Naval Aviation: The Beginning

By Thomas Ray

When the Navy's General Board proposed, on 1 October 1910 , that "the subject of providing space for a dirigible or aeroplane (whichever is deemed most advisable) as well as means for exercising them be taken up by the technical bureaus in connection with the design of scouts," the Bureau of Steam Engineering recommended that an airplane be purchased for use on board the USS Chester. Although the General Board concurred with this recommendation, the Office of the Secretary of Navy was not disposed to purchase an airplane at this time.

The Bureau of Construction and Repair; on the other hand, met with better success on 11 October when it recommended that an officer from the Bureau of Construction and Repair, and another from the Bureau of Steam Engineering investigate the subject of aviation. Acting Secretary of the Navy Beekman Winthrop approved and directed that any officers so appointed should keep Captain Chambers informed of their investigations and findings . Naval Constructor William McEntee and Lieutenant Nathaniel H. Wright were thus appointed by the Bureau of Construction and Repair and Bureau of Steam Engineering, respectively.

The same month Captain Chambers served as official naval observer at the international aerial meet flown at Belmont Park , Long Island, New York from 20 to 30 October 1910. Three days later Captain Chambers, together with Lieutenant Commander McEntee and Lieutenant Wright, attended a meet (lasting to 12 November 1910) at Halethorpe, Maryland, for the "study of aviation and its influence upon the problems of Naval warfare."

At the two meets , Captain Chambers witnessed French, English, and U. S. aircraft establish new records. A top speed of 69 miles per hour was reached by a French Bleriot airplane, and a world's altitude record of 9,714 feet was established by Ralph Johnstone flying a "baby" Wright pusher. Thoroughly imbued with the significance of aircraft and the contributions they could make to naval warfare, Captain Chambers set about to sell aviation to the Navy.

As a prophet advocating the marriage of aircraft to naval ships , Captain Chambers was faced with a double task. First, he was obliged to win Navy converts by promoting and sustaining interest in aviation among officers of the Navy Department; second, he was impelled to experiment with airplanes, which hitherto had operated solely from the ground.

The earliest demonstration flight engineered by Captain Chambers evolved as the world’s first successful takeoff of an airplane from the deck of a ship. In November 1910, during the aerial meet at Halethorpe, Maryland, Captain Chambers requested the Wright brothers to risk a takeoff from the deck of a ship. Wilbur Wright considered such an experiment too hazardous and declined the invitation. Eugene Ely, however, a 25-year-old Curtiss-trained pilot who had flown without particular distinction in the Belmont and Halethorpe air meets, volunteered to attempt the takeoff, even though he knew that the Navy Department had no funds to pay him.

Captain Chambers obtained use of the cruiser Birmingham to stage the experiment, and he directed Naval Constructor McEntee to build a temporary platform on her deck. The platform was constructed on the Birmingham ’s forecastle, where it descended toward the bow of the ship at an angle of five degrees; it measured about 24 feet wide by 83 feet long. The tip of the bow over which the airplane was to pass was 37 feet above the water.

On 14 November 1910, Eugene Ely readied his 4-cylinder Curtiss pusher biplane, which was especially equipped with auxiliary floats in case Ely should be forced to alight on the ocean. In a pusher-type airplane, the engine is mounted behind the pilot’s seat and the propeller rotated behind the engine in order to “push” the aircraft and pilot in flight. In a tractor-type airplane, conversely, the engine is mounted in front of the pilot’s seat and the propeller rotated in front of the engine to “pull” the aircraft.

The U.S. destroyers Terry and Roe accompanied the Birmingham to retrieve Ely—if he should fall into the sea—thus becoming the first “planeguards.”

It was originally planned for the Birmingham to steam at ten knots into the wind to assist Ely’s takeoff, but owing to a drizzling rain, hail, and a heavy overcast, the ship remained anchored while awaiting better weather. Then at 3:16 p.m., while the ship was weighing anchor, Eugene Ely roared down the makeshift deck and took off. Captain Chambers observed:

His aeroplane followed accurately the middle line mark on the platform, and its tail cleared the forward end by about 20 feet, before he gave it a graceful, bird-like swoop or vol plane (to increase the speed) and then he gradually arose to a height variously estimated at 150 to 500 feet. In thus swooping down, the lower part of his machine, the skid framing and the pontoons, struck the water…On striking the water, the propeller tips struck also and both driving edges were splintered.

