Birth of the aircraft carriers

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The explosive growth of aviation capabilities in the first two decades of the 20th Century was not lost on a subset of military fliers of the era. Around the world, aviators and strategists, perhaps younger than the leaders of their branches of service, embraced flight as a way to make a novel contribution to their nations’ military interests.

The U.S. Navy had advocates for multi-engine long-range patrol seaplanes, and another camp that believed the future belonged to ship-based fighters, scouts, and bombers.

Eugene Ely had shown the possibility of taking off and landing on a ship back in 1910 and 1911, with an open-air Curtiss Pusher on makeshift wooden planking on two different cruisers.

A cantilever Martin MO observation plane of U.S. Navy design lands aboard USS Langley in this view that shows the hull’s classic lines capped with the flat top for its new mission as an aircraft carrier. (Photo by Naval History and Heritage Command)

Kenneth Whiting is credited in a number of U.S. Navy sources for his hands-on stewardship of aircraft carriers in the immediate post-World War I period. Though not as well known as Army aviator Gen. Billy Mitchell, whose outspoken advocacy for airpower cost him his career in the 1920s, Whiting nonetheless had skin in the game, making the first catapult takeoff from an aircraft carrier.

The Navy had made earlier catapult launch tests from docks and barges, but Whiting’s launch from the Navy’s

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