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The Birth of Naval Aviation

CV-1 USS Langley

"The Covered Wagon"

Originally AC-3 USS Jupiter, later AV-3 USS Langley

Experimental/Prototype Fleet Carrier

The first of an enduring breed

 [USS Langley photo]
USS Langley (CV-1) at anchor off Christobal, Panama Canal Zone, 1 March 1930.
She has 24 aircraft on her flight deck.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
Photo source:
U. S. Naval Historical Center  [ Flag of United States ]
Awkward. Ugly. Slow. Primitive.

All of these words could be applied to the United States Navy's first aircraft carrier, and all of them would be correct. But despite her deficiencies, USS Langley proved to be the progenitor of her race.

Converted from a surplus collier, Langley would provide a place to test new aircraft, new battle strategies. She would train the men who would pioneer the procedures, tactics and technology that would lead directly to the world's premier warships.

Langley was born in controversy, and died in controversy.

In the early 1900s, the Navy was controlled by the so-called "battleship admirals"; officers who had come up from the decks of the big-gun warships - the cruisers and the battleships. These officers resisted anything which threatened the supremacy of the surface combatant. But there was a small and growing faction who believed in a new concept, something called naval aviation.

Eventually, Congress authorised funds for the conversion of a surplus collier into an experimental aircraft carrier. The collier AC-3 USS Jupiter was taken out of service and sent to the Norfolk Navy Yard to be reborn as CV-1 USS Langley.

Langley served for only 14 years as a carrier, but in that time she and her crew pioneered the tactics and techniques that are still used today, albeit with modifications for new technology.

In 1936, Langley was considered too small, too limited to continue as an aircraft carrier. She was sent to the Mare Island Navy Yard and reconverted to a seaplane tender.

Just after the outbreak of WWII, Langley was loaded with aircraft and personnel and dispatched to reinforce the defenders of Java, just north of Australia. For reasons that are still unclear, she was dispatched unescorted from a multi-national convoy for the final run into Tjilatjap. She was spotted by the Japanese and subjected to bomb and torpedo attacks. Crippled and listing, her radio calls for help brought the destroyers USS Whipple and USS Edsall to her aid, but it was too late. Her crew was evacuated and the destroyers scuttled her with torpedoes and gunfire. Her bones lie on the ocean floor 75 miles south of what was to have been her last port.

Construction Data


Displacement Length Beam Draft


Machinery: 3 oil-fired Bureau boilers, General Electric turbo-electric drive, 2 shafts, 7,000 SHP
Speed: AC-3/CV-1: 15 knots
Range/Endurance: 2,300 tons fuel bunkerage, 578 tons avgas bunkerage


Ship's Company: AC-3: 163; CV-1: 468
Air Group:

Flight Deck

Elevators: One electrically-operated aircraft elevator
Catapults: 2 60-foot catapults (later removed), acceleration to 50 knots
Arresting Gear: Longitudinal and lateral arresting wires, the latter of the crude, weighted (dragged sandbag) type


Weapons: AC-3: Four 4 in. guns; CV-1: Four 5 in. guns
Aircraft: 55 (maximum capacity)

Class Notes

A second Langley-type carrier conversion was planned, but never executed.

Highlights of Ship's Service History

As AC-3 USS Jupiter

 [USS Jupiter photo]
USS Jupiter (Collier # 3)
off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California,
16 October 1913.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
Photo source:
U. S. Naval Historical Center  [ Flag of United States ]

18 October
 [ keel laid icon ]
Keel laid at Mare Island Navy Yard

14 August
 [ champagne bottle icon ]
Launched; sponsored by Mrs. Thomas F. Ruhm

7 April
 [ bunting icon ]
Commissioned; Commander Joseph M. Reeves commanding

27 April
Joined Pacific Fleet at Mazatlan, Mexico, during the Vera Cruz crisis.
Columbus Day
 [ first event ]
First ship to traverse the Panama Canal west to east.

8 March
Sailed for Brest, France to serve as collier for ships returning U. S. soldiers from the World War I battlefront.
11 July
 [ quill pen icon ]
Congress authorises the conversion of AC-3 USS Jupiter to "a vessel capable of carrying, launching and recovering aircraft at sea." Jupiter was chosen for several reasons:

17 August
transferred to west coast.

24 March
 [ gold watch icon ]
24 March - 20 March 1922
 [ refit icon ]  [ quill pen icon ]
Converted to carrier at Norfolk Navy Yard. During conversion Langley is designated AV-1.
Conversion involves:

11 April
 [ quill pen icon ]
Renamed USS Langley in honor of aviation pioneer Samuel Langley. She is the first U. S. Navy ship to bear the name.

As CV-1 USS Langley


20 March
 [ bunting icon ]  [ quill pen icon ]
Commissioned; Norfolk, Virginia, Executive Officer Commander Kenneth Whiting commanding. At this time, Langley is redesignated CV-1.
17 October
 [ first event ]
First carrier takeoff by Lt. V. C. Griffin in a Vought VE-7SF, York River, Virginia.
26 October
 [ first event ]
First underway carrier landing by Lieutenant Commander Godfrey deC. Chevalier in an Aeromarine, off Cape Henry, Virginia.
18 November
 [ first event ]
First carrier catapult launch by Commander Kenneth Whiting in a PT seaplane, at anchor in York River, Virginia

15 January
Begin flight tests and operations in Carribean
Operations demonstrations in Washington, D.C., area
13 June
Operations and training in Atlantic, based out of Norfolk, Va.

Repairs and alterations at Norfolk. This is likely when the second hinged funnel was added.
29 November
Arrived San Diego and joined Pacific Fleet.

25 October
Removed from service for conversion to seaplane tender at Mare Island Navy Yard. There is no indication that Langley was formally decommissioned.

As AV-3 USS Langley

25 October 1936 - 26 February 1937
 [ refit icon ]
Converted to seaplane tender at Mare Island Navy Yard:

 [USS Langley photo]
USS Langley (AV-3) photographed in 1937,
following conversion to a seaplane tender.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
Photo source:
U. S. Naval Historical Center  [ Flag of United States ]

26 February
 [ quill pen icon ]
Reclassified AV-3.
11 April
Joined Aircraft Scouting Force in Pacific.

1 February - 10 July
Temporarily assigned to Atlantic Fleet.
24 September
Rejoined Pacific Fleet at Manilla, Philippines.

7 December
At anchor off Cavite, Philippines.

1 - 11 January
Assisted Royal Australian Air Force on anti-submarine patrols out of Darwin, Australia.
22 February
Departed Freemantle, Australia, as part of an American-British-Dutch-Australian convoy. Langley carried 32 P-40 fighters for delivery to Tjilatjap, Java.
27 February
 [ ship sinking icon ]
Heavily damaged by Japanese air and torpedo attack, about 75 miles south of Tjilatjap, during the reinforcement and evacuation of Java. Hit five times by Japanese bombs and scuttled by two torpedoes and nine 4" shells from escorting destroyers DD-217 USS Whipple and DD-219 USS Edsall. 16 crew lost.


 [ first event ] AC-3 USS Jupiter was the first turbo-electric powered Navy vessel.
During her career, Langley was used to test night landings, blind landings and cold-weather operations.
Name continued by DE-131 USS Langley (renamed USS Hammann prior to launching) and the Independence-class light carrier CVL-27 USS Langley


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