How the First Aircraft Carriers came into existence
What is an Aircraft Carrier?
The aircraft carrier is an anomaly. At once carrier, whether in its crudest form or its the most vulnerable of warships, she is also the most advanced form, is a hybrid creation the most powerful. Her rise to this position of which enables Man to conquer (if he ever pre-eminence has been meteoric. As late as does so on anything but a temporary basis) 1940 she was regarded by many naval men both sea and air simultaneously.
How was the First Aircraft Carrier Made?
The sea was ancillary to the battleship, yet only five forms two-thirds of the Earth's surface, and years later she had relegated the battleship when Man learned to control the use of that to obsolescence.
Thirty years after that, the sea, great power passed into the hands of the carrier's own future is under discussion, and those who achieved the greatest measure of many feel that she is a doomed dinosaur.
It is often claimed that the battleship is controlled. Similarly, the conquest of the air that promised power to anyone who could exert became too expensive, but even during the most influence. But the sea proved to be World War II the latest carriers cost as much intractable, for its distances were too much to build and needed more men to man them.
Remarkable Fact about Aircraft Carriers
One of the most remarkable facts about the very first aircraft carriers is not how long they took to be introduced, but how quickly their potential was realized. Even in the last years of the previous century some balloonists talked of using 'captive' balloons from ships.
From the moment the Wright brothers made their first flights, therefore, the question of how to use powered aircraft from ships was bound to be pursued. Certainly in 1909, when Clement Ader published his L'Aviation Militaire, he talked of the indispensable need for a ship to operate aircraft in terms which make it clear that considerable thought had gone into his book.
Ader's foresight is astonishing, for he predicted not only the take-off and landing of aircraft, but also the need for a wide, flat deck, deck-lifts, island superstructures, hangars, and high speed. The crude aircraft of the day could barely have taken off from a ship let alone land on one, and if they were going to attempt to take off they would definitely want the ship to be either at anchor or moving very slowly, so as not to cause too many wind-eddies.
As with so many prophets, Ader was without honour in his country, and France was to turn her back on shipboard aviation for another ten years.
This left the United States and Great Britain to make the running, the Americans because of the great interest in aviation and the British because they had the world's leading navy and needed to keep up-to-date with developments.
Why did the Navy need Aircrafts? Why Navy have Planes?
The naval aircraft requirement stemmed from one basic need which had been valid since Nelson's day: reconnaissance. There is a practical limit to visibility with the naked eye, and even a lookout at the tallest mast-head, using the most powerful binoculars or telescope, could not see more than 40 miles in perfect conditions.
To provide the vital information about enemy movements, 'scouting' cruisers had to be stationed in patrol lines, near enough to remain in visual contact with one another to be able to pass signals. The invention of radio had helped to reduce the dependence on visual signalling, but there was still the problem that an individual ship could not hope to find anything outside her limit of visibility.
In 1908 it had been proposed to launch an aircraft from one of the US Navy's battleships, but nothing happened for two years as the US Navy did not own any aircraft. The trigger was to be an announcement that a Hamburg-Amerika liner would fly a mail-carrying plane off a platform on her foredeck to speed up mail delivery to New York. Already the first hint of war was in the air, and the immediate suspicion was that the German military authorities were using the mail service as a 'cover' for testing a new technique for attacking the United States.
Captain Washington I Chambers, Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy's Aide for Materiel, and recently charged with the responsibility of keeping in touch with aviation matters, profited by the announcement and got immediate permission to fly an aircraft from a warship. On 9 November 1910, the new light cruiser Birmingham was earmarked for the installation of a platform over her bows.
Chambers had more trouble finding a pilot than a ship, but after trying several people including Wilbur Wright, he met an exhibition pilot working with another great aviation pioneer, Glenn Curtiss. His name was Eugene B Ely and he was delighted to do the job for the Navy.
To add to the air of barnstorming which hung over the scheme, the newspaper The World now decided to back the attempt of another Curtiss pilot, J A D McCurdy, to fly from the Hamburg-Amerika liner, Pennsylvania, in order to beat the US Navy. McCurdy made his attempt on 12 November, but just as he started his engine, the propeller hit an oil can and shattered the blade.
The World’s first flight from a Ship
Spurred on by the competition, Norfolk Navy Yard spent the next day, a Sunday, finishing off the platform over the forecastle of Birmingham. It was an 83-foot long, 24-foot wide wooden runway that sloped gently down from the cruiser's bridge to her forecastle. Early on 14 November Ely Curtiss's pusher biplane was hoisted aboard; it had been modified with inflated airbags in case he failed to gain height and had to hit the water.
Birmingham duly steamed out of Hampton Roads into Chesapeake Bay, while four destroyers took up station along the route. In the middle of the afternoon, the weather finally cleared enough to allow the trial to begin, and as the cruiser plowed steadily on at 10 knots Ely raced his 5C horsepower engine and started to roll down the ramp. To the horror of the onlookers, the biplane kept going down after it left the ramp, and the wheels, floats, and tips of the propeller blades hit the water. But despite some damage to the propeller, it kept turning and the aircraft began to climb. It climbed clear of the ship and vanished into the drizzle.
