Theodore Roosevelt and Naval Aviation: Then and Now

An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Stingers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 113 prepares to take off from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) on its first day of combat operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Spencer Roberts/Released)

 

By Lt. Rob Reinheimer, Deputy Public Affairs Officer, Carrier Strike Group NINE

“Examine into this flying machine…”

There is a letter framed in the commanding officer’s in port cabin aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). The letter is from the ship’s namesake, written in 1898 when Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The foresight of the author in regards to aviation and the importance he placed on readiness are traits that the U.S. Navy and the ship that bears his name exhibit today.

Dated March 25, 1898, Roosevelt’s letter to Secretary of the Navy John D. Long explains that he had been shown photographs of a flying machine Professor Samuel Langley built.  Roosevelt wondered if this machine could one day play a valuable role for our country’s military.

“The machine has worked. It seems to me worth while [sic] for this government to try whether it will not work on a large enough scale to be of use in the event of war,” Roosevelt writes.

While Langley was unable to accomplish manned flight before the Wright Brothers did so in 1903, his technology was the building blocks Glenn Curtiss, entrepreneur and pilot, used.

As a way to circumvent the Wright Brothers’ attempt at placing a patent on flying technology, Curtiss fine-tuned Langley’s ideas and built his own flying machine.  Curtiss’ machine proved that the Wrights’ weren’t the only people with the working technology, and allowed others to continue to develop the burgeoning new field of flight without fear of legal ramifications.

Curtiss’ work would result in the first successful manned aircraft launch and landing on a naval ship.  On January 18, 1911, Eugene Ely piloted a Curtiss Model D “Pusher” off the USS Pennsylvania. Later that same day Ely flew from land back onto the warship successfully. To many, Ely’s flights are considered the birth of naval aviation. Years after Roosevelt’s letter, the government did take notice – Curtiss was put to work on North Island in Coronado, California, to train Army and Navy Officers how to fly.

“…to be of use in the event of war.”

Fast-forward nearly 120 years from Roosevelt’s aforementioned letter, and the aircraft carrier that bears his name is patrolling the Arabian Gulf on its second deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. The ship and strike group, with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17, is working with partner nations to conduct sorties into Iraq and Syria targeting ISIS fighters and Taliban drug production facilities on the ground in order to eradicate the ISIS caliphate.

On December 7, 2017, Theodore Roosevelt became the first carrier to launch sorties in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the current mission in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.  Furthermore, the ship and crew showed flexibility, supporting two different missions – Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel – on the same day.  The ability of the U.S. Navy to launch strikes into two separate theaters from a single platform on the same day underscores the dynamic capabilities of the aircraft carrier and the importance of strike warfare in today’s operational environment.

As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt wrote at length about the importance of power projection as a deterrent to war; the aircraft carrier provides that deterrent wherever it is operating.

Strike warfare and carrier aviation have had a profound effect on our nation’s ability to not only defend itself through kinetic attacks, but also support our allies through ongoing presence missions and security operations.

“Preparedness deters the foe, and maintains right by the show of ready might…” – Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy

The Roosevelt Family Coat of Arms includes the Latin phrase Qui Plantavit Curabit, or “He who has planted will preserve.” Our motto emphasizes the notion that readiness is a key to self-preservation and success.  The aircraft carrier has adopted the same maxim and features it on their official crest; the ship’s crew fully understands the important role that preparation and readiness play in our ability to not only carry out the present mission, but also the missions which lay further ahead.

Theodore Roosevelt is the flagship of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9.  The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, consisting of the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and the guided-missile destroyers USS Halsey (DDG 97), USS Sampson (DDG 102) and USS Preble (DDG 88) are on a routine deployment to the U.S. 7th and 5th Fleet areas of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the regions.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt.


Editor’s note: If you look back over the last 30 years, you will find that USS Theodore Roosevelt has been at the forefront in a majority of our nation’s military conflicts. Find out more about her service and legacy, check out her entry in the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

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