World Aviation in 1961

31 January
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launches a Mercury capsule containing a chimpanzee named Ham. Ham is recovered successfully.

25 February
Paul F. Bikle, Director of NASA’s Flight Research Centre at Edwards Air Force Base in California pilots a Schweizer I23E glider (sailplane) to a height of 14,102 metres (46,267 feet)

30 March
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) test pilot Joe Walker reaches a height of 51,695 metres (169,600 feet) in the North American X15A research aircraft.

12 April
The Soviet Union launches Vostok 1 into earth orbit from Baikonur in Kazakhstan and Flight Major Yuri Alexeyvich Gagarin becomes the first man in space. He lands successfully after one orbit of the Earth. The flight time is 1 hour 48 minutes.

21 April
Major Robert White of the United States Air Force (USAF), pilots a North American X15A during a full throttle flight to a speed of 4,947kph (3,074mph).

28 April
The Soviet Union regains the world altitude record when Colonel G. Mossolov, flying a Mikoyan Ye66A, reaches 34,714 metres (118,898 feet).

5 May
Alan B. Shepard becomes the first American in space, when he is carried into a sub-orbital trajectory in a Mercury capsule on a flight lasting 15 minutes 22 seconds.

19 July
Trans World Airlines (TWA) becomes the first airline to introduce regular in-flight movies. Screened only in the first-class section of aircraft flying between New York and Los Angeles, the first film was ‘By Love Possessed’ with Lana Turner and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

21 July
The United States puts a second man, Virgil Grisson, into sub-orbital flight in the Mercury capsule Liberty Bell 7.

6 August
The Soviet Union launches its second man into space in Vostok 2.
Cosmonaut Herman Titov completes 17 earth orbits before landing
1 day 1 hour 19 minutes after lift off.

4 October
The United States launches the world’s first active communication satellite, Courier 1B.

9 November
Major Robert White attains a speed of 6,587kph (4093mph) in a North American X15A.

22 November
Lieutenant Colonel R.B. Robinson establishes new world speed record in a McDonnell F4H-1F Phantom II of 2,585kph (1606mph).

11 December
The first direct military support for South Vietnam from the United States – a United States Navy (USN) carrier transports two United States Army helicopter companies to Saigon.

15 December
The United States Air Force (USAF) graduates its first five military space pilots from the Aerospace Research Pilots School.