U. S. Naval Air
A Brief History to WW2


The Wright brothers Flyer first flew 17 Dec 1903. Others had been trying by flying gliders and more started when the publicity showed it could be done. The second Wright was not a success, but the third of 1905 was. Wright spent a lot of effort seeking government contracts internationally and in establishing patients. Patent suits so hampered US aircraft development in the US that the country was not able to contribute any aircraft to WWI except the Curtiss JN-4 Jennie trainer. To see what happened in the first ten years of flight, here are some activities . Note that the Wright's owned aviation for four years, dominated it for four more, then lost it with four years of legal haggling until ordered to share patents for the war effort.
Chronology            Pictures of Flying Machines
Look up the following claims from before 1903, some seem reasonable, but development was not continued.
1800's - there were several unmanned or downslope powered flights and many gliders.
1890 Clement Ader. 50 meters, French military secret.
1896 Samuel Langley, 3/4 mile, from catapult over Potomic River.
1897 Carl Rickard Nyberg, Sweden. Short jumps.
1899 Gustave Whitehead, USA. Half mile, crashed into building.
1901 Wilhelm Kress, Austria. Short hops.
1901 Gustave Whitehead, USA. August 14, 800 yards and 1.5 miles.
1902 Lyman Gilmore, USA. No witnesses.
1902 Gustave Whitehead, USA. Jan. 17, circle of 7 miles.
Mar 31. Richard Pearse, N.Z., powered takeoff, 30 yards, too slow for control.
May 11. Richard Pearse, N.Z., controlled flight, 1000 yards.
Aug 18. Karl Jatho, Germany, 60 meters.
Oct 7, Dec 8. Langley Aerodrome into Potomac River with catapult problems. Dec 17. Wright Flyer, Kittyhawk, NC. Three flights of 120 feet to 852 feet.
The Wright Flyer II was not a success, the year was spent on improvements - two flights of 5 minutes each.
Great Britain and France grant patients; GB approaches Wrights. Wrights approach US Gov.
Jan 18 thru out 1907. US Gov. rejects Wright's offers.
Oct 5 . Wright Flyer III - flies 24 miles in 38 minutes. Full control. Begin design secrecy period.
May 22. Patient issued Wright's for "flying machine".
Sept 13. Alberto Santos-Dumon, Brazilian in France - 3rd man to fly; 1st in Europe Flying box kite. Not aware of Wright flight.
Ellehammer, Denmark, made hop of 140 feet.
Wright offering price is $200,000 each, sight unseen.
Bleriot, France (boxy)
Oct 23. Santos-Dumon "No. 14" biplane, flew 197 feet, longest official flight in Europe exceeding 25 meters.
Nov 12. He flies 722 ft winning prize for exceeding 100 meters. Compare to 24 mile by Wright the previous year.
French government approach Wrights.
Aerial Experiment Association (Bell, Curtiss), USA - 4 planes. Ailerons, tricycle.
Mar 16. Voisin, France. pusher flyer with box kite tail. Made several hops.
Summer. Bleriot VI, France, "Dragonfly" made short hops
Oct 26. Farman in Voisin, France. Half mile flight.
Nov 17. Voisin, France. pusher flyer with boxkite tail. Made several hops.
Nov 10. Voisin-Farman, 3/4 mile circular flight.
Jan 13. Farman wins prize for exceeding 1 Km.
Feb 8 . Gastambide-Mengin, France - flew 258 feet.
Feb 10. USA Signal Corp signs for Wright Flier.
May 14. Wright carries passenger 2.5 miles.
June 20. Curtiss is second American to fly.
July 4 . Curtiss, USA, "June Bug", prize for 1 Km flight (0.6 mile) before judges.
Aug 8-15. Wright's demo in France starts airplane rush.
