Tag Archives: hampton roads

Eugene Ely and the Beginnings of Naval Aviations

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One hundred and seven years ago not far from where I live and work an event marked the beginning of the end of the battleship and the birth of naval aviation.

On a blustery November 14th in the year 1910 a young civilian pilot hailing from Williamsport Iowa became the first man to fly an aircraft off the deck of a ship.  Eugene Ely was just 24 years old and had taught himself to fly barely 7 months before. With the wind whipping about the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, Ely readied himself and his Curtis biplane aboard the Cruiser USS Birmingham anchored just south of Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads.

Ely was there because he was discovered by Navy Captain Washington Irving Chambers.  Chambers had been tasked with exploring how aircraft might become part of Naval Operations. Chambers had no budget or authority for his seemingly thankless task nor any trained Navy aviators. But when he heard that a German steamship might launch and aircraft from a ship Chambers hustled to find a way to stake a claim for the U.S. Navy to be the first in flight.

The weather was bad that day as is so typical for Hampton Roads in November. Between rain squalls Ely decided to launch even though Birmingham did not have steam up to get underway to assist the launch.  Ely gunned the engine and his biplane rumbled down the 57 foot ramp and as he left the deck the aircraft nosed down and actually make contact with the water splintering the propeller. The damage to his aircraft forced Ely to cut the flight short and land on Willoughby Spit about 2 ½ miles away. This is not far from the southern entrance to the modern Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

Chambers then talked Ely into making the first landing on a Navy ship the Armored Cruiser USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay on January 18th 1911. In this flight his aircraft was modified and equipped with an arrestor hook, a standard feature on carrier aircraft since the early days of US Navy aviation.

Ely desired employment in the Navy but the Navy Air Arm, but since it had not yet been established he continued his exhibition flying around the country. Sadly, Ely died in a crash while performing at the Georgia State Fairgrounds on October 11th 1911 less than a year after his historic flight off the deck of the Birmingham.

Ely would not be forgotten. Though he was a civilian he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Congress in 1933. The citation read in part: “for extraordinary achievement as a pioneer civilian aviator and for his significant contribution to the development of aviation in the United States Navy.”

It is hard to believe that Naval Aviation traces its heritage back to this humble beginning. However the next time you see an aircraft taking off and landing from a modern super carrier, remember the brave soul named Eugene Ely who 107 years ago today gunned his frail aircraft down that short ramp aboard the USS Birmingham. Tonight let us raise a glass to Eugene Ely and all the men and women who would follow him as Naval Aviators.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, US Navy

After the Storm: Hurricane Matthew and Hampton Roads

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Hurricane Matthew made his way past the Hampton Roads area last night and our neighborhood received over 15 inches of rain between about 3PM Saturday and this morning. Flooding has been severe throughout the area. We fought waters coming over the threshold of our back door and the sandbags we had put out for 10 hours. Thankfully we didn’t lose power or we would have lost our living room. I have to thank all that I learned from the Damage Control Technicians on the USS Hue City from whom I learned a lot about fighting water. We got through the storm with no damage, unlike the last storm where one of our cars was totaled and the other damages by the flooding. 

Our neighbors were not as fortunate, one neighbor had several inches of water in her home and one of her cars partially under water. I saw quite a few cars that were flooded in the neighborhood. A number of friends in other parts of the area are without power and will remain so.  Right now the water on the roads is too high to take a chance on driving and I expect they will remain that way through Monday. 

The intensity of the storm took people by surprise including most meteorologists as it took a more northern tack and didn’t head out to sea as was anticipated. Even so the eye of Matthew was over 75 miles from us at its closest. The storm rivaled Hurricane Isabel in the damage that it caused in the area. I am told that such occurrences are 50 to 100 hundred year events. But between Isabel, Matthew, and the remnants of Tropical Storm Julia which dumped 16 inches of rain here just over two weeks ago. 

The Navy is beginning a study to determine how climatic changes in the local communities are going to effect operations of the bases here. One thing noted in regard to this is that the area has experienced a sea rise of over 15 inches since the 1930s, the highest on the east coast and this trend is only going to get worse and the effect of these storms is only going to get worse. This is a matter of national security and denial will not make the problem go away. 

