Ten Technologies: A Brief Look at Military Evolution — Aircraft Carriers

By Carla Voorhees,
Defense Media Activity

This is the fourth in a series of 10 technologies integral to the United States military since World War I.

USS Valley Forge (CV-45): Crewmen use flight deck tractors with power brooms to sweep snow from the carrier's flight deck, during operations off Korea, circa early 1951. Photo is dated 8 May 1951, but Valley Forge ended her second Korean War deployment in late March of that year. Plane parked in the foreground is a F4U-4 "Corsair" fighter. Those on the forward flight deck are an AD "Skyraider" attack plane and a HO3S helicopter. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.)

USS Valley Forge (CV-45): Crewmen use flight deck tractors with power brooms to sweep snow from the carrier’s flight deck, during operations off Korea, circa early 1951. Photo is dated 8 May 1951, but Valley Forge ended her second Korean War deployment in late March of that year. Plane parked in the foreground is a F4U-4 “Corsair” fighter. Those on the forward flight deck are an AD “Skyraider” attack plane and a HO3S helicopter. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives.)

The birth of the aircraft carrier dates back to 1910, just seven years after the dawn of modern aviation with the Wright brother’s bi-plane. At first, the U.S. Navy was skeptical as to whether or not aeronautics had a place in naval warfare.

The first challenge was to prove that an airplane could take off and land from a ship at sea. The first test was conducted using the cruiser Birmingham at the Norfolk Navy Yard, where a temporary wooden platform was erected. On Nov 14, 1910, in a blanket of clouds and light showers, Eugene Ely flew off from the ship. The second test, whether a plane could land on a ship, was conducted on Jan. 18, 1911, on a second platform attached to the cruiser USS Pennsylvania. A series of 22 weighted lines stretched across the deck of the ship along with hooks attached to the plane, prepared to catch the plane as it landed. This worked like a dream.

Even with these successful tests, the Navy focused on sea planes launched from catapults. It took until April 1917 before true aircraft carriers were considered more seriously. German U-boats were sinking many merchant ships and the U.S. used seaplanes for anti-submarine reconnaissance. Since no sea planes of the time could make a trans-oceanic journey with their limited fuel, ships taking planes to the battlefield were necessary.

Today the aircraft carrier does more than simply put planes close to battlefields. It allows the U.S. to operate sovereign territory in international waters, reducing the need to build and maintain bases in countries where our presence may cause political or other strains, and it allows the President a unique range of options to respond to crisis quickly.

Sources:

Evolution of Aircraft Carriers

Why the Carriers?

 

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About Carla Voorhees

Carla Voorhees has always been interested in science, from the time she grew string beans under varying conditions for the science fair (3rd grade) to the time she took every math and science class she could during high school. As her path during college and beyond took her somewhat away from the hard sciences, she is thrilled to be a part of the Armed With Science team. Carla holds a B.S. in Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (2007), and an M.B.A. in Design Strategy from the California College of the Arts (2010). She works as a Web Strategist at DOD Public Web.
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  • http://www.gripbuy.com/Travel/travelocity.html Nadav

    Out of all war tools, this one and submarines seem to me as the most powerful conventional ones. One of my dreams is to be on an aircraft carrier and watch how it works.

    Nadav

  • http://www.best-norman-rockwell-art.com/norman-rockwell-thanksgiving.html Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

    The recent (November 11, 2011) North Carolina – Michigan State televised basketball game demonstrated how the flight deck can also be used to maintain morale. The game also gave us a chance to hear the President in a slightly more informal setting.

    One of the highlights of the show for me was the looks into the operations of the USS Carl Vinson. Nothing classified was shown, of course. That small “city” and its operations were simply fascinating. I, for one, would love to learn more about modern carriers. No classified info, though.