Roamy here. A little over seven years after the Wright brothers’ first flight, Eugene Ely became the first aviator to make a successful landing on a ship. The previous November, Ely had successfully taken off in his Curtiss pusher biplane from the deck of the USS Birmingham. On January 18, 1911, Ely took off from the Tanforan airfield in San Bruno, CA and landed on a wooden platform set up on the after deck of the USS Pennsylvania.
Ely’s plane had hooks on the landing gear, and the deck had a series of ropes tied to 50-lb. sandbags for an arrestor system. This did work, and the weight of the sandbags slowed the plane. Canvas awnings are visible to the left and right, to catch the pilot and plane if he swerved offcourse. Ely made the landing with a tailwind because the ship was turned the wrong way.
After an hour for photographs and a reception, Ely then made the second successful takeoff from a ship and flew back to San Bruno. You have to admit the guy had some nerves – in the pic above, he’s wearing rubber inner tubes for a makeshift life preserver, and the plane looks like a bicycle with balsa wings.
The Navy duly noted Ely’s success and waited eleven more years to commission an aircraft carrier.
[Update by XBradTC]:
Thanks for this great post, Roamy. As the son of a career Naval Aviator, I’m deeply interested in the topic.