Aug 21. Farman in GM II or Antionette II - High wing, monoplane, ailerons. First passenger, first circle.
Sept 3-17. Military trials by Wright 'A' aircraft for US Army, 2 naval observers. 50 miles at 40 mph. Lt Selfridge first fatality.
Sept 6 . Delagragne covers 15.2 miles
Oct 9 . Antionette IV, France.
Oct 16. British Army No. 1. (based on Wright Flyer'05) 1,390 feet.
Oct 30. Farman flies 17 miles Chalons to Rheims.
Nov . 1st naval officer to fly.
Bleriot - open tail. European cross country 18 miles, 3 landings.
Breguet, France.
Nieuport, France (Bleriot design).
Santos-Dumon monoplane.
Short Brothers, UK - build 6 Wright Flyers on licence.
Wright Flyer "A' sold to US Army for $25,000.
Wright Company opens in France.
Dec 18. Wright sets altitude record of 360 feet.
Dec 31. Wright flies 77 miles for Michelin prize at Auvour, France.
June 26 Bleriot XI endurance record of 37 minutes
July 25. Bleriot XI cross channel flight, made it famous. Mono, open tail.
Aug 2 . USA Signal Corp accepts Wright flyer as airplane #1 Miss Columbia.
Aug 22-29. First International Aviation Meeting, Rheims, 38 planes, 12 flew. Summer. Short, UK, Biplane No. 1.
Summer. Wright flyer around Status of Liberty, up Hudson to Grant's tomb.
Oct 30. Short Biplane No. 2 - first UK circular flight
Avro, UK, "Mercury" - triplane, 2-seat, plywood, $1,200.
Glenn Martin biplane, USA.
Hans Grade, Germany - first plane and first airmail. Similar to Bleriot.
Wright Company in Germany and US
Wright Flyer "B" , commercial
March . Fabre monoplane, floatplane - first takeoff from water.
May . Curtiss - 150 miles from Albany to NYC
July 30. Bristol, UK, Boxkite, 76 built as trainers
June 2 . Round trip cross Channel in a Short-built Wright.
June 6 . One passenger for two-hours in a Farman..
June . Curtiss III pusher made first lake landing.
Jun 30. Curtiss drops darts on outline of a battleship.
July 27. Wright - 1 hr 12 min with passenger
Avro III Triplane - aireons, elevators.
Caproni , Italy - biplane
Farman, skis
Short builds Farman pusher biplanes.
Sikorsky S-2. Russia. 12-second flight.
Voisin, amphibian
Wright Flyer "C" - 7 Army, 3 Navy
Wright exhibition team
Nov 10. Curtiss pusher takes off from forecastle of USS Birmingham (CL-2)
Dec 10. Coanda, Romania - Ducted fan turbine
Dec 23. Start naval pilot training school by Glenn Curtiss
Jan 7 . Bombs dropped during trials at San Francisco
Jan 18. Landing on Pennsylvania (ACR-4), sandbags for arresting. Takes off, too.
Jan 26. Curtiss " Hydro" - flyer style floatplane. Take off and land.
Feb . Curtiss "Triad" - first amphibian
Feb . Reconn over rebel forces at Ciudad Juarez.
Mar 23-24. 11 passengers in a Breguet biplane and 12 passengers in a Sommer biplane.
Apr 1 . Avro "Type D" biplane.
Apr 12. London-Paris non-stop in Bleriot monoplane.
July 1 . USN accepts first aircraft, Curtiss A-I Triad; flies off Lake Kenka, NY.
Aug 27. USASC accepts #2, Curtiss type' D' and #3 Wright type 'B'
Bristol "Biplane Type T" - six built for racing.
Cessna, USA - Bleriot style monoplane.
Curtiss (more flyer-types); First catapult floatplane.
Farman biplane.
Loening Flying Boat.
Nieuport- speed record 83 mph (modern shape)
Royal Aircraft Factory - repair facility
Vickers, UK
First military use, by Italians against Truks; toss 8 grenades from Voison XI.
Wright Flyer "D", Scout - 2 to US Army
Nov 18. Avro "D" - with floats, first water takeoff.
Jan 10. Short .38 flew off a wood platform of HMS Africa.
