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First aircraft landing on a warship — Eugene Ely lands aboard the USS Pennsylvania

14 May 2012

First aircraft landing on a warship — Eugene Ely lands aboard the USS Pennsylvania

It was in San Francisco Bay in January 1911 that the Navy proved an airplane could be brought aboard a warship by landing. The pilot who accomplished this feat was Eugene Ely and he did it with a Curtiss pusher. Ely worked for Curtiss who was forging a relationship with the Navy while the Wright Brothers developed business with the Army.

The ship selected was the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania which had a landing platform built on the after deck for the demonstration. The platform was not long and it was certainly narrow, Ely had to make a precise landing that would allow an arrester hook to snag cables strung across the landing platform — the aircraft would drag a pair of sand bags for each cable caught, slowing the aircraft.

Model of the USS Pennsylvania fitted with a landing platform in the National Naval Aviation Museum — photo by Joseph May

We are thankful to modelers, in this case for inspiring a feel for the event since photography of the time was less than detailed. This model is on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum and is in good company with several other ship models.

Detail of the landing area with a miniature Curtiss  pusher, note the arresting wires attached to sandbags and how approximately five have been caught by the tailhook — photo by Joseph May

Below are U.S. Navy photos taken during the event. Stationed in San Francisco as the Inspector of the Navy’s Eighteenth Lighthouse at the time was William Moffett — not yet involved with Naval Aviation but soon to be its greatest champion.

U.S. Navy photo and caption

U.S. Navy photo and caption

U.S. Navy photo and caption

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jeanette Smyth permalink
    8 July 2014 04:07

    SuperbHistorythankyou. Saw’It’ in ELKS magazineMay,2000

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