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A History Of U.S. Naval Aviation TABLE OF CONTENTS The Beginning of Aviation History of Pre-War Naval Aviation World War Organization and Personnel United States Naval Aircraft Factory United States Naval Aviation in France United States Naval Aviation in the British Isles United States Naval Aviation in Italy The Northern Bombing Group Marine Corps Aviation The Trans-Atlantic Flight Development of Heavier-than-air Craft Development of Lighter-than-air Craft Digitized by http://www.history.navy.mil
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UNITED STATES NAVY DEPARTMENT
BUREAU OF AERONAUTICS
TECHNICAL NOTE NO. 18, SERIES OF 1930
A HISTORY OF U.S. NAVAL
CAPT. W. H. SITZ, USMC
GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Beginning of Aviation
History of Pre-War Naval Aviation
World War Organization and Personnel
United States Naval Aircraft Factory
United States Naval Aviation in France
United States Naval Aviation in the British Isles
United States Naval Aviation in Italy
The Northern Bombing Group
Marine Corps Aviation
The Trans-Atlantic Flight
Development of Heavier-than-air Craft
Development of Lighter-than-air Craft
BUREAU OF AERONAUTICS
TECHNICAL NOTE NO. 18
A HISTORY OF UNITED STATES NAVAL AVIATION
By Capt. W. H. Sitz, United States Marine Corps
THE BEGINNING OF AVIATION
Although a large number of experimenters gave their attention to the problem of
mechanical flight previous to the last decade of the nineteenth century, nothing practical
was achieved prior to that time. But with the perfection of the steam engine and the
development of the internal combustion engine, there came inducement to sound
experimentation bringing forth such well known scientists and inventors as Lilienthal,
Maxim, Langley, and the Wright brothers.
Otto Lilienthal, a German, made the first successful flight in a man-carrying
glider in 1891. This glider was a bird-shaped apparatus made of willow wood with waxed
sheeting. It used cambered wings, weighed 40 pounds, and had a wing spread of 107
square feet. There were no control levers and his only method of steering was to shift the
balance of the machine by swinging his legs one way or the other. Lilienthal continued
his man-carrying experiments with gliders and soon thereafter developed tail surfaces for
steering vertically and horizontally. He lacked the third rudder or aileron control,
however, and was still dependent on the shift of body weight for preserving the lateral
balance. Having executed nearly two thousand flights with several monoplane gliders,
Lilienthal in 1895 built a biplane glider. He found this much easier to control and now
thought he had sufficiently acquired the art of flying to justify his undertaking the next
and more difficult art of imitating the rowing flight of birds. He therefore had constructed
a 90-pound engine of 2 Vi horsepower, to actuate the wings of his glider, but before this
motor was ready for use he was killed while making a long glide on August 9, 1896.
Lilienthal gave a powerful and permanent impulse to aviation, both by his writings and
by his practical experience in the air. He first showed quantitatively the advantage of
arched or cambered wings and proved the effectiveness of the vertical and horizontal
rudders. He was the father of the aerial glider and he had intended to undertake the
problem of a power-driven flying machine at the time of his accidental death.
Sir Hiram Maxim was an Englishman who in 1893 built a gigantic airplane
powered with a steam engine driving two large propellers. It was a multiplane weighing 3
Vi tons and having a span of 126 feet and a wing area of 5,500 square feet. Its propelling
plant comprised a naphtha tubular boiler and a compound steam engine of 350
horsepower actuating twin screws 17 feet 10 inches in diameter. The airplane was to be
steered by vertical and horizontal rudders and its lateral stability was to be secured by
side planes set at a dihedral angle. The machine was mounted on a platform car running
along a track half a mile in length. Above the rails of this track were guard rails to
prevent the airplane from rising more than 3 inches during the preliminary tests. Many
runs along the track were made to test the working of this huge apparatus before trusting
it to launch forth in free flight and during these runs the machine frequently lifted clear of
the lower track and flew forward, resting against the guard rails above. Finally, on a gusty
day so much lift was obtained that these holding-down rails gave way, whereupon the
machine rose into the air with Maxim and his assistant, and then toppled over on the soft
earth, wrecking it. Here Maxim discontinued his experiments for lack of funds after
having demonstrated that a large weight can be carried in dynamic flight, but having
failed to prove the feasibility of controlling an airplane in launching, in free flight, and in
Prof. S. P. Langley of the Smithsonian Institution was the first person to construct
an airplane possessing inherent stability. On May 6,1896, an airplane model equipped
with a steam engine was successfully launched and flown, making three and a quarter
turns. Tandem wings and a horizontal tail surface provided longitudinal stability, a strong
wing dihedral provided lateral stability and a vertical tail surface provided a degree of
directional stability. This model weighed 30 pounds, measured 16 feet in length and had a
wing span of 13 feet. The engine developed between 1 and 1 Vi horsepower. As a result
of this success, the Board of Ordnance and Fortifications of the War Department
appropriated $50,000 to enable Langley to build a man-carrying flying machine. He first
tested a gasoline driven model, having one-fourth the linear dimensions of his man-
carrying machine. This model was successfully flown on August 8, 1903, and proved to
be very satisfactory in all its dynamic features. Langley's man-carrying airplane was
nearly a duplicate on a fourfold scale of the gasoline model. There was, accordingly,
every reason to expect that, weighted and launched like the model, it would fly with the
same inherent equilibrium and speed, even if left to govern itself. Having in addition a
living pilot, provided with rudders for steering and balancing, together with adequate fuel
for a considerable journey, it seemed to promise still better results than the model. The
whole machine weighed 830 pounds, including the pilot, and had a wing area of 1,040
square feet. The gasoline, water-cooled engine weighed, without accessories, 125 pounds,
and developed 52.4 horsepower in actual test at a speed of 930 revolutions per minute.
