The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum
A History of U.S. Aircraft Carriers
USS Enterprise

September 26, 1910 – The first recorded reference to a provision for aviation in the Navy Department.

November 14, 1910 – Eugene Ely, 24, a civilian pilot, took off in a 50hp Curtiss plane from a wooden platform built over the bow of the light cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-2).

November 29, 1910 – Glenn H. Curtiss wrote to Secretary of the Navy, George Meyer, offering flight instruction without charge for one Navy officer as one means of assisting “in developing the adaptability of the aeroplane to military purposes.”

April 12, 1911 – Lt. T. Gordon “Spuds” Ellyson completed his training at the Glenn Curtiss Aviation Camp and became Naval Aviator No. 1.

November 8, 1917 – Lieutenant Commander Earl W. Spencer Jr., U.S. Navy, became the commanding officer of the first permanent naval air station for training, today known as Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, CA.

July 11, 1919 – the Naval Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1920 provided for the conversion of the collier Jupiter into an aircraft carrier later to be named Langley.

March 20, 1922 – USS Langley (CV 1), converted from the collier USS Jupiter (AC 3), was commissioned as the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier.  Commodore Kenneth Whiting was in command.

October 17, 1922 – Lt. V.C. Griffin, in a Vought VE-7SF, took off from USS Langley at anchor in the York River, VA, making the first take-off from an aircraft carrier.

November 17, 1924 – USS Langley reported for duty, becoming the first operational aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy.

November 16, 1927 – USS Saratoga (CV 3) was commissioned.

December 14, 1927 – USS Lexington (CV 2) was commissioned.

September 26, 1931 – The keel for the USS Ranger (CV 4), the first ship in the U.S. Navy to be designed and constructed as an aircraft carrier, was laid.  The ship launched on February 25, 1933 and was commissioned on June 4, 1934.

May 12, 1938 – USS Enterprise (CV 6) was commissioned.  It had launched on October 3, 1936.

December 7, 1941 – Carrier aircraft of the Japanese Imperial Army launched a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor.  The three carriers of the Pacific Fleet – Saratoga, Lexington, and Enterprise – were not present.  The Enterprise was at sea, about 200 miles west of the harbor, and launched her aircraft in a fruitless search for the Japanese striking force.  She put into Pearl Harbor on December 8 for fuel and supplies and sailed the next morning to patrol against possible additional attacks.

February 1, 1942 – the first U.S. carrier offensive occurred when Task Forces 8 and 17, with the Enterprise and Yorktown, attacked installations on various Japanese islands.

June 3-6, 1942 – The Battle of Midway.  The Japanese attempted to occupy Midway Island but were met with a greatly outnumbered U.S. carrier force.  In the battle, four large Japanese carriers were sunk, with 258 planes and a high percentage of Japan’s most trained and experienced carrier pilots.  Midway was a turning point in the war in the Pacific.

1943 – The Navy commissioned a large number of aircraft and escort carriers.

June 4, 1944 – the USS Guadalcanal (CVE 60) captured the German submarine U-505, the only submarine captured by the U.S. Navy in World War II.

March 19, 1945 – USS Franklin (CV 13), which had maneuvered closer to the Japanese homeland than any other U.S. carrier, was attacked by a single Japanese plane which dropped two bombs, devastating the hangar deck and setting off ammunition.  The ship was enveloped by fire, killing 724 and wounding 265.  The Franklin remained afloat and sailed under her own power to Pearl Harbor for repairs.

1945-1946 – The Navy commissioned numerous aircraft carriers.

February 7, 1950 – In a demonstration of carrier long-range attack capabilities, a pilot flew 5,060 miles in 25 hours and 59 minutes, the longest flight ever made from a carrier deck.

July 23, 1950 – With the outbreak of the Korean conflict, USS Boxer (CV 21) was pressed into service.  She made a record crossing the Pacific home (7 days, 10 hours, and 36 minutes).

August 5, 1950 – USS Valley Forge (CV 45) and USS Philippine Sea (CV 47) began what would be almost three years of continuous carrier operation in Korea.

Fall 1950 – The first United States Navy advisors arrived in South Vietnam.

September 1, 1952 – The largest carrier raid of the Korean War occurred when 144 aircraft from USS Boxer (CV 21), USS Essex (CV 9), and USS Princeton (CV 37) struck an oil refinery in North Korea.

January 12, 1953 – Test operations began on USS Antietam (CV 36), America’s first angled-deck carrier.

October 1, 1955 – USS Forrestal (CV 59), the first of four ships in a class and the Navy’s first supercarrier, was commissioned.

May 17, 1959 – The end of the escort carrier as a combatant ship in the U.S. Navy.

May 5, 1961 – USS Lake Champlain (CVA 39) recovered Alan B. Shepard, the first American to go into space, as he completed his Freedom 7 flight.

July 21, 1961 – USS Randolph (CVA 15) recovered Virgil “Gus” Grissom, the second American in space.

October 24, 1962 – USS Enterprise (CVAN 65), USS Independence (CVA 62), USS Essex (CVS 9), and USS Randolph (CVS 15) took part in the Naval Quarantine of Cuba.  This was imposed by order of President John F. Kennedy following the discovery of offensive nuclear missiles on Cuba, placed there by the Soviet Union (Russia).

August 1964 – The Navy’s air and surface bombardment in North Vietnam began.  Aircraft carriers supported air campaigns by bombing facilities, power plants, bridges, and railroads.  They also helped control the seas to support the land effort in Asia.

October 3, 1964 – USS Enterprise (CVAN 65), USS Long Beach, and USS Bainbridge complete Operation Sea Orbit, the world’s first task force composed of solely nuclear-powered ships.  The ships circumnavigated the globe in 65 days without stopping for fuel or provisions.

May 3, 1975 – USS Nimitz (CVN 68) deployed, activating the Nimitz-class of carriers.

August 2, 1990 – The Gulf War began.  Battle groups led by USS Independence (CV 62) and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) positioned themselves in the Gulf of Oman and Red Sea.  Maritime forces facilitated the largest, fastest strategic sealift in history, with more than 240 ships carrying more than 18.3 billion pounds of equipment and supplies to sustain the forces of Desert Shield/Storm.

October 7, 2001 – Operation Enduring Freedom began in response to the attacks on September 11, 2001.  The initial phases necessitated a naval commitment.  The U.S. Navy committed 6 aircraft carrier battle groups, 4 amphibious ready groups, various additional support ships, 60,000 active duty personnel, and 13,000 reservists.  The Navy surged numerous carriers to the North Arabian Sea: USS Enterprise (CVN 65), USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), and USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63).  Carrier air wings executed thousands of long-range air missions, attacking Taliban airfields, air defense positions, command and control nodes, and al-Qaeda training bases.

January 10, 2009 – USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77), the last of the Nimitz-class of carriers, was commissioned.

November 9, 2013 – USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), the first in America’s newest class of aircraft carriers, was christened.