As for us we are looking for ways to mitigate the effects of future storms and already are working on ways to make that happen. But tonight I am going to watch the second Presidential debate. I am not going to talk about the latest remarks or actions of Donald Trump until I watch the debate. I have strong feelings about them and analysis of I what this portends for the race as well as the future of the GOP, but those will wait. 

So have a great night and if you are in the areas effected by Matthew please be safe, take care and you are in my thoughts and prayers. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Climate, News and current events, weather

Rainy Days, Floods, and National Security 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

We have had a lot of rain here in Hampton Roads since Monday. As of about 3:00 PM yesterday our neighborhood in Virginia Beach has received almost 14 inches of rain since Monday when the remnants of former Tropical Storm Julia arrived. The rain was still falling when I went to bed and I imagined that we are well over 15 inches of rain. To give you an idea just how much rain we had, our yearly rainfall average is 46.5 inches of rain, in the summer we average just under 15 inches, in other words we got a third of our yearly average rainfall in three days. 

Today we have about 50% chance of more rain and schools including the Staff College are operating under a delay even while schools in North Carolina just a few miles from us will be closed due to flooding.

That slow moving system came into contact with a weak cold front and pretty much stalled over the area. Hampton Roads is a low lying coastal area with lost of rivers and streams, in fact before civilization arrived it was pretty much a swamp. Since the early settlers arrived the area has been called the Virginia Tidewater, and may I say that Tidewater is a quaint and somewhat romantic synonym for swamp. As such we frequently have flood conditions any time there is a tropical storm or a Nor’easter. That is simply the way it is.


In our swamp, I live in a town home that was built in the 1980s which the builders as they do so often in these parts built in such a way that water sometimes comes over the foundation and into the house. So I spent yesterday morning de-watering our living room, and again about 11:00 PM when another round of really heavy rain came through. Thankfully little damage was done, mainly because I have tile floors and our furniture is high enough not to sustain damage, but this is the third time in less than six months that we have had to do this.


That is what we live in, a swamp, very prone to flooding, in some places if someone flushes their toilet too long. But that is what you get when you build cities in areas that are prone to flooding that is what you get. Sadly, most of us on the coastlines of this and other nations have done just that, even in good times we flood. But just wait, as sea levels rise due to global warming, something that the United States Navy recognizes even if Congress will not, things will only get worse. As sea levels rise the effects of storms like this, and the run of the mill tropical storms and hurricanes that come through will be greater. The Navy requested funding to begin work to deal with the potential loss of its biggest naval base complex as sea levels rise, but this year Congressional Repulicans blocked the request in the DOD budget. The same is true of our other big base in San Diego, although that fair city does not have to deal with the habitual flood conditions that we endure here. The decision of Congress was  a terribly short sighted move based on the denial of science and empirical evidence and a decision that if continued will harm national security. But then when a majority of the GOP representatives are or represent Fundamentalist Christians who believe that we don’t have to plan for the future because Jesus is coming soon it really doesn’t matter. But I digress…

Naval Station Norfolk, rising seas will submerge the Navy’s largest base if measures are not taken to mitigate the effects of Climate Change

The is a huge economic concern as well. The area is home to one of the largest port and shipbuilding complexes in the nation. 

But our area is not alone. These trends will effect most of the costal area of the United States and the world. This is not simply an environmental issue, it is economic, social, and military issue. Over 70% of the earth’s population lives in what we in the Navy call the littorals. Climate change and the rise in sea levels will cause massive social, economic, and security problems and what we in the Tidewater experienced today will be incredibly mild as whole societies are disrupted.



For the United States the answer is to prepare, and thankfully if we use them we have the resources to alleviate the worst effects of global warming and sea rise. But many nations will not, and the turbulence that this change causes will not leave the United States or Europe uneffected.

What happens this week in Hampton Roads was probably not the result of global warming, but in the effects of it will grow in the coming years. Hampton Roads has always suffered from flooding, but even today with much better storm drain systems we still see the same kind of flooding that affected the region 80-100 years ago.  It is time to actually take this seriously. I do, but sadly too many people turn it into a joke.

Have a great day and stay dry.

Peace

Padre Steve

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Filed under Climate change,, Military, national security, News and current events, weather

Snow Days and a New Puppy

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We got hammered with some pretty good winter weather here in Hampton Roads, below freezing temperatures for several days followed by 5-6 inches of snow followed by sleet, ice and freezing rain. While not New England, and believe me I am not complaining this is a bit much for our local resources. VDOT and the local city workers are doing a good job clearing the main roads, but secondary roads as well as business, government and school parking lots are a mess.

