Although seven months had been lost because of the sale of the Mississippi and the abrupt departure of the North Carolina and although more discouraging delays lay ahead, one bit of encouragement came with Bristol's new orders of November 23, 1914, the first in which he was designated in writing "Director of Naval Aeronautics." Using this shred of recognition as reason for raising his voice, he declared that the Navy had only 12 planes for training purposes, quoted the Chambers Board's year‑old recommendation for 50 planes and two dirigibles, and requested two planes for each of the 16 battleships of the Fleet. When this request, strongly backed by Fiske, reached the General Board, that body made it the occasion for remarking that no attention had been paid by the Navy Department to its previous proposal. It added that the existing situation was "nothing less than deplorable" because "aircraft are the eyes both of armies and navies, and it is difficult to place any limit to their offensive possibilities." Moreover, in the present state of aerial unpreparedness, scouting "would be blind" and therefore the board "could not too strongly urge that the Department's most serious thought be given to this matter" and that "an appropriation of at least $5,000,000 be made available immediately."
It was unfortunate that the General Board should be merely an advisory body, assembled to give the Secretary of the Navy a professional opinion upon anything that interested him. That opinion always had the prestige afforded by the high rank of those who gave it, but it was not backed by any authority under law. Thus it might be outweighed by the opinion of the chief of some bureau of the Navy Department because his authority was clearly defined by law and his views could be given to the Secretary at any moment.
Nevertheless, the strong sentiments expressed by the board at this time show how it had advanced in its view of aviation. The p46 recommendation for $5,000,000 during the fiscal year 1916 was made, however, to the Secretary of the Navy and it appears that this figure was not presented to Congress at this time. For the same year Bristol's own recommendation was for $1,187,600, again presented to the Secretary. The record does not show how these requested amounts appeared in what was finally submitted to Congress because the requests of all bureaus were presented as a total and the various bureau chiefs were called to the hearings conducted by the House Naval Committee. When Bristol testified, he repeated his figure and expressed astonishment over what appeared to be a reduction in them. "From an examination of the draft of the Appropriation Bill," said he, "it would seem that either other estimates for work under the various bureaus have been reduced considerably or else my estimates for aeronautics have been considerably reduced." He drew attention to the fact that "the appropriations for 1916 are no larger, and in some cases are less than last year."
Some warm debate followed between members of the committee. Certain of them were indignant that more had not been done, especially when it came out that the Bureau of Navigation had spent upon aviation only about one third of the amount previously allowed it. In his own appearances before the committee the Secretary of the Navy stuck to his statement that it was "hard to get good planes" — which, in truth, it was. At this late date it cannot be definitely stated how far the Secretary was swayed by his well-known bent toward a placid, wishful-thinking pacifism, but it is of record that Representative Ernest W. Roberts of Massachusetts, after telling his fellow members that he did not want "to doubt the good faith" of the Secretary, went on to say that, "in view of the slowness of the Navy Department . . . in going into aeronautics," he saw no great hope that the department would push aviation "unless they are pushed from this end." He proposed that $1,000,000 be appropriated and, in justice to Mr. Daniels, it should be noted that he was agreeable to this "provided the Navy could decide which kind of planes" it wanted.
The irrepressible Fiske did not fail to tell the committee that the German Fleet was more than a match for the United States Fleet and that a disastrous action between the two would surely be followed by air bombing of American coastal towns. Moreover, he said, with European nations now beginning to pour orders for planes into the United States, there was danger that these orders would p47 leave American plants too burdened to undertake American orders when they did come.
When it finally recommended $1,000,000 for Naval Aviation, the House Committee proposed placing that amount in the hands of the Secretary of the Navy. It was the committee's expressed opinion that this segregation of funds would produce more definite advances than would a loose distribution through the bureaus, and there is good reason to believe that it meant to make the Secretary, whether enthusiastic or not, definitely responsible. After considerable demur, on the floor of the House, against "so large a sum," the amount was eventually included as recommended in the Naval Appropriations Act of March 3, 1915.
A major issue at the time was the question of plane building by the government. Representatives Roberts and Frank Buchanan of Illinois were strongly in favor of this, on the ground that manufacturers with large foreign orders were tempted to skimp small home orders. Curtiss, for example, having received a considerable British subsidy to enlarge his plant, would naturally have no great interest in what Bristol might order, unless the alternative meant losing the business to a government-owned plant.
