After taking off from the Birmingham, Ely traveled 2.5 miles. The flight might have lasted longer, except that the launch started with a low point -- "The Curtiss briefly touched the water, throwing up enough spray to damage its propeller, and vibrated heavily as it climbed," writes the Naval Historical Center. "Ely, a non-swimmer, realized that a quick landing was essential. He touched down on nearby Willoughby Spit after some five minutes in the air."
This photo shows Ely's landmark takeoff.
March 21, 2012 12:54 PM PDT
Photo by: Naval History & Heritage Command Photographic Department