Interest in airplanes
as naval weapons was shown as early as 1898 when naval officers were appointed
as members of an inter-service board to investigate the military possibilities
of the airplane. In 1911 Navy Captain W. I. Chambers wrote requisitions for
two items of wood, canvas, bamboo, rubber and metal. In short this was for two
airplanes. One was to be equipped for arising from or alighting on land and
water, to have a metal tipped wood propellor designed for a speed of at least
45 MPH, to have provisions for carrying a passenger alongside the pilot and
to have controls that could be operated by pilot or passenger. This airplane
took for as the A-1. It was named "triad" for its triple ability to
fly in the air and land on either the ground or the sea.
Five more planes were added to the Navy's air force in 1912. One of these was the Navy's first flying boat, C-1, a 75 horsepower job with a chain-driven propellor.
When the United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917, the Navy's aviation establishment was still quite small. There was only one air station - at Pensacola, Florida, and only 38 qualified aviators and student aviators on board. At that time there were 163 men assigned to aviation and total aircraft was 54. However, by 11 November 1918 the Navy's aviation force in Europe alone numbered 1,147 officers and 18,308 enlisted men. The years following World War I saw a rapid development in aviation. The beginning of the carrier fleet, and new aeronautical innovations such as folding wings for carrier storage, improved catapults, accurate bombsights, and the water- cooled, in-line engine dictated the need for new ratings, and as a result the first full-fledged aviation ratings were introduced on 7 July 1921. These included Aviation Carpenter's Mate, Aviation Machinist's Mate, Aviation Metalsmith and Aviation Rigger. Prior to this the job skills were identified within a rating such as Machinist's Mate (Aviation).
Carrier aviation took a big leap forward with the commissioning in November and December, 1927, of the Saratoga and Lexington. Progress in lighter-than-air aviation was also active during the mid-20s and was keyed by an event when the rigid airship Shennandoah made fast to a mooring mast built on the stern of Patoka (AV-6).
As the 30s merged into the 40s the war situation grew more serious. After the fall of France in June 1940, Congress authorized the immediate purchase, first, of 4,500, then 10,000 and finally 13,000 naval aircraft during that year. This grew until on VJ Day (2 September 1945) naval air power consisted of 437,000 personnel (of whom 61,000 were pilots), 99 aircraft carriers and 41,000 planes.
Piston-driven aircraft did the job during World War II, but as the war ended, increased attention was given to the jet engine, and the first mass operation of jets from a carrier took place in 1948 when two FJ-1 Furies landed and took-off from Boxer in San Diego. Scientific and technical advances since this period have been great and aircraft speeds have leaped to supersonic, and so, as naval aviation advanced, the rating structure changed to keep pace with new developments. The Aerographer was established in 1924 (changed to Aerographer's Mate in 1942); the Aviation Ordnanceman in 1926; and so on until the Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator (AW) was established in 1968.
Information Courtesy of Naval Historical Center