Jan 10. Curtiss "Flying Boat #1".
May 7 . Machine gun mounted on an Army Wright Flyer
May 10. Martin over-ocean flight to Santa Catalina and back.
May 13. Royal Flying Corps established with Squadrons 1 to 4.
May . Short pusher biplane takes off from moving warship, HMS Hibernia..
Spring. Paris to Berlin non-stop in a Bleriot.
Caudron N.40, ? -- acrobatics
Curtiss Flying Boat 2 "Flying Fish" -- single engine flying boat, design lasts 40 years.
Morane-Saulnier, France, "Type G"
Nieuport - first attached machine gun.
Royal Aircraft Factory BE 2. Reconn, 3,200 built as trainer during war.
Rumpler, Germany. Built 60 Taube monoplanes this year.
Wright model "F" - first of modern design.
Sep 9 . Deperdussin Monocoque racer won Bennett Cup.
Oct 6 . Curtiss A-2 floatplane remains aloft 6hr 10min at Annapolis.
Nov 12. Catapult from barge anchored in river near Washington, D.C.
Nov 30. Navy flight tests Curtiss C-1.
HMS Hemes light cruiser converted to carry 2 seaplanes.
Dec 31. Pilot certificates : France 966 ; Gr Britain 382 ; Germany 335 ; U.S.A. 193 ; Italy 186 ; Russia 162.
Jan . Scouting mission in USN exercises off Guanantimo, Cuba, anti-mine/sub.
Apr 16-Oct 17 Deperdussin Monocoque wins four race and sets speed record. Becomes SPAD
May 13. RBVZ (Sikorsky) Le Grand, 4-engine biplane.
  . Sopwith Bat Boat -- first UK flying boat
July . Avro 504 - saw combat service in the War I, 8,000 built as trainers.
Aug 2 . Sikorsky RBVZ "Le Grand" flew 1 hr 54 min with 8 people aboard.
Aug . Curtiss "C-3" - USA, USN. First gyroscopic auto-pilot. (Used as scout at Vera Cruz)
Dec 31. Bleriot XI has sold 800 aircraft of 1,300 built in France in 1913. Used in WWI
Jan 21. Pensacola NAS established with Mississippi as support ship.
Febr . Bristol Scout - A-D. A Scout C (161 built) shotdown three Germans July'15.
May 2 . First USN combat patrol; Curtiss C-3 floatplane from Mississippi (BB-23) makes 50 min search for troops near Tegar, Mexico.
May 6 . Two-man scouting flight over Vera Cruz hit by rifle fire.
Curtiss builds the first two-engine flying boat, "America". Sold to UK for sub patrol.
Caproni, Italy - Bleriot-like monoplane
Caudron G-2, France
Gotha, Germany, WD 1 - 2-seat, biplane with floats
Farman MF 7 "Longhorn" - 2-seat pusher biplane
Langley's "Aerodrome" rebuilt and successfully flown.
Lavasseur Monoplane, France.
LVG B series, Germany - 2-seat biplane
Nieuport IV - looped in Russia
Martin trainers.
Morane-Saulnier, "Type H"
Shorts bi-wing float planes (dropped first torpedo July 1914.)
Sopwith "Three Seater" - tractor biplane.
Sopwith "Sociable" - 2-seats side-by-side biplane.
Sopwith "Tabloid" - racer. Attacked Zepelin Oct'14.
Vickers "EFB.1" pusher biplane, machine gun station in front.
Voisin 13 or L. Biplane, 70 to French air force.
Wright Company opens in UK.
July 18. Air Service, Signal Corps, U.S.Army established.
July 28. RN Short seaplane drops standard torpedo.
Aug 4 . WWI begins.
Aug 17. Short 184's torpedo Turkish steamer and tug N. of Dardanelles.
Aug 30. German air raid on Paris.
Sept 1 . Japanese Wakamiya carried Farman seaplanes that bomb German ships and positions in siege of Tsingtao at Kiaochow, China.
Sept 22. First RN raid on Germany; no damage.
Sep 29 . Deperdussin monoplane won many races, speed record 127 mph. Used by French and British armed with grenades.
Oct 8 . RN bombs Dusseldorf destroying Zeppelin Z.IX.
5Nov1915. AB-2 catapulted from USS North Carolina (ACR-12) while underway.

