Naval aviation

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The flight deck of a modern aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman.

Naval aviation is the application of military air power by navies, whether from warships that embark aircraft, or land-based maritime patrol aircraft.

In contrast, maritime aviation is the operation of aircraft in a maritime role under the command of non-naval forces such as an air force (e.g., the former RAF Coastal Command) or coast guard. An exception to this is the United States Coast Guard, which is considered part of U.S. naval aviation. In addition, in that the United States Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy, that service's aircraft and aviation personnel are also considered part of U.S. naval aviation whether based afloat or ashore.

Naval aviation is typically projected to a position nearer the target by way of an aircraft carrier. Carrier aircraft must be sturdy enough to withstand demanding carrier operations. They must be able to launch in a short distance and be sturdy and flexible enough to come to a sudden stop on a pitching deck; they typically have robust folding mechanisms that allow higher numbers of them to be stored in below-decks hangars. These aircraft are designed for many purposes including air-to-air combat, surface attack, submarine attack, search and rescue, materiel transport, weather observation, reconnaissance and wide area command and control duties.

History[edit]

Establishment[edit]

Mayfly was built in 1908 and was the first aircraft to be used in a naval capacity.

Early experiments on the use of kites for naval reconnaissance took place in 1903 at Woolwich Common for the Admiralty. Samuel Franklin Cody demonstrated the capabilities of his 8 foot long black kite and it was proposed for use as either a mechanism to hold up wires for wireless communications or as a manned reconnaissance device that would give the viewer the advantage of considerable height.[1]

In 1908 Prime Minister Herbert Asquith approved the formation of an "Aerial Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence" to investigate the potential for naval aviation. In 1909 this body accepted the proposal of Captain Reginald Bacon made to the First Sea Lord Sir John Fisher that rigid airships should be constructed for the Royal Navy to be used for reconnaissance. This resulted in the construction of Mayfly in 1909, the first air component of the navy to become operational, and the genesis of modern naval aviation.[2][3]

The first pilots for the Royal Navy were transferred from the Royal Aero Club in June 1910 along with two aircraft with which to train new pilots, and an airfield at Eastchurch became the Naval Flying School, the first such facility in the world.[4] Two hundred applications were received, and four were accepted: Lieutenant C R Samson, Lieutenant A M Longmore, Lieutenant A Gregory and Captain E L Gerrard, RMLI.[5]

The French also established a naval aviation capability in 1910 with the establishment of the Service Aeronautique and the first flight training schools.[6]

Eugene Ely taking off from the USS Birmingham in November 1910.

U.S. naval aviation began with pioneer aviator Glenn Curtiss who contracted with the Navy to demonstrate that airplanes could take off from and land aboard ships at sea. One of his pilots, Eugene Ely, took off from the USS Birmingham anchored off the Virginia coast in November 1910. Two months later Ely landed aboard another cruiser USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay, proving the concept of shipboard operations. However, the platforms erected on those vessels were temporary measures. The U.S. Navy and Glenn Curtiss experienced two firsts during January 1911. On 27 January, Curtiss flew the first seaplane from the water at San Diego bay and the next day U.S. Navy Lt Theodore G. "Spuds" Ellyson, a student at the nearby Curtiss School, took off in a Curtiss "grass cutter" plane to become the first Naval aviator. Meanwhile, Captain Henry C. Mustin successfully designed the concept of the catapult launch, and in 1915 made the first catapult launching from a ship underway. Through most of World War I, the world's navies relied upon floatplanes and flying boats for heavier-than-air craft.

Lieutenant Charles Samson's historic takeoff from Hibernia on 9 May 1912.

In January 1912, the British battleship HMS Africa took part in aircraft experiments at Sheerness. She was fitted for flying off aircraft with a 100-foot (30 m) downward-sloping runway which was installed on her foredeck, running over her forward 12-inch (305-mm) turret from her forebridge to her bows and equipped with rails to guide the aircraft. The Gnome-engined Short Improved S.27 "S.38", pusher seaplane piloted by Lieutenant Charles Samson become the first British aircraft to take-off from a ship while at anchor in the River Medway, on 10 January 1912. Africa then transferred her flight equipment to her sister ship Hibernia.

