Photo: Eugene B. Ely’s personal album, via NHHC




Text: Jean Laffite

It was the afternoon of November 14, 1910, and Eugene B. Ely was taking off with his Curtiss Pusher off the deck of the USS Birmingham in Hampton Roads, Virginia. USS

Roe can be seen in the background.

Our June release of Sopwith 2F.1 Camel kit represents the scale model of

the very first operational, carrier-borne fighter. It was a modification of

the proven standard land fighter design flown by many RNAS squadrons

located on the land bases at the Western front during the Great War. Also,

this type was the first fighter to attack the airship bases from the deck of

an aircraft carrier.

Let’s go back in time to the origin of the

naval deployment of flying machines. Initially

the aviation role was reconnaissance, which

by the way is very important up until today. In

the beginning the impractical balloons or first

airplanes caused doubts among the admirals.

No one was able to imagine that the huge

balls filled with flammable hydrogen, or the

construction of the several wooden planks and

some linen could possibly present a threat to

the steel giants. On the other hand, the aviation

was able to provide better reconnaissance

results than any sailor with binoculars on

the top of the tallest mast. To spot the enemy

first, know his fleet, its formation and course

has always been a tactical advantage. In the

end of 19th century, the ever-improving naval

artillery played its role as well as it was able to

increase the effective range and hit the enemy

July 2023

at the long distances, at the limits of the visual

recognition, without jeopardizing their own

vessels. Therefore, the aviation was perfectly

suited for the role of directing the artillery fire.

The American Civil War gave birth to many

innovative solutions in the military equipment

designs. Among others it was the first

deployment of battle ships, in the case of USS

Monitor even equipped with the rotating gun

turret which gave name to the whole group of

combat vessels designated to fight on the rivers

and in the coastal waters. The first submarine

deployment is well known as well. Rather

amusing, the imagination of a man-driven

Confederate submarine named after its creator

H. L. Hunley sinking the Union propeller-driven

shallop USS Housatonic, on February 17, 1864,

in the mouth of Ashley and Cooper rivers as

she was on duty to blockade Charleston. Little

known fact is that the Union Army was the first

to establish the Army Balloon Corps which

used anchored balloons for reconnaissance

and fire direction in the battles of Bull Run,

Yorktown, Fair Oaks and Vicksburg. A sort

of aircraft carrier was created. USS George

Washington Parke Custis was rebuilt from the

coal transporting boat with the deck devoid of

all objects that could present an obstacle to the

balloon ropes and nets and was used as river

transport boat for the Corps. Its designer, an

experienced aviator Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, had

two gas generators and a balloon installed on

the deck. “I have the pleasure of reporting the

complete success of the first balloon expedition

by water ever attempted. On Sunday early

morning I left the Navy yards assisted by the

capable fellow aviators and a new device to

generate gas which, even though used for the

INFO Eduard