Covered Wagons of the Sea

H. B. Miller

It was the New York World which first startled the country with the announcement that it was going to sponsor a project in which an airplane would be flown from the deck of a ship. The idea of the proposed flight swept the country by storm. Anything new which promised a thrill to the watchers on the side lines was eagerly received and this scheme was the most daring yet conceived. It so happened that the Hamburg American Steamship Line had also delved into the future sufficiently to realize the possibilities of flying mail off a ship long before reaching port. These conclusions were maturing at about the same time the World made its announcement and the two organizations wisely combined their efforts. The steamship Kaiserin Auguste Victoria was chosen to make the first test which was set for November 5, 1910.

At the direction of J. A. D. McCurdy, the pilot, a rough plank platform was erected upon the stern of the liner. The Navy agreed to furnish two destroyers to safeguard the flight. However, President Taft canceled the sailing orders of the plane guards the day before the test because of refusals of private projects in previous cases. The day scheduled for the test was stormy, and, as the plane would have been hard put to handle well under the most favorable conditions, the flight was wisely postponed. It was announced that the experiment would surely take place at the end of November.

The third person to ponder the application of the airplane to a ship was Captain W. Irving Chambers, U. S. Navy. Long an ardent advocate of aviation, he had observed several air meets for the government. Being a seagoing man, he dreamed of the airplane as a seagoing machine. He, too, decided that the use of a permanent deck was the logical method for launching a scouting airplane from a ship. His means were limited and, while he was searching for an available ship, the World made known its plans. Captain Chambers made no efforts to instigate a race for the accomplishment of this experiment. He did, however, want to see the project arrive at a successful conclusion. With the postponement of the World's attempt, the Navy went ahead with its plans.

The U .S.S. Birmingham, a cruiser, was made available for the test. She was ordered to the navy yard at Norfolk where a temporary platform was erected on the forecastle. The size of the ship permitted a platform only 83 feet long while the width was but 24 feet. The deck had a downward slope of 5°, which placed the forward edge 37 feet above the water.

All that was needed now was an aviator and a plane, neither of which the Navy possessed. Captain Chambers hurried up to Halethorpe, Maryland, where an aviation meet was in progress, to secure these important ingredients to his experiment. Wilbur Wright had left the field, but he was soon reached by telephone. He emphatically refused to attempt the flight and no amount of persuasion would alter his decision.

As if by divine arrangement, Eugene Ely happened to be passing by. Here was a pilot who had gained a reputation for being a sound flyer when under the auspices of Glenn Curtiss, and now, flying under his own management, he was gaining a large share of the plaudits of the crowds. Captain Chambers explained the situation and Ely agreed to make the flight. Long distance calls sent word to the Navy Department. Urgent wires called upon the crew of the Birmingham to make more speed.

In the meantime, the World reconsidered and made known its intention to attempt the epochal flight from the decks of the steamship Pennsylvania on Saturday, November 12. It had developed into a race now! The newspaper chartered a private yacht to safeguard the plane once it left the deck of the ship. Army and Navy observers were invited to attend the performance, for the World was sincerely attempting to prove the usefulness of the airplane in naval warfare. The same experiment would prove the case of the Hamburg-American Line which contributed the Pennsylvania for the test.

The plane was to fly from the ship one half-hour after she had sailed on her regular transatlantic trip. Arrangements were made for news of the take-off to be sent ashore by wireless and there announced to the excited crowds that lined the Battery. Anxious to assure himself that his power plant was in good shape, McCurdy ordered his mechanic to test out his engine once more. Engaged in oiling the rocker arms for the last time, the mechanic set his oil can down on the framework of the plane and cranked over the engine. On the first revolution the propeller struck the heavy oil can and threw it far aside. The entire plant was immediately shaken as if suddenly stricken with ague. One of the blades had been broken off during the contact with the can. It was beyond repair. Failure I With a heavy heart McCurdy superintended the hoisting of his plane back over the side and on to the dock. Thus does fame strike closely to some individuals. The Pennsylvania steamed out to sea as a normal vessel and not as the first airplane carrier.

