National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Aeronautics and Astronautics Chronology, 1935-1939

SOURCE: Eugene M. Emme, comp., Aeronautics and Astronautics: An American Chronology of Science and Technology in the Exploration of Space, 1915-1960 (Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1961), pp. 32-39.


January 5: First assignment of a flight surgeon to Naval Aircraft Factory, Lt. Comdr. J. R. Poppen (USN), was directed to observe pilots, conduct physical examinations, and work on hygienic and physiological aspects of research and development projects.

January 22: Federal Aviation Commission, appointed by the President as provided in the Air Mail Act of June 12, 1934, submitted its report and set forth broad policy on all phases of aviation and the relation of Government thereto. It recommended strengthening of commercial and civil aviation, expansion of airport facilities, and establishment of more realistic procurement practices from industry. It recommended continued study of air organization toward more effective utilization and closer interagency relationships, to include expansion of experimental and development work and its close coordination with the NACA.

February 12: Navy dirigible Macon crashed at sea off the California coast.

March 1: GHQ Air Force established by the Army Air Corps.

March 9: Hermann Goering announced the existence of the German Air Force to Ward Price, correspondent of the Daily Mail (London), an event of considerable importance in international power politics for it implied unilateral breaking of the Treaty of Versailles prohibiting Germany possession of an air force.

March 28: Robert Goddard launched the first rocket equipped with gyroscopic controls, which attained a height of 4,800 feet, a horizontal distance of 13,000 feet, and a speed of 550 mph, near Roswell, N. Mex.

April 2: British Government disclosed that Adolf Hitler of Germany had declared that the German Air Force had reached parity with the Royal Air Force at a recent conference with British representatives in Germany. While untrue, Hitler's statement had a profound impact upon British aeronautical and defense efforts.

April 16-23: Pan American Airways' Clipper flew from California to Honolulu and returned in preliminary survey flight for transpacific air route to the Orient.

May 18: World's largest airplane, the Russian Maxim Gorky, crashed near Moscow, killing all aboard.

May 31: Goddard rocket attained altitude of 7,500 feet in New Mexico.

July 2: Historic report on radio direction finding (radar) was presented to the British Air Defense Research Committee.

---: First Interdepartmental Committee appointed by President Roosevelt to study international air transportation problems.

July 26: Russian balloon USSR successfully reached 52,000 feet, crew including Warigo, Christofil, and Prelucki.

July 28: Boeing Model 299, the XB-17 four-engine bomber prototype, made first flight.

Summer 1935: First static tests of Heinkel He-112 with rocket engines performed in Germany.

August 28: Automatic radio-navigation equipment¾a Sperry automatic pilot mechanically linked to a standard radio-compass¾tested by the Equipment Laboratory at Wright Field.

October 30: First B-17 prototype crashed on takeoff during flight testing at Wright Field.

November 6: Prototype Hawker Hurricane first flown, the later models of which destoyed more German aircraft in the Battle of Britain than all other British defenses, air and ground, combined.

November 11: A 72,395-foot world altitude record for manned balloons made by Capts. A. W. Stevens and Orvil A. Anderson, in the helium-inflated Explorer II, over Rapid City, S. Dak., in cooperation with National Geographic Society, a record which stood for 20 years.

November 22-29: Transpacific airmail flight by Pan American Airways Martin China Clipper, from San Francisco to Honolulu, Midway, Wake, Guam, and Manila, E. C. Musick as pilot.

During December: Douglas DC-3, one of the most successful airliners in history, first flew. By 1938, it carried the bulk of American air traffic. When production of the DC-3 and its derivatives ended in 1945, some 13,000 had been built.

During 1935: Russian liquid-propellant meteorological rocket, designed by M. K. Tikhonravov, successfully flown.

---: H. G. Armstrong published Air Corps Technical Report on physiologic requirements of sealed high-altitude aircraft compartments (including effects of sudden decompressions), findings which were incorporated in the XC-35 substratosphere plane, the first successful pressure-cabin aircraft.

---: Konstantin E. Ziolkovsky, Russian mathematician and pioneer space scientist, died at 78 years of age. The U.S.S.R. later acclaimed him as the "father of space travel."


January 20: Acting in response to a request from BuAer, the Navy Bureau of Engineering endorsed support for the National Bureau of Standards for the development of radio meteorographs. Later renamed radiosondes, these instruments were sent aloft on free balloons to measure pressure, temperature, and humidity of the upper atmosphere, and transmitted these data to ground stations for use in weather forecasting and flight planning.

