Tag Archives: USS Langley (CV-1)

17 October 1922

A Vought VE-7SF takes off from USS Langley (CV-1). (National Naval Aviation Museum)
A Vought VE-7 takes off from USS Langley (CV-1). (National Naval Aviation Museum)

17 October 1922: Lieutenant Commander Virgil Childers (“Squash”) Griffin, Jr., United States Navy, made the first takeoff from an aircraft carrier of the U. S. Navy when he flew a Chance Vought Corporation VE-7 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.

A Vought VE-7 taking off from USS Langley, 1922. The second airplane is an Aeromarine. (U.S. Navy)
A Vought VE-7 taking off from USS Langley, 1922. The second airplane is an Aeromarine 39 trainer. (U.S. Navy)

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. As an aircraft carrier, Langley had a complement of 468 men, including the air wing. The ship was 542 feet, 2.5 inches (165.27 meters) in length, overall, with a beam of 65 feet, 6 inches (19.96 meters) and draft of 22 feet, 1 inch (6.73 meters). The aircraft carrier had a full load displacement of 15,150 long tons (15,393 Metric tons).

Langley was powered by a General Electric turbo-electric drive, with a total of 6,500 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).

USS Langley (CV-1) with Vought VE-7SF fighters on the flight deck, at anchor off Culebra Island, Puerto Rico, 18 March 1926. In the background are a USS Tennessee-class and two USS New Mexico-class battleships. (U.S. Navy)

In addition to her air group of up to 36 airplanes, Langley was defended by four 5-inch/51-caliber guns (127 mm × 6.477 meters). This gun could fire a 50-pound (22.7 kilogram) shell a distance of 15,850 yards (14, 493 meters) when elevated to 20°. 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, 21 April 1937.

USS Langley 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 approximately 75 miles south of Tjilatjap, Java, to prevent capture, when her escorting destroyers fired two torpedoes into her.

USS Langley (CV-1), 1922. (U.S. Navy)
USS Langley (CV-1), 1922. (U.S. Navy)

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)

Vought VE-7SF 2-F-16. (Chance Vought)
Vought VE-7SF 2-F-16. (Chance Vought)

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-camshaft (SOHC) 60° 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.

Chance Vought VE-7, 2-F-16, assigned to Fighter Squadron 2 (VF-2) (Chance Vought)
Chance Vought VE-7SF, 2-F-16, assigned to Fighter Squadron 2 (VF-2) (Chance Vought)

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.”

United States Navy aircraft carrier USS. George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) (Mass Coomunications Specialist 3rd Class Tony Curtiss, U.S. Navy)
United States Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77). (Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Tony Curtis, U.S. Navy)

Virgil Childers Griffin, Jr., was born at Montgomery, Alabama, 18 April 1891. He was the first of three children of Virgil Childers Griffin, secretary of the Railroad Commission of Alabama, and Mary Lee Besson Griffin.

Midshipman Virgil C. Griffin, Jr., U.S.N.A.

Griffin was admitted as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, 25 June 1908, a member of the Class of 1912. Four years later he graduated. Virgil C. Griffin, Jr., was commissioned an ensign, United States Navy, 8 June 1912, with a date of precedence 28 April 1908.

On 14 July 1912, Ensign Griffin was assigned to the 16,000 ton battleship, USS South Carolina (BB-26). Griffin was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade), 8 June 1915. He remained aboard South Carolina until June 1916.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Griffin applied for flight trainning, and on completion, was designated Naval Aviator # 41.

The United States entered World War I in April 1917. On 8 June 1917, Lieutenant (j.g.) Griffin was one of one hundred Naval Aviators who “arrived safely in France for any duty that may present itself. . . They are the first of the American fighting forces to reach France.” On 8 June 1918, Griffin was promoted to lieutenant (permanent rank). He was in command of the U.S. Navy sea plane base at Saint-Trojan, in southwestern France. Griffin was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander (temporary), 21 September 1918 (Constructive date of precedence 28 February 1907).

Lieutenant Commander Griffin returned to the United States in 1919. He was assigned to the Department of the Navy, Washington, D.C., first to the Naval Operations Aviation Divivision, and in 1920, Naval Operations Inspection Division. Later in 1920, Griffin was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet Ship Plane Division, Mitchel Field, Mineola, New York.

On 8 December 1920, Lieutenant Commander Griffin married 25-year-old Alabama native Miss Elize Whiting Hall, at Mobile, Alabama.