Ely alighted safely on the beach at Willoughby Spit, two and a half miles away. A launch was dispatched from the Birmingham and he was brought back to the ship for additional photographs. Ely remarked that his brief dip in the water during takeoff, and the corresponding damage to the propeller, resulted partially from an oversight on his part. “The front push rod,” he explained, “was a little longer than the one I am used to and I didn’t handle it quite right…[and] the fact that the ship was not under way was a great disadvantage to me.” In addition, Ely expressed his belief that an aviator could alight on a ship (as well as takeoff) with little difficulty.

In a few month’s time he was given the opportunity to prove this. Although the Navy had no available funds with which to compensate him, Ely was awarded $500 by the U.S. Aeronautical Reserve for performing the flight.

The Navy Department’s apathy toward aeronautics was diminished by this first successful takeoff from the deck of a ship. Lieutenant Wright immediately recommended to the Secretary that “one or two (preferably two) aeroplanes of each of the two principal American makes of biplanes (i.e. Curtiss and Wright) be purchased…that two officers for each make of biplane purchased be assigned to aeronautical duty, and that the services of experienced aviators be obtained to instruct the officers detailed for that duty.” Moreover, Secretary of the Navy George Von L. Meyer, was inspired to write in the Navy Department Annual Report: “This experiment and the advances which have been made in aviation seem to demonstrate that… [aviation] is destined to perform some part in the naval warfare of the future. He later extolled Eugene Ely with the words:

You are the first aviator in the world to have accomplished this feat, and I congratulate you…The fact that you made this flight under adverse conditions of weather, with a comparatively old aeroplane, and while the ship was not underway, increases the information sought and the satisfaction of the Department with your efforts.

Fifteen days after Ely’s notable takeoff, Glenn Curtiss wrote letters to the Department of the Navy and Army, offering to train officers of both services to fly a Curtiss airplane. To Secretary of the Navy Meyer, Curtiss wrote:

To be of some assistance in developing the adaptability of the aeroplane to Military purposes, I am leaving for the Pacific Coast, where I have established a winter experimental station at which it is my intention to conduct a number of exhaustive tests and experiments.

That this may be of some practical value to your department I am prepared to instruct an officer of the Navy in the operation and construction of the Curtiss aeroplane. As I am fully aware that the Navy department has no funds available for aviation purposes, I am making this offer with the understanding that it involves no expense for the Navy Department other than the cost of detailing an officer to the aviation grounds in Southern California. The officer so detailed would be in a position to conduct many experiments himself as well as to suggest such tests as will involve problems that the Navy department would have a special interest in solving .

The Navy Department notified Curtiss of their acceptance on 13 December. Several days later Curtiss' business manager, Jerome Franciulli, invited the officer selected by the Navy Department to commence training either after the aviation meet at Los Angeles (scheduled to begin on Christmas day), or after the aviation meet in San Francisco (to be held from 6 to 15 January). Moreover, Franciulli informed the Navy Department that "some of Mr. Curtiss' experiments will be conducted at San Diego which offers opportunities for making such tests especially as will be of interest to the Navy Department."

The Bureau of Navigation was directed, therefore, to select a naval officer to undertake instructions from Curtiss at his California airfield as soon after 25 December as possible. The officer selected was to be "apt in the study and handling of gas engines, possessed of good nerve and mental balance, and…endowed with the adaptability of a seaman." He was to report to Curtiss at Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Theodore Gordon Ellyson of the submarine service , on 16 December 1910, asked to "be assigned to duty in connection with aeroplanes as soon as such duty may become available."

Hence, on 23 December, Lieutenant Ellyson was ordered detached from duty as an inspector at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, at Newport News, Virginia, and was instructed to report to Curtiss at Los Angeles "for instruction in the art of aviation." He was further instructed to report his progress once a month, and "when in your opinion and that of Mr. Curtiss you have qualified in practical aviation you will so report to the Navy Department."

Ellyson reported to Curtiss at Los Angeles on 2 January, then accompanied him to San Diego to inspect a site offered the Curtiss Company for use as an aerodrome. Curtiss was pleased with the site at North Island, and accepted the offer to establish his winter flying school there. Curtiss and Ellyson then attended the San Francisco Aviation meet; and on 17 January, Ellyson returned to North Island, to embark on a career of flying that later became renowned in the development of hydroaviation.