Captain Chambers waited with much interest for the results of the World's activities. A wire informed him of McCurdy's accident. Taking the train he went to Norfolk and worked with renewed vigor, making final preparations for the Navy's attempt.

The morning of November 14 dawned far from favorable for the impending flight. The weather was unsettled with low clouds and occasional showers of rain and hail. Nevertheless, the officer of the deck broke out a working party of men before reveille with orders to "roll Mr. Ely's aeroplane down the dock and hoist it aboard." As the Birmingham steamed down to Hampton Roads, Ely installed his favorite four-cylinder engine in the plane. Thus, without an air test of the installation, he was going to attempt the novel flight. The craft's past performance, however, was excellent. It had already won Glenn Curtiss $10,000 by making the memorable flight from Albany to New York.

The original plans were to steam out into Chesapeake Bay and head the ship into the wind at a speed of 10 knots. The plane was to take off and fly to the Norfolk Navy Yard along a path of destroyers. The weather was so thick that the landmarks were obscured and the cruiser anchored off Old Point Comfort to wait for a possible improvement. Shortly after noon the sky cleared most encouragingly. The destroyers were sent out on station and the ship got under way to begin the flight operations, but an unusually heavy fall of rain overtook them and operations were again delayed.

Weather reports indicated that a storm could be expected on the following day. It thus became imperative that the experiment be carried out as scheduled. At about three o'clock in the afternoon the lowering southern sun peeked through the clouds for a few moments. It was decided to begin operations at once. The destroyers once more set out at full speed to take their positions.

Ely put on his life preserver and climbed into his craft to test out the engine. As his propeller reached full speed, the slip stream disconcerted those on the bridge considerably and the process of getting the ship under way was slowed down. The anchor chain was slowly coming aboard with much clanking. Impatient and eager, Ely once more turned his engine up full. Glancing around to make sure that he was clear he gave his mechanic a nod of his head, which was the signal to release the securing cable of the plane...

Only a 57-foot run was available for him to take off. Down the deck he rolled slowly gathering speed. In the meantime, the wind had shifted to slightly athwartship and was now causing the pilot some difficulty in maintaining a straight course down the narrow platform. Nearer and nearer came the deck - and still the plane was not flying! It was too late to stop. As the machine reached the end of the runway it leaped into space and began to settle.

Ely, sitting in the flimsy outrigger, nosed his plane down for the water. If his craft left the deck without flying speed, he had planned to allow it to drop far enough to give his wings the lift which would carry him safely ashore. Down, down, he went. The 37-foot clearance was nearly used up. At last, satisfied that his faithful machine would respond to the controls, he pulled back on the elevators. Obeying his touch, the craft hesitated in its plunge, quivered and began to level off. Too late, however, to get away cleanly, for the wheels touched the water with a loud splash which drenched the pilot to the skin. Both propeller tips struck the spray and were splintered, but the engine never faltered and the plane began to climb away from the water's surface.

The aviator lost his bearings due to poor visibility. Not knowing how badly his craft had been damaged in its contact with the water, he decided to land at his first opportunity. A broad, sandy beach loomed up ahead and he came down safely on the north side of Willoughby Spit after a flight of four minutes.

The first flight from a "carrier" had been made. Ely asked no compensation for his services. He was rewarded with a letter from Secretary of the Navy Myers for performing the experiment which was described as "being valuable for the possibilities of naval scouting."

To complete the test, it was decided to have a plane fly aboard a ship. Glenn Curtiss who had moved his forces to San Diego, was consulted on this more difficult experiment. Ely! in the meantime, had rejoined the Curtiss interests and was naturally chosen to make this second flight.

