OTD in 1911 – Ely lands aboard USS Penn

On this day in 1911 – Eugene Ely lands on a platform constructed over the deck of the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania while anchored in San Francisco Bay, marking the first time an aircraft lands on a ship.

“I believe the performance of Ely spells a new chapter in aviation history,” wrote Capt. Charles F. Pond, commanding officer of the USS Pennsylvania. “There can hardly be too much said in praise of it. It was simply marvelous.”

Ely’s flight, which came only seven years and one month after the Wright Brothers flew their first plane, was in every way historic. Though Ely had taken off from a Navy ship off Hampton Roads, Va., in 1910, no one had ever landed aboard a ship.


This aircraft he used was a Curtiss Biplane built by Glenn Curtiss’ company in Long Island, NY.

On November 14, 1910, Ely took off from the light cruiser USS Birmingham while it was readied at Norfolk, Va. Ely’s Curtiss Pusher Biplane was equipped with floats under the wings, and was hoisted aboard while it was in port. Then the ship moved off shore.

Ely succeeded in making the first take-off from a ship, just barely.  The Biplane rolled off the edge of the platform, settled, and briefly skipped off the water, damaging the propeller.

Ely managed to stay airborne and landed just over 2 miles away on the nearest land, called Willoughby Spit.

Glenn Curtiss and Eugene Ely are two lesser known rockstars in Early Aviation.

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