Eugene Burton Ely (October 21, 1886 – October 19, 1911) was an aviation pioneer, credited with the first shipboard aircraft take off and landing.
In October, Ely and Curtiss met Captain Washington Chambers, USN, who had been appointed by George von Lengerke Meyer, the Secretary of the Navy, to investigate military uses for aviation within the Navy. This led to two experiments. On November 14, 1910, Ely took off in a Curtiss pusher from a temporary platform erected over the bow of the light cruiser USS Birmingham. The airplane plunged downward as soon as it cleared the 83-foot platform runway; and the aircraft wheels dipped into the water before rising. Ely’s goggles were covered with spray, and the aviator promptly landed on a beach rather than circling the harbor and landing at the Norfolk Navy Yard as planned. John Barry Ryan offered $500 to build the platform, and a $500 prize, for a ship to shore flight.
Two months later, on January 18, 1911, Ely landed his Curtiss pusher airplane on a platform on the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania anchored in San Francisco Bay. Ely flew from the Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno, California and landed on the Pennsylvania, which was the first successful shipboard landing of an aircraft. This flight was also the first ever using a tailhook system, designed and built by circus performer and aviator Hugh Robinson. Ely told a reporter: “It was easy enough. I think the trick could be successfully turned nine times out of ten.”
Ely communicated with the United States Navy requesting employment, but United States naval aviation was not yet organized. Ely continued flying in exhibitions while Captain Chambers promised to “keep him in mind” if Navy flying stations were created. Captain Chambers advised Ely to cut out the sensational features for his safety and the sake of aviation. When asked about retiring, The Des Moines Register quoted Ely as replying: “I guess I will be like the rest of them, keep at it until I am killed.”
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the flight, Naval Commander Bob Coolbaugh flew a personally built replica of Ely’s Curtiss from the runway at NAS Norfolk on November 12, 2010. The U.S. Navy planned to feature the flying demonstration at Naval anniversary events across America. More details