The road network on the base where I work dates from when it was built in WWII. It is now the site of a number of Navy, Marine, Joint and NATO  headquarters, along with the Staff College. It takes forever to clear everything as the roads are narrow, developed land at a premium and nowhere to put the snow and ice. As a result, we were shut down yesterday and today. But we are not alone, school districts, colleges, businesses throughout the area are either shut down or running at the bare minimum capacity. Such as life in the coastal mid-Altantic. I would hate to see what would happen if we experienced what Boston and New England are going through.

Tonight, more snow in the forecast followed by extreme cold the next two days before things start warming over the weekend.

But the snow days have allowed me to have some daddy-puppy bonding time with the newest member of our little family, Izzy Bella.

Izzy is a Papillon and she and her breeder flew here yesterday from South Dakota. Izzy has already adapted and our two other girls, Molly our nearly 14 year old Papillon Dachshund mix, and Minnie our three year old Papillon are as well to having a new little sister. By the way, Izzy’s breeder has two boys still unspoken for, and if you want I can help you get in touch with her.

If you don’t know Papillons, they are a wonderful breed. They are in the top ten breeds for intelligence, very smart, very sweet, very playful and funny and great companions or therapy dogs. Molly, though only half-Papillon helped keep me alive during the worst of my PTSD times after Iraq. If either of us are having a bad day it is hard to be depressed as Minnie won’t let that happen.

For little dogs they are great dogs for guys. I am amazed at all the pictures on the Facebook Papillon sites of big brawny men with these dogs. They are playful, funny and tough.

Anyway, I digress. I hope you have a good day wherever you are and look for some more scintillating commentary, hard hitting articles and of course a lot of history on the site in the coming days.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under dogs, Loose thoughts and musings, papillons

Where Everybody Knows Your Name: The Importance of Community for Military Families

Some years ago the theme song of the television show “Cheers!” struck a chord with people, because it expressed the desire of many people.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

We live in an increasingly disconnected world despite the proliferation of devices designed to make communication easier. Our dependence on these devices often serves to disconnect us from community because we use them to accomplish things without any human contact.  I mean really, what percentage of our Facebook “friends” really know us and how many can we go to when the chips are down.

We shop in massive stores, attend mega-churches, exist on fast food bought at a drive through and we don’t know our neighbors. To most organizations we are not real life human beings but statistics whose only value is in profit and market share.  And we wonder why so many people are depressed, lonely and even despair of life.

Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.

Having a place where people know you and care about you matters. It is important to us as individuals and it is important to the people that come to us for their medical care. Cheers was a neighborhood bar where people from all walks of life knew and cared for each other. We miss that a lot and we often suffer because of it, especially those that go to war and their families.

You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

In our military communities be they Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force we have shared hardships and culture but even with that it is a difficult life. The military does its best to provide a multitude of support services including unit based Family Support Groups, family service centers as well as centers and associations for single servicemen and women.

But even still those support structures often are insufficient due to the transitory nature of military life, changing and sometimes uneven leadership of these organizations. Add to this the unrelenting demands of the wars and deployments and the wounds of war brought home which affect even the most resilient families.  PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, traumatic amputations, substance abuse, domestic violence, high divorce rates and suicide are everyday parts of the military family and community life.

One of the other aspects not directly attributable to the wars is how the communities around the bases treat the military.  In some major metropolitan areas the military simply blends in to the civilian community, even where there are large bases such as in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  In such places there may be a large military footprint but it is easy to blend in.  In other areas where the military installations are the sole reason that the areas have large populations such as Killeen Texas, the home of Fort Hood, Jacksonville North Carolina the home of Camp LeJeune and Fayetteville the home of Fort Bragg the military presence is loved and loathed. There are many retired military in these areas as well as many veterans and often they are supportive. However in each of these cities there exists a large contingent of individuals and businesses who take advantage of military personnel and their families and some of these are former military personnel. Sometimes people in these communities despite their outward show of support for the troops do all they can to make the military personnel unwelcome.  Now this is not helped by the bad behavior of some military personnel and their family members which is then used to discriminate against good and law abiding military personnel.