In 1923, Lieutenant Commander Griffin returned to sea duty aboard USS Langley. he was next stationed at NAS Pensacola, Florida, 1924–1925. He served aboard USS Lexington (CV-2), 1926–1927. In 1929, Griffin returned to Langley, before being assigned Scoutig Squadron TWO (VS-2B) aboard USS Saratoga, flying the Vought O2U-2 Corsair.

On 29 December 1931, Griffin was promoted to commander. He was stationed at NAS Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, in 1932.

Commander Griffin once again returned to Langley, as the aircraft carrier’s executive officer, 1933–1934.

In 1937, Commander Griffin was commanding officer, NAS Anacostia, Washington D.C. He had additional duties in the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics.

In 1938 and 1939, Commander Griffin was chief of staff and aide to the Commander, Carrier Division TWO (ComCarDiv 2), aboard USS Yorktown.

Consolidated PBY-3 of Patrol Wing FIVE, circa 1939. (U.S. Navy)

Later in 1939, Commander Griffin was assigned as commanding officer Patrol Wing FIVE. The wing included patrol squadrons VP-51, VP-52, VP-53 VP-54, and the airplane tenders USS Gannet (AVP-8), USS Thrush (AVP-3), USS Owl (AM-2) and USS Patoka (AV-6).

Griffin was promoted to the rank captain, 1 November 1939. On 1 May 1940, Captain Griffin was placed in command of NAS Isle Grande, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Captain Virgil C. Griffin, Jr., U.S. Navy, with Mrs. Ernest Hemingway (née Martha Ellis Gelhorn), circa 1942. (National Museum of the United States Navy) 80-G-13028a

Captain Virgil Childers Griffin, Jr., retired from the United States Navy, 1 January 1947. He died at San Diego, California, 27 March 1957, at the age of 66 years. He was buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 July 1935

Captain Frank Peak Akers, United States Navy, commanding USS Saratoga (CV-3), circa 1945.(U.S. Navy)

30 July 1935: Lieutenant Frank Peak Akers, United States Navy, took of from the Naval Air Station San Diego, California, flying a specially-equipped Berliner-Joyce OJ-2 biplane. With his cockpit covered by a hood to prevent his seeing outside, he flew completely by reference to electronic devices on board the airplane.

The purpose of Lieutenant Akers’ flight was to locate the aircraft carrier USS Langley (CV-1) at an unspecified position approximately 150 miles to the west of the California shoreline. Then, still flying solely by his instruments, he was to land aboard the carrier.

Akers accomplished his tasks, for which the Navy awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Lt. Frank P. Akers, wearing flight helmet and goggles, explains the instrument landing equipment to Rear Admiral Ernest J. King, seated in the aft cockpit, at NAS Anacostia, circa 1934. (U.S. Navy)

The instrument flying equipment had been developed by the Washington Institute of Technology, founded by former members of the U.S. National Bureau of Standards. The Navy tested these devices at College Park, Maryland. On 1 May 1934, Lieutenant Akers took off from NAS Anacostia in the hooded OJ2 and landed, “blind” at College Park.

A Berliner-Joyce OJ-2, Bu. No. 9204, with a retractable hood over the rear cockpit and a large radio mast. (U.S. Navy)

The Berliner-Joyce OJ-2 was a single-engine two-place biplane designed as an observation aircraft for operation from U.S. Navy light cruisers. The fuselage was constructed of welded chrome moly tubing, with the forward section covered in sheet metal. The aft section and wooden wings were covered with fabric. The airplane could readily be reconfigured from a float plane to conventional landing gear.

Three-view illustration of the Berliner-Joyce OJ-1/2 biplane, (FLIGHT, No. 1324, Vol. XXVI, 10 May 1934, Page 468, Column 1)

The OJ-2 was 25 feet, 8 inches (7.823 meters) long with an upper wing span of 33 feet, 8 inches (10.262 meters) and height of 10 feet, 10 inches (3.302 meters). The total wing area was 284.2 square feet (26.40 square meters). The airplane weighed 2,323 pounds (1,054 kilograms) empty, and 3,713 pounds (1,684 kilograms), gross.

The OJ-2 was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-985-38 Wasp Jr. engine rated at 400 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., at Sea Level. The direct-drive engine had a compression ratio of 6:1, and turned a two-bladed propeller. The engine was enclosed by a Townend ring.

