C E L E B R A T I N G  1 0 0  Y E A R S   O F   N A V A L   A V I A T I O N

 On Feb. 17, 1911, inventor and aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss –  the “father of naval aviation”  –  taxied his “Hydroaeroplane,” or seaplane, to the battleship USS Pennsylvania, anchored in San Diego Bay. The plane was hoisted aboard the ship. It was later lowered back to the water and Curtiss returned to North Island.

 The U.S. Navy and its sea service partners returned to that area in February to officially kick off a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of naval aviation at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, regarded as the “birthplace of naval aviation.”

 Many other centennial-related events were slated to take place throughout the year, and synchronizing those events was the Centennial of Naval Aviation Task Force, established by Vice Adm. Allen G. Myers, commander, Naval Air Forces. Working with him were Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling, deputy commandant for Marine Corps Aviation; Rear Adm. Patrick McGrath, deputy commander, Centennial, Naval Air Forces; and Capt. Mike Emerson, Coast Guard chief of Aviation. The task force’s goal was to raise public awareness of  Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and NASA aviation operations. In this special supplement,  spearheaded by Managing Editor Richard R. Burgess, Seapower also aimed to raise awareness, as well as pay tribute to those pioneers whose can-do spirit, courage and tenacity inspired today’s Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviators, some of whom contributed their personal perspectives for this publication.

 2011’s  Centennial of  Naval Aviation was marked with a multitude of celebratory events. From shaky beginnings in aircraft even the aviators of those days called “crates” to where naval aviation arguably is the centerpiece of all the Navy is today no small story. It is one of setting records, success in preventing war and success in war itself. It is a kaleidoscope of  leadership, people, money, legislation, materiel, machines and tactics.

 From the beginning, in 1911, the names remembered best are Ely, Ellyson, Towers, Curtiss and Chambers. Of all, it is Capt. Washington Irving Chambers who should be most remembered and most honored. True, Eugene Ely was the first to launch from and land on a ship; Theodore Ellyson was Naval Aviator No. 1; John Towers was Naval Aviator No. 3 and the longest serving. Glenn Curtiss built most of the first Navy airplanes and showed how an aircraft could be landed on the water next to a ship, then be hoisted aboard and lowered again to the water for another mission.

 But it was Chambers, a battleship Sailor, who arranged to procure the first U.S. Navy aircraft. It was Chambers who introduced a scientific approach for the improvement of airplanes, and signed the first engineers to help in the solution of early aeronautical problems and personally influenced the development of the shipboard catapult. From the beginning, capable catapults were seen as the key to making aviation useful to the fleet. With the use of a catapult, increasing numbers of catapultcapable floatplanes took their place in the fleet. Their missions included scouting and light logistics, and they made up the Base Force of the 1920s and ’30s. It was not until the helicopter came along after World War II that the floatplanes were replaced.

 Early successes notwithstanding, the American aviation industry soon lagged. When World War I broke out, U.S. forces had to be equipped with planes of foreign manufacture. Then, to fill the sudden need for more pilots, the first Naval Re servists were recruited, some paying for training themselves. Flying from bases in England, France and Italy, they played

Waypoints in History

November 14, 1910: Eugene Ely, seated in a Curtiss Pusher, conducts first flight  launched from a ship, Birmingham, anchored at Hampton Roads, Va.

January 18, 1911:Ely, for first time, lands and then takes off from ramp built on Pennsylvania, anchored in San Francisco Bay.

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