Naval Aviation Today and in Prospect

By The Honorable David S. Ingalls, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics

The active fighting forces of our naval aviation comprise four groups, and in addition thereto there exists a complete organization for the development and maintenance thereof.

The Aircraft Squadrons, Scouting Fleet, consist of one torpedo and bombing squadron attached to the tender Wright; one observation squadron aboard the battleships Arkansas, Utah, and Florida; three scouting squadrons attached to the light cruiser divisions; and a utility and patrol squadron also attached to the Wright. This is the existing developed aviation arm of our Scouting Fleet today.

The Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet, consist of three observation squadrons based aboard the various battleships of the fleet; two torpedo and bombing squadrons, one attached to the Lexington and one to the Saratoga; three fighting squadrons, one attached to the Saratoga, one to the Lexington, and the other to the Langley; four scouting squadrons attached to the Langley, Saratoga, Lexington, and Omaha, respectively; two light bombing squadrons, one aboard the Lexington and the other aboard the Saratoga; and a patrol plane squadron aboard the tender Aroostook. All three aircraft carriers of our Navy, the Langley, Lexington, and Saratoga are a part of the Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet.

The coastal patrol stations at Coco Solo and Pearl Harbor are the only active remnant of our war-time coastal patrol development. At these bases is carried on a continuous development of type and training of personnel for that vital function of the Navy. Here principally are based the enormous flying patrol boats and the large scouting seaplanes.

The Marine Corps' active aviation forces comprise the squadrons on duty with the Marine Expeditionary Forces in Haiti and Nicaragua, and the bases at Quantico, Va., San Diego, Calif., and on the island of Guam.

Each single aircraft squadron and station is an independent command similar to a ship. Each fleet aircraft organization is commanded by a force commander designated as Commander, Aircraft Squadrons. All aircraft operations and planning are under his cognizance and aviation units based on combatant ships are placed directly under his command at certain periods of the year for training and for cooperative work with other squadrons.

The organization to maintain these active fighting units is of necessity appreciable. In Washington is the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics charged with the supervision and coordination of naval aviation with other departments, and the Bureau of Aeronautics providing for the material and generally guiding the entire organization. On the outskirts of Washington at Anacostia is the flight test and experimental base to which are brought all new types of plane, engine, and instrument. At Philadelphia is located our excellent Naval Aircraft Factory, established during the war, now restricted practically to experimental production and overhaul. The training of mechanics takes place at a school at Great Lakes, Ill. The training of pilots is carried on principally at Pensacola, Fla., with primary training at Hampton Roads, San Diego, and Seattle. At Dahlgren, Va., and Newport, R.I., are respectively located the experimental ordnance and torpedo details. Reserve aviation bases are situated at Squantum, Mass., Valley Stream, N.Y., Detroit, Mich., Great Lakes, Ill., Long Beach, Calif., Seattle, Wash., and Minneapolis, Minn.

Most vital to any organization of course is the personnel. Our naval aviation officers are selected for aviation training upon a voluntary basis after at least one year's duty at sea on a cruising ship. The enlisted pilots, likewise volunteering, are selected upon a basis of efficiency after a severe process of elimination. These officers and men then, about forty per month, are sent to the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, and roughly 50 per cent of those entering finally complete the course. Throughout the course flight training and ground school work interlock in the seaplane and landplane primary instruction, flight gunnery, bombing, radio, and navigation. Thereafter again comes selection and specialization into smaller classes and training in formation flying, radio, actual spotting of gunfire, some fixed gunfire, and studies of fighting tactics. Further navigation and scouting problems are carried on. At the conclusion of the course, normally taking almost a year, the students are sent to the fleet with almost 200 flying hours to their credit. In addition thereto the ground school has thoroughly drilled them in structure and rigging, the theory of flight, engines, instruments, aviation seamanship, gunnery including an extensive range course, bombing, radio, tactics, and many kindred matters.

Naval reserve aviation exists principally at the reserve bases noted above. Ordinarily two regular or reserve officers and about eight enlisted men are assigned to permanent actual duty at each station, which normally operates four training seaplanes. The reserve students are enlisted originally as seamen second class, U. S. Naval Reserve. Ground school work is covered during the winter flight instruction, thus qualifying them to proceed to complete training at Pensacola. These stations likewise afford opportunity for the continued practice of the reservists during their actual duty and occasionally during the interim while on inactive duty.

The material of naval aviation may in a way be divided into five principal types of airplanes. These are: fighting, observation, torpedo and bombing, patrol and scouting, and training planes. Each has its definite and particular duty to perform and is so designated, designed, and constructed. Fighting planes are to gain and maintain supremacy of the air, that our ships and planes shall be not only free from the enemy's air attack but also at liberty to perform their various functions. These planes are single or two-seated planes with the utmost of performance in speed, climb, and maneuverability. They are armed with fixed guns firing forward through the propeller, timed for the projectile to pass between the propeller blades. The two-seated fighters carry in addition to the pilot a rear gunner, with two free guns.

Observation or "spotting" planes are used to control the gunfire of ships and to improve the accuracy of this gunfire. This type of plane requires moderate altitude, good all-around vision and radio. The observation planes are handled from battleships and cruisers and are either seaplanes or amphibians capable of landing on the seas or on aircraft carriers.

