Although the USN had been one of the first to experiment with operating aircraft from ships, the admirals had not developed any great interest in the idea. On the other hand the Royal Navy saw the potential in ship based aircraft and during World War One did more to develop the concept than any other nation. The RN not only modified ships to specifically provide naval aviation but also employed naval aviation operationally. It was only after the war that the USN belatedly realized that they had been asleep at the switch.
The USS Jupiter AC-3 had been launched as a collier in 1912. However, since the fleet, again following the British lead had switched to fuel oil, the need for colliers to supply coal to the fleet had been greatly diminished. The manifest benefits of naval aviation having finally dawned on the Navy, Jupiter was redesignated CV-1 in July 1919 and renamed USS Langley in April 1920. From the start the USN believed in operating large numbers of aircraft from carriers. Langley could accommodate 33 flight ready aircraft or 55 dismantled aircraft. Nicknamed The Covered Wagon because of her appearance, she proved to be the training grounds for the infant naval aviation.
The USS Langley proved to be an adequate testbed for the fledgling USN Naval Aviation. It's converted design was not adequate to effectively function as a carrier. The elevator did not go all of the way down to the deck, there was no enclosed hanger, just the open work area below the flight deck, and moving aircraft involved gantries and cranes. A truly cumbersome arrangement. Aircraft could not be prepared for flight until they had been hoisted onto the deck. The 533 foot flight deck was the first full-length flight deck in the world. In April 1937 USS Langley was redesignated AV-3, seaplane tender. The forward 1/3 of her flight deck was removed and she was employed extensively in aircraft ferry missions. When Pacific War broke out, the old warrior was still in action. One of her last missions was ferrying P-40 fighters to the Dutch East Indies. While serving in that capacity on February 27, 1942, the Japanese hit her with five bombs and the progenitor of US naval aviation went down fighting.
This beautiful scratch-built model of USS Langley CV-1 was built by Commander Josiah "Cy" Kirby, USNR (RET). He graciously donated it to the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola NAS. It can be seen along with many of CDR Kirby's other models, free of charge at the museum.
Next in the photographic tour of the warship models of the National Museum of Naval Aviation, a magnificent model of USS Lexington, CV-2, also built by CDR Kirby.