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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

INFOGRAPHICS #15 and HISTORY #2: United States Navy aircraft carriers (1922 - today)

Original article (link) by Annalisa Underwood
Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division, U.S. Navy

The article was improved by D-Mitch, with the addition of information, images, table (original table before the corrections here) and with the inclusion of the escort aircraft carrier classes.

Text and map of the current U.S. Navy aircraft carrier museums by (the excellent!) Jeff Head (link).


The evolution of the United States Navy aircraft carrier from 1922 till present:

Evolution of the USN aircraft carrier. Image: Annalisa Underwood and James Caiella.
High resolution image here.
The U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1), was converted from the collier USS Jupiter (AC-3) and recommissioned March 20, 1922. Langley had a displacement of 11,500 tons and measured 542 feet in length. She could travel at a speed of 15.5 knots (17.8 mph) and boasted a crew of 468 personnel. Though Langley was not the first ship with an installed flight deck or the first ship from which an airplane had taken off, her service marked the birth of the era of the carrier. She was also the sight of the first carrier catapult when her commanding officer, Cmdr. Kenneth Whiting, was catapulted from her deck.

USS Langley (CV-1) in 1927
In his book “U.S. Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History,” Norman Friedman noted that the Langley did not have a hangar deck in the modern sense because aircraft were not stowed ready for flight. They were actually assembled on the upper deck, loaded into the single elevator, and then hoisted onto the flight deck. She was also equipped with two lift cranes, two flight-deck catapults, and carried 36 aircraft. And according to Norman Polmar in his book “Aircraft Carriers: A History of Carrier Aviation and its Influence on World Events”, the arresting gear on Langley consisted of “wires running fore and aft suspended about 10 inches above the deck” to which the hook of an aircraft would attach to slow the landing. He added that this system of fore-and-aft wires was used on U.S. carriers until 1929 when the Navy began developing a hydraulic arresting gear that could handle high-speed aircraft landings.

USS Lexington (CV-2) in 1938
In 1927 the Lexington class aircraft carriers, USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Saratoga (CV-3), were commissioned. Originally designed as battlecruisers, these carriers were much more efficient than Langley. At 888 feet in length and with a displacement of 37,000 tons, the Lexington class carriers traveled at a speed of 33.3 knots (38.3 mph) — more than double the speed of Langley. According to Siegfried Breyer’s “Battleships and Battlecruisers 1905-1970,” the Lexington class carriers featured a new bow called the bulbous bow which reduced water resistance by an average of six percent, supported the forecastle and reduced bending stress on the hull. A proper hangar, two elevators and one aircraft catapult housed and handled the 78 aircraft that Lexington class carriers were designed to carry. By 1942, these carriers accommodated 2,791 personnel.

USS Ranger (CV-4) in 1938
USS Ranger (CV-4), commissioned in 1934, was the first ship of the U.S. Navy to be designed and built from the keel up as an aircraft carrier. She had a displacement of 14,500 tons, measured 769 feet in length, traveled at a speed of 29.3 knots (33.7 mph), and supported a complement of 2,461 personnel as built. At her maximum, she carried 86 aircraft and was equipped with three elevators and three catapults.

USS Yorktown (CV-5) in 1937
Immediately following Ranger was the Yorktown class, whose lead ship, USS Yorktown (CV-5), was commissioned in 1937. USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8) were also part of this class. The fast and versatile Yorktown class carriers had a displacement of 20,100 tons, measurement of 809 feet in length, traveling speed of 32.5 knots (37.4 miles per hour), and a complement of 2,919 personnel. They carried up to 90 aircraft and were equipped with three elevators and two flight deck catapults. Yorktown was actually the first carrier to use hydraulic catapults. The Yorktown class carriers suffered heavy losses during World War II, but its sole survivor, USS Enterprise (CV-6), went on to become the most decorated U.S. ship of the war.