The following companies also had aircraft at the start of the war that may have flown within the first 10 years.
FBA Donnet-Leveque, FR, UK
Friedrichshafen 33
Fokker, Holland
Handley-Page, UK
Hansa-Brandenburg, Germany  
Lohner, Austria
LVG, Germany
Savoia Pomilio, Italy.
SPAD, France
Thomas, US
White&Thompson, UK

Taking off and landing on water was considered at an early date because there were no airfields in existence and lakes and rivers were easily seen and assuredly level.

With the start of war in Europe in late 1914 dozens of aircraft designers were in the field and by the Armistice, 200,000 planes had been built -- contract cancellation for the SPAD alone was for 10,000 units. Curtiss built 10,000 aircraft during World War I.
The 1920s were the period of Barn Storming. This was followed by the great depression of the 1930s such that keeping current on aircraft design and numbers was not a priority of those nations not planning conquest.

Military aircraft changed to all metal, monoplanes by 1934. The Navy was the last to convert feeling that a biplane had an extra wing for lift in carrier takeoffs, greater load carrying, slower landing speeds and greater maneuverability in combat. The change was forced on the Navy in the trials of 1936 where the Brewster entry outperformed the design submitted by Grumman. The F2A Buffalo monoplane fighter entered fleet service December 1939. Grumman F3F biplanes continued in front line, carrier service until Oct 1941, a few weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Navy Fighting Aircraft
Curtiss Pusher (1911-1913)         Curtiss Jennie (1916-1920s)
Sopwith Camel(1918-192?) Nieuport (1918-192?)
Curtiss R2C Racer (1921-1926)        Boeing FB-1/FB-2 (1926-1930)
Boeing FB-5 (1927-19??)        Curtiss F6C Hawk (1927-1930)
Boeing F2B/F3B
Boeing F2B /F3B (1928-1932) Boeing F4B (1929-1937)        
Curtiss F7C Hawk II (193?-193?)         Grumman FF-1 / FF-2 (1933-193?)
Grumman F2F (1935-1940)         Grumman F3F (1936-1941)
Brewster F2A Buffalo (1939-1942)         Grumman F4F Wildcat (1940-1945)
Japanese Fighting Aircraft
Claude Zero
Mitsubishi A5M Claude 1937-1942 Mitsubishi A6M Zero (Zeke) 1940-1945

    In 1936 Brewster was the spur to the competition to keep the main supplier advancing. They were awarded a contract, but many planes were diverted to other countries and few entered U.S. service. The plane landed fast and carrier deck handling had to adapt to the new characteristics. The Brewster undercarriage did not stand up well to the repeated "controlled crash" of arrester landings on the deck of a carrier. In fact, some were transferred ashore for their training to assure that a sufficient number of fighters remained available in case war came.
    Many writers correctly state the Brewster F2A was outclassed by the Zero. This leads many readers assume that the airplane was flawed and that we should have used other designs. The correct answer is that the Zero outclassed every fighter in the world in 1941-42. There is little inherently wrong with the F2A, in fact, this naval design fought well in other countries' air forces.
    The Grumman F4F is remembered in its later models and after training and tactics were developed to counter the Zero. The first Zero was not shot down by a F4F until 7May42 (although a German plane was shot down by one with the British Fleet Air Arm in December 1940.) We were stuck with this equally inadequate performer until mid-1943 (The pilot had to crank the wheels up by hand after takeoff from the carrier and to crank them back down again to land after combat.) If at sufficient height, the heavier American types could dive away from the fight; at low altitudes, the Zero could climb away and return in a dive. Many early losses of brave men were because they tried to dog-fight a Zero. Defensive tactics such as the Thatch Weave and offensive tactics of a radar assisted maneuver to intercept from out of the sun with a diving attack, a single pass, and a continued dive away.

