The flight is made at Oranienburg, Germany.

April 1, 1939. The prototype for the Mitsubishi A6M1 Reisen, or “Zero Fighter” (Allied code name “Zeke”) makes its first flight at Kagamigahara, Japan. The Zero would serve with distinction from Pearl Harbor until the end of the war and is probably Japan’s most famous World War II aircraft. Almost 10,500 were built.

April 3, 1939. President Roosevelt signs the National Defense Act of 1940, which authorizes a $300 million budget and 6,000 airplanes for the Army Air Corps and increases personnel to 3,203 officers and 45,000 enlisted troops.

April 26, 1939. Flugkapitan Fritz Wendel sets the last recognized absolute speed record before World War II as he pilots the Messerschmitt Bf-209V-1 to a speed of 469.224 mph at Augsburg, Germany.

May 20, 1939. Regularly scheduled trans–Atlantic passenger and airmail service begins.

June 20, 1939. The German Heinkel He-176, the first aircraft to have a throttle-controlled liquid-fuel rocket engine, makes its first flight at Peenemunde with Flugkapitan Erich Warsitz at the controls.

Aug. 27, 1939. The first jet-powered aircraft, the Heinkel He-178, makes its first flight. Flugkapitan Erich Warsitz is the pilot.

The Jet Generations

Sept. 1, 1939. At 4:34 a.m., German Lt. Bruno Dilley leads three Junkers Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers in an attack against the Dirschau Bridge. The German invasion of Poland, the first act of World War II, begins six minutes later.

The Stuka Story

Sept. 2, 1939. “Nothing Will Stop the Air Corps Now,” the new official Army Air Corps song, is performed in public for the first time at the annual Cleveland Air Races. The song’s author, Robert Crawford, does the singing. In 1938, Liberty Magazine had sponsored a contest for a spirited, enduring musical composition to become the service’s official song. A committee of Army Air Corps wives selected Crawford’s composition from the 757 submitted. (On July 30, 1971, the first page of the score that Crawford submitted for the contest was carried to the moon by the Apollo 15 crew.)

Oct. 8, 1939. A Lockheed Hudson crew from the Royal Air Force’s No. 224 Squadron shoots down a German Do-18 flying boat. This is the first victory recorded by an American-built aircraft in World War II.

Oct. 13, 1939. Evelyn Pinchert Kilgore becomes the first woman to be issued a Civil Aeronautics Authority instructor’s certificate.

Dec. 29, 1939. The prototype Consolidated XB-24 Liberator makes a 17-minute first flight from Lindbergh Field in San Diego, with company pilot Bill Wheatley at the controls. More than 18,100 B-24s will be built in the next 5.5 years, making for the largest military production run in US history.

Dec. 30, 1939. The Ilyushin Bsh-2, the prototype of the Il-2 Shturmovik (“armed attacker’), makes its first flight. A durable, highly armed ground attack/tank-buster aircraft that could absorb considerable punishment, the Soviet Union would produce nearly 1,200 copies of the Il-2 a month during most of World War II. Total production will top 36,000 aircraft, making it the most produced aircraft of all time. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin said the Il-2 was “as essential to the Soviet Army as air and bread.”