But there are good people, organizations and businesses which do their best to help make these “strangers in a strange land” welcome.  For me that welcome has been often linked to people that I know at minor league ballparks such as Harbor Park in Norfolk and Grainger Stadium in Kinston. There is a special church, Saint James Episcopal in Portsmouth Virginia that I enjoy on the rare times that I have to visit it is a place I can call home and my friends at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach.

Community really matters because as Americans we are all in this together.  While I have focused on military communities large numbers of American cities and towns are enduring great hardship, and this disconnect between people, evidenced by the fact that we often don’t even know our neighbors has created a social isolation that only breeds hatred and discontent.  With this true lack of community we should be surprised with increasing crime, violence, discrimination and prejudice.

Community doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes illusion of perpetual prosperity only serves to drive us apart.  However, sometimes communities are reborn when facing crisis, people begin to look out for one another again and the welcome sign means that you really are.

But, what is neat is when we do find that special place for ourselves and when we can provide that kind of home to others we can really understand the last stanza of the song from Cheers which never aired on television.

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy

Zen and the Science of Mountain Bike Maintenance

“I only ride ’em, I don’t know what makes ’em work.” 

I know little of Zen other than it is a Buddhist meditation practice that does not involve shouting “serenity now.” I also know little of Mountain Bike Maintenance but using the “serenity now” technique I am I am learning the science of Mountain Bike Maintenance.

Now I’m sure that those that know more than me about mountain bikes will say that this is an art. But for me art is either something related to baseball or Navy ships that I hand on my wall, something beautiful that Judy produces or something that I hate and wonder just how the hell the artist got paid for it.  Of course none of these categories fit in the paradigm that I call the science of mountain bike maintenance.

I have ridden and destroyed bicycles for decades though until I moved to Emerald Isle I have had few places that I felt safe to ride the Mongoose E303 that I bought just before I deployed to Iraq.  My attitude with bicycles through most of my life was like Donald Sutherland’s character in the movie Kelly’s Heroes named “Oddball” who said in regard to work being done by his men on his tank “I only ride ’em, I don’t know what makes ’em work.”

I always had a habit of riding my bikes hard and though I learned to do a few rudimentary tasks I really had no clue what made them work. I remember doing an “Evil Knievil” jump over a wide construction ditch with my Schwinn Stingray which came up just short wiping out my bike and leaving me with a broken arm.  Then there was the 10 speed touring bike with dual headlights that my dad brought me back from Japan in 1972. That bike was a heavy duty warhorse that I used in games of bike to bike chicken against other neighborhood kids in Stockton California.  That bike was like the “Deathmobile” in Animal House, it was not aluminum but steel and its tires were heavier duty than most American bikes.  Those were good times, maintenance other than to patch flat tires was not a priority.  That bike got me through Junior High School but I gave it up like a broken down stead when I got my first car, a 1966 Buick LeSabre 400 with a 287 V-8 and 4 barrel carburetor.  I had a bike when I was a student at Cal State Northridge and nearly ran over Joni Erickson Tada as she motored about in her motorized wheelchair and nearly drove into a filming set of Dynasty to get almost up close and personal with Heather Locklear. Both were unintentional but a product of my rather reckless riding.  Once again maintenance was a secondary concern and I drive that 10 speed into the dirt as well.

The next time that I used a bicycle was when I was deployed to Würzburg Germany to support the Bosnia operation.  I had the use of a used 18 speed road bike which I would ride down the big hill from my apartment to the city center on almost every decent day for weather. I also took it on longer rides around the countryside.  But that was pretty much the last time that I rode a bike until this year. I bought the Mongoose in 2006 as I was recovering from an IT Band injury while overtraining for the Marine Corps Marathon having just completed the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half-Marathon.  Back then I was even more stupid than I am now and would run 12-20 miles 4-5 times a week.  It was great for the endorphin rush but hell on my legs.  Unfortunately there were no interesting places to ride in Virginia Beach unless I wanted to pack my bike on my car to get to the Oceanfront or a rural area.  I hate being bored and feeling like a target for any typical Hampton Roads driver.