On this point the Secretary of the Navy said that his department had no plans for building but "might have to do it," while Rear Admiral Griffin said that his Bureau of Steam Engineering could build motors at navy yards only if necessary equipment were furnished and especially skilled labor employed. Admiral Fiske was against government building on the ground of unreadiness by comparison with private firms and the inevitable loss of time that must result. With him stood the bureaus in general, most officers arguing that government competition with industry would mean losing the ideas of inventors and designers, wasting officers in plants when they were needed elsewhere, and getting, in the end, government establishments that were inadequate. The Naval Committee's final stand was against government in business.
Giving some attention to laboratories, the same committee recognized that the Smithsonian had been right, months earlier, in recommending that its own inadequate Langley Laboratory be supplemented or replaced by a better one for the study of aerodynamics. The only other existing laboratory was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the wind tunnel at the Washington Navy Yard was not complete and, notwithstanding the helpfulness of Admiral Taylor, the Model Basin could not devote p48 itself exclusively to aircraft. The experimental station at Annapolis could make block tests of motors but had no instruments to check their performance in flight nor any way fully to test propellers. Pensacola had some excellent instruments but facilities were inadequate, especially for testing new devices in "wireless." Only a thoroughly modern laboratory would permit true progress toward that "command of the air" which Fiske unceasingly urged as "just as important as command of the seas, both for land and sea wartime operations." For these reasons the committee urged action to build a national aerodynamic laboratory, but it was not then successful and the struggle for such an establishment continued until well into 1915. In January of that year the Smithsonian formed a committee including Chief Justice White, Alexander Graham Bell, Senator Stone of Missouri, Representative Roberts, John B. Henderson, and Charles D. Walcott to address Congress on that subject. It urged authorizing the President to appoint an advisory aeronautical committee to direct the research programs of both military men and civilians. Emphasizing the action of Britain in establishing a national laboratory and a formal advisory committee, it listed impressive comparative figures in aircraft, ranging from France's 1,400 to the United States' 23, and insisted that the path to more planes led through properly conducted research.
Eventually, the words of such outstanding men became effective. In the Naval Appropriations act of March 3, 1915, Congress authorized the President to appoint just the type of committee that Mr. Taft had long before created, only to have it destroyed. The new body was known as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and its 12 members were to include two from the Navy Department, two from the War Department, one each from the Smithsonian, the Weather Bureau, and the Bureau of Standards, with five civilians who were either familiar with the needs of aeronautical science or skilled in aeronautical engineering.
This committee still exists and it has long since established the record of contributing more to research in aeronautics than any other body in the United States, if not, indeed, in the world. As outlined in the act that created it, its duties were "to supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight, with a view to their practical solution; to determine the problems which should be experimentally attacked; and to discuss their solution p49 and their application to practical questions." If a laboratory should be placed at its disposal, the committee would be expected to "direct and conduct research and experiments . . . in such a laboratory." Showing a childlike faith in Captain Chambers' much earlier prediction that private funds to support such a committee and such a laboratory would be forthcoming, Congress went no further in its appropriations for clerical services, incidental expenses of the unsalaried members, and experiments than the munificent sum of $5,000.
In a more liberal humor toward the fliers, Congress cleared up the question of extra pay. Its legislation of two years earlier had been interpreted as applying only to officers who were fully qualified aviators, a manifest injustice in view of the graver risks run by notices. The new law gave such students a 35 per cent increase, allowing 50 per cent for the qualified pilots and for such enlisted men as might be on duty involving actual flying. In addition, a full year's pay was provided for the survivors of any officer killed while flying, with double disability pension for all who were injured in a crash. The previous limit of 30 officers to eligibility for these extras was raised to 48 officers, with 96 enlisted men for the Navy; 12 officers and 24 enlisted men for the Marines.
