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Looking Back on 100 Years of Naval Aviation

My, How the Time Has Flown…

“I have been up to my ears in work…” Things sure haven’t changed much in that regard since Lieutenant Commander Henry Mustin wrote to his wife on January 21st, 1914, just one day after arriving in Pensacola, Florida on board USS Mississippi. Three years had passed since the official birth of naval aviation, and the Lieutenant Commander had just settled into Pensacola to set up a flight school.

The letters he sent to his wife survived him, giving us a glimpse of life in 1914 and the birth of naval aviation. As we celebrate the Naval Aviation Centennial this year it seems appropriate to ask -what has changed? What has stayed the same? Would today’s naval aviation even be recognizable to its founders?

Lieutenant Commander Mustin could not have known that a year later he would make the first-ever catapult launching from a ship or that Pensacola would soon test the world’s most advanced cameras at 5100 feet. Did he have any idea the Navy would one day boast more than 3700 aircraft? Would he have believed that less than a century later a woman would be designated a naval aviator or that prior to that naval aircraft would be so fast that a non-stop flight from Perth to Ohio could be completed in under 56 hours?

We are one hundred years later and one hundred years improved. But our naval aviation is built on many of the same convictions Lieutenant Commander Mustin mentioned in his letters. We recognize “fine possibilities” even in the most “scandalous condition[s].” We know “working hard with plenty of enthusiasm…make[s] a good start.” We rejoice in our successes as did he -“I brought her into this harbor without a pilot and put her alongside the dock without the help of a tug and didn’t even scratch the paint,” and we also recognize our weaknesses – “I am awfully homesick for you and my baby boys so hustle down here as fast as you can.”

The collection of our work and those before us has brought us to a year where we can proudly watch the Blue Angels, 18 inches apart and breaking 700 mph, fly over our heads as we stand on the same beach Lieutenant Commander Mustin did, and know that our collective work has grown a full century into something great. We are still up to our ears, but we sure have something to show for it.

You can read some of the letters from Mustin to his wife here.

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