Its maximum speed was 154 miles per hour (248 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and 121 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The airplane could climb to that altitude in 12.1 minutes. The service ceiling was 15,300 feet (4,663 meters), and its absolute ceiling was 16,700 feet (5,090 meters). The maximum range of the OJ-2 was 461 nautical miles (531 statute miles/854 kilometers).

The OJ-2 was equipped with radio transmitters and receivers. It could be armed with a single fixed Browning .30 caliber (7.62 mm) machine gun in the upper wing with 500 rounds of ammunition, and a second gun in the rear cockpit with 600 rounds of ammunition. A maximum of 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of bombs could be carried.

A Berliner-Joyce OJ-2 observation plane, Bu. No. 9197, assigned to Scouting Squadron 5B, USS Memphis, photographed at NAS San Diego, 1934. (United States Navy)

Frank Peak Akers was born 28 March 1901 at Nashville, Tennessee. He was the second of four sons of Albert Warren Akers, an attorney in private practice, and Lillian Crenshaw Akers.

Frank Akers was appointed to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He entered as a midshipman on 12 June 1918. Midshpman Akers graduated and was commissioned as an ensign, United States Navy, 3 June 1922.

USS Sumner (DD-333), a Clemson-class “flush-deck” or “four-stack” destroyer, circa 1920s. (United States Navy)

Ensign Akers was assigned to the Clemson-class destroyer USS Sumner (DD-333, serving in the engineering department. He remained with the ship for the next two years.

In 1925, Ensign Akers was promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) and transferred to NAS Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. After qualifying as a naval aviator, 11 September 1925, Lt. (j.g.) Akers was assigned to Observation Squadron Two (VO-2) aboard the class-leading battleship, USS Nevada (BB-36).

USS Nevada (BB-36), 1925. (Allan C. Green/State Library of Victoria.)
Members of Observation Squadron Two (VO-2) aboard USS Nevada (BB-36), circa 1925. The officer in the back row, second from left, may be Lt.(j.g.) Frank Akers. The next three officers are Lt. George Seitz, Lt.(j.g.) W.K. Berner, and CPO Ludika. (VPNavy.org)

In 1926, Lt. (j.g.) Akers was reassigned to Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Langley (CV-1).

USS Langley (CV-1) underway, circa 1926. (U.S. Navy)

In 1927 Akers transferred from Langley to Fighter Squadron Five (VF-5 S), aircraft squadrons, Scouting Fleet, aboard USS Wright (AV-1), a former airship tender which had been converted to a sea plane tender.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Frank Peak Akers married Miss Mary Bayliss House in Sumner County, Tennessee, 25 January 1928. They would have a son, Albert Bayliss Akers, born 12 November 1928, and who would later be a major general, United States Army.

Akers served at NAS Pensacola from 1928 to 1930 as a fighter instructor. He was promoted to lieutenant 26, November 1929. Leaving Pensacola, Lieutenant Akers returned to Langley.

Lieutenant Akers was a postgraduate student in electronics at Annapolis in 1932. The Navy then sent him to Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He earned a master’s degree in electronic communications in 1933. He was then assigned to NAS Anacostia, where he was involved in experimental instrument landing systems.

In 1937 Lieutenant Akers was assigned as the communications officer, Aircraft Base Force, once again aboard USS Wright.

Akers was promoted to lieutenant commander, 23 June 1938. He was assigned to the Bureau of Engineering at the Navy Department, Washington, D.C.

Lieutenant Commander Akers took command of the USS George E. Badger (AVP-16) in 1940. This was a Clemson-class destroyer which had been converted to a sea plane tender. He was promoted to the rank of commander (temporary), 1 January 1942, with the rank becoming permanent on 30 June 1942.

During the early months of World War II, Commander Akers was the Navigator aboard USS Hornet (CV-8). He participated in the Halsey-Doolittle Raid, giving Colonel James H. Doolittle the latest position of the aircraft carrier just before he took off to attack Japan, 18 April 1942. Two months later, Commander Akers was aboard Hornet during the Battle of Midway.

USS Hornet (CV-8), Captain Marc A. Mitscher, U.S.N., commanding, 27 October 1942. The aircraft carrier is painted in Measure 12 camouflage, Sea Blue 5-S, Ocean Gray 5-O and Haze Gray 5-H. (U.S. Navy)

Commander Akers was promoted to captain (temporary) 1 April 1943. On 15 April 1945, he took command of the newly-repaired Lexington-class aircraft carrier, USS Saratoga, CV-3. He remained in command until 4 February 1946.