North Island had all the features which Curtiss desired. It was completely uninhabited save by jack rabbits and birds.

North Island was a flat, sandy island approximately four miles long by two miles wide; it was accessible only by boat, and thus would discourage crowds of curious spectators from collecting; it experienced favorable weather; and it had level land, beaches, and deep water that readily admitted of aerial experimentation on both the land and the water. It was here that America’s first hydroplane was developed.

A field one-half mile long by about 350 yards wide was cleared of underbrush on the south side of the island, and the Aero Club of San Diego constructed wooden sheds for the airplanes and provided landings for the small boats necessary to commute between city and island. By 17 January 1911, the Curtiss winter camp was prepared to receive the Army, Navy, and civilian aviation students, and to undertake aeronautical experiments. Four days later, it was formally opened with exhibition flights made by Curtiss, Charles Willard, Eugene Ely, and Lincoln Beachey.

Meanwhile, Ely had been invited to make the first landing on the deck of a ship. Aware that the Navy was still unable to pay him for such a feat, Ely accepted without hesitation. The Pennsylvania , commanded by Captain Charles F. Pond, and anchored in San Francisco Bay, was made ready for the experiment. A temporary platform was constructed over her quarterdeck, which was 31 feet, 6 inches wide (four feet greater than the wingspan of Ely’s airplane) and 119 feet, 4 inches long—almost half again the length of the platform built on the Birmingham for the previous test. A ramp 14 feet 3 inches long was extended directly from the end of the platform over the ship’s stern at a sharp slope of about 30 degrees, in order to safeguard Ely’s airplane from accidentally striking the stern.

The 1,000-pound, pusher-type aircraft of this period were subject to every capricious gust and eddy of the circulating air currents, and like flimsy kites, they were not to be depended on to perform smooth, level flight. A canvas backstop was erected at the end of the platform to prevent the airplane from overshooting the platform. Two wooden guard rails over a foot high were affixed to either edge of the improvised platform to prevent the plane from falling over the side. Tarpaulins were draped below the guard rails to cushion Ely’s fall in case he should strike a rail and tumble off the ship. Stretched taut across the platform were 22 lines; they were strung in parallel three feet apart and each was connected by a pair of sand-filled sea bags on either side of two 6 x 12-inch timbers spaced about 15 feet apart. T he 22 lines were thus elevated above the deck by the two 6 x 12-inch timbers and were designed to serve as the first aircraft arresting gear. They covered 75 feet of the 119-foot platform. Three pairs of steel hooks fitted to the undercarriage of Ely's Curtiss biplane were designed to snatch some of the 22 arresting lines. Drag from the weight of the sand-filled bags at their ends was to slow the plane to a gradual stop.

Two metal air tanks were attached to Ely's biplane to keep it afloat in case he should accidentally alight on the water.

After preparations for the experiment had been completed, Ely flew his plane from a temporary airfield at San Francisco at 10:45 a.m., 18 January. He ran into a cool, stiff breeze blowing over the harbor. In Ely's words:

As I came out over the bay above Hunters Point, I was about 1200 feet up. It was cloudy, smoky, and hazy. I could not see the ships at first and did not locate them until I was within about two miles of them.

I was spinning along at about 60 miles an hour with the winds directly behind me, and when I sighted the Pennsylvania I saw that the stern was pointed into the wind, and when about a mile away I veered off to pass over what I supposed was the flagship California. As I neared her I dropped down from 1,000 to about 400 feet in salute to the admiral. This ship, however, proved to be the Maryland, as the California was not in the bay, and I swung around the West Virginia, coming down to about 100 feet above the water, and pointed my machine for the Pennsylvania. I then made a sharp turn about 100 yards astern of that ship, gradually dropping down. But there was an appreciable wind blowing diagonally across the deck of the cruiser and I had to calculate the force of this wind and the effect it would have on my approach to the landing.

I found that it was not possible to strike squarely toward the center of the landing, so I pointed the aeroplane straight toward the landing, but on a line with the windward side of the ship. I had to take the chance that I had correctly estimated just how many feet the wind would blow me out of my course.