Two attempts at trial flights were made with this machine, the first on September 7, 1903,
and the second on December 8, 1903, but both attempts at launching were unsuccessful
due to a minor defect in the launching apparatus.
Thus this carefully designed machine never had a chance, even for a moment, to
exhibit its powers of sustentation and balance in normal fight. Langley now abandoned
his experiments for want of funds to continue them and stowed away the machine in the
Smithsonian Institution with its frame and engine still intact, the wings having been
injured in the unsuccessful attempt at launching. If this machine had performed as
successfully in 1903 as it actually did in 1914 after being rebuilt by the Curtiss Co.,
Langley would have antedated the first successful flight of the Wright brothers.
Wilbur and Orville Wright of Dayton, Ohio, attacked the problem of mechanical
flight by experimenting with gliders. Their first glider was completed and successfully
flown at Kitty Hawk, N. C., in the summer of 1900. In this glider, as in all their early
machines, sled runners fixed under the machine were used for launching and landing.
With a wing surface of 165 square feet, they were able to glide down a slope of 10 at a
speed of about 30 miles per hour. The machine was maintained in lateral stability by
wing warping. The gliders used in the summer of 1901 were modeled after those of the
previous year, but larger. It had a wing area of 308 square feet and weighed 108 pounds.
With this glider a considerable number of glides were made, of various lengths up to 400
feet. In 1902 a third glider was constructed which was larger and showed greater
efficiency than either of its predecessors, its normal angle of descent being 7 or less. With
this machine some seventy glides were made and it successfully performed all the
evolutions necessary for flight. The Wright brothers were now ready to apply power to a
machine to drive it through the air and gain flotation by speed of motion. A power
machine equipped with a 16-horsepower gasoline engine was constructed in 1903. This
machine was a pusher weighing 750 pounds and possessed warping wings, a warping ele-
vator in front, and a double rudder in rear for control purposes. On December 17, 1903,
Orville Wright made the first successful man-carrying, power-driven airplane flight in the
history of aviation with this machine at Kitty Hawk, N. C. Four flights were made on this
eventful day, the first flight lasting 12 seconds, the next two a little more, and the fourth
lasting 59 seconds and covering a distance of 852 feet.
The Wright brothers continued their experiments during the next two years with
increasing success. During the season of 1904 on a field near Dayton, 105 flights were
made and the first completed circle was flown. In 1905 the flights were resumed with a
new machine embodying some changes dictated by experience, particularly in the method
of control. On September 26, a flight of 1 1 miles was achieved. This was followed,
within the next 9 days, by flights of 12, 15, 21, and 24 miles at a speed of about 38 miles
per hour. After this the Wright brothers ceased flying for two years and the machine was
dismantled to preserve secret its mode of construction till the patents could be disposed
The first public demonstration of a man-carrying, power flight was made by
Santos-Dumont in France on August 22, 1906, flying 36 feet at a velocity of 23 miles per
hour. The machine which he used was equipped with an 8-cylinder Antoinette gasoline
engine developing 50 horsepower, had a wing surface of 650 square feet and weighed,
including pilot, 645 pounds. In an exhibition flight on November 12 Santos-Dumont
succeeded in making a flight of 723 feet, thus gaining the prize of 1,500 francs offered by
the Aero Club of France for the first person who should fly 100 meters. Although Santos-
Dumont was not the first to fly, he was the first airplane inventor to give his art to the
world, as the general public never had any concrete idea of the machine of the Wrights
until their public fights in 1908. Since Santos-Dumont's public exhibitions of the airplane
in 1906, the progress of the art has been steady, rapid, and convincing.