USS Long Island (CVE-1) in 1944

Silhouettes of the USN aircraft carriers in WWII
On 11 January 1940, the U.S. Navy launched its first escort aircraft carrier (CVE), the USS Long Island, originally AVG-1, later ACV-1 then CVE-1. The second and last ship of the class—HMS Archer (D78)—was launched on 14 December 1939, and served in the Royal Navy through World War II. The United States continued with a massive production of escort carriers throughout the WWII to meet the increasing operational needs for aircraft carriers. These carriers were typically half the length and a third the displacement of larger fleet carriers. While they were slower, carried fewer planes and were less well armed and armored, escort carriers were cheaper and could be built quickly, which was their principal advantage. Escort carriers could be completed in greater numbers as a stop-gap when fleet carriers were scarce. However, the lack of protection made escort carriers particularly vulnerable and several were sunk with great loss of life.The Bogue class were a group of escort carriers built in the United States (in total 45 vessels were built!) for service with the U.S. Navy (11 ships) and (under lend-lease) the Royal Navy during World War II. The ships operated by the Royal Navy were renamed and grouped as the Attacker class and the Ruler class. The last ship of the class was decommissioned in 1946. The Bogue class was succeeded the Sangamon class, a group of four escort aircraft carriers of the United States Navy that served during World War II. The last ship of the class was decommissioned in 1947. The Sangamon class was succeeded by the Avenger/Charger class. There were three Avenger class escort carriers in service with the Royal Navy during the Second World War and one ship of the class in the United States Navy called the Charger Type of 1942 class escort carrier. All ships were decommissioned in 1947 except the HMS Biter that was sold to France in 1945 and served in the French Navy as Dixmude till 1956. The Casablanca class escort aircraft carriers followed. These are the most numerous class of aircraft carriers ever built. Fifty were laid down, launched and commissioned within the space of less than two years - 3 November 1942 through to 8 July 1944. These were nearly one third of the 151 carriers built in the United States during the WWII. Five were lost to enemy action during World War II and the remainder were scrapped. The first class to be designed from keel up as an escort carrier, the Casablanca class had a larger and more useful hangar deck than previous conversions. It also had a larger flight deck than the Bogue class. The Casablanca class escort carriers were succeeded by the 19 carriers of the Commencement Bay class. Unlike most earlier CVE classes which were laid down as something else and converted to aircraft carriers mid-construction, the Commencement Bays were built as carriers from the keel up. Their general layout was similar to the Sangamon-class escort carriers, but some of the Sangamon's engineering shortcomings were addressed. USS Commencement Bay launched on 9 May 1944, so most of them saw little or no operational service. After the war they were seen as potential helicopter, anti-submarine, or auxiliary (transport) carriers, and a number of ships served in these roles during the Korean War. The last vessel was decommissioned in 1971. The Commencement Bay-class ships were seen as the finest escort carriers ever built.

USS Wasp (CV-7) in 1940
USS Wasp (CV-7) was a United States Navy aircraft carrier commissioned in 1940 and lost in action in 1942. She was the sole ship of a class built to use up the remaining tonnage allowed to the U.S. for aircraft carriers under the Washington Naval Treaty. After the construction of the carriers Yorktown and Enterprise, the U.S. was still permitted 15,000 long tons (15,000 t) to build a carrier.As a reduced-size version of the Yorktown-class aircraft carrier hull, Wasp was more vulnerable than other United States aircraft carriers available at the opening of hostilities.

USS Essex (CV-9) in 1943
First commissioned in 1942 with the USS Essex (CV-9), Essex class carriers included an impressive fleet of 24 ships and served as the core of the U.S. Navy’s combat strength during World War II. Better design features made Essex class carriers more resilient and efficient. For example, simultaneous launch and recovery operations became possible when Essex class USS Antietam (CVA-36) made her debut as America’s first angled-deck aircraft carrier. Additional features of Essex class carriers included bigger hangar space; better machinery arrangement and armor protection; a portside deck edge elevator (originating from her predecessor, USS Wasp); advanced radio and radar equipment; and the incorporation of the “long-hull” or “Ticonderoga class” Essexes. The long-hull Essexes were constructed with a lengthened bow above the waterline which provided deck space for two quadruple 40mm mounts. The flight decks were also shortened forward to provide better arcs of fire. Continuous improvements to the Essex class carriers enabled them to serve through World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and assist in the space program until 1973.