Just as I came over the overhang at the stern, I felt a sudden lift to the machine, as I shut down the motor, caused by the breaking of the wind around the stern. This lift carried me a trifle further than I intended going before coming in actual contact with the platform.

Nevertheless, Ely made a safe landing. Captain Pond made this observation at the time:

When about 75 yards astern…[the plane] straightened up and came on board at a speed of about 40 miles an hour, landing plumb on the center line, missing the first 11 lines attached to the sand bags-but catching the next 11, and stopping within 30 feet with 50 feet to spare, nothing damaged in the least, not a bolt or brace started, and Ely the coolest man on board. Hardly two minutes had elapsed from the time the aeroplane was first sighted, and no one had imagined he would make the landing on the first turn. The sandbags worked' perfectly, stopping the machine, with the aviator, about 1,000 lbs., with a speed of 40 miles an hour, within 30 feet, and, as Ely stated, with no perceptible jar. Six pairs of bags did the work, being hauled in over the guide rails dose to the machine, the other five pairsbeing only slightly disturbed. The bags were caught, four on the first set of hooks, three on the second, and four on the third set. As the aeroplane came on board, the upward draft from the wind striking the starboard quarter of the ship lifted it bodily and gave it a slight list to port…Three feet more of elevation would have forced him to plunge directly into the canvas screen, and three to ten feet less elevation would have caused him to strike the fantail with consequences which can only be surmised.

The time was 11 :01 a.m. when Ely alighted safely on board the Pennsylvania; and the event was recorded in the ship's log as "a feat that never before had been successfully accomplished." Ely was greeted by his wife and Captain Pond, as well as by a rousing chorus of cheers, steam whistles, and sirens. After lunching on the Pennsylvania, Ely flew off her deck at 11:58 a.m., dipped to within 10 feet of the water's surface, and returned safely to San Francisco, where he received another ovation. In addition, he was again awarded $500 by the U. S. Aeronautical Reserve for making this extraordinary flight.

The daring and color of this event excited new enthusiasm for aeronautics in the Navy Department. New converts were won over to aviation. Captain Pond reported: "I desire to place myself on record as positively assured of the importance of the aeroplane in future naval warfare." Moreover, he proposed that the Navy Department construct new vessels to serve as floating airfields from which land-type aircraft could take off and land. Captain Chambers opposed this concept, however, because he believed that a platform large enough to accommodate several airplanes would preclude the use of certain important gun turrets. The advent of the aircraft carrier for the U. S. Navy was to be delayed, therefore, until the next decade.

Assistant Naval Constructor R. D. Gatewood, upon witnessing Ely's demonstration flight, prophesied, "The possibilities of the aeroplane as a scout are nothing short of tremendous, and it seems safe to predict that in the very immediate future aeroplanes will become as essential a part of the outfit of a scout cruiser as her wireless or torpedoes." However, Secretary of the Navy Meyer, though greatly impressed by both of Ely's demonstration flights, conveyed his lingering skepticism in a letter to Curtiss that read in part as follows: "When you showme that it is feasible for an aeroplane to alight on the water alongside a battleship and be hoisted aboard without any false deck to receive it, I shall believe the airship of practical benefit to the Navy." In effect, Secretary Meyer invited Glenn Curtiss to develop a hydroplane capable of taking off and alighting on the water.

As early as 1905, attempts had been made in Europe to build such an airplane. In 1907, the redoubtable Wright brothers had e xperimented with pontoons for making water flights . They had constructed steel pontoons and had tested them on the Miami River, at Dayton, Ohio, but commitments in. Europe requiring their presence abroad had stopped further experimentation.

In 1908, two years before Secretary Meyer invited Curtiss to produce a successful hydroplane for the U. S. Navy. Curtiss had attached two floats to his first land plane J une Bug, which he renamed Loon. Curtiss sought to develop the first feasible hydroplane himself. But no matter how hard the Curtiss pilots tried, they could not get the Loon to rise off the water. In May 1910, M. Henri Fabre successfully took off and alighted on water at Martiques, France, in a hydroplane he built having four pontoons. Fabre thereby reaped the honor of constructing and flying the first successful hydroplane in the world. But a feasible U. S. hydroplane had yet to be designed, constructed, and tested.

