Ely Eugene: First pilot to perform a ship board launch

As Eugene became airborne from the cruiser, the Birmingham sent a historic radio message “Ely’s just gone”

Ely  Eugene, a Iowa University graduate who had taught himself to fly in 1910, boarded his curtiss pusher biplane which was placed on a makeshift wooden surface on the American light cruiser USS Birmingham in November 14, 1910. In the mid-afternoon, the weather cleared slightly and the biplane rolled of the sloped platform into air. The biplane was equipped with floats under the wings in case Eugene had to make a landing on the water. Eugene, who was part of the Curtiss Exhibition team, instinctively caused the plane to dive as the plane left the platform in order to gain speed but he miscalculated slightly causing the plane to skip off the water, thereby splintering the propeller and splashing water over his goggles. Even flying blind, Eugene managed to land his crippled plane at a nearby beach which was under 3 miles away. Although, he only was airborne for under 5 minutes, his historic flight proved the importance of aviation in naval warfare.

This experiment was a result of a collaboration between Ely Eugene who volunteered to pilot the aircraft and Glenn Curtiss who was a pioneer of powered flight as well as Captain Washington I. Chamber who was commissioned by the Navy to investigate “everything that will be of use in the study of aviation and its influence upon the problems of naval warfare”. Chamber offered to supply the battleship and platform while Eugene would pilot the Curtiss push biplane.

Eugene Ely

This successful demonstration paved the way for future development in Naval Aviation and the Naval administration was so impressed that they commissioned the first ship board landing which took place two months after. Once again Eugene Ely piloted the aircraft.

However, Eugene did not last long after that. On October 19, 1911, Eugene crashed when he failed to pull out of a dive at one of his barnstorming stops. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on February 16, 1933, by congress “for extraordinary achievement as a pioneer civilian aviator and for his significant contribution to the development of aviation in the United States Navy.”








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