In May 1912, with Commander Samson again flying the "S.38," the first ever instance of an aircraft to take off from a ship which was underway occurred. Hibernia steamed at 10.5 knots (19 km/h) at the Royal Fleet Review in Weymouth Bay, England. Hibernia then transferred her aviation equipment to battleship London. Based on these experiments, the Royal Navy concluded that aircraft were useful aboard ship for spotting and other purposes, but that interference with the firing of guns caused by the runway built over the foredeck and the danger and impracticality of recovering seaplanes that alighted in the water in anything but calm weather more than offset the desirability of having airplanes aboard. In 1912, the nascent naval air detachment in the United Kingdom was amalgamated to form the Royal Flying Corps[7] and in 1913 a seaplane base on the Isle of Grain, an airship base at Kingsnorth and eight new airfields were approved for construction.[8] The first aircraft participation in naval manoeuvres took place in 1913 with the cruiser Hermes converted into a seaplane carrier.[9] In 1914, naval aviation was split again, and became the Royal Naval Air Service.[10] However, shipboard naval aviation had begun in the Royal Navy, and would become a major part of fleet operations by 1917.

Other early operators of seaplanes were Germany and Russia. The Japanese established the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, modelled on the RNAS, in 1913. On 24 January 1913 came the first wartime naval aviation interservice cooperation mission. Greek pilots on a seaplane observed and drew a diagram of the positions of the Turkish fleet against which they dropped four bombs. This event was widely commented upon in the press, both Greek and international.[11]

World War I[edit]

At the outbreak of war the Royal Naval Air Service had ninety-three aircraft, six airships, two balloons and seven hundred and twenty-seven personnel, making it larger than the Royal Flying Corps.[12] The main roles of the RNAS were fleet reconnaissance, patrolling coasts for enemy ships and submarines, attacking enemy coastal territory and defending Britain from enemy air-raids, along with deployment along the Western Front. In 1914 the first aerial torpedo was dropped in trials performed in a Short "Folder" by Lieutenant (later Air Chief Marshall Sir) Arthur Longmore,[13] and in August 1915, a Short Type 184 piloted by Flight Commander Charles H. K. Edmonds from HMS Ben-my-Chree sank a Turkish supply ship in the Sea of Marmara with a 14-inch-diameter (360 mm), 810-pound (370 kg) torpedo.[13][14]

Japanese Maurice Farman seaplane from the Wakamiya.

The first strike from a seaplane carrier against a land target as well as a sea target took place in September 1914 when the Imperial Japanese Navy carrier Wakamiya conducted ship-launched air raids[15] from Kiaochow Bay during the Battle of Tsingtao in China.[16] The four Maurice Farman seaplanes bombarded German-held land targets (communication centers and command centers) and damaged a German minelayer in the Tsingtao peninsula from September until 6 November 1914, when the Germans surrendered.[17]

On the Western front the first naval air raid occurred on 25 December 1914 when twelve seaplanes from HMS Engadine, Riviera and Empress (cross-channel steamers converted into seaplane carriers) attacked the Zeppelin base at Cuxhaven. The raid was not a complete success, owing to sub-optimal weather conditions, including fog and low cloud, but the raid was able to conclusively demonstrate the feasibility of air-to-land strikes from a naval platform.

Development of the aircraft carrier[edit]

The need for a more mobile strike capacity led to the development of the aircraft carrier - the backbone of modern naval aviation. HMS Ark Royal was the first purpose built seaplane carrier and was also arguably the first modern aircraft carrier.[18] She was originally laid down as a merchant ship, but was converted on the building stocks to be a hybrid airplane/seaplane carrier with a launch platform and the capacity to hold up to four wheeled aircraft. Launched on 5 September 1914, she served in the Dardanelles campaign and throughout World War I.

Sqn. Cdr. E. H. Dunning makes the first landing of an aircraft on a moving ship, a Sopwith Pup on HMS Furious, 2 August 1917.

During World War I the Royal Navy also used HMS Furious to experiment with the use of wheeled aircraft on ships. This ship was reconstructed three times between 1915 and 1925: first, while still under construction, it was modified to receive a flight deck on the fore-deck; in 1917 it was reconstructed with separate flight decks fore and aft of the superstructure; then finally, after the war, it was heavily reconstructed with a three-quarter length main flight deck, and a lower-level take-off only flight deck on the fore-deck.

On 2 August 1917, Squadron Commander E.H. Dunning, Royal Navy, landed his Sopwith Pup aircraft on HMS Furious in Scapa Flow, Orkney, becoming the first man to land a plane on a moving ship.[19] He was killed 5 days later during another landing on Furious.[19]

The aircraft carrier HMS Furious, with seven Sopwith Camels on the flight deck en route to the Tondern raid, the first ever aircraft carrier strike.

HMS Argus was converted from an ocean liner and became the first example of what is now the standard pattern of aircraft carrier, with a full-length flight deck that allowed wheeled aircraft to take off and land. After commissioning, the ship was heavily involved for several years in the development of the optimum design for other aircraft carriers. Argus also evaluated various types of arresting gear, general procedures needed to operate a number of aircraft in concert, and fleet tactics.

