Flight after the Cold War Timeline

Voyager composite aircraft
Voyager was an all-composite aircraft designed by Burt Rutan. His brother Dick Rutan made the first flight on June 22, 1984. See more pictures of flight.
Peter M. Bowers Collection

January 12, 1984 The U.S. Marines get the first McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier IIs, which will be used in the Persian Gulf War.

January 21, 1984 The Air Force successfully fires an ASAT (antisatellite) missile from an F-15 over the Pacific.


January 25, 1984 In his State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan calls for building a space station.

Flight Pictures 

February 3-11, 1984 Space Shuttle Challenger is launched. It tests the Manned Maneuvering Unit, in which astronaut Bruce McCandless orbits, untethered, around the shuttle.

February 24, 1984 The General Dynamics F-16XL is defeated by the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle in competition.

March 6, 1984 The comeback of lighter-than-air craft is signaled by the first flight of the British Airship Industries Skyship.

March 31, 1984 The last Avro Vulcan is removed from RAF service.

April 6-13, 1984 The Space Shuttle Challenger mission makes the first on-orbit satellite repair of Solar Max.

May 15, 1984 A consortium of Aeritalia/Aermacchi/EMBRAER creates the AMX close-support aircraft, which makes its first flight. On a subsequent flight 15 days later, it crashes, killing the pilot.

June 22, 1984 Voyager flies for the first time.

June 22, 1984 Virgin Airlines launches operations.

July 17-19, 1984 The 100th human space flight occurs with the launch of the Soviet Soyuz T-12.

July 25, 1984 Svetlana Savitskaya becomes the first woman to make a space walk, from Salyut 7.

August 4, 1984 European space flight exploration continues with the launch of Ariane 3 from French Guinea.

August 14, 1984 The last of 1,832 Boeing 727s is rolled out in Renton, Washington.

August 29, 1984 A Rockwell International B-1A crashes.

August 30, 1984 The Space Shuttle Discovery is launched on its maiden flight.

September 14-18, 1984 Joe Kittinger, famous for high-altitude parachute drops, makes the first nonstop solo balloon flight across the Atlantic.

October 5, 1984 The Space Shuttle Challenger is launched.

Rockwell B-1B bomber
The Rockwell B-1B bomber had one of the longest and most controversial development periods. After a rocky start, the swing-wing Mach 1.25 B-1B has done an outstanding job.
Peter M. Bowers Collection

October 18, 1984 The Rockwell International B-1B makes its first flight. One hundred are ordered.

November 8-16, 1984 The Space Shuttle Discovery makes its second flight.

December 14, 1984 The Grumman X-29 technology demonstrator, with forward swept wings, makes its first flight.

January 24-27, 1985 The Space Shuttle Discovery conducts a classified defense assignment; military aviation has melded with space flight.

March 21, 1985 The RAF selects EMBRAER Tucano as its new basic trainer.

April 12-19, 1985 The Space Shuttle Discovery carries Senator Jake Garn into orbit.

April 29-May 6, 1985 The Space Shuttle Challenger launches with Spacelab 3.

May 29, 1985 The Soviet Union unveils the world's largest airplane, the Antonov An-124 heavy transport, at the Paris air show.

June 11, 1985 The Soviet Vega-1 spacecraft is sent to rendezvous with Halley's Comet.

June 17-24, 1985 The Space Shuttle Discovery is launched with two foreign astronauts, Patrick Baudry of France and Sulton Abdelazizi Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia.

July 29-August 6, 1985 The Space Shuttle Challenger is launched; it experiences the first major in-flight emergency of shuttle history when one main engine shuts down during ascent.

August 12, 1985 The world's worst aircraft disaster to date occurs when a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 crashes into the mountains. Japan Air Lines later faults Boeing quality control for the accident.

August 18, 1985 The Japa­nese launch a space probe for a flyby of Halley's Comet.

August 27-September 3, 1985 Space Shuttle Discovery is launched; it deploys three satellites and repairs another.

September 10, 1985 The Lockheed C-5B Galaxy makes its first flight.

September 13, 1985 An ASAT missile fired from an F-15 successfully intercepts an orbiting satellite.

September 30, 1985 Italians acquire a new aircraft carrier for helicopters and VSTOL aircraft, the Giuseppe Garibaldi.

October 3-7, 1985 The Space Shuttle Atlantis is launched on its maiden flight; it sets a new shuttle altitude record with an orbit of 1,725,000 miles.

October 30-November 6, 1985 Space Shuttle Challenger is launched with German and Dutch astronauts as part of the largest (eight-member) crew in history.