So finally I get stationed at Camp LeJeune and bring down my nearly new bike, 5 years old but no wear and tear.  I got it tuned up and then started to ride around the roads and trails near the Island Hermitage which is rapidly becoming the Island Heritage of the Church of Baseball.  I have permission of my land lady to paint outfield walls in the living room to match the baseball décor.  Since I plan to keep it as a place of refuge for Judy and I whenever I am stationed back in Virginia Beach I should not have to paint over it for a while.  But I digress….

I finally have a place where I enjoy riding again even a couple of places to go off road and actually use the bike as it was intended to be used.  I also discovered that hard riding also requires maintenance and that maintenance on a mountain bike is a lot more intensive than the bikes that I rode in times past. It is also a lot more expensive to have done by a bike store so I am learning the science of mountain bike maintenance.  The first thing I had happen was a flat rear tire which occurred about a mile into a ride. I had to walk the bike back because I did not have a hand pump and when I tried to fill it at a gas station the tire blew.  The next chance I got I went and purchased a heavy duty inner tube as well as a Trinitarian Allen Wrench, a hand pump to keep with the bike and lights since I tend to ride near dusk in order to get pictures of sunsets and wildlife.

I discovered something. I had to remove the brake pads to change the rear tire. It wasn’t enough to have to take the damned chain off but I had to take the brakes off to get the tire off. That brought me some measure of discontent but I persevered I got the tire off.  I also got some tire levers to help me with getting the very heavy tire off the rim. Back in my previous life when I rode bikes changing a tire was a snap, the tires were thin and came off without difficulty.  Well if you haven’t ridden one a the walls of a mountain bike’s tires are fricking thick and harder than hell to get off the bike, I even broke one of the damned levers trying to get the tire off. But I was successful despite a number of “serenity now” moments. I replaced the inner tube and put the tire back on the bike. I adjusted the chain and put the brake pads on. I thought that I had cracked the code. Sure I was covered in grease and sweaty but I had done it, or so I thought.  I had no idea that the damned tension on the brakes had to be reset.

So I went to the internet for a “Google how too” session. The sites that I found were no help and I had to travel to Virginia the next day so I said the hell with it. When I returned this week I stopped by the bike shop and asked for a demo of how to fix the damned thing so I could get back on the road.  The man at the shop demonstrated on a bike and I locked the information into my brain housing unit.  I ended up having to leave work early today because I have not slept more than three hours in the past three days. After crashing at home I got up, had dinner and decided to do the brake adjustment which went surprisingly well. I then took the bike out for a ride in the evening, got a couple of nice pictures and came home to watch baseball and relax. Hopefully I will sleep well tonight. I noticed that on nights where I got a ride in that I slept better so hopefully that continues.  I will need to do some more adjustments on the bike to get it where I want but I think I am beginning to crack the code on the science of mountain bike maintenance.  So long as it does not rain tomorrow evening I will do the adjustments and take another ride.

So until tomorrow, have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Just for fun, philosophy

100 Years of Navy Aviation: Part One the Aircraft Carriers

Eugene Ely makes the first takeoff from USS Birmingham on November 14th 1910

On a blustery November 14th in the year 1910 a young civilian pilot hailing from Williamsburg Iowa became the first man to fly an aircraft off the deck of a ship.  At the age of 24 and having taught himself to fly barely 7 months before Eugene Ely readied himself and his Curtis biplane aboard the Cruiser USS Birmingham anchored just south of Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads.  Ely was there because he was discovered by Navy Captain Washington Irving Chambers who had been tasked with exploring how aircraft might become part of Naval Operations. Chambers had no budget or authority for his seemingly thankless task but hearing that a German steamship might launch and aircraft from a ship hustled to find a way to stake a claim for the U.S. Navy to be the first in flight. Weather was bad that day as is so typical for Hampton Roads in November and between rain squalls Ely decided to launch even though Birmingham did not have steam up to get underway to assist the launch.  Ely gunned the engine and his biplane rumbled down the 57 foot ramp and as he left the deck the aircraft nosed down and actually make contact with the water splintering the propeller and forcing him to cut the flight short and land on Willoughby Spit about 2 ½ miles away not far from the southern entrance to the modern Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel is.  Chambers would talk Ely into making the first landing on a Navy ship the Armored Cruiser USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay on January 18th 1911.  Ely died in a crash at the Georgia State Fairgrounds on October 11th 1911.

