Eugene Ely and the First Aircraft Carrier.

On November 14, 1910, Eugene Ely, a burgeoning young pilot, made the first “carrier” take off at Hampton Roads, Virginia.  Though the plane, a Curtiss pusher, dropped dramatically after launching from the USS Birmingham’s rigged deck, with landing gear actually dipping into the water, Ely was able to make a safe landing on a nearby beach.

Eugene Ely launches his Curtiss pusher from the deck of "carrier," USS Birmingham on Nov. 14, 1910. (U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 76511)

Ely completed the cycle on January 18, 1911, when he landed his Curtiss pusher aboard the modified USS Pennsylvania, along the San Fransisco shoreline.  Though “carrier warfare” would not come into its own until World War II, Eugene Ely had successfully planted the seed.

On January 18, 1911, Eugene Ely landed safely aboard the makeshift "carrier," USS Pennsylvania. (U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 1385)

Aviator Eugene Ely died when his plane crashed in Macon, Georgia on October 19, 1911. (U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 77579)

Ely continued to fly exhibitions throughout the country.  Just months after his historic “carrier landing,” he failed to pull from a dive while participating in a show at Macon, Georgia.  He suffered a broken neck and died only minutes after impacting the ground.  At age 31, Ely left behind a wife, Mabel.  His remains were returned to his home state of Iowa for burial.

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