The period from 1906 to 1914 may be called the period of the inventors in the
history of aviation. The art of aircraft design and construction had little scientific or
engineering basis. Stresses in flight were largely unknown and the aerodynamics of
balance and control were dimly understood. The theory of stability was quite
unappreciated and wing sections in use were inefficient. However, very active
experimenting was being done all over the world and very important patents were being
taken out. The following is a general outline of actual performance indicating the
development of aviation during this period:
1907. October, Henri Farman made a public flight of 2,550 feet.
1908. September, Orville Wright made first exhibition flight of one hour duration with
passenger at Fort Myer, Va.
October, Farman made first cross-country flight, Chalons to Rheims, 16 miles in
December, Wilbur Wright attains an altitude of 361 feet at Le Mans, France.
1909. July, Bleriot crossed English Channel, Calais to Dover, in 37 minutes.
September, Wilbur Wright flew around Statue of Liberty.
November, Farman flew over a distance of 144 miles in 4 hours 6 minutes at an
average speed of 35 miles per hour.
1910. March, Fabre made first successful flight from water at Martigues, France.
May, Curtiss made a flight from Albany to Governors Island, a distance of 135.4
miles, in 2 hours 32 minutes.
August, McCurdy received and sent messages from airplane in flight at
Sheepshead Bay, N. Y.
December, Hoxey attained an altitude of 10,428 feet at Los Angeles.
1911. January, Ely alighted on and flew from deck of cruiser at San Lrancisco.
Lebruary, Curtiss flew from land to water alongside U. S. S. Pennsylvania,
hoisted on board, hoisted out, and flew from water.
June, Nieuport established speed record of 82.7 miles per hour at Chalons, Lrance.
Calbraith Rogers flew from New York to California, 4,231 miles, from September
17, 1911, to November 5, 1911, in Wright model D airplane. Longest single
flight 133 miles. Lirst transcontinental flight.
1912. Lowler flew across continent from Jacksonville, Lla., to San Lrancisco, Calif., a
distance of 2,232 miles, in 151 days.
1913. September, Pegoud made first voluntary loop in a Bleriot.
December, Legagneux attained an altitude of 20,079 feet at St. Raphael, Lrance.
1913. January, Sop with produced the first small high speed military airplane. This
machine was fitted with an 80-horsepower Gnome motor and had a maximum
speed of 92 miles per hour.
July, Boehm flew for 24 hours 12 minutes without stopping, covering 1,350
miles, in an Albatross machine.
PRE-WAR NAVAL AVIATION
The Navy first investigated the possibilities of aviation for naval purposes in 1908
when Lieut. G. C. Sweet and Naval Constructor Mclntee were detailed as observers for
the test of the Wright plane at Fort Myer, Va. Lieutenant Sweet endeavored to stimulate
interest in the subject of aviation and suggested the use of pontoons in this report to the
Navy Department, but no action was taken thereon. In 1910, Capt. W. I. Chambers,
United States Navy, who was assistant to the aid for material in the Bureau of Equipment
attended the aviation meets at Belmont Park, N.Y., and at Halethorpe, near Baltimore, as
an official observer. Appreciating the potential value of the airplane in naval warfare,
Captain Chambers endeavored to interest the Wright Co. In arranging for a flight off of a
United States man-of-war. Wilbur Wright declined to make the attempt. The Curtiss Co.
was then approached and they agreed to try it. The necessary arrangements were
thereupon made by Captain Chambers and on November 14, 1910, the Curtiss
representative, Eugene Ely, successfully flew a 50-horsepower Curtiss land-plane from a
platform hastily built on the bow of the U. S. S. Birmingham at Hampton Roads, Va.
Following this successful experiment, Glenn H. Curtiss, of the Curtiss Co., agreed
to instruct several naval officers free of charge, as no money had as yet been appropriated
by Congress for the development of naval aviation, and Lieut. T. G. Ellyson, United
States Navy, was sent to the Curtiss camp at San Diego, Calif., in December, 1910. On
January 18, 1911, Mr. Ely, then attached to the Curtiss camp, at San Diego, made a
successful landing with an airplane on the deck of the U. S. S. Pennsylvania lying in San
Francisco harbor, and the next day he flew this plane from the deck on which he had
landed. During this same month, Glenn Curtiss and Lieutenant Ellyson perfected a
hydroairplane attachment for airplanes. On January 26, 1911, Mr. Curtiss flew from the
water at his San Diego base, landed alongside the U. S. S. Pennsylvania, was hoisted
aboard ship, subsequently hoisted out again, and flew back to his camp. This
performance, together with the previous feats of Mr. Ely, gave a very decided impetus to
the development of naval aviation, not only in this country but in all the leading countries
of the world.