Glenn Curtiss accepted Secretary Meyer's invitation, and, with the assistance of Lieutenant Ellyson, endeavored to construct a workable hydroplane for the U. S. Navy.

They were faced with a formidable task. For making takeoffs from water was more difficult than making takeoffs from land, for water, and particularly smooth water, brought into play cohesion , adhesion, displacement, and the other forces of hydrodynamics that act on pontoons and hulls. In consequence, the formidable sucking action which takes place on pontoon bottoms at high speeds which literally prevented, in the early attempts, aircraft from rising off the water's surface. Furthermore, aircraft designed to operate from water had to be made seaworthy as well as airworthy, demanding two sets of criteria difficult to reconcile; the wings and tail constituted excess appendages for purposes of floating; the pontoons and wing floats comprised excess appendages for purposes of flying.

Curtiss' attempts to produce a suitable hydroplane in 1911 were at first frustrated by faulty pontoons that sprayed water onto the pusher propellers and splintered them. A fast whirling propeller was particularly vulnerable to the water 's spray; the wood became chipped and shattered as if riddled by scores of machine gun bullets. Sheets of copper or tin were later wrapped around the propeller tips to protect them from such breakage.

By the end of January 1911, after testing several types of floats and making dozens of modifications, Curtiss was able to make three flights from San Diego Bay in a hydroplane. The first American hydroplane was a former land plane with landing wheels replaced by two pontoons and a canvas water shield placed in tandem. The main pontoon was approximately seven feet long and six feet wide—broad enough to deflect the water spray harmlessly to either side of the pusher propeller.

Curtiss next set to work to design a single pontoon that would be lighter and more efficient than the two pontoons with which he had made his first water flights. The two pontoons performed satisfactorily on smooth water, but were inadequate for the rougher waters Navy planes were more likely to encounter.

A pontoon was built which was 12 feet long, two feet wide, and about one foot deep. It was constructed of a wooden frame enveloped in a tight jacket of waterproofed canvas. It weighed about 50 pounds. The bow of the pontoon curved upward and the rear curved downward to give it a sled-like profile. The pontoon was situated so the accumulated weight of pilot, engine, and plane was concentrated slightly to the rear of the pontoon’s center, tilting the bow upward at about 12 degrees so the airplane could rise from the water more easily. A test flight made 1 February showed that the new pontoon was far superior to the previous ones.

Curtiss made two refinements to his hydroplane before he tried to fulfill Secretary Meyer’s request for an air-to-water-to-ship demonstration flight. He removed the biplane’s front elevator, which hitherto had characterized all Curtiss airplanes; and he placed the engine in front of the pilot’s seat to convert it to a tractor rather than a pusher-type hydroplane.

On 17 February 1911, Curtiss left his winter camp at North Island and taxied to the Pennsylvania where sailors attached hoisting lines to his hydroplane. Curtiss and the hydroplane were hoisted aboard the Pennsylvania , where he made a brief speech lauding this type of operation. They were subsequently lowered over the side for a successful takeoff and return flight to North Island. The terms of Secretary Meyer’s request were thus fulfilled. A plane had been created that could take off and alight on water, and could be hoisted on board ship for transport and use with the Navy at sea.

Curtiss was dissatisfied, however, with the position of the tractor propeller on his new hydroplane . While whirling directly in front of him, the propeller blew a strong blast of air into his face, making him uncomfortable and impairing his vision. Hence, the engine and propeller were reinstalled in their former pusher position behind the pilot; and the front elevator was reattached.

A week later , Lieutenant Ellyson was taken aloft as a passenger in this hydroplane. Ellyson straddled the 12-foot pontoon while Curtiss piloted. The flight covered one-and-one-half miles, reached an altitude of about 100 feet, and varied in ground speeds from 25 to 50 miles per hour. Ellyson thereby became the first hydroplane passenger ever flown.

Captain Chambers next persuaded Curtiss to convert the new hydroplane to an amphibious airplane. Curtiss added wheels to his new hydroplane, but these proved too heavy.

A pair of lighter retractable wheels were then de signed and put on. The wheels were designed to be raised above the pontoon manually by a hinged brace for operation from water, or lowered below the pontoon for operation from land. On 26 February 1911, Curtiss rose from the water in the machine, alighted on land, rose from the land, then alighted on water. The firstamphibious airplane was born.