February 23: F. W. Kessler, W. Ley, and N. Carver launched two mail-carrying "rocket airplanes" at Greenwood Lake, N.Y., which traveled about 1,000 feet.

During February: Germans tested A-3 rocket with 3,300-pound thrust which served as basis for military weapon specifications.

March 5: Spitfire prototype with armament and Merlin engine first flown, production of the Spitfire Mark I beginning at Supermarine factory in early 1937. Spitfire's classic design was work of R. J. Mitchell, responsible for the Supermarine racing seaplanes which first won the Schneider Trophy for Great Britain in 1931. 18,298 Merlin-engined Spitfires of all Marks were built by 1945.

March 16: Robert H. Goddard's classic report on "Liquid Propellant Rocket Development," reviewing his liquid -fuel rocket research and flight testing since 1919, was published by the Smithsonian Institution.

April 29: Orville Wright was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

May 6: Construction authorized for what later was named the David W. Taylor Model Basin, to provide a facility for use by the Navy Bureau of Construction and Repair in investigating and determining shapes and forms to be adopted for U.S. naval vessels, and including aircraft.

May 9: George W. Lewis, Director of NACA Aeronautical Research, received Daniel Guggenheim Medal for 1936 for direction of aeronautical research and for the development of original equipment and methods.

May 12: World's largest high-speed wind tunnel (8-foot throat) placed in operation at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, under Russell G. Robinson.

May 22: Herrick Vertiplane, embodying characteristics of both airplanes and autogiros, underwent tests at Floyd Bennett Field.

June 6: Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., Inc., at Paulsboro, N.J., began production of aviation gasoline (100 octane) by the catalytic cracking method.

June 7: Maj. Ira C. Eaker (AAC) made first transcontinental blind flight, from New York to Los Angeles.

June 15: Vickers Wellington prototype RAF bomber made its first flight, while flight of first production model was made on December 23, 1937.

July 18: Spanish Civil War began, which was to involve German, Italian, and Russian air units as well as aircraft of France and the United States.

July 21: Lt. Comdr. D. S. Fahrney (USN) ordered to implement recommendation made to Chief of Naval Operations to develop radio-controlled aircraft for use as aerial targets. Reporting to BuAer and NRL, Fahrney subsequently reported on procedure to obtain drone target planes, but also recognized the feasibility of using such aircraft as guided missiles.

July 23: Navy awarded contract for XPB2Y-1 flying boat to Consolidated, which became the prototype for four-engined flying boats used throughout World War II.

September 2: Maj. Alexander P. de Seversky was refused permission by Army Air Corps to enter his pursuit plane in Bendix Trophy Race to Los Angeles "due to features considered a military secret."

October 13: Lt. John Sessums (AAC) visited Robert H. Goddard to officially assess military value of Goddard's work. He reported that there was little military value, but that rockets would appear useful to drive turbines.

October 24: First transpacific passenger service completed by Pan American Airways, with Martin four-engined China Clipper in a round trip to Manila.

November 7: Robert Goddard flew gyro-controlled rocket to 7,500-foot altitude, near Roswell, N. Mex.

December 19: New world speed record for amphibians of 209.4 mph over closed course set by Maj. Alexander P. de Seversky.

During 1936: Theodore von Kármán, Director of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena, founded group which began experiments in design fundamentals of high-altitude sounding rocket. The group, named the Cal Tech Rocket Research Project, consisted of Frank J. Malina, Tsien Hsue-sen, A. M. O. Smith, John W. Parsons, Edward Forman, and Weld Arnold. This was the origin of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

---: First practical helicopter flight, German Focke-Achgelis, FA-61; in the following year it made first helicopter flight of over 1 hour.


January 1: First physiological research laboratory completed at Wright Field by Air Corps to investigate and devise means to alleviate distressing symptoms occurring in flight.

March 1: First operational Boeing B-17 delivered to the GHQ Air Force at Langley Field, Va.

During Spring: Single-engine Heinkel (He-112) with Junker 650-pound thrust, liquid-fuel rocket motor successfully flown at Neuhardenberg, Germany, Capt. Erich Warsitz as pilot.

April 12: Frank Whittle's first gas turbine engine, the U-type, was static tested.

May 6: German dirigible Hindenburg destroyed at Lakehurst, N.J., an event which ordained the death of the large dirigibles.