As a result of Captain Chambers's reports and recommendations on aviation, the
first aviation appropriation of $25,000 was included in the 1911-12 naval appropriation
act. On March 13, 1911, Captain Chambers received orders asigning him to the Bureau of
Navigation, and directing him to devote his efforts exclusively to aviation and to the
coordination of the aeronautical work of the various bureaus. This officer struggled with
the many difficulties which always present themselves to those to whom fate assigns the
difficult task of injecting new ideas and a new activity into a staid and elderly
organization. The Navy as a whole was not interested and Captain Chambers worked
alone and unassisted to build up a naval aviation establishment.
Early in 1911 Lieut. John Rodgers, United States Navy; Lieut. John Towers,
United States Navy; and Ensign V. D. Herbster, United States Navy, were ordered to the
Curtiss and Wright Cos. for instruction in the art of flying. Two Curtiss planes and one
Wright plane were purchased, and in the summer of 191 1 the first naval aviation unit was
organized and an aviation camp established at Greenburg Point on Government land near
Annapolis, Md. In the summer of 1911 the first naval seaplane was flown off a suspended
cable, Lieutenant Ellyson acting as pilot. This camp was transferred to San Diego on land
adjoining the Curtiss camp during the winter of 1911-12 and moved back to Annapolis
the following summer, where tent hangars were set up fronting the Severn River. The
first notable flight by a naval aviator was accomplished in the autumn of 1911 by Lieut.
John Rodgers, who flew from Annapolis to Washington and then to College Park, Md.,
from which place he later returned to Annapolis via Baltimore and Havre de Grace.
Lieutenants Ellyson and Towers made a memorable record flight over the waters of
Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis to Fortress Monroe, Va., and return, also in the autumn
of 191 1. In the next year Lieutenant Towers established a new world's endurance record
for seaplanes by remaining in the air 6 hours and 20 minutes. During the year 1912, the
following officers were ordered to the naval aviation camp for flying instruction: Naval
Constructor H. C. Richardson to San Diego, Lieut. (Junior Grade) G. Chevalier, Lieut.
(Junior Grade) P. N. L. Bellinger, Lieut. (Junior Grade) W. D. Billingsley, First Lieut. A.
A. Cunningham, United States Marine Corps, and First Lieut. B. L. Smith, United States
The year 1912 saw the invention of the catapult, a distinctly American
achievement. The first catapult was designed at the Naval Gun Factory, Washington, D.
C., under the supervision of Captain Chambers. The first shot that was attempted, with
Lieutenant Ellyson as pilot of the plane, proved unsuccessful. The redesign of the
catapult was assigned to Naval Constructor Richardson and Lieutenant Ellyson was
successfully catapulted from this second catapult on October 12, 1912. This extraordinary
feat was accomplished from a float at the Washington Navy Yard.
Another important naval aviation accomplishment which occurred in 1912 was
the construction of the United States Navy Aerodynamical Laboratory at the Washington
Navy Yard. This aerodynamical laboratory or wind tunnel was constructed under the
supervision of Naval Constructor D. W. Taylor in order to provide a means for finding
the engineering basis for the design of naval aircraft, and was the first wind tunnel of
modem type to be built in the United States. It closely resembles in type the German
wind tunnel at Gottingen. It is of interest to observe Naval Constructor Taylor's foresight
and enterprise in providing, immediately after the purchase of the Navy's first seaplane in
1911 from the inventor, the scientific apparatus for its analysis and improvement. This
wind tunnel was then, and remained for many years thereafter, the largest and most
powerful in the world.
In January, 1913, the naval aviation detachment was transported by a Navy collier
to Guantanamo for its first operation with the fleet. The Cuban camp was commanded by
Lieutenant Towers, subject to orders from the commander in chief of the fleet.
Numerous interesting and practical tests were made of the employment of planes in
cooperation with ships and many of the fleet officers became more or less familiar with
aviation. At this time several notable flights were made along the Cuban coast and the
usefulness of aircraft as scouts in discovering the approach of a distant fleet and in
detecting mine fields and submarines were amply and practically demonstrated. With the
return of the fleet to the United States after the winter maneuvers, the aviation
detachment was transferred back to Annapolis again and continued under command of J.
In 1913 Lieut. (Junior Grade) J. D. Murray, United States Navy, Second Lieut.
William Mcllvaine, United States Marine Corps, First Lieutenant Cunningham, United
States Marine Corps, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Saufley, Lieut. (Junior Grade) M. L.
Stolz, and Ensign W. D. Lamont joined the ranks of naval aviators. In June of this year
Lieutenant Bellinger hung up a world's seaplane record for altitude by ascending to 6,200
feet in 45 minutes in a Curtiss seaplane. First Lieut. B. L. Smith, United States Marine
Corps, by starting from the water, alighting on the land, and then returning to the water,
made the first successful flight in an amphibian or combined land and water aircraft in
the summer of 1913.