November 15, 1985 The last independant general aviation manufacturer -- Cessna -- is purchased by General Dynamics.

November 26-December 3, 1985 Space Shuttle Atlantis is launched in an experiment with space station structures.

December 17, 1985 On the 82nd anniversary of the Wright Brothers flight, the Douglas DC-3 celebrates its 50th birthday. Approximately 400 are still in use.

December 28, 1985 The U.S. Pioneer 12 probe passes within 25,000,000 miles of Halley's Comet.


1986-1987 Flight Timeline

Grumman X-29 forward-swept wing aircraft
The Grumman X-29 was particularly valuable in testing the high angle of attack flight regimes. Germany had experimented with forward swept wings before, but not until the development of fly-by-wire and composite materials was further research rewarding.
Peter M. Bowers Collection

January 8, 1986 The first Lockheed C-5B transport is delivered to the Air Force.

January 12-18, 1986 Space Shuttle Columbia is launched.


January 24, 1986 The U.S. planetary spacecraft Voyager 2 makes a Uranus flyby (passes within 66,500 miles) and encounters moons and ring system, then is redirected toward Neptune.

January 28, 1986 The Space Shuttle Challenger blows up 72 seconds into liftoff; teacher Christa McAuliffe is on board. Seven astronauts perish; the Shuttle fleet is grounded for 30 months.

February 15, 1986 The futuristic Beech Starship 1 business aircraft makes its first flight.

March 9, 1986 Soviet comet probe Vega 2 observes Halley's Comet from a distance of 4,990 miles.

March 13-14, 1986 The European Space Agency's Giotto satellite flies within 335 miles of Halley's Comet.

April 14-15, 1986 The United States strikes Libya in retaliation for terrorist activities. Attacking aircraft include EF-111As and F-111s from the United Kingdom (France won't allow flight over its airspace), as well as Navy A-6s and A-7s.

July 1, 1986 The first close look at MiG-29 fighters occurs on a goodwill visit to Finland. The aircraft closely resembles the F-15 and has similar performance.

July 4, 1986 The Eurofighter, the Dassault-Breguet Rafale, makes its first flight.

July 10-14, 1986 On a test flight, the Voyager flies 11,336.9 miles nonstop, unrefueled.

July 11, 1986 Reports of the crash of the second Lockheed F-117A stealth fighter give rise to unfounded concerns that it is too unstable for pilots.

August 11, 1986 The Westland Lynx becomes the world's fastest production helicopter, flying at 249.09 miles per hour.

September 2, 1986 An unusual combination hot-air/helium balloon makes a record flight from Amsterdam to St. John, Newfoundland, in 50 hours, piloted by Henk and Evelyn Brink of the Netherlands.

September 23, 1986 The Piaggio Avanti twin turboprop makes its first flight; it is a potential competitor to the Beech Starship.

November 6, 1986 Forty-five people are killed in the crash of a Chinook helicopter near Scotland. It is the worst civilian helicopter crash in history.

November 30, 1986 The Fokker 100 twin-turboprop passenger liner makes its first flight.

December 4, 1986 The McDonnell Douglas MD-87, a smaller version of the older DC-9 airliner, makes its first flight.

December 11, 1986 The McDonnell Douglas F-15E Eagle, a combination air superiority/ground support fighter, makes its first flight.

December 14-23, 1986 Burt Rutan's specially designed Voyager makes the first nonstop, unrefueled circumnavigation of the world.


Rockwell B-1B bomber
On July 4, 1987, a B-1B set four world records for speed, distance, and payload. The B-1B also has a tremendous conventional weapon capability.
Peter M. Bowers Collection

January 21, 1987 Lois McCallan sets a human-powered record for women in MIT's Michelob Light Eagle.­

February 6-July 30, 1987 Soyuz TM-2 is launched; it uses a new automatic docking system to dock with space station Mir. The Soviet Union provides full television coverage.

February 6, 1987 The Aerospatial Super Puma helicopter flies.

February 19, 1987 The Boeing E-6A TACAMO relay aircraft makes its first flight.

February 22, 1987 The Airbus 320, with fly-by-wire system, makes its first flight.

March 1987 Patrice Fran­cheske makes the first microlight round-the-world flight.

April 26, 1987 The first prototype of the Saab JAS 39 Gripen is unveiled.

May 29, 1987 Mathias Rust lands a Cessna 172 in Red Square.

June 26, 1987 Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand cross the Atlantic by hot-air balloon for the first time. They reach 153 miles per hour in a jet stream.

September 30, 1987 A NASA report indicates that there are 18,400 trackable artificial objects in space.

