100 Years of Naval Aviation
The Navy's first pilot and 10 more milestones.
- By The Editors
- Air & Space magazine, March 2011
US Navy/Lt. Cmdr. Tam Pham
(Page 2 of 5)
For the next seven years, Ellyson roamed the seas aboard steamers, battleships, and destroyers, traveling to Haiti, England, Italy, and Russia with seemingly little interest in aviation. In October 1919, when offered a position as part of the commission charged with carrying out the Austrian peace treaty, which ended World War I, Ellyson complained to his wife, “I cannot understand what my status is going to be on this Commission…. My ignorance on present day aviation is pitiful, and I cannot understand why some of the Flight Officers in Paris, who were ordered over here for this job, are not detailed in my place. I suggested this to the Admiral, and he replied ‘I don’t want any highbrow aviators on my staff. I want a Naval Officer of some experience with a little common sense, and you are the one who comes nearest to fulfilling those requirements.’ ”
But in 1921, Ellyson was offered a position as executive officer at the naval air station at Hampton Roads, Virginia, and was then detailed to the U.S. Naval Mission to Brazil. He and his family spent three years in Rio de Janeiro, where Ellyson offered the Brazilian air force technical and flight instruction—to little effect. (After complaining that the pilots were erratic fliers fond of breaking formation to perform stunts, Brazilian officials excused them by saying, “Young men must show off for their girls.”)
The family returned to the United States in 1925, and Ellyson began fitting out the USS Lexington, the Navy’s second aircraft carrier; he would eventually become the ship’s executive officer.
On February 27, 1928, Ellyson learned from his wife that their 11-year-old daughter Mildred was gravely ill. He asked to borrow Norfolk air station’s Loening OL-7, and two crew members, and fly to Annapolis. The aircraft took off from Norfolk that night, but never arrived at its destination. On March 11, the Secretary of the Navy’s office sent a telegram to Helen Ellyson: “Very reluctantly yesterday the Secretary came to the conclusion that it was necessary for us to declare the officers who were lost in the plane with your husband officially dead. We had hoped against hope that something might be found of those officers living but it does not seem now that there is any hope left.”
For more than a month the Navy searched for the missing airplane. On April 11, Ellyson’s body washed ashore in the lower Chesapeake Bay. —Rebecca Maksel
1. SIKORSKY SEAHAWK In December 1994, a Black Hawk variant called the HH-60G lifted off from an Air National Guard airfield in Long Island, New York, to search for Ukrainian sailors bobbing in the north Atlantic. Their ship, the Salvador Allende, had sunk in 30-foot waves 780 miles from land. After 15 continuous hours in the air, including 10 midair refuelings, the helicopter returned to its Long Island base with a world record for longest over-water rescue. The helicoptrian Igor Sikorsky, who felt that fixed-wing airplanes were only good for throwing funeral wreaths when a person is drowning, would have been proud.
Sikorsky’s most ocean-minded line of twin-engine helicopters flies under the name of Seahawk. First fielded in 1983 as the SH-60B and later exported as the S-70, the Seahawk and its subsequent variations have been successful enough to show all older U.S. Navy helicopters the door. Sikorsky’s forward momentum continues with the Navy’s recent decision to carry out all helicopter operations with just two Sikorsky Seahawk platforms: the MH-60R for anti-vessel operations and MH-60S for multi-mission work. Think of the “S” model as a Swiss Army knife, suited for rescue, transport, resupply, combat insertion, medevac, and surface attacks executable with guns or missiles like the Penguin and Hellfire. When SEALs need to pay bad guys a visit, there are fittings to tuck an inflatable boat under the fuselage.
Ocean work is demanding enough to make Seahawks pricier than land-bound Black Hawks. All Seahawks have main rotor blades that fold and a tail pylon that swings on hinges. Together, these modifications shave more than 23 feet off its length when parked. Seahawks also have corrosion-resistant engines and are set up for extra fuel capacity and dicey landings on frigate helipads.
Says Sergei Sikorsky, son of Igor, retired but still consulting: the firm’s MH-60R and MH-60S Seahawks “will be the workhorses of naval helicopter operations for the next 10 to 15 years.” Depending on the date chosen to retire the last of the CH-46D Sea Knight tandem-rotor helicopters, this sea change in naval aviation could be complete by 2018. —James R. Chiles