During 1912 Naval Constructor Richardson conducted a series of model basin
tests on the planing properties of seaplane floats and hulls which have proved to be
perhaps the most important and fruitful research ever undertaken by the Navy.
Richardson for the first time showed the effect of the form of the float on its water
performance, and from these tests he evolved the lines of United States Navy seaplane
floats and hulls which have since that date made them a standard for others to follow.
Richardson's tests showed the advantages of Vee bottom, long easy form, spray strips,
and single step with sharp rise of after body. Naval Constructor J. C. Hunsaker was sent
to Europe during the summer of this year to make a study of European aviation. He was
then ordered to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he installed a wind
tunnel and where a course in aeronautical engineering was established under his super-
During the summer of 1913 Lieutenant Bellinger conducted experiments at
Hammondsport in connection with the development of the Sperry automatic stabilizer.
In October, 1913, a Board of Aeronautics was appointed by the Secretary of the
Navy to report on the needs of a suitable aeronautical organization and establishment for
the Navy. Capt. W. I. Chambers was made chairman of the board and a policy of
development was outlined. One of the most important recommendations of this board
was for the establishment of an aviation station at Pensacola, Fla. This recommendation
was approved and in January, 1914, the first United States Navy air station was
established on the site of the abandoned navy yard at that place. At the same time the
Annapolis aviation camp was broken up and all aviation personnel and equipment
transferred to the U. S. S. Mississippi which was ordered to Pensacola and turned over to
naval aviation in order that aviation might keep in touch with ships. Lieut. Commander
Mustin was assigned to aviation and became the first commanding officer of the
Pensacola air station.
In December, 1913, Captain Chambers was relieved of his duties in charge of
naval aviation activities by Capt. Mark L. Bristol. This year saw the first employment of
naval aviation in active service. When the Atlantic Fleet was ordered to Mexican waters
in April, 1914, in connection with the occupation of Vera Cruz, a naval aviation section
consisting of two airplanes completely manned and equipped was attached to the U. S. S.
Mississippi which was sent to Vera Cruz, and another was attached to the U. S. S.
Birmingham, which was sent to Tampico. The two airplanes at Vera Cruz were used
continually, and although these planes were not fitted for land work, for 43 days they did
considerable scouting over the trenches protecting the city of Vera Cruz. To every call
made upon them, the naval aviators attached to the U. S. S. Mississippi made ready and
cheerful response and their scout work in the air was of much value in the combined
Army and Navy operations at Vera Cruz. In the summer of 1914, the U. S. S. Mississippi
was relieved by the U. S. S. North Carolina as the naval aviation ship, the Government
having sold the former ship to Greece.
In June, 1914, the Navy Department ordered Lieutenant Towers to
Hammondsport for duty in connection with the construction and proposed flight to
Europe of the twin-engined seaplane America, with the understanding that he would be
permitted to participate in that flight if success seemed feasible. The outbreak of war
interrupted the project. The America marked the beginning of big boat development. At
this point naval aviation suffered a serious setback. The war broke out and the North
Carolina with its complement of aviation officers and men, augmented by other naval
personnel, was ordered to Europe. The ship remained in Europe until the summer of
1915, performing various duties in connection with the relief of Americans there. In
addition, Lieutenant Towers was ordered as assistant naval attache, London, and
Lieutenant Herbster and Lieut. B. L. Smith to Berlin and Paris, respectively, for the same
duties. Work at Pensacola was brought practically to a standstill for many months.
During 1914 additional officers were assigned to aviation duty in the following
sequence: Ensigns C. K. Bronson and W. A. Edwards, Lieut. Kenneth Whiting, Lieut. L.
H. Maxfield, Ensigns E. O. McDonnell, Wadleigh Capehart, E. W. Spencer, H. T.
Bartlett and G. D. Murray. Classes were then ordered more or less regularly until the
entry of the United States in the war.
During 1915 the first Navy designed seaplane was built at the Washington Navy
Yard. This plane was designed by Naval Constructor Richardson. On April 20, 1915, the
Navy bought its first airship, the "D-l," from the Connecticut Aircraft Co. of New Haven,
Conn. In this year Lieut. Saufley ascended to an altitude of 14,500 feet in a Curtiss
seaplane and shortly afterwards made an endurance record of 8 hours and 20 minutes in
the same type of plane. Another notable event of 1915 was the first catapult flight from a
ship underway which was made from the U. S. S. North Carolina by Capt. H. C. Mustin.
In the early part of 1916, the aviation ship, the U. S. S. North Carolina with five
planes aboard operated with the fleet during the winter maneuvers based on Guantanamo.