May 9: H. F. Pierce launched liquid propellant rocket to 250-foot altitude at Old Ferris Point, N.Y.

During May: Joint German Army-Air Force rocket research station opened at Peenemünde on Baltic Sea; Army Ordnance rocket program under Capt. Walter Dornberger moved his staff from Kummersdorf.

June 30: Navy issued contract to Martin for XPBM-1 two-engine flying boat, the initial prototype for the PBM Mariner series used during and after World War II.

July 1: Weather Service of the Signal Corps was transferred to the Army Air Corps.

July 2: Amelia Earhart Putnam and copilot lost near Howland Island in the Pacific.

July 4: FA-61 helicopter flown in fully controlled, free flight by Hanna Reitsch, at Bremen, Germany.

July 5-6: PAA and Imperial Airways make joint survey flights across the North Atlantic prior to establishment of transatlantic service. Both flights were successful, marking the 11th and 12th successful nonstop transatlantic flights completed out of 85 attempts.

July 15: Three Soviet fliers established world distance nonstop record, flying across the North Pole from Moscow to San Jacinto Calif., in 62 hours.

July 27: Japanese began aerial bombing of Chinese cities.

August 5: First experimental pressurized-cabin airplane, a Lockheed XC-35, made first flight at Wright Field.

August 23: The first wholly automatic landings in history were made at Wright Field by Capt. Carl J. Crane, inventor of the system; Capt. George Holloman, pilot; and Raymond K. Stout, project engineer.

October 15: Boeing XB-15 made first flight.

During November: Low turbulence wind tunnel for investigation of laminar flow airfoil constructed at NACA's Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

---: Navy Grumman F4F made first test flight, standard carrier-based fighter in early World War II operations.

December 23: Successful unmanned radio-controlled flight made by Navy JH-1 drone, at Coast Guard Air Station, Cape May, N.J.

During December: Initial rocket thrust chamber tests by R. C. Truax at Annapolis, Md., using compressed air and gasoline as fuels.

During 1937: World's scheduled airlines carried 2,500,000 passengers in 1937, with average number of 5.3 passengers per aircraft, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

---: U.S.S.R. established rocket test centers at Kazan, Moscow; and Leningrad.


January 16: Spanish rebel planes began daily bombing of Barcelona from Majorca.

February 10: British Hurricane fighter flown from Edinburgh to Northolt, near London, at an average speed of 408.75 mph, J. W. Gillan as pilot.

February 26: Secretary of Interior Ickes approved purchase by the Federal Government of helium plants at Dexter, Kans., thus giving the Government a virtual monopoly. On May 11, his refusal to sell helium to Germany was upheld by the President.

February 27: The good-will flight to Buenos Aires of six B-17's under Lt. Col. Robert D. Olds, which had left Miami on February 17, returned to Langley Field, Va.

April 21: Navy delivered XF2A-1 to Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory of NACA, which marked initiation of full-scale wind tunnel tests, which resulted in increasing speed of the XF2A-1 by 31 mph and led to utilization of NACA testing of other high performance aircraft by both the Army and the Navy. Data thus obtained were also directly applicable to the design of new aircraft.

June 1: Routine use of radiosondes inititated at NAS Anacostia, Washington, D.C. By the end of the year the balloon-carried radio meteorographs were also used in Navy fleet operations.

June 6: The Daniel Guggenheim Medal for 1938 awarded to A. H. R. Fedden for "contributions to the development of aircraft engine design and for the specific design of the sleeve valve aircraft engine."

June 9: British Government announced intention to purchase U.S. Lockheed Hudsons and North American Harvards for aerial reconnaissance and training purposes.

June 23: President Roosevelt signed the Civil Air Authority Act.

August 22: The Civil Aeronautics Act became effective, coordinating all nonmilitary aviation under the Civil Aeronautics Authority.

August 24: First American use of drone target aircraft in antiaircraft exercises, the Ranger fired upon a radio-controlled, JH-1 making simulated horizontal bombing attack on the fleet.

August 29: Maj. Alexander de Seversky set east-west transcontinental speed record of 10 hours 2 minutes 55.7 seconds in a 2,457-mile flight.

September 12: Wind tunnel capable of simulating altitudes to 37,000 feet dedicated at MIT as a memorial to the Wright brothers.

September 14: Radio-controlled Navy N2C-2 target drone made simulated dive-bombing attack on battleship Utah in test firing of anticraft battery.

