Happy Birthday, Naval Aviation
Four Key Moments in the Early History of Naval Flight
A hastily constructed 120-foot platform stretched off the hulking cruiser USS Pennsylvania (ACR 4), forming a crude runway high above the choppy waters of the San Francisco Bay.
It would be a seminal moment in the history of not only naval aviation, but flight in general, the event that would decide the future of planes in the Navy. It was a success, and some four months later, May 8, 1911, the Navy would requisition its first airplane, a date commemorated as the birthday of naval aviation. After a slow start, the technology hit its stride during the Great War, and the face of warfare would change forever.
First Landing on a Ship
After spending several years attending flight tests and air shows, Navy planners knew that for airplanes to be useful to the service, pilots had to be able to take off from and land on ships. Capt. Washington Chambers, who oversaw the development of naval aviation, had an 85-foot platform constructed on the cruiser USS Birmingham (CL 2) in 1910, according to the National Naval Aviation Museum.
When one of Glenn Curtiss' exhibition pilots, Eugene Ely, taxied off the ship, Nov. 14, his airplane, which had been equipped with floats under the wings, rolled off the platform and skipped over the water. Despite a damaged propeller, Ely managed to stay airborne for some 2 and a half miles, demonstrating that planes could indeed take off from ships.