(Snap fingers.) Come to think of it, you've probably seen more of this newly decommissioned carrier than you realize. Did you see the movie Top Gun? If so, you saw the Enterprise, because that's where parts of the movie were filmed. Remember those hair-raising landings? If not, take a peek...
Whew, that's something else, isn't it?
Guess what? Know what today is? It just so happens to be the anniversary of the first time a pilot landed an airplane onto a ship. How about that? And just how long ago do you think that might've been? Think it happened with a sleek military jet? Think again.
Meet Eugene Ely, who set his Curtiss Model D Pusher biplane down on the deck of the U.S.S. Pennsylvania while she floated in San Francisco Bay... on January 18, 1911. That's right... just eight short years after the Wright brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk. His biplane, equipped with a 60 HP V-8 engine, flew a whopping 50 MPH.
Before Ely could take a whack at the second experiment, a temporary 133-foot long landing strip was built above the afterdeck and gun turret.
Okay, here he comes! Notice the sandbags lining the landing strip? Ely's plane was fitted with an experimental tailhook, and the plan was to stop the plane by snagging that hook onto one or two of the twenty-two ropes strung between those 50-pound sandbags. The ropes were a foot above the deck, and the bags were spaced three feet apart. And I'll betcha Ely's heart was pounding like a jackhammer on speed.
Captain Pond, Pennsylvania's commanding officer, called it the most important landing of a bird since the dove flew back to Noah's ark.
The conquering hero. (Still a little shaky, I'll bet.)
And so it was that the young Eugene Ely's name was entered into the record books. He was the first person in the world to take off from... and land on... a ship. The rest is, as they say... history.
[Unfortunately, he died in a plane crash later that year while performing in an air show at Macon, Georgia. This history-making pilot with a boatload of moxie was only twenty-four years old.]
Landing on the ship during the daytime is like sex: it's either good or it's great. Landing on the ship at night is like a trip to the dentist: you may get away with no pain, but you just don't feel comfortable. [LCDR Thomas Quinn, US Navy]
The three best things in life are a good landing, a good orgasm, and a good bowel movement. The night carrier landing is one of the few opportunities in life to experience all three at the same time. [an unnamed... but honest... Navy pilot]
Always try to keep the number of landings you make equal to the number of take-offs you've made. [another unnamed... but smartass... Navy pilot]
Flying is the second greatest thrill known to man. Landing is the first.
Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.
[All of these public domain images come courtesy of the U.S. Naval History Center, the National Air & Space Museum, and good ol' Wikipedia.]