While this legislation was naturally welcomed by the personnel generally, Bristol was not so well pleased. He had contended that extra pay should be used only "to provide . . . life insurance which they cannot get from ordinary . . . companies," and he did not believe that it was so used. "Though I am in favor of the extra pay at the present time," he wrote, "I should recommend . . . in another year . . . doing away with [it] and if then considered necessary, to increase the pension to beneficiaries of officers and men killed." It has been said that this strong difference of opinion bred an unfortunate coolness between Bristol and his flying subordinates. As to that, it is not difficult to understand that the extra pay must unquestionably have been a strong incentive to go into flying. Indeed, one newcomer at the time said quite bluntly: "I wouldn't be flying if I hadn't been broke!" Yet it could hardly have been the extra pay that inspired performances like Lieut. R. C. Saufley's when, in this year of 1915, he took a Curtiss seaplane up to •14,500 feet and set a new endurance record of eight hours and 20 minutes in the air.
In the matter of pilot certificates, brought up at this time, there p50 was no difference of opinion. If aviators were to be given these certificates only after they had been passed upon by a qualified board, it hardly needed Fiske's reminder to make it clear that such a board could be made up only of men who were themselves aviators. Accordingly, certificates were issued to the seven pioneers, Ellyson, Towers, Mustin, Bellinger, Herbster, B. L. Smith, and Chevalier. Since Rodgers had been on other duty for two years, he got no certificate at the moment but later on have name was inserted between those of Ellyson and Towers. Cunningham of the Marine Corps was not named in this list of pioneers, possibly because, on August 11, 1913, he had requested detachment from aviation duties for the reason, so history relates, that the young lady of his choice declined to risk marrying a flier. Eventually, he was more persuasive later because on April 27, 1915, we find him back in aviation and ultimately listed as No. 5 among naval aviators. These later changes have always complicated the exact "precedence" of the early fliers.
Nearly all of these men were against the dirigible as too slow and too vulnerable, views in which future history was to support them. Bristol, however, liked the "Big Bags" and wanted specifications for them issued to manufacturers. Lt. Comdr. F. R. McCrary, as well as Richardson and Herbster, accordingly came out with plans embodying some new ideas, such as "a car . . . to allow for resting on the water or for moving on the surface at slow speed"; twin screws of swivel type; and a "secure means" for making fast to the mooring mast. Bristol likened the proposed ships to "Dreadnaughts," declaring that just as battleships did not move in enemy waters without a destroyer escort, so the airship bombers of the future would cross the sky only under "fighter" protection. Wrong about the dirigible as a bomber, he was certainly right enough about future air tactics.
Counting upon early delivery of at least one training dirigible, Bristol, with Fiske's backing, ordered from Pittsburgh a hangar shed to house it. Its arrival at Pensacola was much delayed by winter weather too severe for its builders but, in the end, the hangar was received and erected long before its first inmate put in a appearance. Meanwhile McCrary had been told to devote himself exclusively to dirigibles, beginning on June 1, as inspector of a nonrigid ordered from Connecticut Aircraft Company, to be delivered in October and to cost $45,636.25. One reason for the award of this contract was the report that the company had just p51 hired an Austrian Zeppelin expert; a poor reason because his knowledge proved to be but slight and his ability too small to cope with novel ideas or prevent exasperating delays in construction. Nevertheless, training of personnel began under McCrary and Lieut. Lewis H. Maxfield, both to be prominent "L‑T‑A" men during the war, and all hands went to Akron, where the Goodyear Company, as the result of Fleet interest in spotting, were building a •19,000‑cubic‑foot, free balloon. While the men were "growing up with that one," Goodyear began building a kite balloon, thus leaving only the rigid dirigible to await the results of these earlier experiments.
To test the theory that getting better heavier-than‑air planes depended upon buying some that were already being manufactured, bids were called for and contracts were let. In case this theory might prove to have been over optimistic, the specifications for such items as motors were made flexible, allowing for changes to be incorporated after rather informal discussion with the builders.
After the circular sent to manufacturers in 1914 had produced little that was new in motors, much less anything better, Bristol suggested that Steam Engineering designate an officer too specialize in the field even if the bureau itself did not take up design and manufacture. In April, 1915, Lieut. Warren G. Child was detailed to this duty, in which he was to remain for a long time the Navy's expert. Finding a suitable building at the Washington Navy Yard, he converted it into a test plant with an engine laboratory, to do for motors what tunnels could do for air frames and to be the scene, eventually, of the first motor competition.
