If you’re like me, out-of-town travel often includes a trip back in time. There’s usually a historic ship, battlefield, or history museum to explore. That’s certainly what I found when I made a quick trip to the Florida Panhandle in October and was able to fit in a tour of the fabulous National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. Walking among its scores of flying machines was aeronautical inspiration for working on this issue, which kicks off Naval History’s coverage of the centennial of naval aviation.
Throughout 2011 we’ll be celebrating the anniversary with exclusive features and a special department debuting in this issue that traces the history of U.S. Sea Service aviation: “Flight Line,” written by National Naval Aviation Museum historian Hill Goodspeed.
This issue’s features include “Hellcat Ace in a Day—Twice!” excerpts from Captain David McCampbell’s U.S. Naval Institute oral history, which will be released in early 2011. Paul Stillwell conducted the interviews with the Navy’s all-time leading fighter ace.
Daniel J. Demers recounts the first airplane landing on a ship and the hoopla that surrounded the historic 1911 event, in “What Goes Up. . .” And Christopher Edwards’ article, “Fire Down Below!” about a 1954 catapult disaster on board an aircraft carrier, is a reminder that tragedy has accompanied the Navy’s quest to sail skyward. For more naval flight articles, photographs, and special features throughout the year, be sure to follow the Naval Aviation Centennial links at www.usni.org.
Elsewhere in this issue, Retired Navy Lieutenant Commander Thomas Cutler tells the story of a Navy icon at her finest moment—the cruiser Olympia at the Battle of Manila Bay—in “‘Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.’” Presently owned by Philadelphia’s Independence Seaport Museum, the Olympia faces a bleak future. She’s in immediate need of millions of dollars’ worth of restoration. Without the work, the world’s oldest floating steel warship could be scrapped or sunk to create an artificial reef.
As Naval History reader Kelley L. Ross recently lamented in an email: “Apparently, nobody cares. . . . This is something that should alarm and energize anyone who (1) cares about naval history, (2) cares about the history of the United States Navy, and (3) cares about any history.”
Mr. Ross went on to make an apt comparison between the cruiser, the U.S. flagship at Manila Bay, and the Japanese flagship at the 1905 Battle of Tsushima Strait: “A year ago I walked the decks on the battleship Mikasa. . . . The Japanese will never sink the Mikasa. Are we really going to be so careless with our past?”
The Friends of the Cruiser Olympia, a Philadelphia-based 501(c)(3) charity, however, is working to save the famous ship. According to Friends executive director Bruce Harris, the group’s goal is to be an acceptable “candidate for ownership and stewardship of the vessel. . . . To cast her aside is virtually criminal, and that’s what we want to prevent from happening.” Besides stabilizing her hull and replacing her concrete decks with wood, the group aims to upgrade historical interpretation on board the Olympia. “The ship needs to become a viable tourist attraction,” says Harris. To find out more about the Friends of the Cruiser Olympia, visit its Web site at http://cruiserolympia.org.