18 April 1942: Task Force 16, under the command of Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., U.S. Navy, approached the Japanese islands on a daring top secret joint Army-Navy attack. Two aircraft carriers, USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8), together with four cruisers, eight destroyers and two fleet oilers, carried sixteen U.S. Army Air Force B-25 Mitchell medium bombers within striking distance of Tokyo in the first offensive action against Japan by the United States. With the land-based bombers secured to Hornet‘s flight deck, her own fighters had been struck below. The air group from Enterprise provided Combat Air Patrol for the task force. The plan was to bring the B-25s within 400 miles (645 kilometers) of Japan, have them take off and carry out the attack, then fly on to airfields in friendly Chinese territory.
At 0500 hours, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat while still over 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) away from Tokyo. At 0644 another vessel was spotted by the task force. Fearing that surprise had been lost, Admiral Halsey ordered the bombers launched while still 623 miles (1,003 kilometers) from land.
The sixteen bombers were successfully launched from Hornet and headed for their assigned targets. The lead airplane, B-25B serial number 40-2344, was flown by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, United States Army Air Forces, commanding the strike force. The first bombs were dropped on Tokyo at 1215 local time. Single B-25s each attacked targets in the cities of Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe.
The actual destructive effect of the attack was minimal. It had been hoped that there would be psychological effects on the citizenry, however the arrival of the American bombers coincided with an ongoing air raid drill, and many thought it was all part of the drill. Militarily, however, the attack was a stunning success. Four Japanese fighter groups, needed elsewhere, were pinned down at home, waiting for the next attack.
Not a single B-25 was lost over Japan. One landed in Vladivostok where the crew and airplane were interred by the “neutral” Russians, but they eventually were able to get home. The rest continued on toward China, though without enough fuel to reach their planned destinations. Four B-25s made crash landings, but the crews of the others bailed out into darkness as their planes ran out of gas. Five men were killed. Eight were captured by the Japanese, two of whom were executed by a military court, and another died in prison.
20 March 1922: USS Langley (CV-1) was commissioned as the first aircraft carrier of the United States Navy. It was a former collier, USS Jupiter (AC-3), which had been converted at the Norfolk Navy Yard, 1921–1922.
The aircraft carrier was powered by General Electric turbo-electric drive, with a total of 7,200 shaft horsepower. 542 feet (165 meters) in length, she could make 15.5 knots (28.7 kilometers per hour). Her full load displacement was 14,100 tons.
As more modern aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga came in to service, Langley was once again converted, this time to a sea plane tender, AV-3. She was badly damaged by Japanese dive bombers, 27 February 1942, and was scuttled.
More aircraft carriers would follow and were the key to the United States Navy victory in the Pacific Ocean, bringing World War II to a close.
Ninety-five years after USS Langley was commissioned, the aircraft carrier is the center of the American fleet. The Nimitz-class carriers are the most powerful warships ever built.
17 January 1911: Taking off from the U.S. Army’s Selfridge Field (the closed Tanforan race track at San Bruno, California) at approximately 10:45 a.m., Eugene Burton Ely flew his Curtiss-Ely pusher to San Francisco Bay where he landed aboard the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4) as it lay at anchor.
A temporary wooden deck had been erected aboard the ship at the Mare Island shipyard. Built of wood, it was 133 feet, 7 inches (40.7 meters) long and 31 feet, 6 inches (9.6 meters) wide. Twenty-two manila hemp cables were stretched across the deck at 3-foot (0.9-meter) intervals. These were to catch hooks mounted beneath Ely’s airplane and drag it to a stop. Each cable had a 50-pound (22.7 kilogram) sand bag at each end. The bags were precisely weighed so that the Curtiss would not slew to one side. A guideway was laid out on the deck with 2-inch × 4-inch (5 × 10 centimeter) planks, and 2-foot (0.6-meter) high barriers were at each edge of the flight deck.
Captain Charles Fremont Pond, commanding Pennsylvania, offered to take the ship to sea in order that Ely would have the advantage of a head wind down the flight deck, but as winds in the bay were 10 to 15 miles per hour (4.5–6.7 meters per second), Ely elected to have the cruiser remain anchored.
About ten minutes after Ely took off, he was overhead the anchored ship. He set up his approach and when he was approximately 75 feet (23 meters) astern of Pennsylvania, he cut his engine and glided to a landing. The airplane was flying at about 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour) when the hooks engaged the cables, which quickly slowed it to a stop. Eugene B. Ely landed aboard USS Pennsylvania at 11:01 a.m.
This was the very first time that an airplane had landed aboard a ship. The use of arresting wires would become common with aircraft carrier operations.
Ely and his wife, Mabel, were guests of Captain Pond for lunch. Photographs were taken and 57 minutes after his landing, he took off for the return flight to Selfridge Field.
Ely unsuccessfully tried to interest the Navy in employing him as an aviator. He and Mabel traveled the country, “barnstorming,” making flight demonstrations and entering aviation meets. He was killed at Macon, Georgia, 19 October 1911, when he was unable to pull out of a dive.
