On April 10, 1922, at hearings of the Senate Committee of Naval Affairs, Sen. David I. Walsh
of Massachusetts asked Lt. Willis B. Haviland, a pilot
who had been assigned to a recently commissioned
ship, “What is the Langley?”
Haviland responded, “She is a poor excuse for an
He was not being flippant. Though the carrier had
been commissioned three weeks earlier, much work
needed to be done before the ship, which had once
served as the collier Jupiter, could depart the Norfolk
One individual well aware of the limitations of the
U.S. Navy’s first carrier was the chief of the recently
created Bureau of Aeronautics, Rear Adm. William
A. Moffett. In an austere budgetary climate, Moffett
desired larger, more capable aircraft carriers.
The recently concluded Washington Naval Conference had placed limits on the number of new
battleships and battle cruisers that navies could construct, and the U.S. Navy had just laid down the keels
for the planned battle cruisers Lexington and Saratoga.
With extensive topside modification to those cruisers,
Moffett would have the ships he wanted. The key
would be congressional funding. Langley would play
a role in assuring it.
Following inaugural flight operations in the
Chesapeake that fall, Langley wintered off Pensacola,
Fla., to enable more pilots to get their “carrier quals.”
Upon its return to Norfolk in May, the commanding
officer, Capt. Stafford H.R. “Stiffy” Doyle, was summoned to Washington to meet with Moffett and other
Navy officials to preview a forthcoming public relations ploy to impress national leaders and the public
with the wonders of carrier-based naval aviation.
On June 1, Langley pulled in its lines from Pier 2 of
the Norfolk Naval Operating Base and logged “
underway” at 8:04 in the morning. However, upon clearing
Hampton Roads, it turned left into Chesapeake Bay
rather than returning to sea.
At 3 p.m., Langley turned into the mouth of the
Potomac River, with the minesweeper Sandpiper following astern. Not desiring to arrive in the nation’s
capital before sunrise, Langley anchored off Blackstone
Island off Southern Maryland at 10: 30 p.m. and raised
the hook just before 4 a.m. to proceed up river.
At 8: 20 a.m., wind conditions were acceptable to
launch four aircraft piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Virgil Griffin,
Lt. J.R. Kyle, Lt. W.R. Dillon and Boatswain Anthony
Feher to fly ahead to Naval Air Station Anacostia.
Before noon, Langley tied up starboard side to the dock
at the Washington Navy Yard. Waiting ashore were the
four pilots who had flown off three hours earlier.
The next day, the Langley crew welcomed 1,198
Washingtonians and others to tour their unique vessel.
With the work week commencing the next day, Langley
casted off from the Navy Yard and proceeded to a spot
off Haines Point, a short distance away from the Army
War College at Fort McNair.
Once anchored, USS Mayflower came alongside.
President Warren G. Harding, Moffett, the Navy’s
General Board and several other dignitaries worked
their way up to the flight deck to observe Griffin, Lt.
Harold J. Brow, Ens. C.D. Palmer and Feher take off
and land with their Navy biplanes. The flight operation
routine continued off Haines Point for the next few
days with only minor disruptions.
During the following weekend, Langley remained
berthed at the Navy Yard as an aircraft and 30 Sailors
participated in the parade that was part of festivities
associated with a Shriners convention. Again, the quarterdeck was open to visitors, and several hundred took
advantage of the opportunity.
On June 11, with Langley still tied up starboard
side facing the Navy Yard, Mayflower came alongside
and Harding spent another 45 minutes visiting the
carrier. At 4:02 the next morning, Langley hauled in
lines from the Navy Yard dock for the last time and
headed down the Anacostia and the Potomac to return
to Hampton Roads.
That day back in Washington, Harding felt “
stronger than ever” about the Navy’s plans for fleet aviation
and reconfirmed his support for funding to continue
the conversion of Lexington and Saratoga into aircraft
carriers. Having seen the persuasive powers of his
experimental carrier captivate the president, Moffett
was determined to garner additional support for his
program and arranged for Langley to visit additional
northeastern ports that summer. n
Dr. David F. Winkler is the historian with the Naval Historical
Proving the Wonders of
Carrier-based Naval Operations
By DAVID F. WINKLER
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 52 SEAPOWER / OCTOBER 2016