Eugene Burton Ely (October 21, 1879 - October 19, 1911) was an aviation pioneer, credited with the first shipboard aircraft take off and landing.
Ely was born in Williamsburg, Iowa and raised in Davenport, Iowa. He attended and graduated from Iowa State University in 1904. Following graduation, he moved to San Francisco, California, where he was active in the early days of the sales and racing of automobiles.
In October, Ely and Curtiss met Captain Washington Chambers, USN, who had been appointed by George von Lengerke Meyer, the Secretary of the Navy, to investigate military uses for aviation within the Navy. This led to two experiments. On November 14, 1910, Ely took off in a Curtiss pusher from a temporary platform erected over the bow of the light cruiser USS Birmingham. The aeroplane plunged downward as soon as it cleared the 83-foot platform runway; and the aircraft wheels dipped into the water before rising. Ely's goggles were covered with spray, and the aviator promptly landed on a beach rather than circling the harbor and landing at the Norfolk Navy Yard as planned. Following this flight, Ely was made a lieutenant in the California National Guard to qualify for a $500 prize offered to the first reservist to make such a flight.
On October 19, 1911, while flying at an exhibition in Macon, Georgia, his plane was late pulling out of a dive and crashed. Ely jumped clear of the wrecked aircraft, but his neck was broken, and he died a few minutes later. His body was returned to his birthplace for burial.