This Week In Aviation History: Birth Of The U.S. Carrier

October 17, 1922 a converted coal supply ship accepted a landing from a Navy biplane and carrier aviation in the United States was born. The collier Jupiter, hull number AC-3, had been rebuilt under the guidance of Commander Kenneth Whiting as the aircraft carrier Langley, CV-1. Originally built as the Jupiter at the Mare Island Navy Yard in California, the ship had served during World War One with the Atlantic Fleet. Performing as a cargo ship as well as supplying coal to other ships in the fleet, the Jupiter was serving in a necessary, yet less than glamorous, role.

In 1919, Commander Whiting met with the Navy’s General board to discuss his recommendation that the Navy obtain an aircraft carrier. Whiting would convert a collier, because it had an open hull area that could be used as an aircraft hangar below the flight deck. As work began, the Jupiter slowly shed her supply ship and coaling attributes to accommodate her higher purpose. Stacks were diverted to the port side of the ship to provide clearance for aircraft operations. A flight deck was installed with to catapults and a hangar deck was added. As a collier, the ship had a small crew, but now substantial space was needed to house the flight crews and aircraft maintenance personnel.

The work was difficult and took time, but Whiting was able to take command of the newly re-commissioned USS Langley on March 20, 1922. Once commissioned, Whiting was able to receive funding which enabled the Langley to complete her conversion. After the work was complete, Whiting became the Langley’s Executive Officer and her aviation future was assured.

On October 17, 1922, Lt. Virgil C. Griffin took off from the deck of the Langley in a Vought VE-7 fighter. Although this was not the first flight from a ship, this was a real signal that Naval Aviation had begun in earnest. Still, the task was not complete — Griffin landed on shore — but it was only days later, on October 26th, 1922, that Lt. Commander Godfrey De Courcelles Chevalier landed an Aeromarine 39-B on the deck of the Langley for her first arrested landing. The Aeromarine biplane had arresting hooks, but unlike today, there were multiple hooks arrayed in a line underneath the axle of the main gear of the biplane.

Commander Whiting, himself, was the first to use the catapult on the Langley. He launched from the deck on November 18, 1922. This was the start of an important part of American history, for it widely known that in moments of crisis, the first words to resonate in Washington are: ‘Where are the carriers?’