The Tondern raid, a British bombing raid against the Imperial German Navy's airship base at Tønder, Denmark was the first attack in history made by aircraft flying from a carrier flight deck, with seven Sopwith Camels launched from HMS Furious. For the loss of one man, the British destroyed two German zeppelins, L.54 and L.60 and a captive balloon.

Interwar period[edit]

Genuine aircraft carriers did not emerge beyond Britain until the early 1920s.[20]

The Hōshō, the first purpose-built aircraft carrier, in 1922.
The Hōshō in 1945, after removal of its control tower and subsequent enlargement of its flight deck.

The Japanese Hōshō (1921) was the world's first purpose-built aircraft carrier, although the initial plans for the HMS Hermes (1924) began sooner.[21] Both Hōshō and Hermes initially boasted the two most distinctive features of a modern aircraft carrier: a full-length flight deck and a starboard-side control tower island. Both continued to be adjusted in the light of further experimentation and experience, however: The Hōshō even opted to remove its island entirely in favor of a less obstructed flight deck and improved pilot visibility.[22] Instead, Japanese carriers opted to control their flight operations from a platform extending from the side of the flight deck.[23]

In the United States, Admiral William Benson attempted to entirely dissolve the USN's Naval Aeronautics program in 1919. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt and others succeeded in maintaining it, but the service continued to support battleship-based doctrines. To counter Billy Mitchell's campaign to establish a separate Department of Aeronautics, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels ordered a rigged test against the USS Indiana in 1920 which reached the conclusion that "the entire experiment pointed to the improbability of a modern battleship being either destroyed or completely put out of action by aerial bombs."[24] Investigation by the New-York Tribune that discovered the rigging led to Congressional resolutions compelling more honest studies. The sinking of the SMS Ostfriesland involved violating the Navy's rules of engagement but completely vindicated Mitchell to the public.[25] Some men, such as Captain (soon Rear Admiral) William A. Moffett, saw the publicity stunt as a means to increase funding and support for the Navy's aircraft carrier projects. Moffett was sure that he had to move decisively in order to avoid having his fleet air arm fall into the hands of a proposed combined Land/Sea Air Force which took care of all the United States's airpower needs. (That very fate had befallen the two air services of the United Kingdom in 1918: the Royal Flying Corps had been combined with the Royal Naval Air Service to become the Royal Air Force, a condition which would remain until 1937.) Moffett supervised the development of naval air tactics throughout the '20s.

Many British naval vessels carried float planes, seaplanes or amphibians for reconnaissance and spotting: two to four on battleships or battlecruisers and one on cruisers. The aircraft, a Fairey Seafox or later a Supermarine Walrus, were catapult-launched, and landed on the sea alongside for recovery by crane. Several submarine aircraft carriers were built by Japan, each carrying one floatplane, which did not prove effective in war. The French Navy built one large submarine, the Surcouf which also carried one floatplane, and was also not effective in war.

World War II[edit]

A Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 "Zero" fighter.

World War II saw the emergence of naval aviation as the decisive element in the war at sea. The principal users were Japan, United States (both with Pacific interests to protect) and Britain. Germany, the Soviet Union, France and Italy had a lesser involvement. Soviet Naval Aviation was mostly organised as land-based coast defense force (apart from some scout floatplanes it consisted almost exclusively of land-based types also used by its air arms).

During the course of the war, seaborne aircraft were used in fleet actions at sea (Battle of Midway, Bismarck), strikes against naval units in port (Battle of Taranto, Attack on Pearl Harbor), support of ground forces (Battle of Okinawa, Allied invasion of Italy) and anti-submarine warfare (the Battle of the Atlantic). Carrier-based aircraft were specialised as dive bombers, torpedo bombers, and fighters. Surface-based aircraft such as the PBY Catalina helped finding submarines and surface fleets.

Douglas Dauntless SBD dive-bomber in Battle of Midway.

In WWII the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the most powerful naval offensive weapons system as battles between fleets were increasingly fought out of gun range by aircraft. The Japanese Yamato, the most powerful battleship ever built, was first turned back by light escort carrier aircraft and later sunk lacking its own air cover.

In the Doolittle Raid of 1942, the US Navy launched Air Force medium bombers on one-way missions to bomb Tokyo. Only a few got through and the experiment was not repeated. Smaller carriers were built in large numbers to escort slow cargo convoys or supplement fast carriers. Aircraft for observation or light raids were also carried by battleships and cruisers, while blimps were used to search for attack submarines.