The world's first flight from a ship was a success,As a matter of interest, Ely was soon lost in the poor visibility, but he landed safely about 2.5 miles from the ship. The effect on the Navy was instantaneous. Chambers proposed that all cruisers should be fitted with similar platforms, and ideas flooded in for launching platforms on the gun turrets of battleships, and other novel concepts. Fortunately, the enthusiasm did not get out of hand, and the main result of the Birmingham flight was that in December the US Navy's first pupil pilot, Lieutenant Theodore G Ellyson was chosen to be trained by Glenn Curtiss.
The next step was, however, very ambitious. Chambers got permission for Eugene Ely to land on the big cruiser Pennsylvania. This was a much harder operation, and the risks were considerable to the ship as well. A platform nearly 120 feet long and 31.5 feet wide was erected over the cruiser's stern, sloping from the mainmast back to a steep overhang right aft. The intention was for Ely to touch down on this deck while the ship was underway so that the speed of the wind over the deck would give him better control. As his plane had no brakes, a crude 'arresting' gear of 22 wires weighted with sandbags was provided.
On the day, 18 January 1911, the weather in San Francisco Bay was poor. To make matters worse Pennsylvania's captain felt that his ship had too little room to manoeuvre, and so the ship remained at anchor with the wind behind her. This was the worst possible combination for any pilot, then or now, but perhaps wearing the invincible armour of ignorance, Ely flew out to the ship, making a low approach to her stern. He pulled the plane up just short of the sloping tail of the platform and then cut the engine; his momentum and the tailwind took him right over the first 11 cross wires before the hooks on his undercarriage engaged, bringing him to a stop in 30 feet.
For one thing, Ely was a well-trained exhibition pilot, a 'stuntman' who was prepared to gamble his life in what was certainly a highly dangerous landing; it would be a long time before the US Navy could hope to have sufficient pilots and aircraft to be sure of repeating his performance every time. For another, the aircraft itself was still at a crude stage of development, with no means of communicating with the ground or of conveying anything more lethal than a hand grenade.
This helps to explain why the next step was away from the concept of land based planes capable of landing on decks, towards the development of the sea-plane, floatplane or hydro aeroplane. This was either a specially designed aircraft with floats underneath the wings or a landplane fitted with gasbags around its wheels to permit it to float on water. Having been launched from a ramp as before, the floatplane would land on the water close to its parent ship and then be hoisted back on board by crane. This was done in February 1911 by Glenn Curtiss in San Diego harbour, and the ship was again in Pennsylvania.
Success with Congress to allow funding for research into the Aircraft Carrier concepts and research
A month later Congress voted $25,000 to the Navy to allow the aviation experiments to continue. As Captain Chambers pointed out, a series of giant strides had been taken within a year. It had been proved that photographs could be taken from aircraft, that they could stay aloft for several hours, and that floatplanes could be recovered in a moderately calm sea. With the encouragement of Congress it was possible to capitalize on these achievements, and soon a second naval officer, Lieutenant John Rodgers, was sent to the Wright brothers for training. Two Curtiss A-1 aircraft and one Wright machine were bought, and the first took to the air in July 1911.
There were setbacks too. Towards the end of 1911, Eugene Ely was killed in an accident, only a few months after his triumph. Ironically he received nothing from the US Navy for his services apart from a letter of thanks, and it was left to a private fund to award him $500 for his two flights. Twenty-five years later, however, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously in be. late recognition of his contribution to navalaviation.
By April 1914, when the United States became embroiled in yet another dispute with Mexico, the US Navy had 12 hydro-airplanes, and it is a measure of the faith shown in the new air arm that six of them were sent to Vera Cruz to provide reconnaissance. They were carried on board the battleship Mississippi, and they provided valuable scouting for the landing parties.
When one returned with a bullet hole in his tailplane the incident was reported in the press as the 'first aerial combat', although this was stretching it a bit too far.
Why the British Royal Navy got Interested in Aircraft Carriers
Meanwhile, the Royal Navy was showing as much zeal in developing naval aviation. The Wright brothers had been turned down by the Admiralty in 1907 when they had tried to sell a machine in England, but only two years later the verdict that the aircraft was 'of no practical use to the Naval Service' was partly rescinded.
Captain Reginald Bacon, one of the Navy's most talented technical officers, had already been sent to Reims in 1908 to report on an international aviation exhi-bition, and the following year he was appointed as the naval member of the Government's Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Early in 1909 the sum of £35,000 was authorized for the building of a rigid airship for the Navy, and then another gifted technician, Captain Murray Sueter, was appointed Inspecting Captain of Airships.
