US Navy nuclear aircraft carriers – the seagoing airbase
The United States Navy has the biggest fleet of aircraft carriers in the World. Having 10 carriers in service, two in reserve and one being building it operates half of all carriers being used all over the World. Nimitz-class carriers which are at the moment (after USS Enterprise CVN-65 retirement in December 2012 and before USS Gerald R. Ford CVN-78 enters service est. 2015) the only type of carriers in service are a reason to be proud of for the US Marines. They are the largest warships ever built. 1’092 ft long, they are capable of carrying over 100’000 tons. When needed ships’s company can number 3’200 people and almost 2’500 air wing complement. Up to 130 F/A-18 Hornets or 80-90 aircraft of mixed types can find an accommodation. Although a maximum aircraft capacity is bigger currently typically air wing consists of 64 aircrafts including F/A-18 or F Super Hornets, F/A-18C Hornets, EA-6B Prowlers, E-2C Hawkeyes, C-2 Greyhounds, SH-60F & HH-60H Seahawks. Historically also other aircraft were carried aboard Nimitz-class carriers: F-14 Tomcats, S-3 Vikings, A-7 Corsair II and A-6E Intruders.
Responsibility for all air operations on a carrier are hold by the air boss on the bridge. There are several facilities to be used during air operations such as four steam catapults for launching of fixed wing aircraft and four arrestor wires used to rapidly decelerate an aircraft after landing (USS Ronald Reagan CVN-76 and USS George H.W. Bush CVN-77 are equipped with only three arrestor wires as the fourth was used rarely).
Nimitz class aircraft carriers over years
Designed to replace Kitty Hawk class and Enterprise class Nimitz class carriers started their service for the US Navy in 1975. First major mission in which USS Nimitz was involved was Operation Eagle Claw in 1980 which was an attempt to rescue 52 Americans held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and end the Iran hostage crisis. She also was used to provide security of the coast of South Korea during 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.
By July 1992 already 6 of planned 10 Nimitz-class carriers were in service and in January 2009 the last one USS George H.W. Bush CVN-77 was commissioned. She was first deployed in May 2011, crossed Atlantic to visit Britain and take part in Exercise Saxon Warrior. USS George H.W. Bush returned to Norfolk after 7 month deployment in December 2011.
Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers – the best is still to come
Nimitz class carriers which are in service for almost 40 years now are soon to be gradually replaced by the new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers. The new class will use almost unchanged hull design as its predecessor, but will introduce new technologies developed since USS Nimitz was commissioned. New technologies implemented will help to improve efficiency, lower running costs and reduce crew requirements.
One of the biggest innovations will be Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). Although the steam catapults used on Nimitz-class aircraft carriers (which were developed in the 1950s) have been really reliable, they are massive, hard to control and their efficiency is very low. The force used for launching can be controlled with greater precision in comparison to steam systems, allowing it to be used by wider range of aircraft from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to heavy fighter jets.
The first of Ford-class carriers USS Gerald R. Ford CVN-78 is announced to join the US Fleet in 2015, and will be 11th nuclear super carrier in the US Navy service.
Two next ships USS John F. Kennedy CVN-79 and USS Enterprise CVN-80 (named after USS Enterprise CVN-65) are planned to be placed in commission by 2020 and 2025 accordingly.
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