There were three categories of navy combat planes including the fighting planes, prefix "F", later, "fighters". A torpedo bomber, prefix TB, was the first naval monoplane to enter service; it was the Douglas TBD Devestators in 1937.
Navy Torpedo Bombers
Douglas T2D (1927-1928)   Martin T3M/T4M (1928-1933) / TG-1/TG-4 (1930-1938)
Douglas TBD Devestator (1937-1943)   Grumman TBF Avenger (1942-1945)

The Vought SB2U Vindicator scout bomber (scout and dive bomber, prefix SB) replaced its biplane predecessor, SBU, followed later in 1937.
    The Navy had a relationship with Grumman since the 1931 with the FF1, F2F, F3F the standard naval fighters. The F4F-1 was the latest upgrade to their biplane design. USN combat biplanes continued in service until 1943 with the Curtiss SBC scout bomber. The Douglas SBD Dauntless was the workhorse of the early war comprising half the aircraft complement of a carrier - one scout squadron, one diver bomber squadron, of this same aircraft, one fighter, one torpedo bomber. With the Dauntless, Fletcher sank six enemy carriers.
Navy Scout - Bombers
Curtiss O2C-1 Helldiver Curtiss BFC/F11C
Curtiss F8C / O2C Helldiver (1930-1934)         Curtiss F11C / BFC Goshawk (1933-1938)
Grumman SF-1 Curtiss BF2C Goshawk
Grumman SF-1 (1934-1936) Curtiss BF2C Goshawk(1934-1935)
Vought SBU Curtiss F12C/SBC Helldiver
Vought SBU (1935-1941) Curtiss F12C / SBC Helldiver (1937-1942)
Vought SB2U Vindicator Brewster SBA/SB2A
Vought SB2U Vindicator (1937-1942) Brewster SBA/SB2A (1940-42)
Douglas SBD Dauntless Curtiss SB2C Helldiver
Douglas SBD Dauntless (1940-1944)         Curtiss SB2C Helldiver(1943-1945)

    Originally, fighters, scouts, dive bombers, and torpedo planes were assigned in equal numbers to a carrier. This did not allow sufficient fighters to both cover the bombers in an attack and to provide defensive combat air patrols over the carriers. The number of fighters assigned to carriers was doubled after the Battle of the Coral Sea and tripled after Midway as understanding of carrier's place in the war was revealed.
    The Grumman F4F Wildcat is best remembered as the parent of the F6F Hellcat which did outperform the Zero and was the premier navy fighter for the second half of the Pacific War, the winning half. The Vought F4U Corsair replaced the Grumman Hellcat only in the final weeks of the war where its greater speed alone was the requirement to intercept Kamikazes.
Naval Fighters in Last Half of Pacific War
Hellcat Corsair
Grumman F6F Hellcat (1943-1945+)       Vought F4U Corsair (1943-1953+)

    The Zero came on the scene in Japan's war in China unnoticed by the US. Outstanding Japanese pilots were trained and developed tactics in actual combat. The Zero was the best fighter in existence in 1941-42 for the work to be done in the Pacific, bar none. No airplane could stand up to it in a dog fight at sea level. The Zero decimated Hawker Hurricanes defending Singapore and they destroyed a squadron of Spitfire's in Ceylon.
    In British service, the Brewster was christened "Buffalo" and was shown to outmaneuver the Spitfire, the premier allied airplane in Europe. However, the European air war took place at high altitudes, whereas American fighters were not even equipped with working oxygen systems for fighting at those altitudes.
   Seversky P-35s fought in the first days of the Philippines where only 8 of 48 survived the first two days of action. Curtiss P-36s Mohawks and P-40 Kittyhawks were also overwhelmed.
    Naval designs have to be heavier than their army counterparts to stand the rigors of carrier landings. Typically, naval designs have shorter range -- they take their landing fields with them -- and to equip them for multi-purpose roles. The Army's newer P-40 Warhawk when compared to the Navy's newer F4F-3 Wildcat show that the Army progressed while the Navy regressed in the period provided for war preparation from the start of War in Europe until Pearl Harbor.
Top Navy and Army Fighters on Dec 7, 1941