The cruiser Pennsylvama, already in San Francisco Bay, was ordered up to the navy yard at Mare Island to be fitted out according to the requirements of Ely and Curtiss. A wooden platform 120 feet long and 32 feet wide was built on top of the after 8-inch turret, with the forward end 5 feet higher that the after end. At the stern the deck sloped down abruptly at an angle of 30°. This ramp was intended to prevent a crashed plane from falling into the ships propellers and is still used on modern-day carriers. At the side of the platform were fitted guard rails to prevent the plane running overboard. A huge canvas screen was erected at the forward end of the runway to stop the plane and safeguard the pilot if the machine over ran the deck. Canvas nets were stretched along the side to catch the machine if it jumped over the rails.

In the original plans the plane was to be stopped by the upward slope of the deck and the large canvas net. It soon became apparent that additional methods for braking must be provided. It was finally decided to use a series of sandbags which would progressively add resistance to the plane's movement. Accordingly, twenty-two pairs of 50-pound sandbags were rigged up. At intervals of three feet lines were stretched taut across the deck and suspended about twelve inches above it. At each end was attached a sandbag. In this way, seventy-five feet of the platform's surface was covered with athwartship lines. The Curtiss plane was fitted with three pairs of flat steel hooks. A metal air tank was secured to either side of the plane and a skid was placed forward to prevent nosing up if it should land in the water. Otherwise it was a normal landplane with rubber landing wheels.

It was originally planned to make the attempt while the ship was under way, but these plans were changed at a conference with Ely. On the morning of January 18, 1911 the Pennsylvania was lying at anchor in San Francisco Bay. In spite of a light 10-mile wind blowing down the bay the cruiser was headed toward the Golden Gate, riding to a flood tide. This was the worst possible condition for the experiment, as it would force Ely to land down wind. In spite of the unfavorable wind, the confident pilot took off from Presidio field.

Flying down the bay, and to leeward of the Pennsylvania, he turned around and began his approach to the smallest landing field yet known. The tail wind had shifted slightly across his course and .gave him some trouble in flying straight on to the center line of the deck. If he failed now, naval aviation would receive a tremendous setback, for, during the preparations, both flyers and newspapers did not hesitate to flay the Navy for this attempt. Endangering a man's life! Too hazardous! Airplanes were not built for the sea!

When seventy-five feet from the cruiser, Ely steadied down and came on at the platform, straight as an arrow. The crowds which were perched all over the ship's superstructure were too fascinated at the sight to utter a sound. Those too close to the platform now began to edge away as they watched the plane flying straight at them. No use taking a chance!

Pulling his plane up sharply to clear the ramp, Ely closed his throttle and waited for his craft to settle downward. His speed of thirty-nine miles an hour over the deck was sufficient to carry him over the first eleven lines rigged to stop him. Settling however his machine struck the deck and began to roll. The hooks on the plane were held down to the deck by bungee cord. Scraping along the platform they engaged the athwartship lines.

As the plane moved forward the sandbags of the engaged lines were pulled along the deck. Each three feet of forward progress brought another hundred pounds of resistance into action. The 1,000-pound plane had insufficient momentum to struggle against this load and came to a stop as it picked up the twenty-second line. After this 30-foot run it still had fifty feet to go before it reached the end of the platform. The airplane carrier had arrived!

The astonishment of the crowd was manifest by its complete silence. Then, realizing that the test had been successfully accomplished, a roar went up that reached the eager audience on the beach. Taking up the chorus, whistles passed the word ashore and soon the entire city was rejoicing. Telegraphs and cables immediately got into action and the naval boards of all the important powers were set to pondering upon this upstart, aviation.

After staying on board for forty-five minutes, Ely had his plane turned around. The stern wind now helped him and he took off in the manner of a veteran. His machine leveled off when ten feet above the water.

It was evident that if planes were to be operated from war vessels in a manner such as Ely's, many of the turrets would be placed out of commission. Other means had to be devised if the offensive power of the battleship which carried the planes was not to be reduced measurably. It was suggested that seaplanes alone be used for they could be hoisted over the side and back aboard when their operations were completed. Seaplanes, however, were undeveloped at this time and for a while it appeared that they would always be fragile.