Bombing and torpedo planes are used for direct attack on enemy surface craft. These planes carry either the standard service torpedo of about 2,000 pounds or the equivalent weight in bombs and also carry machine guns for their own protection against antiaircraft. They are built inherently stable in order that the aiming of bombs or torpedoes may be accurate.

Patrol or scouting planes require endurance, and speed must be sacrificed in order to obtain this. They are equipped with long-range radio and with complete navigating equipment as they must pass out of sight of the fleet and return to same and must constantly know their position to carry out their mission. Patrol planes are long-range scouts and are usually multi-engine flying boats carrying a crew of five or six.

Training planes are dual-control planes which are built as foolproof as possible. They are used for primary training purposes only, as all advanced and specialized training is given in the standard service types of aircraft.

Outside of those based ashore, provision obviously must be made for the planes based at sea. Thus every cruiser and battleship carries its complement of planes, launched by means of the catapult, and hoisted on board again from the sea after the performance of the mission. But primarily by aircraft carriers is the aerial arm of the Navy supported. Aircraft carriers are large, fast cruisers fitted with flush upper decks enabling the aircraft to operate therefrom almost as from an ordinary land field. These decks of course are fitted with many contrivances, including the arresting gear that is essential to this difficult type of aircraft operation. Beneath this flying deck the other decks are given over to hangar space and repair shops as well as furnishing the ordinary quarters and provisions for the officers and men.

Of these aircraft carriers at present three are in existence. The oldest of these is the Langley, a converted collier since the year 1922. Slow and small, probably of little value in actual warfare, she has been and is an invaluable ship for experimental development. Upon her results were based the air developments incorporated in the Saratoga and Lexington. These latter were originally designed as battle cruisers, then converted in accordance with the Washington treaty into carriers. They are 888 feet long with a beam of 106 feet and can attain a speed of 33.5 knots by means of their tremendous motors of 180,000 horsepower. These great ships can each operate about eighty airplanes and are self-contained in every respect.

In addition to the operation of these three carriers the Navy Department has but recently advertised for the construction of a 10,000-ton aircraft carrier which will bring our aircraft tonnage as provided under the Washington treaty to 76,000 tons. The limit in this treaty is 135,000 tons.

So much for the airplane activities of today. But naval aviation is not complete without a word of lighter-than-air. And yet lighter-than-air has not been developed or tried to any appreciable extent as yet. In the future will lie the proof of its military value. So far we have seen only the use of small blimps in coastal patrol, as during the last war, and the rather extraordinary feats of recent date accomplished by the Graf Zeppelin on its world cruises.

The future of naval aviation seems today to be assured. The extraordinary progress that has been made in this arm in the last decade has already made aviation an integral part of practically every naval operation. Even if there were no further developments the full utilization of the developments made to date would dictate a continued expansion of the aerial services in the ensuing years. The necessity of increased carrier tonnage and the aircraft equipment incident thereto is obvious, and the maintenance of planes on board every cruiser and battleship to be constructed in the future is essential.

This much of the future is perfectly clear. But let us consider these possibilities: First, under the London Naval Disarmament Treaty we are entitled to construct a substantial tonnage of cruisers with landing decks thereon. To what extent this type ship may be developed is not definitely known, but advance study of the question seems to indicate that theoretically at least 75 per cent of all of the advantages of both aircraft carrier and cruiser can be secured in one of these new warships. In view of the great possibilities of this type of vessel we can hardly doubt but that the administration and Congress will approve the development and construction of several of these ships at an early date. If the enthusiastic prognostications of the many proponents of this type of vessel are fulfilled, aviation will become an even larger and more vital part of our naval development.

The two great lighter-than-air ships that are being built by the Goodyear Company in Akron, Ohio, for the Navy, in themselves afford an important addition to naval warfare through their great scouting range and possibly their ability to drop explosives. But in addition thereto lies the fundamental feature that these great ships could become important bases for airplane activities. The design contemplates the operation while in the air from each of these ships of six airplanes. Therefore they are small aircraft carriers and as such can perform to a certain extent some of the functions of our great airplane carrier ships. In certain respects admittedly these Zeppelins are the superior of the seaborne carrier; in others equally admittedly inferior. But in any event their development and maintenance will increase the use of naval aviation in a new field.

And meanwhile something has been done and much more will be done in our efforts to utilize airplanes in connection with ships other than at present. Destroyers, submarines, and merchant ships all afford virgin ground for the development of operation of this new instrument of warfare, the airplane. To what extent we may go along these lines no one of course knows today. Then there is the important fact that aircraft themselves have not reached their final stages of development and that through some extraordinary improvement of the plane itself we may find many more and greater uses for the airplane at sea. The autogiro with its very slow landing speed, for instance, possibly even the helicopter, which if ever perfected will rise and descend vertically, may conceivably permit a greatly expanded use of such airplanes from the decks even of battleships and cruisers as they are today. Conceivable, too, is the development of enormous flying boats, capable actually of operation for days at a time over the vast expanses of the sea, able to cruise perhaps either on the sea itself or in the air above.

Thus we may look back upon the recent phenomenal development of naval aviation, making aircraft operations an integral part of our Navy. And with assured confidence we may look forward into the future to a continued development and expansion of this modern means of national defense.

 

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