USS Saratoga (CV-3) under way in Puget Sound, 15 May 1945, Captain Frank P. Akers, commanding. (U.S. Navy)

Captain Akers’ rank was made permanent on 1 May 1949. Less than a year later, 1 March 1950, Captain Akers was promoted to rear admiral. He remained in the Navy until April 1963, when he retired with nearly 45 years of service.

Rear Admiral Frank Peak Akers, United States Navy (Retired) died at the George Washington University Hospital, Washington, D.C., 22 March 1988, 6 days before his 89th birthday. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 March 1922

USS Langley (CV-1) underway, circa 1926. (U.S. Navy)
USS Langley (CV-1) underway, circa 1926. (U.S. Navy)

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.

USS Langley was 542 feet (165.2 meters) long, with a beam of 65 feet, 5 inches (19.94 meters) and draft of 24 feet (7.32 meters). Her full load displacement was 14,100 tons (12,791 metric tons).

The aircraft carrier was powered by General Electric turbo-electric drive, with a total of 7,200 shaft horsepower. Steam turbines drove generators which supplied power for electric motors which drove the propeller shafts. She could make 15.5 knots (28.7 kilometers per hour).

The ship’s complement was 468 officers and men.

Defensive armament consisted of four 5-inch/51-caliber (127 millimeters × 6.477 meters) guns. These guns, firing a 50 pound (22.7 kilogram) projectile, had a maximum range of 15,850 yards (14,493 meters).

USS Langley (CV-1) with Vought VE-7SF fighters on the flight deck, at anchor off Culebra Island, Puerto Rico, 18 March 1926. In the background are a USS Tennessee-class and two USS New Mexico-class battleships. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Commander Virgil Childers (“Squash”) Griffin, Jr., United States Navy, made the first takeoff from an aircraft carrier of the U. S. Navy when he flew a Chance Vought Corporation VE-7SF fighter from the deck of USS Langley (CV-1), 17 October 1922, while the ship was anchored in the York River along the west side of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

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.

USS Langley (AV-3) shortly after conversion to a seaplane tender, circa 1937. (U.S. Navy)
Curtiss P-40E Warhawks of the 13th Pursuit Squadron (Provisional) at Richmond Field, Sydney, Australia, 13 February 1942. (Texas A&M University Press)

Langley, under the command of Commander Robert P.McConnell, USN, delivered a cargo of thirty-two Curtiss P-40E Warhawks for the 13th Pursuit Squadron (Provisional) from Fremantle, Western Australia, to Tjilatjap Harbor, on the southern coast of Java, Dutch East Indies. After leaving the harbor on 27 February 1942, Langley was attacked by a group of Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” twin-engine medium bombers.

After evading several bomb runs, Langley was hit by six bombs. On fire and with its engine room flooded, the crew was forced to abandon ship. Langley was torpedoed by an escorting destroyer, USS Whipple (DD-217), to prevent capture.

A torpedo fired by U.S.S. Whipple (DD-217) strikes USS Langley, 27 February 1942. (United States Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command NH 92476)

The crew of Langley were taken aboard a fleet oiler, USS Pecos (AO-6), and thirty-three Air Corps pilots were transferred USS Edsall (DD-219). Pecos was sunk while enroute to Australia, with the loss of many lives. Edsall was also sunk and thirty-one of the Army pilots died.

USS Langley (AV-3) sinking. Photographed from USS Whipple (DD-217), 27 February 1942. (U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command NH 92474)

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.

"Murderers' Row" Third Fleet aircraft carriers at anchor in Ulithi Atoll, 8 December 1944, during a break from operations in the Philippines area. The carriers are (from front to back): USS Wasp (CV-18), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Hancock (CV-19) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). Wasp, Yorktown and Ticonderoga are all painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. Photographed from a USS Ticonderoga plane. Official U.S. Navy Photograph #: 80-G-294131
“Murderers’ Row” Third Fleet aircraft carriers at anchor in Ulithi Atoll, 8 December 1944, during a break from operations in the Philippines area. The carriers are (from front to back): USS Wasp (CV-18), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Hancock (CV-19) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). Wasp, Yorktown and Ticonderoga are all painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. Photographed from a USS Ticonderoga plane. Official U.S. Navy Photograph #: 80-G-294131

Ninety-seven 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.

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). (U.S. Navy)
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). (U.S. Navy)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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