Eugene Ely was a Naval aviator pioneer

20 Jan

It was 105 years ago yesterday, Jan 18, that Eugene Burton Ely and Hugh Robinson made Naval Aviation history. The names might not be that well know but it was their individual accomplishments paved the way for the modern aircraft carrier. What did these two men do? One was the first to land on a ship and the other created the tail-hook system.

It was 11:00 am (PST) that Mr. Ely took off from Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno, California. Once airborne Mr. Ely fly over San Francisco Bay where the USS Pennsylvania was anchored. As he came closer to the ship Mr. Ely started his landing sequence. He came in for his finally approach and touched down on a 120 foot by 30 foot platform that had been affixed to the ship. Once on the platform the plane was slowed by the tail-hook, invented by Mr. Robison, as it the weighted ropes placed across the platform.

Just two months before his historic landing, Mr. Ely also accomplished another first in Naval Aviation. It was on Nov 14, 1910 that he was aboard the USS Birmingham that had been affixed with an 88 foot long platform. Once the ship was out to sea Mr. Ely climbed into his Curtis Pusher plane. The plane roared to life and Mr. Ely rumbled down the platform. When his plane went off the end of the platform it took a dive before coming back up to soar into the air.

Much the same as many early aviators Eugene Burton Ely never took flying lessons. Mr. Ely was racing and selling cars when in 1910 his employer bought a Curtis biplane. Neither Mr. Ely or his employer, E. Henry Wemme, could fly the plane. That was when Mr. Ely decided that it would not be too much of a step from racing cars to flying. So he told his employer that he would fly the plane and went about teaching himself how to fly. Later that year he went into flying in exhibitions. Sadly, in late 1911 Mr. Ely died in a plane crash at one of those exhibitions.

Today aircraft carriers are the main force in the United States Navy. The type of planes that fly on those aircraft carriers have changed but the tail-hook that Hugh Robinson invented is still pretty much the same as the ones used on those modern planes.


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