3 December 1945: The first landing and takeoff aboard an aircraft carrier by a jet-powered aircraft were made by Lieutenant-Commander Eric Melrose Brown, MBE, DSC, RNVR, Chief Naval Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough, while flying a de Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551/G. The ship was the Royal Navy Colossus-class light aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean (R68), under the command of Captain Casper John, RN.
For his actions in these tests, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was invested an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), 19 February 1946.
LZ551 was the second of three prototype DH.100 Vampires, which first flew 17 March 1944. The airplane was used for flight testing and then in 1945, was modified for operation for carriers. It was named “Sea Vampire” and reclassified as Mk.10.
The DH.100 was a single-seat, single-engine fighter powered by a turbojet engine. The twin tail boom configuration of the airplane was intended to allow a short exhaust tract for the engine, reducing power loss in the early jet engines available at the time.
LZ551/G was originally powered by a Halford H.1 turbojet which produced 2,300 pounds of thrust (10.231 kilonewtons) at 9,300 r.p.m. This engine was produced by de Havilland and named Goblin.
The Vampire entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1945 and remained a front-line fighter until 1953. 3,268 DH.100s were built. There were two prototype Sea Vampires (including LZ551) followed by 18 production Sea Vampire FB.5 fighter bombers and 73 Sea Vampire T.22 two-place trainers.
LZ551 is in the collection of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset.
HMS Ocean was built at the Alexander Stephen and Sons yard on the Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland. The ship was launched in 1944 and commissioned 8 August 1945. Classed as a light fleet carrier, HMS Ocean was 630 feet (192 meters) long at the water line, with a beam of 80 feet, 1 inch (24.41 meters) and standard draft of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.64 meters) at 13,190 tons displacement; 23 feet, 3 inches (7.09 meters), at full load displacement (18,000 tons). The aircraft carrier’s flight deck was 695 feet, 6 inches (212.0 meters) long. Ocean was driven by four Parsons geared steam turbines producing 40,000 shaft horsepower, and had a maximum speed of 25 knots (28.8 miles per hour/46.3 kilometers per hour). HMS Ocean had a crew of 1,050 sailors, and could carry 52 aircraft.
HMS Ocean served for twelve years before being placed in reserve. Five years later, she was scrapped at Faslane, Scotland.
Captain Eric Melrose Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, KCVSA, PhD Hon FRAeS, RN, is one of aviation’s greatest test pilots. He was born at Leith, Scotland, 21 January 1918, the son of Robert John Brown and Euphemia Melrose Brown. His father, a Royal Air Force officer, took him for his first flight at the age of 8. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland, Fettes College, and at the University of Edinburgh. He received a Master of Arts degree from the university in 1947.
Eric Brown volunteered for the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, 4 December 1939. Having previously learned to fly at the University Air Squadron, Brown was sent to a Flying Refresher Course at RNAS Sydenham, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Brown received a commission as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, 26 November 1940. He briefly served with No. 801 Squadron before being transferred to No. 802 Squadron. He flew the Grumman G-36A Martlet Mk.I (the export version of the U.S. Navy F4F-3 Wildcat fighter) from the escort carrier HMS Audacity (D10) on Gibraltar convoys. Having shot down several enemy aircraft, including two Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor four-engine patrol bombers, Brown was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. HMS Audacity was sunk by enemy submarines in the Atlantic, 21 December 1941. Brown was one of only 24 to escape from the sinking ship, but only he and one other survived long enough in the frigid water to be rescued.
Sub-Lieutenant Brown met Miss Evelyn Jean Margaret Macrory on 7 April 1940. They married in 1942 and would have one son.
Brown was promoted to lieutenant, 1 April 1943. After a number of operational assignments, Brown was assigned to the Naval Test Squadron at Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, Boscombe Down, in December 1943. The following month Brown was named Chief Naval Test Pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. He held that post until 1949.
In July 1945, Eric Brown was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-commander (temporary), and then, following the war, he was transferred from the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve to the Royal Navy, and appointed a lieutenant with date of rank to 1 April 1943.
Lieutenant Brown was awarded the King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in teh Air in the New Year’s Honours List, 1949.Brown returned to No. 802 Squadron during the Korean War, flying from the aircraft carriers HMS Vengeance (R71) and HMS Indomitable (92). He was promoted to lieutenant-commander, 1 April 1951. In September 1951, Brown resumed flight testing as an exchange officer at the U.S. Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland.
In 1953, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was a ship’s officer aboard HMS Rocket (H92), an anti-submarine frigate. He was promoted to commander, 31 December 1953. After a helicopter refresher course, Brown commanded a Search-and-Rescue (SAR) helicopter flight aboard HMS Illustrious. He next commanded No. 804 Squadron based at RNAS Lossiemouth, then went on to command RNAS Brawdy at Pembrokeshire, Wales.