Experience showed that there was a need for widespread use of aircraft which could not be met quickly enough by building new fleet aircraft carriers. This was particularly true in the north Atlantic, where convoys were highly vulnerable to U-boat attack. The British authorities used unorthodox, temporary, but effective means of giving air protection such as CAM ships and merchant aircraft carriers, merchant ships modified to carry a small number of aircraft. The solution to the problem were large numbers of mass-produced merchant hulls converted into escort aircraft carriers (also known as "jeep carriers"). These basic vessels, unsuited to fleet action by their capacity, speed and vulnerability, nevertheless provided air cover where it was needed.

The Royal Navy had observed the impact of naval aviation and, obliged to prioritise their use of resources, abandoned battleships as the mainstay of the fleet. HMS Vanguard was therefore the last British battleship and her sisters were cancelled. The United States had already instigated a large construction programme (which was also cut short) but these large ships were mainly used as anti-aircraft batteries or for shore bombardment.

Other actions involving naval aviation included:

Post-war developments[edit]

The first carrier landing and take-off of a jet aircraft: Eric "Winkle" Brown landing on HMS Ocean in 1945.

Jet aircraft were used on aircraft carriers after the War. The first jet landing on a carrier was made by Lt Cdr Eric "Winkle" Brown who landed on HMS Ocean in the specially modified de Havilland Vampire LZ551/G on 3 December 1945.[27] Following the introduction of angled flight decks, jets were operating from carriers by the mid-1950s.[27]

An important development of the early 1950s was the British invention of the angled flight deck by Capt D.R.F. Campbell RN in conjunction with Lewis Boddington of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.[27] The runway was canted at an angle of a few degrees from the longitudinal axis of the ship. If an aircraft missed the arrestor cables (referred to as a "bolter"), the pilot only needed to increase engine power to maximum to get airborne again, and would not hit the parked aircraft because the angled deck pointed out over the sea. The angled flight deck was first tested on HMS Triumph, by painting angled deck markings onto the centerline flight deck for touch and go landings.[28] The modern steam-powered catapult, powered by steam from the ship's boilers or reactors, was invented by Commander C.C. Mitchell of the Royal Naval Reserve.[27] It was widely adopted following trials on HMS Perseus between 1950 and 1952 which showed it to be more powerful and reliable than the hydraulic catapults which had been introduced in the 1940s.[27] The first Optical Landing System, the Mirror Landing Aid was invented by Lieutenant Commander H. C. N. Goodhart RN.[27] The first trials of a mirror landing sight were conducted on HMS Illustrious in 1952.[27]

The ski-jump on Royal Navy carrier HMS Invincible.

The U.S. Navy built the first aircraft carrier to be powered by nuclear reactors. USS Enterprise was powered by eight nuclear reactors and was the second surface warship (after USS Long Beach) to be powered in this way. The post-war years also saw the development of the helicopter, with a variety of useful roles and mission capability aboard aircraft carriers. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the United Kingdom and the United States converted some older carriers into Commando Carriers or Landing Platform Helicopters (LPH); seagoing helicopter airfields like HMS Bulwark. To mitigate the expensive connotations of the term "aircraft carrier", the new Invincible-class carriers were originally designated as "through deck cruisers" and were initially to operate as helicopter-only craft escort carriers.

The arrival of the Sea Harrier VTOL/STOVL fast jet meant they could carry fixed-wing aircraft, despite their short flight deck. The British also introduced the ski-jump ramp as an alternative to contemporary catapult systems.[27] As the Royal Navy retired or sold the last of its World War II-era carriers, they were replaced with smaller ships designed to operate helicopters and the V/STOVL Sea Harrier jet. The ski-jump gave the Harriers an enhanced STOVL capability, allowing them to take off with heavier payloads.[29]

Roles[edit]

Strategic projection[edit]

A Ukrainian Naval Aviation Ka-27 preparing for take off from the Frigate USS Taylor.

Carrier-based naval aviation provides a country's seagoing forces with air cover over areas that may not be reachable by land-based aircraft, giving them a considerable advantage over navies composed primarily of surface combatants.

In the case of the United States Navy during and after the Cold War, virtual command of the sea in many of the world's waterways allowed it to deploy aircraft carriers and project air power almost anywhere on the globe. By operating from international waters, U.S. carriers can bypass the need for conventional airbases or overflight rights, both of which can be politically difficult to acquire.

