In December 1910, pioneer aviator Glenn Curtiss leased North Island from the Coronado Beach Company and set up a flight training school there in order to take advantage of San Diego's year-round beautiful weather. Curtiss also desired to sell the idea of aviation to the Navy, whose leaders took notice early in 1911 when a Curtiss-trained pilot, Eugene Ely, successfully landed and then took off from a platform built on the deck of the battleship Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay.
The Navy was intrigued but skeptical of a runway on a ship. The Secretary of the Navy told Curtiss that if he could land a plane "not on an interfering platform on a fighting ship, but on the sea alongside... then I shall be ready to say that the Navy Department is convinced." Curtiss took that idea and soon had a prototype for his "hydroplane," which could take off and land on water.
Back then North Island was separated from Coronado by an inlet called Spanish Bight, where Curtiss conducted his hydroplane experiments hidden from public view. Within a few short weeks, Curtiss piloted his invention over San Diego Bay for all the world -- and especially the Navy -- to see. He arranged a demonstration for the captain and crew of the Pennsylvania, then at anchor off downtown. Curtiss lifted off from Spanish Bight and landed about four minutes later in the water alongside the battleship. The ship's crane lifted the flier and his plane onto the deck. Ten minutes later, the process was reversed and Curtiss flew back to North Island. Thus was naval aviation born in San Diego.