Essex class carrier modernizations 1940-1960 (read the following paragraph).
High resolution image here.
Seven aerial photographs showing the major different modernizations of the U.S. Navy Essex-class aircaft carriers (l-r): USS Franklin (CV-13), a "short hull" type as delivered, 21 February 1944. Franklin, USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), USS Boxer (CV-21), USS Princeton (CV-37), USS Tarawa (CV-40), USS Valley Forge (CV-45) and USS Philippine Sea (CV-47) received no or little modernization. USS Wasp (CV-18), after her Ship Characteristics Board Program-27A (SCB-27A) conversion in late 1951: new hydraulic catapults, new island, removal of the deck guns, new bow. Modernized as such were USS Essex (CV-9), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Randolph (CV-15), Wasp, USS Bennington (CV-20), USS Kearsarge (CV-33) and USS Lake Champlain (CV-39). USS Oriskany (CV-34) was completed as such. USS Hancock (CV-19) after her SCB-27C modernization, circa 1955: like SCB-27A but new steam catapults and relocation of the aft elevator to the deck edge. USS Intrepid (CV-11) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) also received SCB-27C. USS Antietam (CV-36) after the installation of an experimental angled deck, circa 1954. USS Bennington (CV-20) after SCB-125: enclosed hurricane bow, angled deck, starboard deckedge elevator. USS Essex (CV-9), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Randolph (CV-15), Wasp, USS Bennington (CV-20) and USS Kearsarge (CV-33) received SCB-125. USS Hancock (CV-19) after SCB-125 in April 1957. The three SCB-27C ships had the starboard deckedge elevator located further aft. The forward elevator was enlarged. USS Oriskany (CV-34) received SCB-125A, here on 30 May 1974. Similar to SCB-27C/SCB-125, only the starboard deckedge elevator was located further forward, as with the SCB-27A/SCB-125 ships. USS Lexington (CV-16), USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) and USS Shangri-La (CV-38) received SCB-27C/SCB-125 in one refit but had the starboard elevator in the same position as Oriskany.

USS Independence (CVL-22) in 1943
USS Saipan (CVL-48) in 1956
In 1943, the nine smaller and faster Independence class carriers followed the Essex class, but design plans had been underway for a carrier with an armored flight deck that could accommodate more planes than any other carrier yet. In 1944, the two Saipan class aircraft carriers followed the Independence class. Like the Independence-class light aircraft carriers (CVL), they were based on cruiser hulls. However, they differed from the earlier light carriers in that they were built from the keel up as carriers, and were based on heavy rather than light cruiser hulls.


USS Midway (CV-41) in 1952 prior her modernization
So when USS Midway (CV-41) was commissioned in 1945, it was no surprise that it became one of the longest-lasting carrier designs in history. Midway class ships retained their strength at the hangar deck level and the armored flight deck was part of the superstructure. The original design of the Midway class supported up to 130 aircraft, but coordinating that many planes would be ineffective and problematic. All three Midway class ships underwent modernizations in the 1950s and were fitted with angled decks, steam catapults and mirrored landing systems that allowed them to accommodate the new, heavier naval jets.

USS Forrestal (CVA-59) in 1962 prior her modernization in the '80s
USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) in 2007
The 1950s marked the development of the U.S. Navy’s “super-carriers” beginning with USS Forrestal (CVA-59), commissioned in 1955. Ships in this class measured 1,036 feet in length with a displacement of 56,000 tons and a fully integrated angled deck. They could carry up to 90 aircraft and had the most spacious hangar and flight decks. The Forrestal class was succeeded by Kitty Hawk class super-carriers in the early '60s with only minor changes, followed by the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CVN-65), commissioned in 1961. At 1,101 feet (342m) in length, she was the longest naval vessel in the world (decom. in 2012).