This new amphibious aircraft was dubbed "Triad" to denote its capabilities of operating on land, in water, and in air. The Navy's first airplane was one of the Curtiss "Triad" species.

Captain Chambers considered Curtiss' Triad type aircraft to be "almost perfect" and represented "an important epoch in aerial navigation." He thought, "Mr. Curtiss has recently done more for the development of naval aviation than any other man in the world and he deserves special honor for his liberality and foresight."

Meanwhile, the Navy Department undertook the task of organizing an administrative framework within which naval aeronautics could flourish. At the time, Captain Chambers functioned as chief of the embryonic organization, with an officer in flight training at North Island (Theodore Ellyson), and representatives in the Bureau of Construction and Repair (William McEntee) and the Bureau of Steam Engineering (Nathaniel Wright) were ordered to report to him any experiments contemplated or undertaken that pertained to aviation. Bur before the Navy seriously could be considered in the business of aviation, it had to acquire airplanes, train officers to fly them, establish an aerodrome to house them, and, of course, obtain adequate funds to cover the cost of these things.

Captain Chambers was advised to press for $50,000 for naval aviation’s first congressional appropriation. But Captain Chambers believed $25,000 would suffice; and he urged the Secretary of Navy to ask Congress for this amount. Later in the year, however, when the costs of new aircraft, an aerodrome, and aircraft repair and maintenance soared skyward, Captain Chambers regretted not having asked for $50,000.

In his Annual Report for 1910 , Secretary Meyer recommended that Congress authorize the $25,000 Captain Chambers had requested. And on 16 January—just two days before Ely consummated his landing on the Pennsylvania —Secretary Meyer testified before the House Committee on Naval Affairs that future aeronautical experiments financed by this appropriation “would be of incalculable value.” About six weeks later, Congress authorized the $25,000 expenditure for naval aviation.

Captain Chambers also suggested that the Navy Department, for a beginning, should equip each scout cruiser with two airplanes, or at least one two-seated airplane, and immediately procure enough “of the existing aeroplanes as are needed for the tentative and progressive instruction of our personnel in their use.”

In addition to requesting money to finance an aeronautical program, Captain Chambers asked that an independent Office of Aeronautics be established under the Secretary of the Navy. He hoped that such an office, headed by a senior officer, could remain aloof from the powerful bureaus. The senior officer would have a council or board subordinate to him composed of representatives of the Bureaus of Construction and Repair, Steam Engineering, Navigation, and Ordnance. They would convene to deliberate and pass on recommendations. The Office of Aeronautics would thus serve to coordinate aviation activities undertaken by these Bureaus because of their specialized personnel, facilities, and naval provenance. Captain Chambers thereby planned to exploit their services and resources, but at the same time remain above their jealousies and grapplings for power (much in evidence at this time, according to Captain Chambers, as illustrated by the slovenly evolution of the submarine service). Experimentation and development of aircraft fuselages and pontoons would thus be undertaken by the Bureau of Construction and Repair, of aircraft engines by the Bureau of Steam Engineering, of pilot training by the Bureau of Navigation, and of aircraft weapons by the Bureau of Ordnance. And, as hoped by Captain Chambers, a practically autonomous Office of Aeronautics, equipped with adequate office space, staff, and reference library, which would provide the coordination of naval aviation among these Bureaus necessary to ensure that its progress would continue.

A formidable opposition to Captain Chambers' plan soon undermined its chances. The Bureaus of Construction and Repair and Steam Engineering vehemently resisted creating a separate aeronautical office endowed with near autonomous powers. Still worse, Rear Admiral Richard Wainright, the powerful Aide for Operations, opposed Chambers' plan. Having served as a member of The Hague Conference where prospective aerial warfare had been denounced, Admiral Wainright thought that aerial warfare would soon be outlawed by international agreement. Hence, he felt establishing an Office of Aeronautics would be nothing but a superfluous gesture.

Meanwhile, the correspondence relating to aeronautics and channeled to Captain Chambers' desk increased. And with the added obligation of tending Ellyson's activities at North Island, Captain Chambers found himself in need of a formal written directive to define precisely his duties and responsibilities.