USS Langley CV-1

The Naval was slow to build upon the early achievements and the British and France would commission Aircraft Carriers well before the USS Langley CV-1 a converted Collier was commissioned.  After Langley the Navy commissioned the converted Battlecruisers USS Lexington CV-2 and USS Saratoga CV-3 in the mid 1920s.

USS Lexington CV-2 October 1941

The three ships formed the nucleus of the Navy’s embrace of aviation and the pilots that they trained and the experience gained would be the foundation of the Navy’s success in the Second World War.  They would be joined by the USS Ranger CV-4 the first U. S. Navy Carrier designed as such from the keel up in 1934.

USS Enterprise CV-6

In 1937 the Navy commissioned the first of its true Fleet Carriers the USS Yorktown CV-5 which was followed by the USS Enterprise CV-6 in 1938, the USS Wasp CV-7 an improved version of Ranger in was commissioned in 1940 and the USS Hornet CV-8 in 1941.   These ships would bear the brunt of US Navy operations in the first year of the war following the disaster at Pearl Harbor. Of these ships only the Enterprise and Saratoga would survive the first year of the war in the Pacific.  Langley now a Seaplane Carrier was sunk during the Battle of the Java Sea in February 1942. Lexington would go down at Coral Sea in May 1942.  Hornet would launch the Doolittle Raid against Japan on April 18th 1942.  Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet would take on and defeat the Japanese Carrier Strike force and sink the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu at Midway to avenge Pearl Harbor. Yorktown was sunk in the battle but Midway stopped the Japanese advance in the Pacific.

The U. S. went on the offensive in August invading Guadalcanal in the Solomons Islands. The Guadalcanal campaign and the numerous sea battles in the adjacent waterways would claim many American and Japanese ships. Wasp was sunk by a Japanese submarine on September 15th 1942 and Hornet was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz on 27 October 27th 1942.  Saratoga spent much of 1942 in the yards having been torpedoed twice leaving the often battered Enterprise as the sole U. S. Navy Carrier facing the Japanese until Saratoga was repaired and the first of the Essex Class Fleet Carriers and Independence Class Light Fleet Carriers entered service and arrived in the Pacific.

USS Yorktown CV-10 1944 a good example of the wartime Essex class ships  below USS Cabot CVL-28 an Independence Class Light Fleet Carrier


The Essex Class ships became the nucleus of the Fast Carrier Task Forces in the Pacific and with their smaller consorts of the Independence Class would dominate operations at sea from 1943 on.  The Essex class would eventually number 24 ships with several more canceled before completion becoming the most numerous of any class of Fleet Carriers produced by the U. S. Navy.  The Essex class would figure prominently in all offensive operations including the Battle of the Philippine Sea, Battle of Leyte Gulf, the campaigns at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and raids on the Japanese home islands.  In the process they and their air groups would be instrumental in sinking hundreds of Japanese ships including the Battleships Yamato and Musashi and destroying thousands of aircraft.  A number were heavily damaged by Kamikazes but none were lost with the epic story of the USS Franklin CV-13 and her survival after being hit by two bombs from a Japanese plane that slipped through the Combat Air Patrol. The resultant explosions and fires amongst her fueled and armed aircraft nearly sank her but for the heroic efforts of her crew including Chaplain Joseph O’Callahan who won the Medal of Honor caring for the wounded and dying and directing damage control teams. The ship lost 724 men killed and 265 wounded in the attack but survived though without power and dead in the water 50 miles off the Japanese coast.

Murderers’ Row

The Essex class were iconic and the ships etched their names in naval history. The Essex, Yorktown, Hornet, Wasp, Hancock, Ticonderoga, Franklin, Bunker Hill, Intrepid, Lexington and the other ships of the class had legendary careers. These ships became known as “Murderers’ Row” for their expertise in killing off Japanese ships and aircraft.  Fittingly four of the ships, the Hornet, Yorktown, Lexington and Intrepid have found a second life as museum ships and Oriskany was sunk as an artificial reef off the coast of Florida where she is a favorite of recreational divers.

USS Croatan CVE-25 a Bogue Class Escort Carrier

During the war the Navy also built 118 Escort Carriers converted from merchant ships for use as convoy escorts, anti-submarine warfare and close air support for amphibious operations. 38 of these ships saw service in the British Royal Navy during the war.

