1960s Era Military Aviation Timeline

Helicopters in TAN


  • McDonnell Douglas introduces F-4 Phantom
  • Boeing acquires Vertol (Helicopter) Corporation
  • First flight of Grumman’s E-2 Hawkeye (enters service 1964, USN)
  • First flight of Grumann’s A-6 Intruder (enters service 1963, USN, USMC)


  • The versatile Sikorsky S-61R used in transport/search and rescue operations: various names per service: the Pelican, the Sea King, and the Jolly Green Giant (still in service, for example, by the Coast Guard).
  • Introduction of North American’s A-5 Vigilante to the Navy
  • Boeing introduces the C-135 “Stratolifter” military transport
  • The Boeing CH-17 Chinook heavy lift twin rotor takes maiden flight using a Vertol design; goes into production and service the following year.


  • High-altitude Mach 3+ reconnaissance single-seater aircraft A-12, first flight, 12 built by Lockheed’s Skunkworks (sees service 1967-68); precursor of the twin-seat YF-12A (3 built) & the SR-71 “Blackbird,” the latter of which entered service in 1966 (32 built).
  • Northrop introduces the first of a family of supersonic light fighters, the F-5
  • A modified 707 is chosen for Airforce One
  • Sikorsky introduces its heavy lift cargo helicopter, the CH-54 Tarhe (“the Crane” in Wyandot)
  • North American Aircraft debuts its T-39 Sabreliner for the Air Force: now a mid-sized business jet, originally used as a USAF, the USN, USMC trainer; resembles its namesake swept-wing F-86 Sabre jet fighter designed to counter the Soviet MIG-15.


  • First flight of Lockheed’s YF-12A; and C-141 Starlifter, a military strategic airlifter used until about 2006 when the C-17 (Globemaster III) replaced it.
  • Introduction of the Grumman A-6


  • First flight of North American Aviation’s XB-70 Valkyrie, a prototype for the B-70, a Mach 3+ deep-penetration strategic bomber.
  • Sikorsky follows up its Tarhe lift helicopter with the CH 53 Sea Stallion
  • General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark first flight (introduced 1967): hugely influential first variable geometry production aircraft/side-by-side seating (USAF); replaced by F-15E Strike Eagle in 1990s.
  • Early Vertol design for a medium lift modified by Boeing-Vertol Company, introduced as the Sea Knight, the CH-46 (1964-2015).
  • Maiden flight of the Grumman C-2 Greyhound twin-engine high-wing airplane for cargo transport to and from aircraft carriers (introduced 1966); developed from the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye airframe


  • Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) A-7 Corsair II subsonic carrier-capable attack aircraft first flight (introduced 1967): replacing the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk; replaced in turn by the F-16 & F-18.
  • Test flight of the versatile North American OV-10 Bronco light attack and observation aircraft for counterinsurgency operations (1969-1995)
  • The Bell Huey AH-1 Cobra gunship/attack helicopter flies for the first time; subsequent offshoots of the Sea Cobra (AH-15), the Improved Sea Cobra (AH-1T), and the Super Cobra (AH-1W) become the backbone of the Marine Corps helicopter capacity in the late and 1970s.
  • Lockheed introduces the C-141 “Starlifter” strategic airlifter (April)
  • The Lockheed YF-12A, a precursor to the SR-71 Blackbird, shatters nine records in one day of testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The SR-71’s capabilities remain classified but the records set include a sustained speed of 2,070 miles/hour and an altitude of 80,257 (May 1).



  • Lockheed launches a family of roughly half a dozen special operations aircraft versions designated with the prefix MC-130.



  • The short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) attack aircraft, the Harrier jump jet [GR.1] makes its maiden flight, December 28, 1967; developed by British manufacturer Hawker Siddeley (now part of BAE Systems); becomes favorite of US Marine Corps in later iterations (right); technology used today in the F-35 Lightning II STOVL variant.


C-5A loading at Bush Field, Georgia

  • Grumman test flies the EA-6B Prowler, a mid-wing/twin-engine/four-seat electronic warfare aircraft for the USMC/USN (sees service 1971-2019); built on the A-6 Intruder airframe.
  • Lockheed’s large military transport (largest military aircraft in the world at the time), the C-5A Galaxy, takes flight for the first time (enters service 1970) with GE engines.
  • Ault Report on the effectiveness of air operations in North Vietnam in the wake of Operation Rolling Thunder 1965-68. https://www.history.navy.mil/content/dam/nhhc/research/histories/naval-aviation/aultreport/sections1-4.pdf  Results in Navy’s new emphasis on pilot training; founding of TOPGUN school the following year.


  • B-1 Bomber program begins; first prototype flight in 1974; introduced 1986.
  • Establishment of the “Strike Fighter Tactics Instructors” program (Navy Fighter Weapons School, “TOPGUN”) https://youtu.be/xiBCjYmmyE0


  • Maiden flight of Grumman’s F-14 Tomcat (“Top Gun” goes into service 1974-2006); US Navy’s answer to the Air Force’s F-111




  • Fairchild Republic has maiden flight of the close air support/turbofan/twin-engine/single-seat A-10 Thunderbolt (“Warthog”); goes into service in 1976 for close air support.
  • McDonnell Douglas first flight of air superiority fighter, the F-15 Eagle (into service in 1976)
  • First test flight of the air-weather E-3 early warning and control aircraft by Boeing that went into service 1977; built on 707 airframe; now commonly called AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System).


  • Boeing delivers the first of four E-4As as Advanced Airborne Command Posts on 747-200 airframes as survivable hardened platforms in a nuclear attack; become known as “Nightwatch” aircraft for Operation Looking Glass missions. Upgraded communications packages redesignated these planes E-4Bs; stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, NE.


A Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a strategic reconnaissance aircraft, at the Farnborough International Airshow, UK, September 1974. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Sikorsky flies the CH 53E Super Stallion for the first time [adds third engine, seventh blade to Sea Stallion]; the MH 53E Sea Dragon developed at same time for long-range minesweeping operations; enter service in early 1980s. 
  • Debut flight of General Dynamics YF-16 which enters Air Force service in 1978 as the F-16 and is the most numerous fixed-wing military aircraft in the world; known officially as the Fighting Falcon; less officially as the Viper.
  • Northrop’s all-weather/carrier capable/multi-use combat fighter YF-17 design takes test flight; adapted by McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing); new design takes test flight in 1978; enters Navy and Marine service in 1986 as the F-18 Hornet.
  • The first F-14 Tomcats to enter operational service fly off the deck of the USS Enterprise.
  • Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk tested; goes into service five years later; replaces the army’s Bell UH-1 as a utility helicopter.





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