1889: A Trailblazing Naval Aviator is Born in Rhode Island

March 7, 1889

Pioneering naval aviator Godfrey de Courcelles Chevalier was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1910 and then embarked on a comparatively short-lived but significant aviation career. 

Chevalier, who would be described in one news account as “one of the navy’s most daring aviators,” took to the skies at a time when the use of aircraft was still very much in a nascent and experimental phase with plenty of risk involved. In 1916, he piloted the first plane — a Curtiss Model F — to be launched into the air by a catapult. This historic “first” took place aboard the armored cruiser USS North Carolina and set the stage for the use of catapults deployed even today on aircraft carriers. 

As one of the U.S. Navy’s most experienced and able naval pilots, Chevalier saw military action in France during World War I and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his achievements there. Chevalier also proved to be perceptive and even prescient in discussing greater safety standards for pilots; in at least one letter, he outlined what he saw as the need for seat harnesses in planes. 

Chevalier’s greatest accomplishment, however, was arguably when he made the first landing of a plane on a moving ship. He did so in October 1922 when he safely piloted an Aeromarine 39B seaplane onto the flight deck of the USS Langley, the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier. Sadly, however, Chevalier died the following month due to injuries sustained when the Vought VE-7 Bluebird biplane he was piloting crashed in Virginia. He was only 33.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Godfrey de Courcelles Chevalier, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godfrey_Chevalier

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