NASA's solar-electric, high-altitude flying wing, the Helios, lands at Edwards Air Force Base, California, after a test flight. The 247-foot-wingspan, 1,640-pound aircraft is designed to fly at high altitudes (100,000 feet) for sustained periods.

McDonnell Douglas Aerospace

1996-1997 Flight Timeline

January 15, 1996 NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao becomes the 100th person to take a space walk when he departs the Space Shuttle Endeavor.

February 17, 1996 The U.S. NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) Shoemaker craft launches to study the Eros asteroid. It will land on Eros in 2001.

February 29, 1996 European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter returns after spending six months on Mir.

March 16, 1996 Fokker goes out of business.

April 25, 1996 The Yak-130 two-seat trainer makes its first flight.

June 17, 1996 Burt Rutan unveils the asymmetric Boomerang.

June 24, 1996 Raytheon delivers the 5,000th Beech King Air business turboprop.

August 6, 1996 The Kawasaki OH-X helicopter makes its first flight.

August 9, 1996 Sir Frank Whittle, often considered the inventor of the modern jet engine, dies at age 89.

August 31, 1996 The two-seat version of the Eurofighter makes its first flight.

November 7, 1996 NASA launches the Mars Global Surveyor to orbit and map the Red Planet.

November 16, 1996 Russia's Mars 96 probe is launched; the probe falls back to Earth.

November 16, 1996 Boeing and Lockheed Martin are chosen to build prototypes of the multiservice Joint Strike Fighter.

December 6, 1996 Rockwell Aerospace and Defense, formerly known as North American Aviation, is acquired by Boeing in a move announced on August 15, 1996.

December 15, 1996 Boeing makes plans to buy McDonnell Douglas.

December 26, 1996 The Chinese Jingdezhen Z-11 helicopter makes its first flight.

1997 Eurocopter twice raises the production rates on the EC-135 helicopter.

January 20, 1997 Steve Fossett sets a hot-air balloon distance record of 10,363 miles.

A Lockheed Martin F-16CJ of the 79th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Wing, is seen on Combat Air Patrol in support of Operation Noble Eagle.

U.S. Air Force

April 9, 1997 The first production Lockheed F-22 Raptor is rolled out.

April 28, 1997 The first production Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey is delivered to the U.S. Marines.

May 17, 1997 The McDonnell Douglas X-36 tailless fighter makes its first flight.

June 25, 1997 The Progress, an unpiloted Russian supply ship, collides with the Mir space station during a training exercise.

July 4, 1997 The Mars Path­finder safely lands on Mars.

August 1, 1997 Boeing officially merges with McDonnell Douglas.

September 25, 1997 The Sukhoi Su-37 Berkut advanced-technology fighter makes its first flight.

October 12, 1997 Singer John Denver dies when his experimental single-engine Rutan Long EZ crashes.

October 15, 1997 NASA launches Cassini. The robotic craft is designed to study Saturn.

October 15, 1997 The European Space Agency launches the Huygens probe, designed to research Saturn's Titan moon.

December 24, 1997 The Asiasat 3 communications satellite is launched. The manufacturer, Hughes Global Services, will buy back the spacecraft from insurers when the craft fails to orbit properly. Renamed the HGS-1, the satellite performs two lunar flybys.