While awaiting delivery of all this new and better material, Pensacola was administratively reorganized to handle it. Mustin, now the officer in charge, was designated "Commandant," to conform to naval standards for stations, a change which did not affect his actual duties but did give him much firmer standing in relation to his command, especially its marine personnel, and in relation to revisiting ships and officers.
From the standpoint of the aviators, contemporary changes in high-ranking administrative personnel of the Navy Department were not so helpful. No one was astonished when Rear Admiral Fiske was replaced because, during his tour of duty as Aid for Operations, he and the Secretary of the Navy had had so many sharp differences that he was distinctly persona non grata. With p52 the creation of the new Office of Chief of Naval Operations, the Secretary found in Capt. (later Adm.) William S. Benson one who was much more ready to agree with him without debate. When Fiske left Washington on July 1, 1915, he went to other important posts such as that of president of the Naval War College at Newport, but his continuing great interest in aviation could no longer be expressed in positive action. He could do little more than write letters of recommendation.
To the aviators this change meant a loss of standing. They knew, as did everyone else in the Navy, that Benson was a first-rate seaman and ship handler but what they wanted was someone with the imagination to go ahead with them in the science of flying. Whereas Fiske had been ready to permit a separate office in order that great emphasis might be laid upon what he called "the new weapon . . . far superior to any that we have had before," Benson tended to regard naval aviation as little more than something to be absorbed into the bureau system in which he believed; something at the moment too small to deserve more than desk space for an assistant to himself, rather than an independent, expanding office. Perhaps it was in part his responsibility for the continual readiness of the whole Navy that influenced him to get what little there was of Naval Aviation made a part of the Fleet; if so, then of course he had to act upon his own judgment. Nevertheless, from the aviators' standpoint, he was holding them back rather than pushing them ahead.
To some extent this impression was inevitable because all the fliers of the day were young men of relatively low rank, with little authority to say what should and what should not be done, which policy should be adopted and which abandoned. As for that, the whole history of Naval Aviation in this early period shows that the machine developed much faster than the rank of those who used it. In the ordinary course, promotions could not keep pace and years would pass before officers who had already attained rank decided to qualify as fliers and thereafter began to fill high places in the air organization. In 1915, with the new Chief of Naval Operations by no means an enthusiast, it was all the more difficult for the younger, more forward looking to get suggestions looked upon with favor.
Among the proposals which Bristol nevertheless made in that year was one for the assignment of more officers to aviation duties. He proposed to establish a quota of one officer with six enlisted man for each plane; one officer with 12 men for each dirigible. p53 Another of his recommendations called for a total of 120 planes and two dirigibles for active duty in the Fleet, with 28 planes for the naval defense districts. These, he said, would meet the "very least requirement" which was 24 fleet divisions of four planes each, with three reserve divisions, and the rest distributed for coast defense, at Narragansett, the Chesapeake, Guantánamo, Panama, San Francisco, Hawaii, and Manila. Each of the two dirigibles should be carried, said Bristol, on a ship especially designed for the purpose.
Bristol's further proposal, for administration, included a rear admiral as director, with a captain as assistant; two other captains to command the Fleet aircraft, and the special ships; nine commanders, 37 lieutenant commanders, and 148 junior officers. To the Powers That Were, such changes and enlargement appeared preposterous. What was now asked would appear, almost in a matter of months, a pittance, but was quite outside "front office" imagining at the moment. The heads of administration being inclined to wait and see rather than to move forward to meet a possible emergency meant that Fabius Maximus was at the controlsa and the administrative machine must be sluggish in take‑off and slow in flight.
Out in the field rather more progress was being made, an outstanding example being the entry of the Coast Guard into Naval Aviation. At the suggestion of Capt. B. M. Chiswell of the Coast Guard, that aircraft might prove valuable in locating ships in distress offshore, Lieut. Elmer F. Stone of the same service was sent to the school at Pensacola. Eventually, he became Naval Aviator No. 38 and he was a co‑pilot on the Navy's historic NC flights to Europe in 1919.b At the same time the Coast Guard sent Lieut. Norman B. Hall to the Curtiss plant at Hammondsport for technical instruction.