Anti-submarine[edit]

A Lynx anti-submarine helicopter preparing to land on a French frigate during 1988

During the Cold War, the navies of NATO faced a significant threat from Soviet submarine forces, specifically Soviet Navy SSN and SSGN assets. This resulted in the development and deployment of light aircraft carriers with major anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities by European NATO navies. One of the most effective weapons against submarines is the ASW helicopter, several of which could be based on these light aircraft carriers. These light carriers are typically around 20,000 tons displacement and carry a mix of ASW helicopters and BAe Sea Harrier or Harrier II V/STOL aircraft. Land-based maritime patrol aircraft are useful since they can operate independently of aircraft carriers.

Naval aviation branches[edit]

Since 1975 the Royal Canadian Navy's naval aviation arm is operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Fleet Air Arm History". Retrieved 2013-12-17. 
  2. ^ Tim Benbow, ed. (2011). British Naval Aviation: The First 100 Years. Ashgate Publishing,. p. p.1. 
  3. ^ Roskill. The Naval Air Service I. p. 6. 
  4. ^ Gollin. Impact of Air Power on the British People and the Government. p. 168. 
  5. ^ Roskill. The Naval Air Service I. p. 33. 
  6. ^ "France Naval Aviation". Retrieved 2012-12-17. 
  7. ^ Roskill. The Naval Air Service I. p. 37. 
  8. ^ Roskill. The Naval Air Service I. p. 70. 
  9. ^ Roskill. The Naval Air Service I. p. 138. 
  10. ^ Roskill. The Naval Air Service I. p. 156. 
  11. ^ Hellenic Air Force History - Balkan Wars
  12. ^ Layman. Naval Aviation in the First World War. p. 206. 
  13. ^ a b GlobalSecurity.org. Military. TB Torpedo Bomber. T Torpedo and bombing. Retrieved on 29 September 2009.
  14. ^ Guinness Book of Air Facts and Feats (3rd ed.). 1977. 
  15. ^ Wakamiya is "credited with conducting the first successful carrier air raid in history"Source:GlobalSecurity.org, also "the first air raid in history to result in a success" (here)
  16. ^ "Sabre et pinceau", Christian Polak, p92
  17. ^ IJN Wakamiya Aircraft Carrier
  18. ^ Layman, R. D. (1989). Before the Aircraft Carrier: The Development of Aviation Vessels 1859–1922. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-210-9. 
  19. ^ a b "HMS Furious 1917". Royal Navy. RN official web site. Retrieved 10 January 2009. 
  20. ^ [1]
  21. ^ Milanovich, Kathrin . "Hôshô: The First Aircraft Carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy", pp. 9 ff. in John Jordan's Warship. Conway (London), 2008. ISBN 978-1-84486-062-3.
  22. ^ Milanovich (2008), p. 17 ff..
  23. ^ Peattie, Mark. Sunburst: The Rise of Japanese Naval Air Power 1909–1941, p. 53. Naval Institute Press (Annapolis), 2001. ISBN 1-55750-432-6.
  24. ^ Correll, John T. "Billy Mitchell and the Battleships" in Air Force Magazine, pp. 64 f. June 2008.
  25. ^ Naval History & Heritage Command. The Naval Bombing Experiments: Bombing Operations. 3 Apr 2007. Accessed 31 Dec 2010.
  26. ^ Boyne (2003), pp.227–8
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h Sturtivant, Ray (1990). British Naval Aviation, The Fleet Air Arm, 1917-1990. London: Arm & Armour Press. pp. 161–179. ISBN 0-85368-938-5. 
  28. ^ "The angled flight deck". Sea Power Centre Australia. Royal Australian Navy. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  29. ^ "Using Simulation to Optimize Ski Jump Ramp Profiles for STOVL Aircraft". Retrieved 13 September 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Grosnick, Roy A. United States Naval Aviation 1910 - 1995 (4th ed. 1997) partly online. Full text (775 pages) public domain edition is also available online.
  • Ireland, Bernard. The History of Aircraft Carriers: An authoritative guide to 100 years of aircraft carrier development (2008)
  • Polmar, Norman. Aircraft carriers;: A graphic history of carrier aviation and its influence on world events (1969)
  • Polmar, Norman. Aircraft Carriers: A History of Carrier Aviation and Its Influence on World Events (2nd ed. 2 vol 2006)
  • Polmar, Norman, ed. Historic Naval Aircraft: The Best of "Naval History" Magazine (2004)
  • Smith, Douglas, V. One Hundred Years of U.S. Navy Air Power (2010)
  • Trimble, William F. Hero of the Air: Glenn Curtiss and the Birth of Naval Aviation (2010)

World War II[edit]

External links[edit]

United States Naval Aviation 1910-1995 - A comprehensive history from the U.S. Naval Historical Center