On 31 July 1964, USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) (bottom), USS Long Beach (CGN-9) (center) and
USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25) (top) formed "Task Force One," the first nuclear-powered task force,
and sailed 26,540 nmi (49,190 km) around the world in 65 days. Accomplished without a single
refueling or replenishment, "Operation Sea Orbit" demonstrated the capability of nuclear-powered
surface ships.
USS Enterprise (CVN-65), celebrating five decades of service.
Image: Huntington Ingalls Industries. High resolution image here.
Following Enterprise was USS Kennedy (originally CVA-67, later CV-67) which was originally designed to be the fourth Kitty Hawk class super-carrier, but because so many modifications were made during construction, she formed her own class.

USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) departs Naval Station Mayport in 2003.
Aerial view of the U.S. Navy aircraft carriers of "Battle Force Zulu" following the 1991
Gulf War: USS Midway (CV-41), upper left; USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), upper right;
USS Ranger (CV-61), lower left; and USS America (CV-66), lower right.

Finally, the Nimitz class super-carriers are a group of 10 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers currently in service. These carriers use the catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) system for faster launching and recovery. Additionally, the flight deck is angled at nine degrees to allow for simultaneous launch and recovery. Nimitz class carriers utilize only two nuclear reactors compared to the eight on Enterprise. According to Norman Polmar’s “The Naval Institute Guide to the Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet”, this improvement allows Nimitz class carriers to carry 90 percent more fuel and 50 percent more ordnance compared to the original Forrestal class.

CVN-71 Theodore Roosevelt cutaway. High resolution image here.

CVN-72 USS Abraham Lincoln
Slight structural differences, improvements, upgrades, new technologies and differences in the electronic equipment among the vessels in the class distinguish them unofficially in three subclasses: the Nimitz subclass (CVN-68 to CVN-70), Theodore Roosevelt subclass (CVN-71 to CVN-75) and the Ronald Reagan subclass (CVN-76 to CVN-77)

USS Nimitz (CVN-68) in 2009
Shock test of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) during sea trials in 1987
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) in 2004
The aircraft carrier continues to evolve as the needs of the U.S. Navy change, and the next evolution of the carrier will be revealed when the Ford class carrier makes its scheduled debut in 2016. With a displacement of more than 90,000 tons, length of 1,092 feet, speeds capable of more than 30 knots (35 miles per hour), and the ability to support 4,297 personnel, she doesn’t seem much different than her predecessors. However, enhancements in the designs will allow her to operate even more efficiently. According to the U.S. Navy Fact File on Gerald R. Ford class carriers, “each ship in the new class will save more than $4 billion in total ownership costs during its 50-year service life, compared to the Nimitz-class.” Furthermore, the ship will be able to operate with fewer crew members, require less maintenance, and allow for 25 percent more sorties per day.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) on the James River in 2013
In order to create an image with all the information about all the aircraft carriers that serve/served with the United States Navy, I used the information that is available in the official website of the U.S. Navy  (here) and I updated the information related to the fate of each vessel. Enjoy!

All the USN aircraft carriers. Source: navy.mil. Image: D-Mitch
High resolution image here.
Currently (July 2015) there are five US Navy Aircraft Carrier museums. Four are of Essex class carriers commissioned during World War II which underwent the SBC-125 refit in the 1950s to modernize them. All were commissioned in 1943 and served into modern times. The last, the USS Lexington, was decommissioned in 1991 after 48 years service. The other is the USS Midway, namesake of a larger class carrier built at the end of the war. She underwent two major refits, in the 1950s and in 1970 greatly enlarging her flight deck for modern aircraft. She was commissioned in 1945 and decommissioned in 1992 after 47 years service.

US Navy aircraft carrier museum ships today. Image: Jeff Head. High resolution image here.

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