Meantime, at Pensacola, plans for organized classes, disrupted by the Vera Cruz incident, were taken up again. In July, 1915, the first new class assembled with eight naval and two marine officers, while 20 enlisted men, including four marines, reported for ground work. Exercises for this training, as well as further experimental flying by students or by the aviators returned from Europe, were designed to bring out the strengths and the weaknesses of existing planes as a basis for practicable air tactics. They included submarine patrols and bombing, as well as spotting flights for battleship target practice and for the coast artillery. Bellinger, p54 for example, took the Burgess-Dunne flying boat to Fortress Monroe, to spot mortar fire from the shore batteries. He met bad weather and he had much motor trouble, both of which led to his reporting his own effort as "only a glimpse of the possibilities of an aeroplane in this connection." He found that his plane could not carry two men and also carry enough fuel for more than 90 minutes in the air. He proved that colored stars of the Very pistol, which he used to signal the result of shots, were indistinct by day unless lampblack were used to make a lot of smoke. He could, however, readily distinguish "splashes" from altitudes up to •8,000 feet and from his observations he concluded that a ship should get "on the target" after four ranging shots had been corrected by spotting.
Bombing tests were made with the redesigned Mark I and Mark II bombs. Up to an altitude of •90 feet the Army had greater success than the Navy with these bombs, but later in the year the naval planes dropped bombs from •3,500 feet which straightened up after falling •600 feet and hit the water nose on. From heights of •500 to 600 feet near-misses were becoming frequent, but the effects of shrapnel dispersion were still not impressive. Much of the ineffectiveness of bombing in general was attributed to the lack of a really good sight, the only one available being the somewhat primitive Sprengstoff A. G. Carbonit type, not very accurate against a target •40 feet square. The Sperry instrument, brought out at this time, weighed •60 pounds, which was too much for the plane of the day, and it would not be until after World War I that a really accurate bomb sight was produced.
Such exercises, making obvious the need for more of them, caused Bristol to recommend and get approval for six more planes, a dozen additional student officers, and the assignment of qualified pilots to postgraduate work including exercises with the Army. He also got authority to install a catapult on the North Carolina from which, in the fall, Mustin's plane was launched. The operation was not wholly successful because of mechanical defects in design and this catapult was removed. Modified designs, later erected aboard other vessels, were also unsatisfactory because their cumbersome equipment interfered with firing the ships' guns.
To Bristol, as to Mustin, carriers were indicated. Learning that the Royal Navy had five of these special vessels nearly completed, he urged "purchasing a merchant-ship and converting her" to handle planes, dirigibles, and kite balloons. Unfortunately, Benson p55 and the Secretary of the Navy, presumably because they were still convinced that a ship with turrets could find space for planes, remained unimpressed and disapproving. It would not be until some years after World War I that the conversion of the collier Jupiter would produce the first United States carrier, the Langley.
On October 12, 1915, the department issued an order which, though loosely drawn, was tight enough and strong enough to pull the heart out of Naval Aviation. It effectively reduced the "director" to mere officer-in‑charge status, in which he would serve as an assistant in the Material Division of the Office of Naval Operations. He was to have no planning functions and no real authority, his duty being described in the order as limited to making recommendations "as required," covering such matters as "the type, numbers and general characteristics of aircraft desired." Obviously, any recommendations made without being "required" were not likely to have much weight with either the Secretary of the Navy or the Chief of Naval Operations, whose approval was necessary to make any recommendation effective. In any event, whatever they did approve would be handled under the old system, with funds distributed among bureaus, and without any supervision by the aviation assistant tucked away in a corner of the Office of Naval Operations.
This new order left unanswered many questions of real importance to aviation. It did not specify who should draw up a general program, nor did it state, for example, who should deal with the National Advisory Committee. In short, it was more than anything else a brake on Naval Aviation progress. Since it was not to go into effect until the detachment of Captain Bristol, it left him five months during which he could continue to function as director; months which he devoted to the study of national production facilities, to some reorganization of the training program for enlisted men, and to placing orders under the authorized $1,000,000 building program.