An attempt was made in 1916 to establish a combined experimental station for the Army,
the Navy, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at Langley Field, Va.,
but as this field was unsuitable for naval purposes because of lack of deep-water access
for ships, the project was abandoned.
On March 1,1916, Captain Bristol was relieved from his duties in the Bureau of
Navigation and the direction of aviation actitivities was transferred to the office of the
Chief of Naval Operations where an aviation desk was placed under the aide for material.
Lieut. C. K. Bronson was detailed to fill this newly created position and continued in the
capacity until November, 1916, at which time his death occurred from an aviation
accident. Lieutenant Towers was then assigned as assistant for aviation in the office of
the Chief of Naval Operations and this officer was occupying this position when the
United States declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917.
WORLD WAR NAVAL AVIATION ORGANIZATION AND PERSONNEL
When the United States entered the World War, naval aviation was under the
general supervision of the aide for material, Capt. J. S. McKean, United States Navy.
Lieut. J. H. Towers was on duty in the office of the aide for material as assistant for
aviation, and in this capacity had direct charge of all naval aviation activities. A month
after war was declared, Lieutenant Towers was relieved by Capt. Noble R. Irwin, United
States Navy, who carried the load of responsibility for naval aviation during the period of
hostilities, Lieutenant Towers remaining on duty as his assistant. Captain Irwin
continued being assistant for aviation under the aide for material until March 7, 1918, on
which date Navy General Order No. 375, creating the office of the Director of Naval
Aviation, was signed by the Secretary of the Navy, and Captain Irwin was ordered to
duty as the first director. This general order made the Director of Naval Aviation directly
responsible to the Chief of Naval Operations.
At the outbreak of hostilities the number of trained aviators or of persons familiar
in any way with naval aviation was small. The early training pilots and mechanicians had
covered only the flying of aircraft, without particular attention to the requirements of
aerial combat or other warlike operations. For the purposes of war, it immediately
became necessary to obtain numerous trained crews composed of pilots, machine
gunners, and observers, in order to operate successfully the bombs, machine guns, and
radio making up the equipment of aircraft. In addition, a very large force of so-called
trained ground personnel was required, and the enrollment and training of the tremendous
numbers of officers and men required was in itself a task of stupendous magnitude.
The strength of the commissioned and enlisted personnel of the Navy assigned to
aviation duty on April 6, 1917, and the same data as of November 11, 1918, appears in
the following table:
Apr. 6 1917
Student naval aviators
Student officers (under training for commission)
Total officer personnel
^ 1 QS1
Total pnlistpd nprsnnnpl
The following number of officers and enlisted men were sent overseas during the period
of the war:
Officers 1, 237
Enlisted men (aviation ratings) 8, 215
Enlisted men (aviation duty, miscellaneous ratings) 8, 072
Total personnel sent abroad 17,524
The total naval aviation fatalities during the World War amounted to:
Only one naval aviation station— the station at Pensacola— was in existence on
April 6, 1917. At the time of the armistice, November 11, 1918, the following stations
and schools were in operation in the United States and Canada:
Anacostia, D. C.
Bay Shore, Long Island
Cape May, N.J.
Coco Solo, Canal Zone
Great Lakes, 111
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Hampton Roads, Va.
Key West, Fla.
Marginal Parkway, N.Y.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Montauk, Long Island
Morehead City, N. C.
Naval Aircraft Factory
North Sydney, Nova Scotia
" Lighter-than-air training
~ Experimental station.
- Elementary flying school and
emergency patrol station
- Patrol station
- Ground school.
. Mechanics school.
. Patrol station
. Experimental and patrol
Elementary flying school.
‘ Supply station.
' Ground school.
- Elementary flying school and
- Marine Corps school and
- Patrol station
- Manufacturing plant
- Patrol station.
Advanced ground and flight
Rockaway, Long Island Patrol station.
San Diego, Calif. Elementary flight school
University of Washington Ground school
The naval appropriation act of August, 1916, had made provision for a Naval
Reserve Flying Corps and as soon as it became evident that the United States would enter
the war in a few months certain groups of college men got together and applied for
enrollment. The first group under the lead of F. Trubee Davison and consisting of 29 men
was enrolled in January, 1917, and immediately began training in their own seaplanes at
their own expense at Palm Beach. The second group trained at Newport News and the
third at Buffalo. In each case a naval aviator was assigned to duty in general charge of the
unit. The zeal and enthusiasm of the men of these groups resulted in the naval aviation
having available very shortly after war was declared a nucleus of very capable young
officers who proved of inestimable value in the building up of the big corps which so
soon became necessary to carry out the mission of naval aviation. This nucleus was
augmented by officers of the Naval Militia who were later transferred to the Naval
Reserve Flying Corps and by many men taken up directly from civil life for
When the training of personnel was begun it was soon found necessary to divide
the training into three phases, namely, ground school, elementary flight training, and
advanced ground school and fight training. The first ground school was established at
Massachusetts Institute of Technology in September, 1917. The aim was twofold, to give
students academic instruction in aeronautical matters, and to inculcate in them the
conception of strict military discipline. Additional ground schools were opened in the
summer of 1918, at the University of Washington, Seattle, and at the naval training
school at Dunwoody Institute, Minneapolis.
