Nimitz: the navy aircraft carrier that changed everything
The USS Nimitz and the Nimitz-class completely transformed the United States Navy and made history countless times. Here’s how one expert detailed the history of the USS Nimitz and why it’s such a legend: The popular t-shirt slogan, “I’m not old, I’m a classic,” could be a fitting second motto for the United States Navy’s USS Navy. Nimitz (CVN-68), which currently has the distinction of being the oldest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in service today. With the final dismantling of the USS Company (CVN-65) on February 3, 2017, Nimitz also became the oldest active aircraft carrier in the United States Navy.
More importantly, she is the lead ship in what has arguably proven to be the most crucial class of warships ever built.
Meet the “old salt”
Named after Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the last “five-star” Admiral of the United States Navy, the keel of the USS Nimitz was laid down on June 22, 1968. Catherine Nimitz Lay, daughter of the late World War II Admiral, christened the carrier on May 3, 1975. Then-President Gerald R. Ford was the main speaker at the commissioning ceremony.
“I see this great ship as a double symbol of today’s difficult times,” Ford said. “Whether its mission is defence, diplomacy or humanity, the Nimitz will arouse the fear and admiration of some, the prudence and circumspection of others, and the respect of all.
It’s hard not to respect the massive warship.
At 1,092 feet and displacing some 102,000 tons, the NimitzThe class super carriers are more than three times the length of a football field, and with a crew of 3,200 sailors and 2,480 airmen, each is essentially a floating airbase that can play an important role in projecting of modern power. The nuclear-powered carriers, which have two reactors and four propulsion shafts, can reach a top speed of over 30 knots (34.5 mph).
Supercarriers have an expected lifespan of 50 years with mid-life refueling. Additionally, modern flattops have been designed to withstand three times the damage sustained by the Essex-class aircraft carriers inflicted by Japanese air attacks during World War II. This included hangars on the ships which were divided into three fire bays by thick steel doors designed to limit the spread of fire.
As a floating air base, the USS Nimitz is usually embarked with around 60 aircraft, including a variety of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft with up to 90 of different types. The aircraft now includes 12 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, 36 F/A-18 Hornets, four E-2C Hawkeyes and four EA-6B Prowlers fixed-wings and helicopters, including four SH-60Fs and two HH- 60H Seahawks. Additionally, carriers could also deploy the S-3B Viking, before these were phased out and replaced by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
The flight deck, which measures 1,092 feet by 252 feet, is equipped with four elevators, four steam catapults and four lightning cables. The aircraft carrier is capable of launching an aircraft every 20 seconds.
CVN-68 had been deployed to the Indian Ocean in response to the hostage crisis in Iran. However, the ill-fated Operation Evening Light rescue mission, which saw the plane launched from the deck of the carrier, was cut short after a helicopter crashed at a refueling point in the Iranian desert.
Throughout the 1980s, she was regularly deployed around the world and in 1988 provided security off South Korea during the Seoul Olympics. In 2003, during her eleventh operational deployment, Nimitz took part in Operation Iraqi Freedom launching Carrier Air Wing 11 of 11 aircraft and over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2005, the USS Nimitz commemorated 30 years of service. Film crews spent an entire deployment aboard for the PBS documentary Carrierwhich provided an intimate look at life aboard the ship.
During the ship’s deployment in 2017, elements of its air wing took part in combat operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, followed by an overhaul period. With the former warship due for retirement in 2025, she is now preparing for one of her final deployments.
Yet its role in the Cold War and the rapidly changing world that followed cannot be overstated. As President Ford said more than 45 years ago: “Wherever the United States ships Nimitz shows her flag, she will be seen as we see her now – a solid symbol of the strength of the United States, of the determination of the United States – made in America and led by Americans.
Today’s editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He writes regularly on military hardware, the history of firearms, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing author for Forbes.