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Aviation progress brings mishaps-milestone-mysteries

by Barb Pert Templeton

Photo courtesy of Wikedpia.com
When the German Hindenburg passenger Airbus exploded on landing in 1937 the era of the lightweight, gas-filled airbuses ended.

Did you know the creation and launching of the German Hindenburg Airbus came about when major aircraft companies wanted to establish airships that were lighter than air? On paper I’m sure the plan and design looked impressive but dubbed the “giant flying gas bag” it was a short-lived proposition. It seems the gas-filled engine on the Zeppelin companies Hindenburg Airbus exploded in 1937 during an attempt to land killing 35 passengers and injuring 65 and basically ended the airbus travel era.

A couple of other interesting tidbits about the Hindenburg, it was designed with a smoking room, yep, let’s take a commercial airbus up in flight loaded down with gas and then kick back with a smoke. Crazy. The luxury airliner also had a special lightweight piano built that weighed under 400 pounds and was prominently placed in an upscale passengers’ lounge. 

The next big news in aviation came in 1947 when Chuck Yeager, a WWII flying ace, was named the ‘Fastest Man Alive’ when he flew a supersonic jet at 700 mph becoming the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound. It is still considered one of the greatest achievements in aviation. 

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The airplane industry continued to thrive, especially commercial flights going into the 1950’s when Boeing designed a sleek and modern 707 airplane that put the war years of aviation in the rearview mirror. Pan American Airlines became the first commercial airline to introduce daily flights between New York and Paris in the 707 aircraft that boosted safety, comfort and speed.

Still, despite all of these incidents and achievements, I think finding out there were so many mysteries in aviation tied to the sudden disappearance of airplanes mid-flight really captured my attention. 

Photo courtesy of RCA Victor

Where’s Glenn Miller?
A hugely popular big band era talent, Miller’s plane took off from Paris on a flight to London in December 1944 and virtually disappeared never to be heard from again. It was a cloudy, rainy night and theorists think perhaps the plane encountered trouble and crashed into the English Channel though no proof including any plane parts or passengers were ever found. (Note: I only learned about Glenn Miller’s untimely demise when a Golden Girls episode mentioned that fans were so distraught at his loss, they formed search parties to find him.)

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Photo courtesy of U.S. Federal Government

Where’s D. B. Cooper?
This is a twist because the plane didn’t disappear but the hijacker did and it was in mid-air. In 1971 a man described as average looking and being in his mid-40’s handed a flight attendant a note demanding $200,000 in cash, parachutes and a flight to Mexico. After the plane, a Boeing 727, landed to get the money and chutes, he released all but the flight crew and flight attendant, ordered them all into the cockpit and then jumped out of the plane with the money strapped to his waist. The man who bought the ticket for the flight was thought to be named Cooper so the legend was born but the man and the money were never found.

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War-time aircraft mysteries:

Flight 19

During WWII the U.S. Navy sent five torpedo bombers on a training flight over the Bermuda Triangle.  All 14 crewmembers aboard the aircrafts were never seen or heard from again and when 13 men were dispatched to conduct a search-and-rescue mission, they were also never heard from again. 

Flight 739

In 1962, during the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army Flying Tiger Flight 739 vanished over the Pacific Ocean on its way to southeast Asia. The plane was transporting 93 soldiers and three civilians to Vietnam and was last heard from when it refueled in Guam. No distress calls came in and an exhaustive search with ships and planes over 2,000 miles of the ocean were fruitless, no trace of the plane was ever found.

A recent mystery in Malaysia

In 2014 a Malaysia Airline Boeing 777 airplane took off from Kuala Lumpur headed to Beijing when it vanished as it went into Vietnam airspace. There were 239 passengers and crew lost and to this day crews still search the area in the ocean for any potential clues. Theories abound and include high jacking, low fuel leading to a crash or even far-fetched ideas about the plane carrying some unknown cargo that prompted its diversion to another country or island.

Don’t forget Amelia

Still, no aviation history piece could be complete without mentioning possibly the most famous disappearing plane mystery of the last 100 years – Amelia Earhart. In 1937 she was making the first-ever flight around the world by a woman when her plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. The theories and tales of her demise could fill a library and they still keep popping up today.

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