Theodore Ellyson (left) and Glenn Curtiss (right) pilot an A-1. Credit: San Diego Air & Space Museum
Commissioned on May 8, 1911, the Curtiss A-1 "Triad" was the Navy's first aircraft and one of the earliest hydroplanes. Built with retractable landing gear, the A-1 could operate from land, sea and air. The Navy used the A-1 for early training and aviation experiments. Over a dozen similar aircraft built by Glenn Curtiss served as the Navy's hydroplane training aircraft until the introduction of the Curtiss N-9 in 1916. Theodore “Spuds” Ellyson was the first to successfully fly an A-1 Triad becoming the first certified US naval aviator.
Sailors pull an A-1 out of the water. North Island, California. Credit: San Diego Air & Space Museum
The A-1 was designed by pioneer aircraft manufacturer Glenn Curtiss. In February 1911, Curtiss began testing a modification of his earlier Model D biplane. The new seaplane was revolutionary, it had a set of wheels next to the pontoon which could be cranked up and down, allowing the pilot to land on either water or ground. Since it could operate on land, sea and air, Curtiss dubbed it the “Triad”. The US Navy purchased fourteen of the seaplanes at around $4,000 each, designating it the A-1. The Navy also hired Curtiss to train a number of pilots for the Navy program.
Aftermath of a Curtiss A-1 "Triad" crash. October 1912. Credit: San Diego Air & Space Museum
The A-1 was the aircraft in which the Navy's first aviators learned to fly. It was also a platform for early experiments, including the first-ever catapult launch, the first night water landing without the benefit of landing lights, tests in airborne wireless communication, and a cross-country flight covering a distance of 112 miles in 122 minutes. Tests on the Curtiss A-1 continued until new technologies rendered the design obsolete. After 285 flights and numerous rebuilds, the A-1 was damaged beyond repair in a crash on October 6, 1912.