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EARLY AIRCRAFT CARRIERS

On November 14th 1910, the civilian pilot Eugene Ely flew an aircraft off a ship for the first time. The US Navy’s cruiser Birmingham with a specially built 83-foot long platform was anchored at Hampton Roads for the historic event. Although the wheels of Ely's Curtiss Pusher touched the water, he managed to fly his fragile aircraft safely to shore.

On January 18th 1911, Ely landed his Curtiss Pusher on a specially built 120-foot platform on the aft deck of the armored cruiser Pennsylvania. This ship was anchored in San Francisco Bay at the time with a series of 22 wires weighted down by sandbags to serve as the first arrestor system. An hour later, he took off from the Pennsylvania and returned safely to shore.

After the Americans turned their resources to developing seaplanes, the British took the leading role in developing ships capable of operating conventional aircraft. On January 10th 1912, Lt - Charles Samson made the first British takeoff from a ship. The Royal Navy’s cruiser Africa had been fitted with a temporary flying off platform for the event. In May 1912, Samson flew his aircraft off the cruiser Hibernia while she was traveling at 10 knots, this revealing the ships forward motion into the wind made takeoffs easier.

The British converted their cruiser Hermes to a seaplane carrier in 1913. The outbreak of World War One the following year led to her becoming the first ship to serve in a war with the sole purpose of carrying aircraft. Hermes was also the first aircraft carrier to become a casualty of war after being sunk by a German U-boat in October 1914. Throughout that war, Britain converted several cargo ships to seaplane carriers.

The British Admiralty had to continue their experiments with conventional aircraft and ships, as they needed aircraft with a higher performance than their seaplanes to combat the German Zeppelin airships. For that purpose, they converted the cruiser Furious to carry out the first tests at sea. They began by building a 228-feet flying off ramp across her foredeck and later a landing ramp across her stern. The first landing on a ship at sea soon followed when Commander Ernest Dunning landed his Sopwith Pup on Furious August 3rd 1917. Five days later, Dunning was killed when his aircraft crashed over the side of Furious when attempting another landing. That fatal crash led to the design of ships with one full-length deck to make landings safer.

The first ship to be built with a full flush deck was the Italian liner Conte Rosso. Work on the completion of that ship was suspended at the outbreak of World War One. The British Admiralty purchased the partially built Conte Rosso in 1916 so they could have her completed as an aircraft carrier. This ship entered service in 1918 classed as a strike carrier under the name Argus. Her compliment of 20 aircraft was made up from Sopwith Camel fighters and Sopwith Cuckoo torpedo bombers.

The first British ship to be designed ‘as’ an aircraft carrier entered service in 1923. This innovative ship was the second British carrier to use the name Hermes. Her design incorporated a full-length flight deck, an offset island, elevators and arrestor cables. As with the first Hermes, she also became a casualty of war after being sunk by Japanese carrier aircraft while operating in the Pacific April 9th 1942.

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