Kenneth Whiting

Kenneth Whiting was born in Massachusetts in the USA on 22 July 1881. At the age of nineteen, he became a naval cadet in Maryland, graduating in 1905. During the next few years, he served on an armoured cruiser, a gunboat and a supply ship. From 1908 to 1912, he commanded various submarines. Later, in 1914, Whiting successfully applied to be transferred to Dayton, Ohio, to be trained as a naval aviator. As it happened, he was the last naval officer to be personally trained by aviation pioneer Orville Wright. Whiting then commanded the Naval Aeronautic Station at Pensacola, Florida, before assuming command of a seaplane unit attached to an armoured cruiser. World War I broke out in 1914, with the USA entering the war three years later. Whiting was given command of the 1st Naval Air Unit, the first operational naval unit from the USA to participate in the First World War. He established a US Navy airbase in northern France and helped train French pilots, before being transferred to England. During that time, Whiting proposed that the US Navy required ships with aircraft catapults and flight decks, but the proposal was rejected. By the end of the war, he had been awarded a Navy Cross and Legion of Honour medal. Whiting returned to the USA, specifically Washington DC, where he, along with other senior naval aviators, convinced US Navy decision makers that the navy did indeed require aircraft carriers. His argument was no doubt supported by fact that Britain’s HMS Ark Royal, the world’s first dedicated aircraft carrier, had proven her worth in World War I. From 1919 to 1920, the collier USS Jupiter was converted into the US Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley. Further testimony by Whiting resulted in the US Navy equipping all battleships and cruisers with floatplanes. It was appropriate that, in 1922, Whiting completed the world’s first catapult-assisted take-off from an aircraft carrier. He developed many operational procedures still in use today, including the filming of all carrier landings to improve techniques, as well as the use of a landing signal officer. He also established the first ‘pilot ready room’. Whiting was involved with the design and construction of five of the US Navy’s first aircraft carriers, which is why he became known as the ‘father’ of the US Navy’s aircraft carriers. Over the course of his career, Whiting commanded the fleet air base at Pearl Harbour, as well as the USS Langley and Saratoga aircraft carriers. In 1939, he was appointed general inspector of naval aircraft. He held that position until he took command of a naval air station in New York. In 1943, Kenneth Whiting contracted pneumonia. He died of a heart attack on 24 April that year, at the age of 61. In 1944, the USS Kenneth Whiting seaplane tender was named in his honour.