This Day in FAA History: March 17th

Full FAA Chronology at this link.

19600317: A Lockheed Electra lost a wing in turbulent air and crashed near the towns of Tell City and Cannelton, Ind. All 63 persons aboard the Northwest Airlines flight were killed. On March 20, FAA reduced the top cruising speed of the Electra Model 188 series turboprop airliners from 373 to 316 m.p.h., pending determination of the cause. Additional restrictions effective on March 25 included a further cutback in permissible speed (down to 259 m.p.h., or 225 knots) and a series of rigid tests and inspections. These measures seemed warranted by similarities between the Tell City crash and the crash of another Electra in Texas (see September 29, 1959). On April 12, the Civil Aeronautics Board unanimously recommended grounding all Electras not inspected since the Tell City accident. FAA Administrator Quesada decided, however, that the aircraft could safely continue to operate under the March 25 restrictions. On May 12, Lockheed announced its conclusion that the two aircraft destroyed in the accidents had sustained prior damage. This had permitted their power-package nacelles to wobble, allowing development of a “whirl-mode” phenomenon that overstressed their wings. (See October 4 and December 31, 1960.)
19650317: FAA announced that it had joined with CAB, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in a project to establish a national data bank for interagency exchange of information on civil aviation manpower resources. The undertaking had been prompted by Project Long Look (see September 30, 1964). On April 20, 1965, FAA outlined government-industry cooperative efforts to implement the Project Long Look recommendations, primarily by promoting youth interest in aviation careers and improving training opportunities and standards.
19660317: The Bell Triservice X-22A, a tilting-duct Vertical/ Short Takeoff and Landing (V/STOL) aircraft, made its maiden flight. On June 30, 1966, with the tilting ducts at an angle of 30 degrees, the aircraft made its first STOL takeoff, and subsequently attained a top speed in excess of 100 miles an hour.
19660317: FAA type-certificated the Learjet 24, a two-engine turbine-powered business aircraft seating eight (two crewmembers and six passengers). In the first flight of its kind by a business jet, a Learjet 24 completed a 17-leg, 23,002-statute-mile, round-the-world flight on May 26, 1966. The global flight took 65 hours 40 minutes (actual flying time, 50 hours).
19700317: The first death in a domestic U.S. aircraft hijacking incident occurred when a hijacker shot and killed the copilot on an Eastern Air Lines shuttle (Newark-Boston). Although fatally wounded, the copilot still managed to shoot and severely wound the hijacker with the latter’s gun. The aircraft’s captain, himself wounded in both arms, landed his DC-9 safely in Boston.
19730317: Negotiators signed the first labor contract between FAA and the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO). Approved and effective on April 4, the one-year agreement contained 56 articles that included provisions on a variety of issues including payroll deduction of union dues and “familiarization flights” by controllers in airline cockpits. (See October 20, 1972, and May 7, 1975.)
19820317: FAA announced that it had received the first of 950 new radio navigation aids (VORs and VORTACs) with solid state construction and other advanced features for installation during the next three years. The National Airspace System Plan called for replacement of all vacuum tube radio navigation aids with the reliable solid state equipment over the next 20 years. (See September 5, 1974 and August 3, 1982.)
19920317: A ceremony at the Salt Lake City Air Route Traffic Control Center commemorated the completed installation of Meteorologist Weather Processors (MWPs) at 21 en route centers and the central flow control facility in Washington. The system assisted air traffic controllers by combining data from the National Weather Service, FAA radars, and a satellite operated by Harris Corporation, the contractor that provided MWP on a lease basis. On July 8, 1996, FAA announced a contract with Harris to develop, install, and support the Weather and Radar Processor (WARP), a more advanced system that would integrate information including data from Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD). The first phase of this project would replace MWP with upgraded leased equipment.
19920317: FAA issued a rule extending the requirement for the Ground Proximity Warning System to all turbine powered (rather than just turbojet) aircraft with 10 or more passenger seats flown by air taxi and commercial operators, effective April 24, 1994. The new rule affected primarily commuter airlines. On May 27, the National Transportation Safety Board announced that it had removed a recommendation for such a rule from its “Most Wanted” list of safety actions. (See December 24, 1974.)
19940317: DOT and the Department of the Interior published a joint advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on measures to reduce the impact of aircraft noise over the Grand Canyon and other national parks. In an Earth Day memorandum issued on April 22, 1996, President Clinton directed DOT to take both short- and long-term actions to restore natural quiet to national parks. In response, FAA on May 15 published a notice proposing several alternative methods of controlling aircraft noise in Rocky Mountain National Park. On July 31, the agency published a rulemaking proposal to modify the flight regime at the Grand Canyon (see March 26, 1987), followed by a final rule on December 31, 1996. Among other provisions, this final rule: modified the “flight-free” zones over the Canyon and established new ones; set curfews for commercial sightseeing operations; and established a cap on the number of commercial tour aircraft allowed to fly over the park. Also on December 31, FAA published a rulemaking proposal for a phased ban on noisier aircraft over the Canyon.
19940317: FAA announced a multi-year strategy to help the general aviation industry, which was facing adverse economic conditions. The plan included a range of initiatives to lower the cost of flying, boost safety and technology, and guarantee fair and equal access to airways and airports. (See August 17, 1994.)
20000317: The National Transportation Safety Board released its conclusions that the horizontal stabilizer jackscrew, which apparently played a key role in the January 31 crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, had no grease on the area that experienced the most friction during normal operation. In a brief statement, the NTSB did not comment on the meaning of the finding by its laboratory. Sources close to the investigation said the discovery was potentially significant, although more work had to be done to determine whether the area was dry before the crash that killed 88 people near Los Angeles or whether the grease was removed by the violent plunge into the Pacific. (See February 10, 2000.)
20200317: FAA temporarily closed the air traffic control tower at Chicago Midway International Airport after several technicians tested positive for the coronavirus. Other FAA facilities also temporarily closed after employees tested positive for COVID-19. After thorough cleanings the facilities reopened. This was the first of a number of facilities that were temporarily closed for cleaning throughout the year.
20210317: FAA renewed two unmanned aerial system launch operator licenses for Orbital Sciences, LLC, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman. The licenses were valid for five years and authorized the company to conduct flights of its Pegasus launch vehicle from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Orbital Sciences still had to receive FAA authorization for specific launches.