Elementary flight training was carried on at Bay Shore, Miami, Key West, and
San Diego. Additional elementary schools were contemplated but the sudden conclusion
of hostilities eliminated the need of them. At these elementary training stations the
student flying officer was taught to fly. His instruction in a few ground school subjects
was also continued. The advanced training station was located at Pensacola, Fla., and
here the student naval aviators were taught gunnery, bombing, navigation, and big boat
To provide officer personnel to discharge other than flying duties, it became
necessary to establish a class known as ground officers, which included ordnance,
communication (intelligence), navigation, aerography, and administration officers. Such
ground officers were at first trained simply by the expedient of giving them the pilot's
course at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then detailing them to flight stations
to become familiar with actual aviation work. More specialized training soon became
necessary, however, with the result that a school for ground officers was established at
the United States Naval Training Station, Great Fakes. Graduates of this school were
divided into the various classifications mentioned above, according to their abilities, and
detailed in the following manner: Ordnance officers to Pensacola to take the gunnery and
bombing courses, and thence for temporary duty to the Bureau of Ordnance to become
familiar with the latest developments; navigation officers detailed to Pensacola to take a
special course in navigation; communication officers to Hampton Roads for special
instruction in communication work; administration officers to Pensacola for training in
executive work and aerographers to Blue Hills Observatory, Boston, Mass., for a special
course under Lieut. Commander McAdie.
For the training of aviation mechanics, elementary trade schools were established
at convenient points throughout the country and an advanced training school was
established at Great Lakes, 111. Aviation mechanics who had been selected at the various
elementary schools because of their special ability and qualifications were sent to the
Great Lakes School for advanced instruction. This school soon became one of the largest
and most successful manual training schools in the country.
Pilots for lighter-than-air craft were first sent to the same ground school as
heavier-than-air pilots at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where a special lighter-
than-air course was included in the curriculum. On completion of this course, all lighter-
than-air students were sent to Akron, Ohio, for training in free and kite balloon work.
From Akron, the students designated as dirigible pilots were sent to Pensacola and those
designated as kite balloon pilots to Rockaway, Long Island, for advance instruction.
In addition to the overseas patrol stations described in other chapters of this
history, home patrol stations were established at strategic points along the Atlantic
seaboard from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Key West, Fla., and also at Coco Solo in
the Canal Zone. Regular daily patrols were carried out by these stations and aircraft were
detailed from these points to accompany all important convoys. During the year 1918,
United States Navy airplanes flew a total of 40,883 hours on patrol duty in home waters.
Patrols during the last three months of the war covered 1,305,000 nautical miles. Lighter-
than-air craft patrols in home waters flew a total of 5,145 hours.
The Aircraft Production Board which was created on May 16, 1917, functioned
during the war as the supreme authority with regard to aircraft production by and for the
Army and Navy. The board was created by the Council of National Defense on the
recommendation of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The first members
were Howard Coffin, chairman; Gen. G. O. Squier, United States Army, Admiral D. W.
Taylor (Construction Corps), United States Navy, Lieut. Commander J. H. Towers, S.D.
Waldon, E. A. Deeds, and R. L. Montgomery. The Aircraft Production Board was
transferred from the control of the Council of National Defense to the Secretary of War
and the Secretary of the Navy by act of Congress (No. 48, 65th Cong.), approved October
1, 1917, which act changed the name to Aircraft Board. At the same time additional
members were added from the Army and Navy. The Navy members of the enlarged
board in addition to Admiral Taylor, chief constructor, were Capt. N. E. Irwin, director of
naval aviation, and Lieut. Commander A. K. Atkins of the Bureau of Steam Engineering.
Mr. Coffin continued as chairman of the enlarged board. The so-called aircraft scandals
(based on the fall-down in the Army program) forced the resignation of Mr. Coffin as
chairman in the spring of 1918 and John D. Ryan was appointed by the President as his
successor. The Aircraft Board was dissolved by Executive order on March 19, 1919.