    The Curtiss P-40 was not a new design, it was a re-engined P-36 Mohawk, but it was available while designs that became famous later were still under development. In April 1939 the Army placed order for 550 P-40's, of 14,000 to be built during the war. Several P-40's defended at Pearl Harbor and two pilots were credited with downing 8 bombers, while 5 P-36 downed 2 Zeros with one Mohawk lost. The Army's P-40 could equal the Zero in a high speed, high altitude fight. The Zero and Navy planes were optimized for low level flying. The Spitfire defended over Darwin in February 1942; 17 of 27 were downed by Zeros in the two raids. Nine P-40's also went down.
Also Fought Zeros in Asiatic Fleet Theater
Boeing P-26 Pea-shooter Seversky P-35 Curtiss P-36 Mohawk
Boeing P-26 Pea-shooter     Seversky P-35 Curtiss P-36 Mohawk
Hawker Hurricane Supermarine Spitfire
Hawker Hurricane Supermarine Spitfire

    Four British Commonwealth squadrons were given 52 unassembled Buffalos to defend Singapore. None had seen the plane before. Assembly was slow. Once in the air, there were problems with radios and guns. Assembly and flight manuals had arrived in the crates, but not maintenance manuals. When Singapore was attacked on Dec 8, the inexperienced pilots with their new planes were target practice for Zeros, but then, the Commonwealth pilots also had trouble with older Japanese Claude fighters -- with fixed landing gear. More Buffalos and new Hurricanes were shipped in as replacements and again, were chewed up. When the RAF rose to meet Zeros in Ceylon, 32 Spitfires defended, 24 were lost. Never-the-less, three Buffalo pilots became aces.

Several factors won the air war in the Pacific.
    1. Japan did not plan on a long war, rather they intended to to quickly knock out opposition (USA at Pearl Harbor and Philippines, the British at Singapore and Ceylon, and the Dutch in the East Indies), and to capture what they needed for raw materials and island bases for a defensive perimeter. They did accomplish all of their goals, in five months, but failed in the diplomatic front where they expected the Allies to seek peace with no serious counter-blows.
    2 . The Japanese, strangely, did not have an extensive pilot training program. They did not have an active aircraft development program ready to replace the Zero until it was too late. Aircraft production could not match American industry. When 7,000 Japanese aircraft and most of their aircrew's were destroyed in 1942-43, they were unable to replace the experienced pilots or to field improved planes.
    3 . America established a pilot training program the week after Pearl Harbor of 2,500 students per month. Navy fighter aircraft production expanded to over 6,000 of the improving Wildcat, and later, over 12,000 superior Hellcats and at the same time over 12,000 Corsairs. The Army introduced the P-38 Lightning and P-51 Mustang. Training capped the advantage to the Americans, where fighter performance is directly related to pilot training -- the US could afford expense training, where there was enough time, and could devote training material (fuel, ammo, maintenance) that the chronically short Japanese could not.
    Of course, this was after the war started. Before the war, there were depression-era budgetary constraints. Bob Scott, later an ace in China/Burma and author of God is My CoPilot, was once criticized for personally shooting up the squadron's entire monthly allotment of ammunition in one day while training in ground strafing. Dog fighting practice among themselves taught weaknesses of one's own planes, but was inadequate preparation for learning to fight the characteristics of enemy aircraft.
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