Fifth Division, California Naval
Militia and Aviator Eugene Ely
By Captain George J. Albert Jr.
On 14 November 1910 Eugene Ely a Curtiss
pilot, was the first pilot to take off from a ship when he flew
from an 83 foot wooden deck platform built over the ram bow of
the U.S. Navy cruiser Birmingham at Hampton Roads in Chesapeake
Bay. For that flight Ely had used a four cylinder, water-cooled
50 Horse power Curtiss gasoline engine. Ely was also the first
pilot to arrested land on and take off from a ship's flight deck.
This occurred on 18 January 1911 when Eugene Ely successfully
landed on and took off from the cruiser U.S.S. Pennsylvania in
San Francisco Bay.
For a week prior to Eugene Ely's arrival in Eureka the Humboldt
Times newspaper ran a series of articles advertising the exhibition
flights planned for the 27th and 28th of May 1911 including a
3" by 3" photograph of Ely's historic flight off the
cruiser U.S.S. Birmingham. Some local Eureka businessmen had
planned this exhibition as a moneymaking proposition, which in
the end turned out to be a failure for the backers.
On the 26th of May 1911 Eugene Ely, in company with his wife,
her young sister Mercy Hall, his manager Norman Devaux, and two
mechanics: W. Hoff and P. J. Rooney arrived on the steamer Iaqua
in Humboldt Bay. With them was a Curtiss pusher aeroplane crated
and with at least 4 extra engines. This group was met at dockside
by the Fifth Division California Naval Militia (Eureka), City
dignitaries, businessmen and a crowd of over 100 people.
Arrangements were made to lodge the Curtiss party at the Vance
Hotel. In the mean time the two mechanics traveled with the crated
Curtiss aeroplane and extra engines to New Era Park on the Samoa
Peninsula for the flights to be held on the 27th and 28th of
May 1911 at 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon. There was some concern
about the strong winds blowing, reported at 45 miles an hour.
Mr. Ely stated he had made flights in wind over 60 miles per
hour, and did not see a problem, although he preferred little
or no wind for his flights.
Eugene Ely made good on the intended flight becoming air-borne
at 2:43 on the 27th of May 1911. He rose to between 1,000 and
1,200 feet from the 200 or so feet of cleared ground that was
his runway. Ely was in the air 15 minutes, his flights were made
in circles, down toward Samoa, over the old Consumers' mill,
then seaward to a point about 1/4 mile west of the aviation field,
then east. This imaginary track Ely circled 4 times averaging
about 50 miles an hour due the 45 mile an hour wind.
On the 28th of May Ely made two exhibition flights, one in the
morning shortly before 11:00. He stayed up for 15 minutes only
due to the heavy fog. He rose to a height of 1,000 feet and circled
the field and Humboldt Bay. In the afternoon Ely ascended again
at 2:30. On this flight Ely performed a number of beautiful curves
and dips to the delight of the crowd. He became an instant hero
to all those who had the pleasure of watching his aerobatic displays.
Ely had no trouble with any of his engines during these flights,
which said a lot for the Curtiss engines.
The crowd was spellbound by the wonderful work of the aviator.
His control over the machine was marvelous. His descent was most
spectacular. Circling the field twice he gradually dipped the
planes of his aeroplane and came to earth in almost the exact
spot he had taken off from. Ely flew using the inline 6-cylinder
engine, the Curtiss V-8 engine and a 7-cylinder radial engine.
Ely was immediately made the center of an admiring crowd. His
wife however, was the last to bid him adieu and the first to
greet him on his descent. Mrs. Ely was a petite little brunette,
with big black eyes. She took a serious interest in all her husbands'
flights, and saw the future of the aeroplane, as a useful commodity.
The flight on the 28th was as successful as that of the 27th
and was on time and without incident. All through out these flights
the Fifth Division was on hand and lent what assistance they
could. With Curtiss' interest in selling his aeroplane to the
Navy, it is obvious that the Officers of the Fifth Division were
given special treatment. This event probably had a profound influence
on a young Lieutenant Junior Grade Adolph B. Adams of the Fifth
Division California Naval Militia.
Later in Lieutenant Adolph B. Adam's career, he would be mustered
into the Navy for World War I; one of his assignments would be
in Naval Intelligence stationed in the Panama Canal Zone. During
this assignment he would fly on Curtiss flying boats conducting
research with radio transmitters and receivers. I can but wonder
if this experience with Eugene Ely marked Lt. Adams for the flying
assignment in the Panama Canal.
Lt. A. B. Adams spent a lot of time in these Curtiss flying boats,
flying from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and back again
testing various radio transmitters and receivers with a pair
Also of interest are the National markings on these planes; which
were only used for a short period during World War I. On 8 February
1918 the cockade on the wings was adopted, it is concentric circles
of red and blue around white, and the tail rudder bands become
red, white and blue, with the red closest to the rudder post.
This lasted to 19 August 1919, when the National insignia returned
to the original red circle within a white 5 pointed star on a
blue circle, and the rudder bands were reversed to the pre-war
position, which was blue forward. Lt.
A. B. Adams returned from the Panama Canal in June 1919.
The Humboldt Times Newspaper Friday May 25th 1911; Saturday May 26th 1911;
Sunday May 28th 1911.
The Humboldt Standard Newspaper Sunday May 28th 1911.
Questions and comments concerning
this site should be directed to the Webmaster