Why the British were biassed towards Airships
Across the North Sea was Britain's arch-rival, Germany, building a fleet of dreadnoughts clearly intended to match the Royal Navy's in size. Also in Germany was the world's leading designer of dirigible airships, Count von Zeppelin. To keep abreast of Zeppelin's developments seemed a logical aim, although, as we shall see later, the answer lay elsewhere. The British might well have ignored the American phenomenon and continued to persevere with airships had it not been for a series of coincidences.
In May 1911 the Mayfly was found to lack sufficient lift to get airborne, and in September 1911, when the faults had been rectified, she was caught by a sudden gust of wind as she left the hangar and broke her back. Sueter and his assistant, Commander Schwann, were abruptly returned to normal duties and the Admiralty's airships section was disbanded. The energy, however, was not dissipated, for the Admiralty gave permission for five officers to undergo training as pilots: Lieutenant Charles Samson, Lieutenant Arthur Longmore, Lieutenant R Gregory, and two Royal Marine Lieutenants, E L Gerrard, and G Wildman-Lushington.
There were in addition two other naval flyers, Lieutenant Colmore and Commander Schwann, who had learned to fly privately.
Schwann went further and used his own money and donations from air-minded brother officers to buy his own aircraft.The first British waterborne take-off was made by Schwann on 18 November 1911, but he crashed while trying to land on water. It was left to Arthur Longmore to achieve this two weeks later in a Short S.27 on the River Medway.
Charles Samson was keen to emulate Eugene Ely and obtained permission to fly off the forecastle of the battleship HMS Africa, which he achieved on 10 January 1912. To cap his achievement he repeated it at a naval review at Weymouth the following May, from the battleship Hibernia and again from London.May 1912 was a turning point in British naval aviation. In that month the influential Committee of Imperial Defence presented its White Paper on aviation to Parliament, calling for the establishment of an aviation service with the separate army and naval wings.
What were the Royal Flying Corps
The service was to be called the Royal Flying Corps, but there was to be no single command for the two services, and within two years the separate status of the naval wing was made even clearer when it was renamed the Royal Naval Air Service. In the meantime, the flamboyant Samson was made Commandant of the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps RFC, an appointment which annoyed many people who disliked his flair for publicity.
ReferencesRoyal Flying Corps logo , Royal Flying Corps records , Royal Flying Corps ranks , Royal Flying Corps airfields
The First Aircraft Carrier in the world - HMS Hermes
At the end of that year, the Admiralty took a further step by ordering the old light cruiser Hermes to be converted as a 'parent ship' for naval aircraft. This involved fitting her with a platform over her bows for launching float-planes, and a platform over her quarterdeck for stowing them after landing. One of the first experiments was to try the Short Folder aircraft, with wings designed to fold, a pointer to the future.
The Hermes carried out numerous experiments, including some with aircraft bought in France, and took part in the Annual Manoeuvres in 1913. A momentary panic was caused when one of her aircraft got lost and was rescued by a German ship - it was treated as a major security leak. So successful was the old cruiser that plans were approved to buy a mercantile hull on the stocks - a collier - and convert her to a proper seaplane carrier capable of accommodating ten seaplanes.
ReferencesHMS Hermes r12 , HMS Hermes Falklands , HMS Hermes aircraft carrier , HMS Hermes ww2 , HMS Hermes (95)
The Birth of New Aircraft Carrier - HMS Ark Royal Aircraft Carrier
The new carrier would be a great improvement over all the conversions and experiments so far. She would be able to launch seaplanes by using light jettisonable trolleys, a method already tried on the Hermes, and she would have a proper hold, workshops, and heavy cranes for hoisting in the aircraft.
The name chosen for her had not been used since the battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588, but it was highly appropriate for a ship that would send out flying machines to bring back information - Ark Royal WW2.
HMS Ark Royal ww2 , HMS Ark Royal (r09) , HMS Ark Royal (91) , HMS Ark Royal Sinking, HMS Ark Royal (r07)
The Development of Conventional Aircraft Carriers Globally In other countries, there was interest in all these developments. The Germans, as we have seen, preferred to exploit the talents of Count Zeppelin, for his dirigibles offered great range and even the capacity to drop a considerable weight of bombs. The Italians toyed with the idea of launching an aircraft from a ship and had even got as far as embarking an aircraft in the battleship Dante Alighieri in 1913, but nothing came of it.
The French were much more ambitious, and converted an old torpedo depot ship, the Foudre, to operate seaplanes. She started her duties in 1912 and took part in the 1913 Manoeuvres. Being a big ship (6000 tons) the Foudre could house as many as eight sea-planes, although when first commissioned she only carried two.
The Japanese, who had scored their victory over the Russians in 1904 because they were up-to-date, did not ignore the developments in Britain and America. The first naval aircraft flown in Japan were two British- and one American-built machine in November 1912.
A mercantile vessel was converted at the end of 1913, the Wakamiya, to carry two seaplanes and parts for a second pair.