Others thought that landplanes would furnish the eventual solution of the problem. Naval authorities were divided into two schools of thought. One maintained that it would be better to make the battleship self-sufficient. by providing space for launching and landing planes on each individual man-of-war. The second group thought it would be better and more efficient to provide a central base such as a ship devoted exclusively to aviation purposes. In this thought we have the kernel of the idea of the modern airplane carrier.

Lieutenant la Point of the French Navy, in 1912, accurately predicted the future carrier when he said, "In order to be of any real value such a ship must be a great vessel w1th enormous deck space and with a speed equal to that of the fleet."

Captain Chambers now turned his attention to the catapult as a means of launching planes from the confined space of a ship. In this he saw the elimination of the large, cumbersome deck which interfered with the use of the guns. The burden of developing the earner now shifted to Great Britain with France and Germany taking some interest in it. The United States was not to join in this work until after the conclusion of the war.

A year after Ely's memorable flight, Commander C. R. Samson of the Royal Navy flew a short biplane equipped with wheels from a temporary platform mounted on the deck of H.M.S. Africa while she was at anchor in Sheerness Harbor. These experiments became more advanced and on May 8, 1912, Samson and Lieutenant Malone made two flights from H.M.S. Hibernia while she was under way at 12-knots speed. A Farman plane fitted with pontoons mounting small runner wheels was used on this occasion.

In the meantime, Glenn Curtiss had developed the seaplane to a degree that it could survive a moderate sea. Moreover, he had flown his hydroplane out to the U.S.S. Pennsylvania where it was hoisted on board. Lowered over the side, he flew ashore thus proving that any ship, without special equipment, could be fitted with a detachment of seaplanes. With this in mind, the French Navy set aside the repair ship La Foudre to be used for their aviation forces. This was the first ship to be placed at the exclusive disposal of aviation personnel. No attempts were made to launch planes from her decks. Seaplanes were operated and these were lowered over the side by means of booms.

The British continued their experiments and in 1913 many flights were made from the cruiser Hermes. A Caudron seaplane with an 80-horsepower engine was used for these tests. The floats of the craft were mounted on small wheeled trucks which rolled down narrow troughs fitted on the forecastle of the cruiser. As the plane attained air speed and mounted aloft the trucks continued on their way and fell overboard. These tests were fairly successful but the British also decided that the guns were interfered with and that tests on a normal war vessel were impractical.

During the course of these experiments a proposal was made to the English government by William Beardmore and Company to construct a ship for the express purpose of carrying seaplanes. This suggestion was held m abeyance until some definite conclusion could be reached concerning the results of the Hermes trials. Upon the abandonment of the long launching platform and, influenced somewhat by the French, the English in 1914 purchased the freighter Ark Royal and fitted her out with ten seaplanes. The attempt to fly planes off a deck was definitely given up for the time being.

The advent of the World War brought home to the British the enormous possibilities of the plane carrier. The fuel capacity of seaplanes based in England did not permit their use an offensive effort against the German coast. To offset this disadvantage, they took over several fast channel steamers and fitted them out with equipment for handling seaplanes. Among them were the Engadine, Empress, and Riviera . Planes from these vessels carried out a raid against the German dirigible base at Cuxhaven on Christmas Eve, 1914. The airships were not located, but the threat of future raids weakened the morale of the cities on the coast. The results of this attack were invaluable to the Allies. True, the material damage was not excessively large, but the threat of repeated raids was sufficient to cause the withdrawal from the front of an effective force of fighting planes for the purpose of defending the German coast.

The British converted the steamship Campania into a carrier during the latter part of 1914 by fitting her to carry and operate seaplanes, and providing a 120-foot flying· off deck in the bow. She had an elevator £01 lowering her planes to the storage space below. With a capacity of seven reconnaissance and six fighting planes she was a powerful potential threat. Unfortunately, her slow speed of 22 knots allowed her to accompany the fleet only under the most favorable conditions. It is to be observed that the Campania was fitted with a flyingoff deck. Further experiments with motherships had convinced the naval authorities that the North Sea was generally too rough to permit satisfactory seaplane operations. It thus became necessary to launch planes from the deck of a ship.

