Stand by, my fellow Naval Aviators. Our service will be a century old on 8 May 2011 – less than two years from now. Pensacola will be the focal point, although the year-long celebrations will be nationwide.
On 8 May 1911 Captain Washington Irving Chambers, USN, signed the requisition for the Navy’s first airplane, which it bought from a young inventor and pilot named Glenn Curtiss. The Curtiss A-1 Triad, a rather clumsy-looking pusher-propelled biplane on a single float, was the first of many Curtiss seaplanes bought by the Navy. The Triad is a long haul from, say, an F/A-18 Super Hornet.
That’s a keen reminder of just how old this writer has become. I had worn my Wings of Gold for three years when Naval Aviation celebrated its 50th anniversary and still had three years until retirement when it celebrated its 75th anniversary. My combat flying was off aircraft carriers that had seen World War II service, the venerable Ticonderoga and Hancock. They’re as long a haul from CVN-77, USS George H. W. Bush, as they were from CV-1, USS Langley, and that’s another little life lesson.
The Centennial of Naval Aviation takes off on New Year’s Day of 2011 and continues through the year with a vast variety of commemorative events, according to the first issue of the Centennial of Naval Aviation newsletter. The Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, all of whose aviators wear the same wings (sorry, Marines, there’s no such thing as a Marine Aviator), already are working to make sure that proper recognition is given to the historic anniversary.
The Centennial task force is working with museums, organizations and industry professionals nation-wide to organize the celebration. It anticipates hundreds of events including air shows, base open houses, banquets, art and photography exhibits, television and movie features and more.
I’m sure we will commemorate the first flight across the Atlantic, by the Navy’s NC-4. I trust we’ll remember the Battle of Midway, when Navy dive bombers changed the course of World War II in an attack that lasted less than a minute but sank three Japanese aircraft carriers (a fourth went down from battle damage the next day). I hope we’ll recall that the first American in space was a Naval Aviator – no, not John Glenn, but Alan Shepard, whose 15-minute sub-orbital flight paved the way for Glenn.
The new destroyer USS William P. Lawrence will be commissioned at Pensacola in the course of the commemorations. The late vice-admiral was a noted test pilot, first to fly at Mach 2 in a Naval aircraft, and one of the finalists for the Mercury space program. He was shot down while on a combat mission over Vietnam, subsequently spending six years as a prisoner of war. Later he was superintendent of the Naval Academy. His daughter, Capt. Wendy Lawrence, became a Naval Aviator and an Astronaut.
For information: www.cnaf.navy.mil/centennial/