Eugene Burton Ely was born in Iowa, 1886, and was the first aviator to take off from a ship and land on a ship. He flew a Curtiss Model D bi-plane from a platform constructed on the bow of the cruiser USS Birmingham at Hampton Roads, Virginia, on November 14, 1910. It was a rainy, foggy day but he was able to take off, dip so low that the plane actually touched the water but recovered and flew one and a half miles to land safely on shore.
Two months later, January 18, 1911, he flew the same Curtiss plane from Tanforan Field, near San Francisco, and landed on the cruiser USS Pennsylvania, anchored in San Francisco Bay. He hit the specially made runway at 40 miles and hour.
He had designed a primitive arrestor made of grappling hooks that successfully grabbed the cable that was attached to sand bags on each side of the deck. This proved to slow the plane for a safe landing. After lunch, aboard ship, he made the second ever nautical take off and landed safely on shore. After establishing the reputation as an expert aviator, he publicly demonstrated his skills across the country.
His brief but brilliant career was cut short by a tragic crash during a demonstration at the Georgia State Fair, Macon, on October 19, 1911. On February 16, 1933, President Herbert Hoover recognized the significance of Ely’s contribution by posthumously awarding him the Distinguished Flying Cross.