From 1958 to 1960, Commander Brown was the head of the British Naval Air Mission to Germany. He then held several senior positions in air defense within the Ministry of Defence. He was promoted to captain 31 December 1960.
From 1964 to 1967, Brown was the Naval Attache at Bonn, Germany. He next commanded RNAS Lossiemouth, 1967–1970.
Captain Brown’s final military assignment was as Aide-de-camp to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.
Eric M. Brown was invested a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), 3 July 1945, for landings of a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito aboard HMS Indefatigable, 2 May 1944. On 1 January 1970, Captain Brown was named a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen’s New Years Honours List.
Captain Eric Melrose Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, KCVSA, PhD Hon FRAeS, RN, retired from active duty 12 March 1970. He later served as president of the Royal Aero Club.
At that time, he had accumulated more than 18,000 flight hours, with over 8,000 hours as a test pilot. Captain Brown had flown 487 different aircraft types (not variants), a record which is unlikely to ever be broken. Brown made more landings on aircraft carriers than any other pilot, with 2407 landings, fixed wing, and 212 landings, helicopter. He made 2,721 catapult launches, both at sea and on land.
Eric “Winkle” Brown died at Redhill, Surrey, England, 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years.
17 October 1922: Lieutenant Commander Virgil C. (“Squash”) Griffin made the first takeoff from an aircraft carrier of the United States Navy when he flew a Chance Vought Corporation VE-7SF fighter from the deck of USS Langley (CV-1) while the ship was anchored in the York River along the west side of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.
USS Langley was the United States Navy’s first aircraft carrier. The ship was named in honor of an American scientist, Samuel Pierpont Langley. It was a former collier, USS Jupiter (AC-3), which had been converted at the Norfolk Navy Yard, 1921–1922. The ship was 542 feet (165 meters) in length, overall, with a beam of 65 feet, 5 inches (19.939 meters) and draft of 24 feet (7.315 meters). The aircraft carrier had a full load displacement of 15,568 U.S. tons (14,123 Metric tons).
Langley was powered by a General Electric turbo-electric drive, with a total of 7,200 shaft horsepower. She could make 15.5 knots (17.8 miles per hour; 28.7 kilometers per hour). The aircraft carrier had a maximum range of 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers).
In addition to her air group of up to 36 airplanes, Langley was defended by four 5-inch/51-calilber guns (127 mm × 6.477 meters). This gun could fire a 50-pound (22.7 kilogram) shell a distance of 20,142 yards (18.418 kilometers). Its maximum rate of fire was 9 rounds per minute.
As the more modern aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga came in to service, Langley was once again converted, this time to a sea plane tender, and reclassified as AV-3. She was badly damaged by Japanese dive bombers during the Battle of the Java Sea, 27 February 1942, having been struck by five bombs. The ship was scuttled to prevent capture, when her escorting destroyers fired two torpedoes into her.
The Chance Vought VE-7 was originally ordered as a two-place trainer, but its performance and handling qualities were so good that it was widely used as a fighter. The VE-7SF was a single-place, single-engine biplane built for the U.S. Navy.
The VE-7 was 22 feet 5-3/8 inches (6.842 meters) long, with a wingspan of 34 feet, 4 inches (10.465 meters), and height of 8 feet 7½ inches (2.629 meters). The two-bay wings were separated by a vertical gap of 4 feet, 8 inches (1.422 meters) and the leading edge of the lower wing was staggered 11 inches (27.9 centimeters) behind that of the upper wing. Both wings had 1.25° dihedral. The upper wing had +1.75° incidence, lower wing had +2.25°. The VE-7 had weighed 1,392 pounds (631 kilograms) empty and had gross weight of 1,937 pounds (879 kilograms)
The VE-7 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 716.69-cubic-inch-displacement (11.744 liters) Wright-Hispano E3 Alert single overhead cam 90° V-8 engine, rated at 215 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The engine drove a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 8’8″ (2.642 meters). The Wright E3 weighed 465 pounds (211 kilograms).
The VE-7 had a maximum speed of 106 miles per hour (171 kilometers per hour) and service ceiling of 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Its maximum range was 290 miles (467 kilometers).
The fighter was armed with two Vickers .30-caliber (7.62 mm) machine guns, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.
Rear Admiral Jackson R. Tate, U.S. Navy (Retired) described the first takeoff:
“We were operating just north of the Tongue of the Shoe, seaward of the main channel from Norfolk, Va. A trough about 6 feet long, set up on sawhorses was rigged at the aft end of the flight deck. When the tail skid of the VE-7 used in the test was placed in the trough, she was in the flight attitude.
“We had no brakes, so the plane was held down on the deck by a wire with a bomb release at the end. This was attached to a ring in the landing gear. ‘Squash’ Griffin climbed in, turned up the Hispano Suiza engine to its full 180 hp and gave the “go” signal. The bomb release was snapped and the Vought rolled down the deck. Almost before it reached the deck-center elevator it was airborne. Thus, the first takeoff from a U.S. carrier.”