The converted collier Jupiter (AC-3) was commissioned as the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier—the USS Langley—on 20 March 1922. The ship’s new name honored astronomer and physicist Samuel Pierpoint Langley, who had experimented with flying machines as early as 1898. The Langley was designated CV-1: aircraft carrier No. 1.
While the Langley was being converted at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Lieutenant Commander Godfrey de Courcelles Chevalier led a team of Navy pilots in flight training to operate from the Langley. They practiced touch-and-go landings on a 100-foot wooden platform built over a coal barge. At the same time, on the West Coast, Navy pilots began training on an 836-foot wooden flight deck—somewhat longer than the Langley’s deck—at North Island, San Diego.
The Langley’s conversion was completed on 22 September 1922. On 17 October, while she was anchored in the York River, Lieutenant Commander Virgil C. Griffin made the first takeoff from her deck, flying a Vought VE-7SF biplane. Langley aviator Jackson Tate recalled:
1. RADM Jackson Tate, USN (Ret.), “We Rode the Covered Wagon,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 104, no. 10 (October 1978): 66.
2. CDR Chevalier died less than a month later in an airplane crash near Norfolk.
3.Fleet exercises—known as fleet problems—were held on a regular basis, at times several in a given year, from 1923 (Fleet Problem I) to 1940 (Fleet Problem XXI).
4. CDR Eugene E. Wilson, USNR (Ret.), Slipstream: The Autobiography of an Air Craftsman (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1950), 116.
5. Available records indicate that 32 U.S. Army P-40s were flown successfully from Australia to Java; 44 additional planes were lost en route.
6. The three other cargo ships in the convoy, en route to Ceylon, were carrying the ground echelon of B-17 heavy bomber and P-40 fighter units being sent to India. Ten crated P-40s also were on board those ships.
7. These were M1918 Browning automatic rifles, a .30-caliber infantry weapon with an effective range of some 900 yards; they were not intended for use against aircraft. Some official reports cite the ship’s antiaircraft armament of only two 3-inch guns plus two .50-cal. and two .30-cal. machine guns; the heavier armament appears more likely.
8. CDR McConnell, formerly the Langley’s executive officer, had taken command on 10 February 1942, relieving CAPT (later ADM) Felix B. Stump.