In April, 1915, a Sopwith seaplane was flown from the decks of the new carrier. This plane was of the type which had won the Schneider cup race the preceding year. As before, the pontoon was mounted on a small truck fitted with wheels. When the craft took the air after a short run, the truck rolled on and fell into the sea.

The usefulness of aircraft for scouting was becoming more and more evident. The time had come for planes to accompany the fleet on its excursions and routine sweeps of the North Sea. As a test, H.M.S. Revenge shot a target practice with an observer in a seaplane controlling the gunfire of the ship. The results were excellent. Officers in the fleet became enthusiastic about this new function of the naval plane and urged that each major ship be supplied with one. During the Allied campaign at Gallipoli and the Dardanelles several converted mother-ships were used, though they suffered heavy losses. Kite balloon ships were also used during this offensive. The Germans were especially desirous of sinking any ship that was fitted to carry planes and were successful in torpedoing the old Hermes off the British coast.

During the battle of Jutland in May, 1916, the mother-ship Engadine was the only plane carrier operating with the fleet. In the early phases of the fighting she put over a Short seaplane equipped with a 225-horsepower Sunbeam engine. The plane did some useful observation work, even though the range of both the craft and its radio was limited. Had suitable planes been available to the English the High Seas Fleet would probably not have been able to make its getaway under cover of the smoke and haze.

The Admiralty's answer to the need for more plane carriers was the conversion of the partially built cruiser H.M.S. Furious. As first designed, she had only a forward flying-off platform. Her complement of four Short seaplanes and six Sopwith scouts on pontoons were flown from the ship with ease, but because of lack of suitable hoisting gear it was only with difficulty that they could be taken aboard. To solve this problem attempts were made to fly landplanes on board over the forward deck. As the pilot rounded ·the bridge he would skid across the vessel and attempt to align his plane with the center line of the landing deck. Frequently the handling crew would actually pull the plane out of the air. Practically every landing resulted in a more or less serious accident and this form of returning the planes to the ship was quickly abandoned. The first fatal accident from carrier landings resulted from these experiments.

Further, platforms were built on the turrets of practically all ships of the Grand Fleet larger than the light cruiser. These platforms were so short that they did not interfere with the operation of the guns. A 50-foot run was considered long enough in most cases and from these Sopwith Camels flew regularly. The 150-horsepower engine with which these craft were equipped could barely pull the plane into the air before striking the sea. Nevertheless, Sopwith two seaters fitted with radio were later used from these improvised decks. All these landplanes were normally operated close to shore where they could land safely. It was planned, however, that if these machines were launched far at sea they were to end their flight by landing alongside a destroyer where the personnel would be picked up.

By the close of the war as many as fifty landplanes were taken to sea by the Grand Fleet. It was particularly desired to use these planes against Zeppelins. Heretofore the heavy seaplanes had tried in vain to reach the altitude so easily attained by the lighter-than-air craft. Such an occasion arose in August, 1917, when the L-23, commanded by Captain Dinter, was shot down off the Danish coast by a plane launched from an English light cruiser. A high percentage of deck planes were lost. The strain on the aviators assigned to this duty was enormous. To provide them with some degree of safety, flotation gear was rigged in each plane, consisting of rubber bags which could be inflated by the pilot after he had landed in the water. Sufficient buoyancy was sought for a floating period of twelve hours. This was nearly as great a factor of safety as could be provided by a seaplane.

A sore point with the British was the fact that the German coast lay just outside the bombing range of her aircraft. In an attempt to convey aircraft closer to the objective, efforts were made to develop a small speed boat which could carry a plane. No provision was made for a forward run of the aircraft. Its engines were to be opened full out when the motor boat had worked up to its maximum speed and headed into the wind. It was thus hoped to give the plane sufficient air speed to lift itself out of the boat and maintain itself in the air. Although the trials worked out very well the rough seas under actual operating conditions prevented the boat from attaining its maximum speed. The frail craft proved unable to carry out the plans of the designers.

