On This Day in Aviation History

April 4, 2012

April 4th in Aviation History: Space Shuttle Challenger’s Maiden Spaceflight

Closeup of the Space Shuttle Challenger STS-6 patch.

2012: Virgin America launches flights between Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

2004: Alaska Airlines discontinues service between San Francisco and Tuscon.

1983: Space Shuttle Challenger makes its maiden voyage into space on mission STS-6. During the mission, the crew would perform the shuttle program’s first space walk.

1975: A US Air Force Lockheed C-5 Galaxy (68-0218) carrying Vietnamese orphans and American caregivers crashes while attempting an emergency landing at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam, killing 175 of the 311 people on board. The first flight of Operation Babylift had taken off from the same airfield earlier, but suffered explosive decompression upon reaching an altitude of 23,000 feet, when locks on the rear loading ramp failed. Two of the giant plane’s four hydraulic systems failed as a result of the blowout, causing the crew to lose ability to control the rudder and elevator. On final approach the plane touched down in a rice paddy, lifted off again for about half of a mile before crashing and breaking into several pieces. It remains the most deadly crash in US Air Force history.

1968: NASA launches Apollo 6, an unmanned mission to test the Command and Service Module and Lunar Module for future manned missions.

1933: The USS Akron, the Navy’s 785-foot-long rigid helium-filled airship, crashes off the coast of New Jersey in a violent storm, killing 73 of the 76 men on board. At the time, it was the most deadly aviation accident in history.

1913: Emmanouil Argyropoulos becomes the first Greek military aviator to die in flight, his Blériot XI crashing from 1200 feet near Thessaloniki while on a reconnaissance mission during the Balkan Wars. A passenger, Konstantinos Manos, was also killed.

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