A nasty 15-mph quartering wind blew across the makeshift landing deck on the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania. Spotters on board the ship, anchored in San Francisco Bay, believed the adverse weather conditions would prohibit the landing of the small Curtiss biplane. Spying the aircraft at 1,200 feet they concluded the pilot “would never attempt the landing.” Then the aviator descended to about 400 feet and flew past an observing admiral’s flagship, tipping his wings in salute. The airplane turned and headed toward the Pennsylvania. The disbelieving spotters assumed the pilot would “sheer off after one or two circles.” As one newspaper later reported, “nobody thought for an instant that he would attempt to land.” It was 18 January 1911.
The wind from the starboard, pilot Eugene Ely reported, “swung me wide of the landing platform, and it was not until I was within 30 yards of the vessel that I straightened out.” His direct-in approach brought him squarely to the platform, over which he traveled about 20 feet before touching down.