If you are a student of US Naval Aviation, this 1911 photograph may be something like the holy grail.

Pictured is the Curtiss A-1 aircraft with Glenn H Curtiss at the wheel. Seated (L-R) are his students – young US Navy officers John Rodgers, John Henry Towers, and Theodore Ellyson – who qualified that summer as Naval Aviators #2, #3 and #1, respectively. The man standing at left is not identified, but is possibly Eugene Burton Ely (1879-1911), Curtiss’ pilot and a pioneer of Naval Aviation in his own right – the first man to take off from and land on a ship.

All of these men had tremendous flying stories and family histories – well worth a look when you have the time.

Rodgers (USNA 1903) and Ellyson (USNA 1905) were killed in plane crashes, in 1926 and 1928 respectively, but Towers (USNA 1906) had a 45-year Navy career culminating in 4-star Admiral’s rank (1945) and command of the US Pacific Fleet (1946).

Here’s Vice Admiral Towers (arrow) in a famous photograph of General Douglas McArthur signing surrender documents aboard USS Missouri (BB-63) in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945.

Bringing this back home …

Towers’ grandfather, Colonel John Reed Towers, commanded the 8th Georgia Infantry from 2nd Manassas to Appomattox, including in action with G.T. Anderson’s Brigade in the West Woods and on Piper’s Farm at Sharpsburg on 17 September 1862.

Here’s Colonel J.R. Towers, just after the Civil War.

Colonel Towers’ 2nd son and Admiral Towers’ father, William McGee Towers (1846-1912), was also a Confederate veteran. He served as an 18 year old cavalryman with General N.B. Forrest in 1864 and 1865. He lived to see his son fly.



More details of Admiral Towers’ Navy career are in a bio sketch from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

They are also the source of the Curtiss photograph above.

The 1945 photograph on the USS Missouri is online from the US National Archives.

The portrait of Colonel John R Towers is thanks to family genealogists via RootsWeb.

One Response to “Lts. Rodgers, Towers, and Ellyson with Curtiss A-1 (1911)”

  1. Tim Davis says:

    I had an opportunity to examine an early Curtiss flying machine similar to the one pictured a few years back. It was new, but not a replica. Rather it had been assembled in the 21st century from a knock-down kit made by Curtiss c1911. The control system is unusual: The wheel controls elevator and rudder. A steel rod cradle controls the ailerons for banking. The pilot leans his upper body, the cradle flexes at joints, cables transmit the motion to the ailerons which cause banking. The bar visible in the photo next to Glenn Curtiss’ upper arm is part of the cradle.

    Back to Antietam, Colonel Towers and his Georgians were near my Great-Grandfather’s Regiment, the Massachusetts 15th Volunteer Infantry in the West Woods.

Please Leave a Reply