World Aircraft Carriers List Photo Gallery

Aviation Oddities

Part I: The "Early Days" And Experimentation

The early days of aviation saw many experiments and unusual ideas afloat. Not surprisingly, many of these ideas didn't work out and are nearly forgotten today -- but others became great successes in time, and are vital parts of modern naval warfare.

 [THUMBNAIL] The date is 1903, and Samuel P. Langley is attempting to enter the record books as the first man to fly a powered aircraft. His contraption is to be launched from a platform built atop his houseboat, moored in the Potomac River. The airplane rolled down the ramp...and sank "like mortar". Understandably, Langley's efforts are overshadowed the Wright Brothers. However, this was probably the first time an aircraft was launched from a floating platform. The US Navy named its first aircraft carrier in honor of Langley, but only after naming its first major aviation vessel (an airship tender) in honor of the Wrights.

 [THUMBNAIL] Very little is known about this interesting view. The photo comes from the collection of the Detroit Publishing Company. It apparently shows an early 1900's seaplane catapult test aboard a modified Great Lakes steamer, probably near Detroit. Can anyone shed any light on the details of these catapult trials?

 [THUMBNAIL] USS Bagley (TB-24), a small torpedo boat, was the first US destroyer-type vessel to carry an aircraft. Commissioned in 1901, she served as a training vessel at Annapolis from 1907 to 1914. During July and August of 1910, she was used as a test platform for an aircraft designed by Congressman Bulter Ames. The aircraft was assembled and tested on a platform (apparently being constructed in this view) abaft the bridge. The brief tests produced unfavorable results. Bagley was sold in 1919 following duty as a patrol boat.

 [THUMBNAIL] The Ames aircraft being assembled aboard Bagley. It was intended to derive its lift from two rotating 12-sided cylinders, the mountings for which are seen here. Not surprisingly, the arrangement failed to provide sufficient lift, and the aircraft apparently never flew.

 [THUMBNAIL] The date is 14 November 1910, and civilian pilot Eugene Ely is entering the record books. This was the first-ever successful shipboard takeoff, using a short platform built aboard the scout cruiser Birmingham (CS-2).

 [THUMBNAIL] Now it is 18 January 1911, and Eugene Ely is experimenting again. This time he is making the first-ever shipboard landing, aboard the old armored cruiser Pennsylvania, with a special platform built on her deck. After landing, he turned the aircraft around and took off again.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is another mysterious picture. The ship is a Hamburg Amerika liner, the date is around 1911. The odd superstructure at the ship's stern is a platform for an aircraft, which would take off when the ship was 50 miles offshore, to speed the arrival of high-priority cargo. This experiment was intended as a publicity stunt to gain mail contracts for the Hamburg Amerika lines, and was apparently sponsored by the German Navy. The airplane was never embarked, and the platform was removed.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is the French Baupaume. She was built as a WWI "Q ship" convoy sloop, intended to look like a merchant vessel. After WWI she was converted as a flying-off trials vessel. Presumably lessons learned with this little ship were incorporated in the first French carrier designs.

 [THUMBNAIL] An autogyro during naval suitability trials aboard USS Langley (CV 1), the first US Navy carrier.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is the Coast Guard patrol vessel USCGC Cobb (WPG 181), and we've moved up to the 1940's in this view. A helicopter is landing aboard on a temporary platform erected on the ship's stern for some of the first shipboard helicopter trials in history. Today helicopter operations from small warships are commonplace. Cobb was a converted coastal steamer, built in 1906 and scrapped in 1947.

 [THUMBNAIL] This is a German Flettner Fl265 helicopter during landing trials aboard the cruiser Koln, during WWII. The cruiser was fitted with a temporary helicopter platform, which was later removed. The Germans were pioneers in the use of shipboard helicopters. In addition to these trials they employed a former Yugoslavian seaplane tender as a helicopter-carrying convoy escort during WWII (see below).

 [THUMBNAIL] A German Flettner Fl282 during helicopter trials aboard Drache, formerly the Yugoslavian seaplane tender Zmaj.

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