I have no idea why Lieutenant Commander Godfrey de Courcelles "Chevvy" Chevalier picked me, one of his pilots, to design the arresting gear for the USS Langley (CV-1).1 He walked up to me one day in the summer of 1921 and told me to stay ashore at Norfolk and begin work. I said, "Aye, aye, sir," and that was that.
Nobody knew much about arresting gear. Eugene Ely, a civilian aviator, had made the first flight to a shipboard deck on 18 January 1911, landing on the stem of the cruiser Pennsylvania (ARC-4) in San Francisco with an old pusher aircraft. They had built a long platform from her mainmast that reached out over the stem. To stop the airplane, they hung some hooks on it, and laid wires across the deck tied to sandbags. There was a sandbag on each end of each wire—about 20 wires and 40 sandbags. When Ely landed, his hooks snagged five wires, which dragged ten sandbags and brought him to rest. This "hangman principle" seemed such an obvious way to stop an aircraft, that I decided to try it. I put sandbags on wires across a roadway in Norfolk to test how I should design the hook for our planes.
1.The Langley was commissioned 20 March 1922 at Norfolk, Virginia, under temporary command of her executive officer, Commander Kenneth Whiting. Later in the year, Captain Stafford H. R. Doyle, a non-aviator, took over as commanding officer. For an interesting article on the formative years of the ship, see Retired Rear Admiral Jackson R. Tate, "We Rode the Covered Wagon,'' Proceedings, October 1978, pp. 62–69.
2. On 23 September 1931, Lieutenant Pride piloted the Navy's first rotary-wing aircraft, the XOP-1 autogiro, in underway landings and takeoffs on the Langley.