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1920 Navy aircraft launch ramp on gun turret


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Traveled up to the next county today to check out a uniform and medals someone had offered for sale in response to my ongoing ad in the local paper. Well, those were hardly worth the drive, but after we talked awhile he went and dug out a box full of photos and documents.

 

These three really caught my eye: original photos of an aircraft being launched from a Navy ship. It wasn't til I got home that I wondered, "Where's the catapult?" That kicked off a couple hours of research before I stumbled upon the answer.

 

First off the aircraft is a Vought VE-7 Bluebird - and not just any VE-7: based on the number on the tail and fuselage. this is the very first Bluebird that Lewis & Vought made for the US Navy, number A5661.

 

Okay for the the ramp: I noticed that in the first photos the ramp was pointing fore and aft, but in the photo where the airplane is airborne, it is angled, so I figured it had to be on some sort of swivel. The the light bulb went on and I thought, "What if they mounted it on a gun turret?" Well a Google search then turned up info on what the US and British called "flying-off platforms" that - in the case of the US Navy at least - were indeed mounted on turrets on the fore deck. While I have not been able to find any details as to how that kind of launch operation worked, I would guess they'd rotate the turret at an angle, rev up the aircraft engine, release the brakes and hope the aircraft gained enough lift before dropping into the ocean. In the one photo there appear to be some big clamps around the landing gear. Now they could use lines to tie down the aircraft down until ready to do launch operations, so I wondered if those clamps were used instead of the aircraft's brakes during the launch process?

 

I have no idea what ship this is: the deck shape is similar to the Arizona, which carried these platforms until sometime in 1920, but I assume other ships had the same shape. I do know the Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas had flying-off platforms. At the bottom, below my photos, is one I found online of the platform on the New Mexico.

 

These photos are sepia tone but I converted the full image to grayscale after scanning and pulling out excerpts to enlarge, but the excerpts are still sepia.

 

Here are the tail and fuselage numbers

 

voughtlaunchnumbers.jpg

 

voughtlaunch1.jpg

 

Here are the wheel chocks:

 

voughtlaunchwheelblocks.jpg

 

Here are closeups of some of the early Naval Aviators:

 

voughtlaunchofficers.jpg

 

voughtlaunchworkers.jpg


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I found some more details on the flying off platforms in the online scan of the book Battleship Arizona by Paul Stillwell. He says they used a tailhook to hold the aircraft while the pilot gunned the engine. The book also has a nice view of one of the Arizona's platforms:

 

azflying.jpg

 

Here's a link to the book: http://tinyurl.com/5tklgo


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This is awesome FS..I really never even new about this before.Thanks a bunch for sharing.Those guys who were the first to go down and off that ramp over water really had a "set"on them(if you know what i mean) imagine what they were thinking while going down and then up over the water...jeeze im getin nervous just thinking about it.

Regards,

 

Michael Sweeney--Researcher and Collector of WW2 77TH Division

If you have any named items to a 77th Division Soldier please contact me!!!

 

In memoroy of my Grandfather

Eugene Henry Sweeney

1st Lieutenant of the 306th

Infantry Regiment Company L -

Veteran of Guam and Leyte

 

 

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This is awesome FS..I really never even new about this before.Thanks a bunch for sharing.Those guys who were the first to go down and off that ramp over water really had a "set"on them(if you know what i mean) imagine what they were thinking while going down and then up over the water...jeeze im getin nervous just thinking about it.

 

They angled the ramp because of the need to drop down: in order to ensure the aircraft took off into the wind, the ship had to steam at almost a right angle to the true wind. The ship's forward motion combined with the true wind would then create an apparent wind on the nose of the aircraft.

 

Until I came across the term "flying off platform" every reference to early Naval aviation included only catapults and of course the Langley: it does look like those were a walk in the park compared to this 50 foot runway.


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That would be really awesome if it was the Texas as it is just 10 minutes from my house. Have you tried to research the plane, since it was the first one for the NAVY and see if that leads you to a designated ship? I hope you find out, I am very interested in knowing myself.

Brandon Sivek "God Bless Texas, and these United States"

 

 

 

 

 

In loving memory: Great Cousin 2nd Lt. Louis E. Machala, B-17 Pilot

2nd Air Force, 331st BG, 461st BS

Killed near Glenrock, WY on Feb. 25, 1943 during night time practice bombing

ALWAYS LOOKING FOR WW2 ARMY AIR FORCE FLIGHT GEAR

 

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Very interesting, I never saw or heard of anything of this sort before. Talk about flying by the seat of your pants. Some would call the pilots hero's others would say they had a death wish. Either way, you've got to admire what these pioneers were doing! This is the kind of stuff that keeps me coming back to this forum.

"There is no such thing as an expert, only students with different levels of education."
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That would be really awesome if it was the Texas as it is just 10 minutes from my house. Have you tried to research the plane, since it was the first one for the NAVY and see if that leads you to a designated ship? I hope you find out, I am very interested in knowing myself.

 

The Texas was the first US Battleship fitted with a flying-off platform (in 1919). It would be great to pin down the ship in these photos.

 

There are only two online references I could find for aircraft A5661 and all they show is that this was the low number of the first 20 of these ordered by the Navy (the Navy needed more than the Vought factory could produce so the Naval Aircraft Factory built another 39).

 

Here's photo of a sister aircraft - A5665:

 

a5665.jpg

 

The ones on the ships would have been detachments from Navy squadrons.

 

As I said, the histories of Naval aviation I had found mostly jump from from "They had catapults and then along came the Langley and we had aircraft carriers" but I keep finding new pieces, including this interesting excerpt from a nice history of early Naval aviation at http://www.thefreelibrary.com/CATAPULT+SCO...on-a01611004861 - this indicates the flying off platforms lasted only a matter of months, but I have seen other info which contradicts that and I would say they were in use through 1920 and maybe 21.

 

The coming of peace on 11 November 1918 saw Naval aviation on the threshold of an exciting new era; its growing importance widely, if begrudgingly, accepted. Postwar testing resumed in January 1919 when the Navy ordered the battleship USS Texas fitted with a portable takeoff ramp as part of a new Atlantic Fleet Air Detachment. Still enamored with the arcane idea of fitting "fly off" launching platforms to the quarter decks of cruisers and battleships, and now having an abundance of surplus war-built fighters on hand, the experimental program was soon expanded to include eight battleships. Using a variety of wheeled landplanes such as Sopwith Camels and 1-1/2 Strutters, Hanriot HD-2s, and Nieuport 28s, the first "fly-off" was made from the number two turret of the Texas in an ex-RFC Camel flown by Cmdr. Edgar O' Donnell, USN.

 

However, the Navy's elation with the bizarre program was short lived, dampened by a stunning rash of serious accidents and fatalities. Within months the "fly-off" platform program was cancelled. So profuse were its shortcomings that many of its major problems had never been fully addressed - issues such as where these fighters were supposed to land if launched too far out at sea to reach a landfall. If nothing else, the failure of the "fly-off platforms reinvigorated the development of turntable catapults. Pedestal or turret-mounted, these could be rotated and aimed to launch aircraft directly into the wind and offered the additional asset of not interfering with the operation of the ship's main battery, the prime drawback of portable ramps.

 

 

That does point out the fact that these non-seaplanes had to land on terra firma and then somehow be returned to the ship. The aircraft were to be used for aiming the ship's guns and might have had some use in the Atlantic what with various islands, especially in the Carribean, but in the Pacific less so.


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