Jupiter was converted into the first U.S. aircraft carrier at the Navy Yard, Norfolk, for the purpose of conducting experiments in the new idea of seaborne aviation, a field of unlimited possibilities. Her name was changed to Langley on 21 April 1920, she was reclassified CV-1 and recommissioned 20 March 1922, Comdr. Kenneth Whiting in command.
As the first Navy carrier, Langley was the scene of numerous momentous events. On 17 October 1922 Lt. Virgil C. Griffin piloted the first plane, a VE-7-SF, launched from her decks. Though this was not the first time an airplane had taken off from a ship, and though Langley was not the first ship with an installed flight deck, this one launching was of monumental importance to the modern U.S. Navy. The era of the aircraft carrier was born introducing into the Navy what was to become the vanguard of its forces in the future. With Langley underway 9 days later, Lt. Comdr. G. DeC. Chevalier made the first landing in an Aeromarine. On 18 November Commander Whiting, at the controls of a PT, was the first aviator to be catapulted from a carrier’s deck. By 15 January 1923 Langley had begun flight operations and tests in the Caribbean for carrier landings. In June she steamed to Washington, to give a demonstration at a flying exhibition before civil and military dignitaries. She arrived Norfolk 13 June and commenced training along the Atlantic coast and Caribbean which carried her through the end of the year. In 1924 Langley participated in more maneuvers and exhibitions, and spent the summer at Norfolk for repairs and alterations. She departed for the west coast late in the year and arrived San Diego 29 November to join the Pacific Battle Fleet. For the next 12 years she operated off the California coast and Hawaii engaged in training fleet units, experimentation, pilot training, and tactical-fleet problems. On 25 October 1936 she put into Mare Island Navy Yard, for overhaul and conversion to a seaplane tender. Though her career as a carrier had ended, her welltrained pilots proved invaluable to the next two carriers, USS Lexington and USS Saratoga.
Langley completed conversion 26 February 1937 and was reclassified AV-3 on 21 April. She was assigned to Aircraft Scouting Force and commenced her tending operations out of Seattle, Sitka, Pearl Harbor, and San Diego. She departed for a brief deployment with the Atlantic Fleet from 1 February to 10 July 1939, and then steamed to assume her duties with the Pacific fleet at Manila arriving 24 September.
At the outbreak of World War II, Langley was anchored off Cavite. She departed 8 December and proceeded to Balikpapan, Borneo, and Darwin, where she arrived 1 January 1942. Until 11 January 1942 Langley assisted the RAAF in running antisubmarine patrols out of Darwin. She was then assigned to ABDA forces assembling in Indonesia to challenge the Japanese thrust in that direction. She departed Freemantle, 22 February in convoy, and left the convoy 5 days later to deliver 32 P-40’s to Tjilatjap. Early in the morning 27 February, Langley rendezvoused with her antisubmarine screen, destroyers Whipple (DD-217) and Edsall (DD-210). At 11.40 nine twinengine Japanese bombers attacked her. The first and second Japanese strikes were unsuccessful but during the third Langley took five hits. Aircraft topside burst into flames, steering was impaired, and the ship took a 10 degrees list to port. Unable to negotiate the narrow mouth of Tjilatjap Harbor, Langley went dead in the water as inrushing water flooded her main motors. At 13.32 the order to abandon ship was passed. The escorting destroyers fired nine shells and two torpedoes into the tender to insure her sinking. She went down about 75 miles south of Tjilatjap with a loss of 16. Many of her crew were lost when oiler Pecos AO-8 was sunk en route to Australia.
- Navy Department, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Volume IV