September 29: Brig. Gen. Henry H. Arnold named Chief of the Army Air Corps to replace Maj. Gen. O. Westover, killed in crash on September 21.

September 30: Agreement signed at Munich, Germany, between Germany, Britain, France, and Italy, allowing Germany to occupy the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, an event in which the relative air strength of the major nations was a prominent factor.

October 19: Curtiss XP-40 Tomahawk made first flight.

During October: British Purchasing Commission ordered 200 Lockheed Hudsons (military version of Super Electra airliner), the first American-built aircraft to see operational service with the RAF in World War II.

---: All-wood British de Havilland Mosquito twin-engine bomber conceived, official order for 50 received on March 1, 1940.

December 10: First static test of James Wyld's regeneratively cooled rocket thrust chambers, which achieved 90-pound thrust.

---: ARS tested R. C. Truax's rocket thrust chamber at New Rochelle, N.Y., which achieved 20-pound thrust before burning through.

December 16: First successful test of NACA high-speed motion-picture camera developed by C. D. Miller, conducted at Langley Laboratory, later used extensively in photographic analysis of combustion and operated up to rates of 40,000 photographs per second.

---: Navy K-2 airship delivered to NAS Lakehurst for trials, the prototype for World War II K Class patrol airships, of which 135 were procured.

December 17: Dr. Hugh L. Dryden, National Bureau of Standards, delivered second Wright Brothers Lecture at Columbia University.

December 30: Special Committee on "Future Research Facilities of NACA" recommended creation of another laboratory; resulted in Ames Aeronautical Laboratory at Moffett Field.

During 1938: Jack Parsons of Cal Tech conceived value of slow-burning rocket propellant of constant thrust for JATO use, active development of which was undertaken by Cal Tech in 1940.

---: Vital importance of the factor of duration in pilot's exposure to hypoxia demonstrated in animal experiments by H. G. Armstrong and J. W. Heim.

---: Heinz von Diringshofen, German scientist, conducted research on human tolerance to multiple g-loads; exposed test subjects to a few seconds of subgravity by putting an aircraft through a vertical dive.

1938-39: NACA developed airfoils providing laminar flow to a degree far greater than previously obtainable (based in part upon Ludwig Prandtl's boundary layer theory in NACA Report 116 published in 1921); Eastman N. Jacobs developed low-drag wing sections worthy of special mention.


January 16: Maj. Gen. Frank M. Andrews, Chief of Army General Headquarters Air Force, in an address to the annual convention of the National Aeronautic Association at St. Louis, said that the United States was a fifth- or sixth-rate air power.

January 21: Dr. George W. Lewis, NACA Director of Aeronautical Research, elected president of the IAS.

January 31: Dr. Edward P. Warner appointed economic and technical adviser of the CAA.

February 11: Lockheed P-38 Lightning first flown across the Nation from California, to a crack-up landing at Mitchel Field, Long Island, Lt. Ben Kelsey as pilot.

During February: Airflow Research Staff at Langley Laboratory initiated reevaluation of jet propulsion for aircraft at speeds higher than considered by Buckingham in NACA Report No. 159 published in 1923.

March 26: Capt. John H. Towers named Chief of Bureau of Aeronautics with rank of Rear Admiral.

April 3: President Roosevelt signed the National Defense Act of 1940, authorizing 6,000 airplanes and increasing personnel of Army Air Corps to 3,203 officers and 45,000 enlisted men, and appropriating $300 million for the Air Corps.

April 7: Amphibian version of PBY flying boat ordered by the Navy from Consolidated.

April 20: The free-flight tunnel placed into operation at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory.

April 20-21: Experiments with four-bladed controllable propeller on Curtiss P-36 begun at Wright Field.

April 28: Flying a Messerschmitt BF-109R, Fritz Wendel achieved record speed of 468.9 mph in level flight, at Augsburg, Germany.

May 5: Kilner-Lindbergh Board was established by Gen. H. H. Arnold to revise military characteristics of all U.S. military aircraft, including the B-29 design in the AAF 5-year program. The Board was composed of Gen. W. C. Kilner, Charles A. Lindbergh, Cols. Carl Spaatz and Naiden, and Major Lyon.

May 15: Navy issued contract to Curtiss Wright for the SXB2C-1 dive bomber, which despite prolonged operational development became the principal carrier dive bomber in the last year of World War II known as the Helldiver.

