Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023: First Trap
*As I am on the road this week at SHOT Show, trying to blend into the understated kaleidoscope carpet of the Venitian, please accept this humble offering. We shall resume the regular-length WW posts next week.*
Today is the 112th anniversary of the very first documented aircraft landing onboard a ship. The occasion, on 18 January 1911, took place when pioneering (and ill-fated) aviator Eugene Burton Ely touched down onboard USS Pennsylvania (Armored Cruiser No. 4) while the warship was anchored in San Francisco Bay. Taking back off from the vessel later that day, he then made his return flight back to Tanforan Field ashore.
The event was captured in a very interesting series of photographs– especially for the age of giant large format box cameras– now digitized in the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.
Crewmembers of merchant sailing ships at San Francisco, California, watching during the morning of 18 January 1911, as aviator Eugene Ely landed his Curtiss pusher biplane on board USS Pennsylvania (Armored Cruiser # 4), which was anchored off the city. Photograph from the Eugene B. Ely scrapbooks. NH 77569
First airplane landing on a warship, on 18 January 1911. Eugene B. Ely lands his Curtiss pusher biplane on USS Pennsylvania (Armored Cruiser # 4), which was anchored in San Francisco Bay, California. The San Francisco waterfront is visible in the left distance. NH 77498
Eugene B. Ely’s Curtiss pusher biplane nears the landing platform on USS Pennsylvania (Armored Cruiser # 4), during the morning of 18 January 1911. The ship was then anchored in San Francisco Bay, California. Photograph from the Eugene B. Ely scrapbooks. NH 77500
Ely’s Curtiss pusher biplane nears the landing platform on USS Pennsylvania (Armored Cruiser # 4), during the morning of 18 January 1911. NH 82737
Ely’s biplane is about to touch down. Note the arresting system, consisting of lines stretched across the platform, with sandbag weights at each end. The lines, which were to be engaged by hooks on the airplane, were held above the deck by two rows of boards laid fore and aft. Canvas awnings were erected on both sides of the platform to catch the plane (and pilot) if it veered over the edge. Also note at least two box cameras set up in the foreground. NH 77507
Note that Ely has his elevator down to compensate for an unexpected updraft the plane encountered as it came over the landing platform’s after end. NH 77607
The plane has now caught the first lines of the arresting gear, and sandbags at the ends of the lines are being pulled along the landing platform as the plane moves forward. NH 77608
Ely’s biplane at rest on board USS Pennsylvania. Ely (with rubber inner tubes around his shoulders, and wearing a leather helmet) has dismounted from the plane and is talking with a man standing in front of the plane. Note the sandbags attached to lines behind the plane, used to stop it after it reached the deck. NH 77609
The officer in the lower left is Lieutenant John Rodgers, who would become an airplane pilot a few months later, the second Naval Aviator. NH 77610
Ely has now walked out of view, to the left. Photograph from the Eugene B. Ely scrapbooks. NH 77583
Ship’s crewmen and guests looking over Eugene B. Ely’s Curtiss pusher biplane, shortly after his successful landing on USS Pennsylvania (Armored Cruiser # 4). Some of the Sailors are removing the sandbag and line arresting gear behind the plane. Photograph from the Eugene B. Ely scrapbooks. NH 77503
Guests and crewmen examine and photograph Eugene B. Ely’s Curtiss pusher biplane on USS Pennsylvania’s aircraft platform, during preparations for his return flight to Tanforan field, San Francisco, California. Ely’s wife, Mabel, is standing with the photographers in front of the plane. Photograph from the Eugene B. Ely scrapbooks. NH 77591
Crewmen and guests examine Ely’s Curtiss pusher biplane on USS Pennsylvania’s aircraft platform, after it had been rotated during preparations for his return flight to Tanforan field, San Francisco, California. Note the photographers (with large box cameras) near the platform’s after end. Sailors nearby are clearing away sandbags used to help stop the plane as it landed. Photograph from the Eugene B. Ely scrapbooks.NH 77589
Ships are more than steel
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
That some ships have a
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