Naval Aviation Early Years
Naval Aviation Early Years
by James L. Leuci, ITCM, USN
On 14 November 1910, civilian aviator Eugene Ely took-off from the USS Birmingham anchored in Hampton Roads VA and flew two miles before landing on Willoughby Spit. This short flight became the first flight that civilian aviators would fly for the U.S. Navy.
Naval Reserve Aviation began to be organized in February 1915 when state naval militias received authority by the Navy to establish aeronautic corps. The Naval Militia New York (NMNY) became the first to operate two “flying boats.” The U.S. Naval Reserve was established on 3 March 1915, without any provision for a Naval Reserve Aeronautics Corps. On 29 August 1916, the Naval Reserve reorganized as the U.S. Naval Reserve Force (USNRF)–which included the Naval Reserve Flying Corps.
The Naval Reserve Flying Corps was manned by officers, enlisted men, and student flyers transferred from the regular Naval Flying Corps. Civilians skilled at flying, designing, or building aircraft were also eligible for membership. The first USNRF aviation unit, consisting of 29 men from Yale University, enrolled in the Naval Reserve Force on 24 March 1917. The Yale unit became the first of many college flying clubs to join the Navy for wartime service.
During World War I, Naval Reserve aviators flew combat missions in the Europe and along the U.S. Atlantic coastline hunting German U-boats. When the fighting ended in November 1918, over two-thousand Reserve Sailors were serving in the Naval Reserve Flying Corps. The Navy’s only Ace during the war was a Reserve pilot–Lieutenant David S. Ingalls, USNRF, a member of the Yale unit. Ingalls later went on to become Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics. He also served in the Naval Reserve in the 1930s only to be recalled active duty during World War II. Ingalls retired from the Naval Reserve as a Rear Admiral in 1959.
In the fall 1940, construction of Naval Reserve Aviation Bases (NRAB) at Dallas TX, Atlanta, GA and New Orleans began to address the need for new flight training facilities for Aviation Cadets. These NRAB installations and others such as NRAB Glenview, IL would become the training sites for thousands of naval aviators during the Second World War.
After the war, the Naval Reserve Flying Corps essentially ceased to exist due to budget cuts. In 1923, Reserve aviation funding improved and Naval Reserve Air Stations were established. In the following years, Naval Reserve aviators began training aboard the Navy’s first aircraft carriers. The also flew seaplanes and blimps. In 1935, the Naval Aviation Cadet Program was established to train Navy Reserve pilots. After completing training, Aviation Cadets served three years on active duty before being commissioned as Ensigns in the Naval Reserve. These Naval Reserve pilots became the nucleus of the Naval Air Force that would fight in WWII.