An Earlybird's Scrapbook
First Military Flights from Ships,
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (1919-1920)
Book Two, Page Forty One
Aircraft carriers are among the most impressive vessels that ever comprised a naval battle group. Their technology, firepower and diversity of mission capability are awe inspiring. However such great advancements in military naval power had humble and quite treacherous beginnings.
At the end of World War I, Willis Haviland, left his command of the U.S. Naval Air Station at
Porto Corsini and was assigned to the U.S.S. Texas where he teamed up with the aviators who were to launch the first military flights ever off of ships Note 1 and opened the door to sea based aviation.
The photos are presented in this section in the same order as they appear in Lt. Haviland's second scrapbook (the book that contains images from Guantanamo Bay), with all legibile captions and notations preserved.
The following is an excerpt from The Lafayette Escadrille, Pilot Biographies, by Dennis Gordon.
In December of 1918, while in Caribbean waters, Haviland had pursuaded Captain N.C. Twining of the Texas to permit construction of a 40-foot-long runway by lashing timbers across the No. 2 guns of the vessel's forward deck. He then had his plane, a Sopwith Camel, winched to the deck and its wheels bound by a holding bridle which would be released by riggers on Haviland's signal. Haviland climbed into the cockpit and revved and raced the plane's motor until it seemed to the nearby sailors that the prop blast and vibration would tear the fuselage apart.
Haviland signaled for the cables to be released. The straining aircraft roared down the runway, dropped precipitously toward the sea, then climbed into the sky. Haviland eventually landed the Camel at Conde Bluff, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"Setting up planes in Cuba."
These formal experiments were preceded by two stunt demonstrations involving U.S. Warships. On November 14, 1910, aerialist
Eugene Ely took off in a Curtiss Pusher from a specially constructed platform on the U.S.S. Birmingham. Ely actually struck the waters of the Elizabeth River, causing some damage to his aircraft, but maintained enough air speed to stay aloft and he landed safely at nearby Willoughby Spit.
Near San Francisco on January 18, 1911, Ely executed a stunt whereby he both landed and took off from a ship. A special deck was constructed on the U.S.S. Pennsylvania complete with a series of sandbag weighted ropes. Hooks were attached to Ely's Curtiss Pusher and the ropes were elevated by means of boards, creating a precursor to today's modern carrier arresting gear. Nets were rigged in the event Ely's arresting experiment didn't stop him in time.
Ely did not anticipate an updraft as he approached the landing deck and missed the first of the arresting ropes, however he did "stick" the landing and stopped safely. After a reception and fine lunch during which the deck was cleared and Ely's plane turned about, Ely made a second ever successful flight from a ship, this time staying clear of the water.
After World War I the United States Navy seriously considered launching warplanes from ships, however the flight characteristics of warplanes were different than stunt aircraft. Ergo the experiments held in Guantanamo Bay were conceived and executed, much was learned and several pilots died. However the data produced by these pioneers of the skies provided military engineers with the design criteria for what has become an essential naval tactical platform, the aircraft carrier.
All materials on this site © 2005, 2006, Willis Lamm. All rights reserved. Materials may be copied and used for non-commercial purposes. Please credit the W.B. Haviland Scrapbooks. Please Email with questions, corrections, missing names or other comments.