And The Navy Got Its Wings


It was a good party, but he was glad when his machine was ready. At his wave, a mechanic jerked the toggle and for the second time a plane Hew from a ship. This time it did not splash. From the end of the ramp it circled up till Ely was some 2,000 feet above his friends on deck. Then he headed straight for Selfridge Field. Thirteen minutes after take-off he rolled to a stop in front of the stands where people were gathering for the afternoon show. More champagne and more lunch were spread before him. This time he relaxed and enjoyed both. “It was easy enough,” he told the battalion officers. “I think the trick could be turned nine times out of ten.”

At about the same time the watch changed on the Pennsylvania . Midshipman Luckel signed this log entry:

8 A.M. to meridian:—

Cloudy and pleasant. Calm to light airs from the East. Barometer rising. The steamer Herald cast off at 10:25. Eugene Ely of the Curtiss team alighted upon the aviation platform of this ship at 11:01 A.M. , a feat that never before had been successfully accomplished. At 11:58 the aviator departed from the ship in his flying machine without accident and returned safely to the aviation field. Received H.M. Bogart, sea., from the U.S.S. Lawrence for further transfer to the U.S.S. California . Signals as per book.

Lt. Commander Standley, the navigator, approved the log without comment on the unique event sandwiched with the routine. Was he unimpressed then? (In 1941, as a retired admiral, the President sent him to investigate the destruction wrought by Japanese carrier planes at Pearl Harbor.)

Eugene Ely never again Hew from a ship. Nine months later he died in a crash at Macon, Georgia. He always distrusted the sea, never wore a Navy uniform, and never saw any “wings-of-gold”—they had not been designed yet—but he was the first naval aviator and first carrier pilot.