The influence of the Aircraft Board on the Navy's program of aircraft production
was not very frequent or detailed, but in its larger aspects was most beneficial. The
greatest single benefit to the Navy from the Aircraft Board was the resolution adopted
November 6, 1917, to the effect that all air measures taken against submarines should
have precedence over all other air measures. This gave the Navy priority in the War
Industries Board over controlled raw materials, on the railroads for cars and trains, and in
general made the Navy's task of creating a great antisubmarine fleet of flying boats
possible. Another important feat of the board which was of great benefit to the Navy, was
the creation and quantity production of the Liberty engine. This engine was started by E.
A. Deeds of the Aircraft Board, designed by engineers selected by him, and developed by
the automobile industry of the country working under the control of the Aircraft Board.
Lieut. Harold Emmons, United States Naval Reserve Force (formerly of the Ford Motor
Co., Detroit), was assigned to the War Department to take charge of the production of
Liberty engines. The complete success of the Liberty engine was of vital assistance in
making the Navy aircraft program possible as every flying boat for overseas, whether
single or twin engined, was designed for the Liberty.
In the summer of 1917 the Aircraft Production Board (with the approval of the
Army and the Navy) sent to Europe an expert commission to study the aeronautical
situation overseas and to arrange with our Allies and our military and naval commanders
abroad for the necessary design and production data for such foreign aircraft and engines
as the United States should build. This commission was commonly known as the Boiling
Commission. The head of the commission was R. C. Bolling (an attorney for the United
States Steel Corporation), and the other members were Capt. V. E. Clark and Capt. E. S.
Gorrell of the Army; Naval Constructor G. C. Westervelt and Lieut. W. S. Child of the
Navy; Howard Marmon of the Nordyke-Marmon Co., and Herbert Hughes of the Packard
Co. Perhaps the most important and useful accomplishment of the Bolling Commission
abroad was the so-called Bolling agreement entered into with the British, French, and
Italian Governments to the effect that any country had the right to produce any aircraft,
aircraft engine, or accessory to be found in any other country. The compensation for any
national on account of patent infringement, royalties, etc., should be made by his own
government. This agreement was for the "duration of the war," and effectively stopped
the activities of foreign manufacturers' agents in Washington, who swarmed about the
The Joint Technical Board on Aircraft was created by the Secretary of War and
the Secretary of the Navy on May 5, 1917. The original members of this board were Maj.
B. F. Foulois, Capt. V. E. Clark, and Capt. E. S. Gorrell, of the Army, and Lieut. A. K.
Atkins, Lieut. J. H. Towers, and Lieut. J. C. Hunsaker (Construction Corps), of the Navy.
As no official name was given to the board by its precepts and to avoid confusion with
the Aircraft Production Board, and the Joint Army and Navy Airship Board, the board
decided to call itself the Joint Technical Board on Aircraft upon organizing. The function
of this board was to advise the War and Navy Departments on the purchase of types of
aircraft and engines. A vast number of miscellaneous technical matters were also referred
to the board by the War and Navy Departments and by the Aircraft Board for
recommendation. The Joint Army and Navy Technical Board framed the initial aircraft
building program for the Army and Navy in May, 1917, which was approved by the War
and Navy Departments for execution. The board also drew up a set of specifications
entitled, "General Specifications for Building Airplanes," which was adopted by the
Navy and a revision of it is still the standard practice of the Bureau of Aeronautics. On
July 24, 1918, the last formal meeting of the board was held and after that date it died a
natural death as the War and Navy Departments went ahead with their approved
programs without further questions of technical policy.
UNITED STATES NAVAL AIRCRAFT FACTORY
The Naval Aircraft Factory was established in order to assist in solving the
problem of aircraft supply which faced the Navy Department upon the entrance of the
United States into the World War. The Army's requirements for an enormous quantity of
planes created a decided lack of interest among aircraft manufacturers in the Navy's
requirements for a comparatively small quantity of machines and the Navy Department
therefore concluded that it was necessary to build and put into production an aircraft
factory to be owned by the Navy, in order, first, to assure a part at least of its aircraft
supply; second, to obtain cost data for the department's guidance in its dealings with
private manufacturers; and third, to have under its own control a factory capable of
producing experimental work.
In June, 1917, therefore, the Navy Department directed Lieut. Commander
Coburn of the Construction Corps to make a survey of the situation and to make a report
upon a suitable location, size, and cost of a naval aircraft factory which would be capable
of producing 1 ,000 training seaplanes a year or their equivalent, including in this report
the minimum time in which such a plant could be built and put into operation. As a result
of these instructions, Commander Cobum visited all private plants in the country and
made a detailed study of the Churchill Street plant of the Curtiss Co. in Buffalo which
was then the only factory in the country that could be considered a quantity producing
plant for airplanes. There was no time to make an exhaustive study of the problem such
as would be expected under ordinary pea
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