USS Hancock CVA-19 in 1969 showing the extent of the modernizations that brought the Essex Class into the jet age

In the post World War II drawdown many carriers were decommissioned and the oldest, the Saratoga and Ranger disposed of.  The three ship Midway class entered service after the war and incorporated design improvements learned from combat operations in the war. As the Navy entered the jet era it was found that the existing carriers would need significant modernization to handle the new aircraft. Among the improvements made to the Midway and Essex class ships was the angled flight deck, steam catapults, hurricane bows and improved landing systems.  These improvements allowed these World War II era ships to remain front line carriers into Vietnam and in the case of the USS Midway and USS Coral Sea into the 1990s.

Artists’ conception of USS United States CVA-58 a victim of Truman Era Air Force politics

The Navy began its first super-carrier the USS United States in 1949 but the ship and class was cancelled by Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson, not a fan of the Navy or Marine Corps due to opposition by the Army and the newly founded Air Force.  The ship would have carried 12-18 nuclear capable bombers as well as 45-50 jet fighters and attack aircraft and been 1090 feet long and displaced 65,000 tons.  It would not be until after the Korean War that the Navy would begin construction of its first super-carriers.

USS Midway CVA-41 in 1971

During the Korean War most of the Essex class ships were called back into service with 15 modified to conduct jet operations while others were converted to serve as ASW Carriers and Helicopter Carriers (LPH) to support Marine amphibious forces. Likewise the Midway’s were modernized as the Navy began to construct the four-ship Forrestal Class which were 1036 feet long and displaced 56,000 tons and designed to carry 100 aircraft. The four ships, Forrestal CVA-59, Saratoga CVA-60, Ranger CVA-61, and Independence CVA-62 would all serve into the early 1990s before being decommissioned. In the past few months Forrestal and Saratoga have begun the journey to be scrapped, sold for a penny each to scrapyards in Brownsville, Texas.

USS Ranger CVA-61

They were all heavily involved in the Vietnam War on Yankee and Dixie Station and both the Atlantic and Pacific during the Cold War. All four have been stricken from the Navy List and are awaiting disposal.  Forrestal was programmed as an artificial reef but she, like Saratoga which had been on donation hold was approved for scrapping. Ranger is still on donation hold and the USS Ranger Foundation is attempting to raise the money to save her. Independence which had been programmed as an artificial reef project was approved for scrapping in 2008.In the past few months Forrestal and Saratoga began the journey to be scrapped in 2014, sold for a penny each to scrapyards in Brownsville, Texas.

USS John F Kennedy CV-67 a modified Kitty Hawk class ship

These ships were followed by the Kitty Hawk class consisting of Kitty Hawk CVA-63, Constellation CVA-64, America CVA-66 and John F. Kennedy CVA-67 which were improved versions of the Forrestal Class with a 60,100 ton displacement and 1047 foot length with the ability to carry 100 aircraft. Kitty Hawk had the distinction of being the last fossil fuel carrier in active U. S. Navy service being decommissioned and placed in reserve in 2009. Her sister the Constellation CV was decommissioned in December 2003 and in 2008 was programmed to be scrapped in the next five years.  America was decommissioned in 1996 after not being given a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) refit in the 1990s due to budget cuts.  America was involved in much of the Cold War, Gulf War and Vietnam including responding to the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in 1967, the Intervention in Lebanon in 1983 and the conflict with Libya in the Gulf of Sidra in 1985.  She was sunk as a test bed to see how modern carriers would be affected by battle damage and to incorporate those lessons into future carrier design in May of 2005.  John F. Kennedy was originally planned to be a nuclear ship equipped with 4 A3W reactors.  This plan was shelved and she was completed as a fossil fuel ship. “Big John” served in Vietnam as well as throughout the Cold War and Gulf War and also engaged the Libyans in 1985.  She was placed in the Reserve Force in the 1990s to save money and also served as a training carrier.  Like America she did not receive the necessary maintenance and by 2002 she needed emergency repairs in order to deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Kennedy made three deployments in support of the War on Terror and decommissioned in 2007.  She was placed in donation hold and currently two groups are making progress to acquire her as a Museum ship. Like the Forrestal’s the Constellation’s served in Vietnam, the Cold War, Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm and three continued their service into Operation Iraqi Freedom. Constellation began her journey to the scrapyard in August 2014.

