History Of Naval Aviation: First 100 Years

From Eugene Ely’s first tentative landing on a makeshift wooden deck on the fantail of the heavy cruiser USS Pennsylvania (Armored Cruiser #4) in a Curtiss pusher biplane on 18 January 1911 to the first vertical landing of the F-35B Lightning II on the asphalt deck of the USS Wasp (LHD-1) by Marine Corps test pilot Lt. Col. Fred Schenk on 3 October 2011, Naval Aviation has made astounding technological leaps over its first century.
The many companies that have come to be Lockheed Martin today have been a major part of those historic 100 years. The first legacy Lockheed Martin aircraft to be purchased by the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics was the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company Model TT trainer. The Navy bought four of these dual-control aircraft in 1914 and followed that purchase with an order for three Model R reconnaissance floatplanes and a pair of Model S scout floatplane trainers. The lead designer for both the Model R and Model S was a young engineer named Donald Douglas, who went on to start his own company that built aircraft for the Navy.
Navy officials evaluated the Loughead (pronounced Lockheed) F-1 in early 1918, but decided not to purchase that seaplane. The Navy was, however, sufficiently impressed with Allan and Malcolm Loughead’s team—which included designers Jack Northrop and Gerard Vultee, who both later started their own aircraft companies—to award the Loughhead Aircraft Manufacturing Company a contract to build two Curtiss-designed HS-2L seaplanes near the end of World War I.
In 1917, fourteen examples of the S-4B/C, the standard Army trainer at the time, were diverted to the Navy for operations. Those aircraft were built by Thomas-Morse, one of several companies that were brought under one roof when Consolidated Aircraft Corporation was established in 1923. The first aircraft developed for the Navy under the Consolidated name was the NY-1 Husky trainer in 1924. Vultee Aircraft bought out Consolidated in 1943—although the common perception was that the purchase was the other way around. The company was later known as Convair. The lone Vultee design to see Navy service was the SNV Valiant basic trainer flown during World War II.
Over the years, these four companies have designed and built more than sixty-five aircraft types totaling thousands of aircraft for the US Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. The Lockheed Martin Navy legacy extends from trainers; to shipborne scouts; to transports and tankers; to such utilitarian aircraft as the carrier-based S-3 Viking, which was used to do a little bit of everything; to today’s carrier- and amphibious assault ship-based F-35 Lightning II multirole, multivariant fighter.
Spanning the entire Lockheed Martin history with the US Navy, though, has been the company’s maritime patrol aircraft. Crews flying these aircraft have hunted submarines and ships belonging to the German Kriegsmarine, the Imperial Japanese Navy, and the Soviet Red Banner Fleet. Although the Navy’s P-3 Orions today are used for multiple missions, including overland and littoral surveillance, antisubmarine warfare is still an important mission.
But one Lockheed Martin aircraft has served longer than any other aircraft by any other manufacturer in the history of the sea services. The Coast Guard received its first R8V-1G transport in late 1959. The US Marine Corps received its first GV-1 aerial tanker in March 1960. The US Navy received its first UV-1L ski-equipped transport in July that same year. Redesignated in 1962—and much better known as the HC-130, KC-130, and the LC-130—the Hercules is now in its sixth decade of operation, surpassing such other legendary aircraft as the Gooney Bird, Hellcat, Corsair, Skyhawk, Phantom II, Intruder, and Tomcat.
Aircraft designations were simplified midway through Naval Aviation’s history. In 1962, the US Navy adopted the Department of Defense standard designation system used today (C for Cargo, F for Fighter, P for Patrol, etc). But for the forty years prior, the Bureau of Aeronautics used a designation system that included a status or class prefix; the aircraft type (the basics, plus specific iterations, including Patrol Bomber, General Utility, Scout Observation, etc.); the type sequence number (the second and subsequent aircraft designs from the same manufacturer); the manufacturer’s letter code; followed by a configuration sequence number.
The images that accompany this story are of the legacy Lockheed Martin aircraft—with all their detailed designations—flown by Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard Aviators over the past ninety-seven years.

Jeff Rhodes is the associate editor of Code One.
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