On 13 March 1911, Secretary Meyer sent him such a directive which read as follows:

You are hereby directed to keep informed of the progress of aeronautics, especially in this country, and of the development of aircraft generally, with a view to advising the department concerning the adaptability of such material for naval warfare , especially for purposes of naval scouting and the steps required, from time to time, to gradually provide the Navy with suitable equipment for aerial navigation and to instruct the Navy personnel in its use.

You will consult with the librarian of the Navy Department concerning the collection of standard works and periodical literature on the subject , and will recommend the purchase of such literature as may be necessary to keep fully informed on the subject of aeronautics.

You will also consult the bureaus of the department having cognizance of the various branches of the work, calling together for discussion, whenever necessary, the officers designated by the chiefs of these bureaus to represent them and will prepare for action by the department such letters or correspondence as may be approved by the bureaus concerned. The enforcement of the recommendations thus made, when approved by the department, will rest entirely with the bureaus having cognizance of the details.

Congress, meantime, by the 1911-12 Naval Appropriation Act (passed 4 March 1911), had appropriated the $25,000 requested by the Navy Department for aviation. Congress placed the $25,000 appropriation in the budget of the Bureau of Navigation commencing fiscal year 1912 (1 July 1911) "for experimental work in the development of aviation for Naval purposes." On 30 March , Captain Chambers was detached from duty as Assistant to the Aide for Material. For two weeks, commencing that same day, Captain Chambers (at Admiral Dewey's request) performed his administrative tasks as a member of the General Board, over which Admiral Dewey presided.

On 7 April, the Aide for Material, Captain Frank Friday Fletcher, recommended that Captain Chambers be ordered to report for duty to the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. Six days later Captain Chambers was detached from duty as a member of the General Board and was assigned to the Bureau of Navigation, where Congress had placed the $25,000 appropriation and where, from 14 April 1911, coordination of all activities of U. S. naval aviation took place for the next three years.

Captain Chambers found little sympathy with his responsibilities in the Bureau of Navigation, however. He was left entirely on his own to scratch up office space from which to carry out his duties. Indeed, Admiral Nicholson, the Chief of the Bureau, actually suggested that Captain Chambers carry out his aviation work at home. Nevertheless, Captain Chambers ferreted out desk space in a corner of Room 67 in the basement of the State, War, Navy Building next to the White House. Most of this room was occupied by the Continuous Service Records. Without adequate space, staff, or clerical assistance, Captain Chambers charted the course that naval aviation was to take for several years to come :

By early April, Captain Chambers was able to report to the Secretary of Navy:

It has been demonstrated that an aeroplane can leave a ship and return to it in flight; that aeroplanes may be stowed on board ship in suitably dimensioned crates or boxes and readily assembled for use in less than an hour; that it is possible to hoist a hydro-aeroplane out like a ship’s boat, land it on the water, have it arise in flight from the water and land on shore, then arise from the shore, land again on the water and be hoisted on board. The water in this case need not be altogether smooth…observations can be made and photographs taken from great altitudes…reconaissances [sic] can be made over land or sea…and…flights may now be made in high winds and during rainy weather.

More significant, he reported that preparations were in progress for drafting “specifications for the purchase of two aeroplanes embodying the latest improvements for naval purposes, one from the Curtiss factory and one from the Wright factory and of one or more machines suitable for preliminary instruction.

Agreements were soon negotiated to procure two Curtiss airplanes (a hydroplane of the Triad species and a four-cylinder Curtiss land-type biplane for training purposes) and one Wright plane equipped with pontoons for water operations. The Curtiss and Wright companies agreed to instruct one naval officer to fly for each airplane purchased (Ellyson counting for one of the Curtiss-trained pilots) and to instruct one naval-enlisted mechanic to service each plane.

U.S. Naval Aviation was truly under way.

 

More by this Author

None found for this author.

Events and Conferences

None found for this author.


 
 

Conferences and Events

2014 U.S. Naval Institute History Conference

Wed, 2014-10-01

The 2014 Naval History Conference is hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the U.S. Naval Academywith support from The William M...

Defense Forum Washington 2014

Newseum - Knight Conference Center

2015 WEST Conference

View All

From the Press

Guest Speaker & Book Signing

Mon, 2014-08-04

Meet the Author & Guest Lecturer

Sat, 2014-08-09

CDR Youssef H. Aboul-Enein, USN

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership