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 Curtis experienced two firsts during January 1911. On January 27, 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.
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 "S.38," first 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. 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 France, Germany and Russia. The foundations of Greek naval aviation were set in June 1912, when Lieutenant Dimitrios Kamberos of the Hellenic Aviation Service flew with the "Daedalus", a Farman Aviation Works aircraft that had been converted into a seaplane, at an average speed of 110 km per hour, achieving a new world record. Then, on January 24, 1913 the first wartime naval aviation interservice cooperation mission, took place above the Dardanelles. Greek Army First Lieutenant Michael Moutoussis and Greek Navy Ensign Aristeidis Moraitinis, on board the Maurice Farman hydroplane (floatplane/seaplane), 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.
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