A Brief History
On November 14, 1910, self-taught aviator Eugene Ely took off from the deck of the USS Birmingham, near Norfolk, Virginia. Piloting a Curtiss Pusher airplane, Ely made history by becoming the first person to take off from a ship in an airplane.
The temporary runway constructed over the front portion of the cruiser was only 83 feet long, barely long enough to allow the plane to take off. In fact, on the historic flight, the wheels of the primitive plane dragged in the water and Ely’s goggles were covered with spray!
After the brush with a dunking, Ely headed to the beach and made an improvised landing instead of circling the harbor and landing at the Navy Yard as part of a planned display. In January of 1911, Ely landed a Curtiss airplane on another US Navy cruiser, the first such landing.
Sadly, Ely died at the age of 24 in October of 1911, predictably in a plane crash.
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For more information, please see…
Miller, William. Eugene Ely, Daredevil Aviator: First Shipboard Landing and Takeoff. McFarland, 2014.
Zobel, John. Eugene Ely: Pioneer of Naval Aviation. Naval Institute Press, 2023.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Ely taking off from the USS Birmingham, Hampton Roads, Virginia, November 14, 1910, is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, it is in the public domain in the United States.
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