Sigma: 2019-12-03

sigma logo

The Development of the Aircraft Carrier

Cmdr. Robert R. “Boom” Powell, USN (ret)

December 3, 2019 at 7:30 P.M. at the Virginia Air and Space Center in downtown Hampton, Virginia


From a few planks across coal ships, old warships, and even a passenger liner, to the massive steel decked, 80,000-ton leviathans of today, the development of the aircraft carrier is an interesting and fascinating study of one technology driving another. The co-development of the carrier and carrier-based aircraft is now in its second century, and the history of this development will be the topic of this lecture. Much of this history happened right here in Hampton Roads, from the beginnings in 1910, to today with carriers built in Newport News and based in Norfolk. This history will be told through a discussion of the technology, equipment, and procedures along with personal stories.


No information present that is not in the textRobert R. “Boom” Powell was a Naval Aviator flying A-4 Skyhawks and RA-5C Vigilantes in Vietnam. He was based at NAS Oceana in Fighter Squadron 43, and after a tour as an attaché in South Africa, he returned to Hampton Roads as ship’s company on USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). As a Landing Signal Officer (LSO), Boom was always fascinated with how it came to be that we can land airplanes aboard ships at sea, one of the most difficult maneuvers in military aviation. After 20 years on active duty he became an airline pilot flying Boeing 747s for Pan American and Atlas Air. He currently enjoys soaring at the Tidewater Soaring Society and flies antique aircraft, including WWI replicas and the 1911 Curtiss Pusher, at the Virginia Beach Military Aviation Museum. Boom began writing while in the Navy and has a regular column in The Hook and has also published articles in several aviation magazines. This lecture will be based on his book Wave Off! A History of LSOs and Ship-Board Landings. His other books include Ben Drew: The Katzenjammer Ace, Vigilante!: 1,200 Hours Flying the Ultimate US Navy Reconnaissance Aircraft, and two aviation-themed novels.

To receive monthly e-mail reminders about upcoming Sigma Lectures, send a blank e-mail to: