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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed Naval aviation: Compressing a century of flight into one year


By FREDERICK A. JOHNSEN
hellcat
Capt. Mark "Mutha" Hubbard pilots the F-6F Hellcat with Lt. Matt "11" Lowe in the F/A-18E and Lt. Erik "Dookie" Kenny in the F/A-18F over California's Central Valley during the 2011 USN Tailhook Legacy Flight Qualifications.
PHOTO BY TYSON V. RININGER
Formation
An SB2C Helldiver flies lead with an F6F Hellcat in the slot and two F/A-18F Super Hornets on each wing complete  this unique four-ship formation. Flying the Hellcat is Ed Vesely and the F6F is Doug Rozendaal. The F/A-18F Super Hornets were flown by Lt. Brant "Winthorp" Gresham and Lt. Alex "Scribe" Armatas.
PHOTO BY TYSON V. RININGER

A hundred years ago this month a Curtiss pusher, designated A-1, piloted by Lt. Theodore G. Ellyson, inaugurated U.S. naval aviation with two solo sorties on July 1, 1911, propelling the Navy into the air age.

From then forward the story of naval aviation is laced with innovation and advances by Navy pilots and the makers of their aircraft. When Ellyson graduated from the Curtiss Flying School he became Naval Aviator No. 1, the first in an ongoing stream of gold-winged fliers who continue to apply a nautical twist to their aircraft.

A hundred years ago this month a Curtiss pusher, designated A-1, piloted by Lt. Theodore G. Ellyson, inaugurated U.S. naval aviation with two solo sorties on July 1, 1911, propelling the Navy into the air age.

From then forward the story of naval aviation is laced with innovation and advances by Navy pilots and the makers of their aircraft.

The story started with tantalizing demonstrations by Curtiss company pilot Eugene Ely in the A-1, first from a platform on the deck of the cruiser USS Birmingham anchored at Hampton Roads, Virginia, on November 4, 1910, then January 11, 1911, when he took off and landed from a similar makeshift platform aboard the battleship Pennsylvania at anchor in San Francisco Bay.

When Ellyson graduated from the Curtiss Flying School he became Naval Aviator No. 1, the first in an ongoing stream of gold-winged fliers who continue to apply a nautical twist to their aircraft.

On January 10, 1914, a Navy press release shaped the battlefield to come: “The Secretary of the Navy has decided that the science of aerial navigation has reached that point where aircraft must form a large part of our naval force for offensive and defensive operations. This country has not fully recognized the value of aeronautics in preparation for war, but it is believed that we should take our proper place.”

Evolving a naval air wing
From the start, naval aviators grappled with launching and recovering aircraft at sea. Compressed air catapults, based on torpedo launchers of the day, hurled the frail A-1 into flight that first year as visionaries grasped the promise of naval aviation, to extend the fleet’s eyes with airborne observers and take the battlefield aloft.

Even before World War I, Adm. Bradley A. Fiske presciently opined aircraft could launch torpedoes.

With America thrust into World War I, the Navy provided seaplanes for submarine spotting to protect convoys. Into the 1920s, the U.S. Navy and the manufacturers of naval aircraft refined the capabilities of torpedo bombers, fleet protection fighters, and observation aircraft, hedging their bets with both seaplanes and landplanes.

In 1919 the large seaplane NC-4 used its huge 126-foot wingspan to carry it across the Atlantic in stages to become the first aircraft in the world to fly this crossing.

By 1927, liquid-cooled engines that were early dominant gave way to radial air-cooled powerplants that became the standard for Navy aircraft until the jet age.

Pratt & Whitney’s Wasp weighed far less with no heavy liquid-coolant system, promising an easier logistics chain to keep shipboard aircraft in service.

The Navy also fostered initial development of the vaunted Norden bombsight usually associated with Air Force operations in World War II.

Tactics advance with skills
In the peacetime years naval aviators eagerly explored combat tactics including dive bombing. Early doctrine emphasizing single-plane tactics evolved into unit tactics, and finally to the multi-ship task forces that optimized the offensive and defensive power of grouped aircraft carriers in World War II.

The Pacific war owes its success to pivotal naval air battles including the frantic fight at Midway in June 1942—a battle that bloodied both sides but effectively blunted Japan’s ability to project offensive naval airpower for the rest of the war.

When the Navy took over Atlantic anti-submarine warfare in World War II, its use of long-range land-bomber PB4Y-1 Liberators put U-boats on the run.

The people behind the power
Aviation always attracts forward-looking dreamers and doers, and the maturation of American naval aviation was hastened by pilots, engineers, and their commercial-manufacturer counterparts who understood the need to tailor aircraft to Navy requirements.

Curtiss and Boeing set the tone for single-engine carrier-based aircraft in the 1920s and 1930s; Grumman took up the challenge with its famed feline fighters of the 1940s—Wildcat, Hellcat, Tigercat, Bearcat, leading to early durable jets like the Panther and Cougar.

McDonnell’s Phantom, Banshee, and Demon paved the way for the ultimate F-4 Phantom II also adopted by the Air Force.

Douglas’ SBD Dauntless dive bomber arguably won World War II in the Pacific. Douglas’ postwar follow-on, the AD (later A-1) Skyraider, hewed to designer Ed Heinemann’s philosophy of keeping things simple to do the required mission.

The end of World War II coincided with quantum leaps in technology as the Navy embraced jets, rockets, and nuclear fission.

Navy roles and missions capitalized on a variety of fighter, bomber, and electronic warfare airframes throughout the Cold War and beyond.

The Navy’s foreseeable future has capable variations of the F/A-18 Super Hornet filling most missions.

A century on display at AirVenture
The color and drama of a century of naval aviation comes to Oshkosh this year with many aircraft from the Navy, including the anticipated arrivals of a 1911 Curtiss Pusher replica, P-3, F-5, T-38, TH-57, T-34, T-6, T-39, F/A-18, F-16, DC-9, E2-C, T-45, C-2, TC-12, T-44, Blue Angel 7 F/A-18, HH-60H, Marine AV-8B, S-3, and E-18G.

Expected in this contingent are aircraft the Navy has painted in special retro vintage centennial colors and markings honoring earlier colorful eras of naval aviation.

From the warbird community, other vintage representations of naval aviation expected to attend AirVenture 2011 include an SBD, J2F, SB2C, PV-2, Pinto, SNJ, TBM, F4U, FM-2, F7F, HU-16, PBJ, R4D, AD, A-4, T-2, F8F in Blue Angel paint scheme, and UH-1.

Bill Fischer, EAA Warbirds of America executive director, says the Wednesday Navy warbird air show “would be an opportunity to see the biggest collection of flying Navy aircraft at one event.”

With total warbird arrivals expected to reach or surpass 350 aircraft, a significant percentage will be Navy veterans.

Honoring U.S. Navy World War II veterans at AirVenture 2011, a Southwest Airlines 737 will depart Oshkosh Wednesday, carrying about 80 veterans on a round trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II memorial, Iwo Jima memorial, and the National Museum of the U.S. Navy.

The flight of veterans returns to AirVenture after 6 p.m. to a reception honoring their service.    

From a theoretical glimmer in 1911 to a supersonic force for freedom today, the century of U.S. naval aviation celebrated at AirVenture 2011 provides the opportunity to appreciate the U.S. Navy and its can-do people.   

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