October 9, 1987 The preproduction EH 101 helicopter makes its first flight.

November 19, 1987 Northrop is awarded a $2 billion contract to develop the B-2 stealth bomber.

November 29, 1987 A Korean Airlines Boeing 707 is blown up by a terrorist bomb.

December 29, 1987 Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Romanenko sets a new human space duration record of 326 days, 11 hours, and 38 minutes.


1988-1989 Flight Timeline

Beech Starship experimental aircraft
The Beech Starship made its first flight on February 15, 1986, a significant landmark in the history of general aviation.
Peter M. Bowers Collection

January 1988 The first Low Level Wind Shear Alert System is installed.

January 1988 Tupelov Blackjacks enter operational service with the Soviet Air Force.


January 29-30, 1988 A 747 SP sets a round-the-world record of 36 hours and 54 minutes.

February 8, 1988 The Department of Defense begins SDI (Star Wars) experimentation with the launch of the Delta 181.

March 1988 Germany revives a World War II idea of using the Sänger concept to "skip" a reusable aerospace plane through upper levels of atmosphere.

April 15, 1988 A modified Tupelov Tu-154, the first aircraft fueled by liquid hydrogen, flies for the first time.

April 16, 1988 The British Aerospace/McDonnell Douglas T-45A Goshawk trainer makes its first flight.

April 23, 1988 Smoking is banned on U.S. domestic airline flights.

May 23, 1988 The first Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey prototype is rolled out.

May 27, 1988 The McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom celebrates the 30th anniversary of its first flight.

June 26, 1988 An Airbus Industries A320 airliner flies into the ground; questions are raised concerning the fly-by-wire concept.

July 3, 1988 An Airbus 300 of Iran Air is shot down by the guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes; there are 290 casualties.

July 7, 1988 The Soviet Phobos 1 spacecraft is launched to study Mars; communications are lost on August 29, 1989.

July 12, 1988 Phobos 2, the companion spacecraft to Phobos 1, is launched to study Mars, arriving on January 29, 1989.

August 17, 1988 President Zia of Pakistan is killed in the crash of a Lockheed C-130.

August 28, 1988 Three Aermacchi MB-339s from an Italian air demonstration team collide during an air show at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

September 28, 1988 The Ilyushin Il-96 wide-body transport makes its first flight.

September 29, 1988 The Space Shuttle Discovery is launched in the first shuttle flight since the Challenger disaster.

November 5, 1988 Soviets unveil the Antonov An-225 Mriya transport. It is the largest aircraft in the world, weighing more than 1,000,000 pounds when fully loaded.

November 10, 1988 The U.S. Air Force confirms the existence of the Lockheed F-117 stealth fighter.

November 15, 1988 Soviets launch their counterpart to the Space Shuttle, the Buran; it is totally automatic, no humans are onboard. The program is later canceled.

November 22, 1988 The Northrop B-2A Spirit stealth bomber is rolled out.

December 2-6, 1988 The Space Shuttle Atlantis is launched on a classified defense mission.

December 9, 1988 The Saab JAS 39 Gripen multirole fighter makes its first flight.

December 15, 1988 The FAA issues a type certificate for the Airbus A320, the first fly-by-wire airliner.

December 21, 1988 Terrorists blow up a Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland; 269 are killed.

January 2, 1989 The Tupelov Tu-204 makes its first flight.

January 4, 1989 Navy F-14A Tomcats shoot down two Libyan MiG-23s over international waters, which Libya claims as territorial.

January 10, 1989 The FAA requires the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System on all airliners with more than 30 seats.

January 29, 1989 The Soviet Space probe Phobos 2 swings into orbit around Mars.

February 14, 1989 The first U.S. second-generation Nav­Star Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite is launched. It will be crucial in the Gulf War.

March 13-18, 1989 The Space Shuttle Discovery is launched; it deploys a

TDRS-D satellite.

March 24, 1989 The SDI satellite, Delta Star, is launched by the USAF.

May 4, 1989 The Magellan probe is launched by the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The probe arrives at Venus on August 10.

June 14, 1989 The USAF launches the first Titan IV.

July 17, 1989 The Northrop-Grumman B-2 stealth bomber makes its first flight.

July 19, 1989 A United DC-10 crashes while attempting an emergency landing; 107 perish.

August 8-13, 1989 The Space Shuttle Columbia is launched on a classified military mission.

August 22, 1989 Legendary Soviet aircraft designer Alex­ander Yakovlev dies at age 84.

August 25, 1989 Voyager 2 passes within 3,000 miles of Neptune.