To get a proper estimate of existing production possibilities he sent Mustin on a tour of the factories, then rumored to be crowded with foreign orders. Mustin reported the Wright factories to be without any foreign orders and, at the moment, in process of reorganization after purchase by a New York syndicate. Curtiss had delivered to Europe 125 JN tractor planes with the OX motors, and 40 American-type flying boats. He had on hand 200 of the JN type with OX motors, 100 RT tractor planes with p56 V‑2 motor, and 50 American-type boats. His capacity was five planes, five OX motors and five V‑2 motors a day, all of excellent workmanship. His research department under Dr. A. F. Zahm was active and progressive. A third firm, Thomas Brothers, had completed 24 planes of their T‑2 type but these were still disassembled and without motors; its ultimate capacity would be two planes a week and it had no foreign orders on hand. Fourth, the Burgess Company had supplied 36 of the Type Q pusher planes, equipped with Sturtevant motors, to Great Britain, and although it had no foreign orders in hand, it was negotiating for a large Russian order. Its capacity was five planes a week, of excellent quality. Finally, the Sturtevant Company, with a one‑plane weekly capacity and good workmen, was also without foreign orders. Hence it was clear that there were ample facilities to begin production for the United States Navy. However, only 29 planes had been ordered by the end of 1915, and Bristol promptly insisted that more orders must follow because "it would be a grave error in preparedness" to neglect them.
Declaring that bigger planes must come, with 1,000 and even 2,000 horsepower, Bristol also announced that the Navy would oration begin its own program. Work on the type known as 82‑A was started in November, 1915, the design being a modification, by Richardson and his associates, of one used by private manufacturers. After a year this type proved to be excessively heavy in the tail and otherwise already obsolete. The Washington Navy Yard put into manufacture a new flying boat, fitted with twin and sometimes with triple pontoons, and planned as an improvement upon the type found unsatisfactory at Vera Cruz.
Motors were still disappointing. Toward the end of 1915 the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics said of them that "invention is more active than design, and the painstaking research necessary is almost entirely lacking." Of those that were tested at the navy yard only two designs passed their contract tests. About all that could be said of motors was that there was now a place where the Navy could test any that might be submitted.
Easy mechanical control remained a matter of prime importance to the men who had to fly the planes. Bellinger, Saufley, and Bronson did not agree with Bristol's decision to adopt, as the Navy's standard, the modified Deperdussin control with its wheel on a vertical stem locked to the ailerons and its foot bar attached to the rudder. For the most part the pilots favored the Wright "three p57 -in‑one" control. When, however, it was learned that the Army had adopted the "straight" Deperdussin — that is, without the modifications, — Bristol changed his own order and made the Navy's standard agree with the Army's.
To stimulate the training of enlisted personnel, Bristol directed Mustin to select eight petty officers of the Navy and two sergeants of the Marine Corps for instruction. When these were soon found to be making "excellent progress," Bristol again asked that special ratings be created for aviation mechanics on a permanent basis, to give the men "definite status" and "an added incentive" to advance themselves and thus increase the efficiency of the whole force. The result was a compromise, in which the Bureau of Navigation authorized the rating of "machinist, aeronautics," to hold while men were actually serving in aviation but not to apply when they returned to other duties. This inevitably left many men still convinced that their chance for permanent advancement depended upon keeping their feet on a ship's deck.
For such men as did volunteer for aviation duty one bit of encouragement came when the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce offered them free courses in the theory, construction, operations, and repair of gasoline motor. The chamber made this offer through Mr. Howard Coffin, who would head the Aircraft Production Board during the coming war, and Captain Bristol promptly accepted for the Navy. Although his acceptance had the approval of the Bureau of Navigation and the Chief of Naval Operations, there is no record that any advantage was taken of the opportunity. It was not until the nation was actually at war that enlisted men were trained at such plants as those of the Packard Company in Detroit.
a A little knowledge is a dangerous thing: our authors shouldn't have written this, or someone in their impressive array of co‑workers should have caught it. True, the Roman consul Fabius Maximus was known as "the Delayer" (Cunctator) — but his delaying was by no means an accident of timidity or indecision as is implied here: rather, a firm strategy, in which the consul aimed at getting the enemy to wear himself out uselessly. This delaying strategy was successful and saved Roman arms, for which Fabius Maximus rightly acquired the fame which is still his today. For details, see Plutarch, Life of Fabius Maximus, 5.2 ff. and Sayings of Romans, 195C; Frontinus, Strategemata, I.8.
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