Another method was to mount scout planes on light barges which were towed by destroyers at full speed. The barge never permitted the aircraft to have a run of more than fifteen feet, but the trials were entirely successful. The operating conditions in open water proved to be too severe and the attempt was abandoned, not without having waged one successful action. The L-53 commanded by Captain Proelss, was watching with great curiosity a destroyer towing an empty barge. It failed to see the little scout that had just taken the air. One burst from the fighter's machine gun was sufficient to send the airship to its doom.

Another scheme was to tow huge lighters loaded with fully equipped seaplanes to a point within striking distance of the German North Sea coast. Here sea valves were to be opened which would flood the lighters, thus allowing the planes to drift off the deck into the sea. During one of the experiments photographs of the proceedings were taken by a Zeppelin. As the element of surprise was removed the system was given up.

As we have seen, landplanes shad been flown from the decks of both earners and men-of-war, but they could be landed only on shore or alongside a vessel. In any case, their usefulness to their ship was ended for the time being. Seaplanes were slightly better off. They could leave the longer decks of the carriers, but they were forced to land alongside their mother-ship and be hoisted aboard. This required that the ship stop dead in the water, a dangerous procedure in the war zone. Besides the sea was frequently too rough to permit such a maneuver. This brought about an early demand for a ship which could not only launch a plane but also receive it on board without damage. Landings on the forward deck of the Furious had failed. Obviously the solution of the problem was to construct a landing deck on the stern of the vessel.

In 1918 a 300-foot flying-on deck was added to the stern of the Furious at the expense of an 18-inch gun previously mounted there. A narrow runway around either side of the smokestack and mast allowed the planes to be transported back and forth between the two flying decks. A similar vessel, the Vindictive, was completed m the autumn of the same year. The remodeled Furious carried out a highly successful raid in July, 1918. Accompanied by a squadron of light cruisers she steamed to within eighty miles of Tondern the base of the Zeppelins wh1ch had been making night raids on London. Before daybreak a flight of seven landplanes took off with two SO-pound bombs each. The group made direct hits on the two large airship sheds and completely destroyed the L-54 and L-60.

Had the war continued the new British carrier, Argus, would have contributed greatly to the success of the Grand Fleet many engagement. It was the first .of the clear-decked carriers and had a flying deck 68 feet in width and 500 feet in length. The possibility of eddy currents interfering with the pilot during a landing caused the designers to install horizontal smokestacks.

The first aircraft assigned to the remodeled Furious were mounted on skids not unlike skis. To enable these craft to take off from the bow, troughs with specially prepared sliding surfaces were laid fore-and-aft. When released the skids of the plane slid down these troughs until flying speed was attained. During the landing, the resistance was sufficient to stop the aircraft after only a short slide. To prepare for the case of a pilot who failed to touch his runners far enough aft, a series of 2-inch manila lines were hung at 2-foot intervals from a boom extending across the entire both of the ship. The boom was placed at the forward end of the landing deck of the plane over ran the deck, it was Immediately enmeshed in the heavy lines and stopped with no injury to the pilot.

The method first suggested by Pegoud, the famous French aviator, in 1912, was also tried for landing a plane on board. From the machine a vertical hook was mounted. A long fore-and-aft cable was suspended at a height of about fifteen feet from the deck. The pilot endeavored to engage his hook on the cable, after which he cut his ignition switch and slid to a stop. This method proved to be far from positive and was never safe. Accordingly, it was discarded after a very short trial. Still another method was tried on board the Argus. Steel fore-and-aft cables were stretched the length of the landing deck. Placed about twelve inches apart they were suspended approximately twelve inches above the platform. Swinging downward from the axle of the plane were several steel hooks. As the machine settled on the deck in the process of landing, the hooks passed down through the suspended cables. The plane then ran on to a point where the deck took a distinct slope upward. As the landing gear rolled upward with the contour of the platform, the hooks engaged the fore-and-aft wires which maintained their original level. The plane then was attempting to roll up the incline while the cables were trying to keep it down on the original level of the deck. This resistance caused the craft to stop quite short. Unfortunately, the retarding force took place at the forward end of the plane and created a turning moment which nosed the machine up. The frequency with which this happened and the number of planes it wrecked caused this method to be abandoned.