September 14, 1989 The Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey successfully transitions from helicopter mode to horizontal flight for the first time.

October 18, 1989 The Galileo probe to Jupiter is launched by the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The probe arrives at Jupiter in December 1999.


1990-1991 Flight Timeline

EMBRAER Tucano turboprop
The EMBRAER firm was formed in 1969 and was an instant success with a wide variety of aircraft. The company expanded its range with the Tucano, a trainer originally intended for the Brazilian Air Force.
Peter M. Bowers Collection

January 10, 1990 The McDonnell Douglas MD-11 makes its first flight.

January 23, 1990 Japan launches the Hiten (Muses A) satellite.


April 24-29, 1990 The Space Shuttle Discovery carries the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.

August 2, 1990 Iraq seizes Kuwait.

September 6, 1990 A Boeing 747 becomes the new Air Force One.

September 29, 1990 The Lockheed Martin YF-22 Raptor supersonic stealth fighter debuts.

October 29, 1990 Boeing gives the formal go-ahead for the 777, a twin-engine jet with a wider body than the 767. It is designed to compete with the Airbus A330 and A340.

November 9, 1990 Kansai Airport, built on a human-made island, becomes Japan's first 24-hour airport.

December 21, 1990 Famed aircraft designer Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson dies at age 80. He designed the P-80, F-104, U-2, and SR-71.

1991 Mil-Brooke Helicopters in Miami becomes the support organization for Mil aircraft in North America.

January 15-19, 1991 Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand fly the first transpacific balloon flight, covering 6,700 miles.

January 17, 1991 Operation Desert Storm begins: The technology of modern warfare is unveiled.

February 13, 1991 The Swearingen SJ-30 small business jet makes its first flight.

February 27, 1991 The homebuilt Questair Venture sets three time-to-climb records.

April 23, 1991 Lockheed, Boeing, and General Dynamics are selected to build the F-22.

April 30, 1991 Boeing delivers the last 707 airframe, a Navy E-6A communications aircraft.

May 3, 1991 Robert Randolph's model airplane sets a duration record of 32 minutes and 9 seconds.

June 13, 1991 The Soviets display the MiG-31 and the Beriev A-40 at a Paris air show.

July 1991 The Beech T-1A Jayhawk makes its first flight.

July 16, 1991 The Falcon 900 B sets a distance record of 5,012 miles, flying from Paris to Houston.

July 22, 1991 Kari Castle sets the women's hang-gliding record with a flight of 208 miles.

August 12, 1991 Delta acquires most of Pan Am's operations.

September 15, 1991 The McDonnell Douglas C-17 makes its first flight.

October 25, 1991 The Airbus A340, the first European long-haul airliner in 30 years, makes its first flight.

December 4, 1991 Pan American World Airways makes their last flight after 64 years of operations.


1992-1993 Flight Timeline

Airbus A340 jet airliner
Airbus threw down the gauntlet to Boeing's 747 and 777 aircraft with its A340 series of aircraft, which made its first flight on October 25, 1991. The later models of the A340 can carry up to 380 passengers over a 7,500 nautical mile range.
Warren M. Bodie Collection

March 23, 1992 Beechcraft (now part of Raytheon) delivers their 50,000th aircraft, a King Air 90B.

May 12, 1992 Lockheed Martin delivers the 2,000th C-130.


May 18, 1992 The first production McDonnell Douglas C-17 makes its first flight.

June 11, 1992 McDonnell Douglas delivers the 2,000th DC-9/MD-80/MD-90 series aircraft.

September 1992 The existence of the National Reconnaissance Office is declas­sified.

September 12, 1992 Dr. Mae C. Jemison becomes the first African American woman in space when she is launched onboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor.

September 25, 1992 NASA launches Mars Observer to study the Red Planet. Communication with the craft will be lost August 22, 1993.

November 2, 1992 The Airbus A330 335-passenger twin makes its first flight.

December 16, 1992 The McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) C-17 sets altitude records.

March 4, 1993 The Saab JAS 39B Gripen (a multirole aircraft) makes its first flight.

March 12, 1993 Lockheed acquires General Dynamics' Fort Worth division, the builder of the F-16.

June 8, 1993 The first Saab JAS 39 Grippen is handed over to the Swedish Air Force.

June 26, 1993 The NavStar Global Position System (GPS) satellite constellation is completed.

August 6, 1993 Sheila Widnall becomes Secretary of the U.S. Air Force.

August 17, 1993 NASA selects Boeing as its prime contractor for the International Space Station.

December 2-13, 1993 The Hubble's optical flaw is repaired by the Discovery Shuttle crew.