One hundred years ago Tuesday, Eugene Ely, a 26-year-old automobile racer-turned-aviator, landed a fragile-looking biplane on the deck of the Navy cruiser Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay and made flying history.
It was the first time an airplane had landed on a warship, and it marked the start of naval aviation.
After warming up his Curtiss biplane - which resembled a bicycle or tricycle with wings - Ely took off from the San Bruno field at 11 a.m. He'd practiced on land over and over. "I was sure of success," he said later.
Just in case, though, he wore an improvised helmet and strapped two bicycle inner tubes over his shoulders to help him stay afloat in case he crashed in the water.
Sounds like the airplane had no difficulty lifting his brain. Mighta needed an extra 1000 feet to get his balls
off the ground though. Heh.
Ely had wanted to land into the wind, but the ship was anchored in such a way that he had to land with the wind on his tail, which was potentially dangerous.
He came in at a speed of about 60 mph. To the assembled multitude, it seemed easy.
Looks like the 'arresting gear' was the bridge
with four smokestacks for backup instead of those sissy little cables they use today.
I think we could duplicate how this musta felt by pulling into an ice-covered gas station with an office building at the far end at 60 per and gettin' 'er stopped at the gas pump. If ya do it right, or just pull it off, of course it'll look easy.
Rear Adm. E.B. Barry, commander of the Pacific Fleet, thought flying machines would be useful for scouting, but little else. As for a plane attacking a warship, he noted that every warship carried U.S. Marine riflemen. "It seems unreasonable that the bird men could get close enough to become effective," the admiral said.
Heh. We're good, Admiral, but maybe not that
The Navy contracted to buy two Curtiss airplanes in May 1911, but did not commission an aircraft carrier until 1922.
The Navy wasn't sure this whole 'landing on a ship' thing would work either.
Ely did not live to see naval aviation take flight. He was killed in a crash at an air show in October 1911, only nine months after he made history.
I think that was probably predictable. Godspeed, Gene.
This is a fascinating look at the Dawn Of Time. Please enjoy the rest.