USS Enterprise CVN-65

As the Navy continued to develop the capabilities of the aircraft carrier it commissioned the nuclear powered USS Enterprise CVAN-65.  The added capability of nuclear power enabled her to operate without dependence on fossil fuel which in addition to her range and speed allowed her to carry more aviation fuel and munitions than the fossil fuel ships.  Unique among the Nuclear Carriers she produces 280,000 SHP and is powered by 8 Westinghouse (A2W) Reactors driving geared turbines, 4 screws with a classified top speed in excess of 35 Knots and is the quickest carrier going from all stop to full speed. At 1101 feet long and 75,700 ton (93,000 Full Load) displacement she was larger than any other carrier. She served in Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf War and Operation Enduring and Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was and was decommissioned in 2013.

USS Theodore Roosevelt CVN-71 of the Nimitz class

The Nimitz Class of nuclear powered carriers is the most numerous class of capital ship in the U.S. Navy since the Essex Class.  Slightly smaller than Enterprise with a 1088 overall length and 91,000 full load displacement the Nimitz CVN-68 and her sister ships are the mainstay of the U. S. Navy carrier force.  These ships have been the symbols of American naval power for three decades and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  Each of the ships has embodied successive improvements gained from the previous ships and the latest ships of the class the USS Ronald Reagan CVN-76 and USS George H. W. Bush CVN-77 incorporate technologies that were not known when Nimitz was on the drawing board. Thus whenever a ship is taken in for their Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH) it is upgraded to the capabilities of the newest ship.  The class consists of the Nimitz, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CVN-69, USS Carl Vinson CVN-70, USS Theodore Roosevelt CVN-71, USS George Washington CVN-72, USS Abraham Lincoln CVN-73, USS John C. Stennis CVN-74, USS Harry Truman CVN-75 as well as the previously mentioned Reagan and Bush. They can carry 90% more fuel and 50% more ordnance than the Forrestal class. Carrying 90 or more aircraft they pack a mobile offensive punch that is not matched by any other surface ship.  The have served in every major military and many humanitarian missions since Nimitz was commissioned in 1974.

Artist conception of USS Gerald R Ford CVN-78

The Nimitz class will be joined by the USS Gerald R. Ford CVN-78.  The Ford is the first ship of an entirely new class. While approximately the same size as the Nimitz class at 1092 feet long and approximately 100,000 tons full load displacement the Ford class of which three are currently authorized and one under construction will feature many improvements over their predecessors. Among improvements are an advanced arresting gear, automation, which reduces crew requirements by several hundred from the Nimitz class carrier, the updated RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missile system, the AN/SPY-3 dual-band radar (DBR), as developed for Zumwalt class destroyers an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) in place of traditional steam catapults for launching aircraft, a new nuclear reactor design (the A1B reactor) for greater power generation, advanced stealth features to help reduce radar profile and the ability to operate the new F-35C Lightning II. If the class is built as programmed on a one ship every five year rate with the Ford commissioning in 2015 then 6 ships of the class will be in commission by 2040. The next two ships have been named, the John F Kennedy and Enterprise. 

Of course as with any military technology the future never is certain. In 1918 no one would have thought that the all-big gun Dreadnought Battleships would be eclipsed by the Aircraft Carrier in less than 25 years. While the Carriers have ruled the waves since Midway there are threats to them both military and financial.  Countries such as China while building their own carriers have are developing weapons such as guided ballistic missiles designed to destroy carriers.  As of now there is no defense against such a weapon if a carrier is within range. While China has not yet deployed the weapon it could be a game changer in the Western Pacific. Likewise there is the ever present threat posed by new and advanced submarines even those deployed by 2nd and 3rd world nations.  Finally there is the financial cost which could derail the procurement of more carriers in an era of austerity. The cost of the Ford is currently estimated to be $9 Billion Dollars which if stretched end to end would probably reach Vulcan where the Vulcans would come up with an answer to our current problems.

At the same time the carriers have defied those who predicted their demise since the Truman administration.  Currently no sea based platform has the multitude of capabilities of a carrier and its associated air wing and battle group and thus they should remain the Queens of the Sea for some time to come and the United States Navy which has led the world in their development and operation should continue to lead the way.

The next installment which will appear later this week will discuss the aircraft employed by the United States Navy not only those from carriers, but seaplanes, rotor-wing aircraft and lighter than air ships.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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