Science and Technology News

Sunday, November 6, 2011

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

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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.

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.  Aircraft carriers were an essential for naval and aerial combat in World War II.

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.

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