At last the British went back to the system first used by the United States Navy in 1912, when Ely flew aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania. Steel cables were stretched athwartship and, from these, weights were suspended. Hooks were trailed astern by the planes and engaged in the wires. This method was satisfactory, but the task of clearing the arresting gear from the planes took considerable time. In the end, it was decided to leave the decks clear. Slow landing planes were assigned to this work. When the newer carriers with the long decks steamed full speed into the wind these aircraft were able to fly so slowly that they rolled only a short distance before stopping of their own accord.

It must not be thought that the Germans were remiss in the adoption of the airplane for naval uses. At the time of the Armistice they had four mother-ships for seaplanes. These ships often went out accompanied by mine sweepers to permit their planes to search for hidden mines. As a matter of fact, it was a German vessel which acted most successfully as a mother-ship during the war. From November, 1916, until February, 1918, Captain Neeger ravaged the seven seas with his raider, the Wolf. Aboard was a Friedrichshafen seaplane facetiously named the Wolfchen. Spare parts and replacements became exhausted from time to time and strange materials went into the machine to keep it in flying condition. The most difficult task was to keep a supply of proper fuel. The carburetor was designed to use benzol and upon the exhaustion of this fuel much trouble was experienced in keeping the engine operating. In all, fifty-six flights were made in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans. Equipped with a load of · bombs and message dropping tubes, the plane would take off to pursue a smudge of smoke on the distant horizon. Overtaking the vessel she would drop on board a message directing her to heave to, or to change he; course towards the approaching mothership. In only one case did the captain of the overtaken vessel continue on his original course. After two bombs had been dropped close aboard he changed his mind and rang up '"Stop" on his engine telegraph.

The end of the World War found Great Britain far ahead in the development of the airplane earner. The United States had devoted her aerial efforts to patrol work which was so essential to the anti-submarine campaign. However, our naval officers had seen the progress made abroad and they returned home eager to have this country participate in a similar development.

In 1919, Congress authorized the conversion of the collier Jupiter into an airplane carrier. However, up to 1921 planes continued to be flown from the turrets of our battleships and kite balloons were sent aloft from the quarter-decks in order to carry on aerial observations. As is well known, these methods were impractical when placed under the hard demands of the service.

The reconstruction work on the Jupiter, rechristened the Langley, was completed in 1922. With a flat deck 65 feet wide and 625 feet long, she was a queer looking contraption. Her resemblance to a prairie schooner was so striking that she soon became known throughout the service as "The Covered Wagon." Nor was this sobriquet inappropriate, for she was destined to blaze new air trails over the wide plains of the sea.

The Langley has proved to be a splendid training ship for pilots in the operation of a carrier. Her slow speed of 14 knots has always hindered her during maneuvers. For this reason, she had never been considered anything more than an experimental craft. Nevertheless, much experience and knowledge has been gained from the naval problems engaged in by this vessel. When the Washington conference in 1922 caused the abandonment of our naval building program the Saratoga and Lexington were saved from the scrap heap. Since the Navy desired more earners it was decided to redesign these partially completed hulls for this new service. Their enormous horsepower, which gives these ships their high speed, renders them somewhat expensive to operate. Nevertheless, these huge vessels have become the backbone of our aerial armada.

With a tonnage of 55,000 still available for carriers, the performance of our new U.S.S. Ranger will be closely watched by all nations. Nor should we overlook the possibilities offered by the flying-deck cruiser. It must be remembered that the speed with which an air force can be launched depends upon the number of decks available. The airplane carrier has become an indispensable type of vessel to any fleet. With its brood of planes and its high speed it has the greatest potential strength of any fighting ship in the world.

 

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