A U.S. Aviation Milestone Takes Place with the Help of a Navy Ship

July 21, 1946


An aviation milestone took place with the first official U.S. assessment of the adaptability of an all-jet aircraft to shipboard operations. For that assessment, U.S. Navy (USN) Lieutenant Commander James J. Davidson piloted a McDonnell XFD-1 Phantom fighter jet as it made a series of successful catapult-free takeoffs from and landings on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. At the time, the ship was in the Atlantic Ocean and approximately 60 miles (96.6 kilometers) east of Cape Henry, Virginia.


Davidson made a total of five launches and landings each with the twin-engine Phantom within a timeframe of 90 minutes. “Dozens of navy officers and aeronautical experts gasped as the Phantom, starting at the 650-foot [198.1-meter] mark, pulled off after about a 400 foot [121.9 meter] run and made a beautiful climbing turn,” reported AP News in recounting one of those morning round-trip flights. “Davidson took it around for a landing approach without retracting the wheels and came in as lightly as a bird.”


The first jet to use an aircraft carrier for a series of successful takeoffs and landings was actually the British jet fighter De Havilland Sea Vampire. In December 1945, British Royal Navy (RN) Lieutenant Commander Eric M. “Winkle” Brown piloted the Vampire from and onto the deck of the RN aircraft carrier a total of three times each. While those flight operations were strictly an experiment, however, Davidson’s Phantom trial runs more than seven-and-a-half months later were very much a formal part of USN acceptance procedures to certify that aircraft for sea duty. The success of the Phantom’s trial runs, according to the AP News story, “opened a new page in American fleet history.”


Additional information on USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, and USN Lieutenant Commander James J. Davidson’s record-setting 1946 flights to and from that aircraft carrier, is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Franklin_D._Roosevelt_(CV-42)

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