During June: First transatlantic passenger service, by Pan American Airways with a Boeing four-engined Yankee Clipper.

July 1: National Academy of Sciences sponsored a $10,000 research program at Cal Tech Rocket Research Project for development of rockets suitable to assist Air Corps planes in takeoffs, the first U.S. rocket program.

During Summer: Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, and Eugene Wigner interested President Roosevelt, through Alexander Sachs, in the potential military importance of uranium. The President appointed an Advisory Committee on Uranium under the chairmanship of Dr. Lyman Briggs, Director of the National Bureau of Standards.

---: Total complement of NACA was 523 persons, of which only 278 were classified as technical personnel.

August 9: Congress authorized construction of second NACA research station at Moffett Field, Calif., which became the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, named after Joseph S. Ames, president emeritus of Johns Hopkins University, member of the NACA from its beginning in 1915 to 1939, and Chairman of NACA from 1927 until 1939.

August 24: Assignment of Navy medical officer to BuAer was approved for the purpose of establishing an Aviation Medical Research Unit.

August 27: First complete flights of jet-propelled aircraft made secretly in Germany, a Heinkel 178 powered by the He S-3B jet engine, piloted by Erich Warsitz.

September 1: German blizkrieg launched on Poland. President Roosevelt appealed to the European nations not to bomb civilian populations or unfortified cities.

September 3-4: RAF Bomber Command carried out first night propaganda raid, dropping leaflets over Hamburg, Bremen, and the Ruhr. On September 27, British Air Ministry announced that the RAF had dropped 18 million leaflets over Germany since the beginning of the war. When leaflet bombing was suspended on April 6, 1940, Bomber Command had dropped 65 million leaflets.

During September: Igor I. Sikorsky made initial flights with the first successful single-main-rotor helicopter, precursor of the R-4 two-place design procured in 1942 by the AAF.

---: World's largest balloon, the Star of Poland, was unable to make stratospheric flight because of the German invasion. The United States had provided helium gas in August for this Polish effort and several American experts, including A. W. Stevens, provided technical assistance.

October 14: Naval Aircraft Factory authorized to develop radio-control equipment for use in remote-controlled flight testing of aircraft without risking the life of a test pilot.

October 19: Dr. Vannevar Bush was elected Chairman of the NACA to fill the post of Dr. Joseph Ames, who resigned due to ill health.

---: Second Special Committee on "Future Research Facilities of NACA," headed by Charles A. Lindbergh, recommended that a powerplant research center be established at once, a recommendation resulting in the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory at Cleveland, Ohio, now the Lewis Research Center.

During October: Germans successfully fired and recovered A-5 development rockets with gyroscopic controls and parachutes, attaining altitude of 7½ miles and a range of 11 miles.

November 20: Navy established its own School of Aviation Medicine at Pensacola, Fla., having previously detailed officers to the Air Corps School of Aviation Medicine.

November 30: U.S.S.R. invaded Finland, Soviet planes bombing Helsinki and other Finnish towns.

December 2: Army Air Corps authorized to begin development of a four-engine bomber with a 2,000-mile radius of action, which led to the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

December 29: Consolidated-Vultee B-24 Liberator made first flight at San Diego.

During 1939: P-41 with R-1830 engine was provided by NACA's Pinkel, Turner, and Voss with separate stacks for each cylinder, thus providing 14 jet exhausts which increased speed of aircraft from 13 to 18 mph between 10,000 and 20,000 feet. Applied to A-20 later, an increase of 45 mph was attained.

---: Curtiss P-40 fighter powered with Allison V-1710-33, with top speed of 357 mph, first ordered in quantity.

During 1939: Basic concepts for NACA's combined loads testing machine were proposed by E. E. Lundquist and J. N. Kotanchik of Langley Laboratory. After refinements by others, construction was started in 1940 and much testing performed before completion and operation of the fixed-component machine in 1949. The combined loads testing machine was the first capable of applying positive and negative forces along each of three axes, and positive and negative moments about these axes, in any combination of forces and moments, each applied independently. Still in use in 1960, this machine was used extensively on combined loads and moments on shell-type structures for all types of flight vehicles.

During 1939-40: Original design of North American B-25 Mitchell bomber required 200,000 engineering man-hours; later wartime modification of this airplane (9,800 completed by end of 1945) accounted for a total of more than 4,830,000 engineering man-hours.

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Last Updated: January 27, 2005