THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER is the centrepiece of the naval battle group, commanded by a flag officer. It is the most powerful weapons system in any country’s military arsenal and can be deployed anywhere in the world with both conventional and nuclear capabilities. The traditional battle group consists of one aircraft carrier, two cruisers, four destroyers, two attack submarines and a combat support ship. In 1917 the first aircraft carrier, a British warship named Furious, set to sea, but it was 1922 before the United States received its first aircraft carrier with the conversion of the Navy’s battle-cruiser USS Langley. Since then the carrier has been developed into the most powerful weapons system in the world.
Work began on the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier on April 25, 1989, with the keel being laid on November 29, 1993. On September 7, 1996, the USS Harry S Truman, CVN 75, was christened at the Newport News Naval shipyard and later commissioned on July 25, 1998. CVN 75 was named after America’s 33rd President, Harry S Truman, whose term in office saw, among other things, the utilisation of the atomic bomb to end World War Two, the deployment of US troops to South Korea to stop the communist movement, the creation of strong national and international policies, and the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. President Truman is considered to have been one of America’s strongest leaders, his ‘can-do’ attitude and legacies will not be forgotten.
The USS Harry S Truman is a second-generation nuclear-powered carrier and has a water displacement of over 97,000 tons. CVN-75 is America’s eighth Nimitz-class carrier and the type is the largest and most powerful warship in the world. Standing 20 storeys above the waterline, the two nuclear reactors turn four bronze propellers that can push the ship’s bulk of steel and aluminium through the water at speeds exceeding 30 knots. It is equipped with four high-speed aircraft elevators to move aircraft from the hangar deck to the flight deck, and four catapults can launch aircraft at a rate of one every 20 seconds.
Statistics for this huge vessel are nothing short of mind boggling. It contains 60,0001b (27,200kg) of steel, 1,000,0001b (453,600kg) of aluminium, has 900 miles (1,450km) of wiring, each rudder weighs 50 tons, it produces 400,000 US gallons (1,514,000 lit) of fresh water daily, it has 2,000 telephones and almost 30,000 light fittings. The two anchors each weigh 30 tons and in addition to everything else the ship carries an unbelievable 600,000 ballpoint pens and 1.5 million sheets of paper!
The carrier air wing which operates from the 4.5 acre flight deck is equipped with nine squadrons and more than 80 aircraft that fulfil a number of missions — air-to-air fighters, air-to-ground strike-fighters, electronic warfare, electronic countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, logistics, and search & rescue. The carrier is also equipped with many self-protection systems aboard the ship to defeat any incoming attacks, these being the surface-to-air Sea Sparrow missile system, Phalanx close-range 20mm Gatling gun system and an extensive electronic warfare suite. Life span of the carrier is estimated to be more than 50 years, with the nuclear reactors not needing service for 20 years.
The mission of CVN 75 is to protect all American assets and maintain a peaceful presence with a show of power throughout the world. In late 1998 the USS Harry S Truman underwent its first operational sea trials off the south Florida coast. It was an extensive four-week period that required the attention of both the naval crew and the civilian contractors who were aboard to verify the operational status of the equipment installed on the carrier. The limits on all systems were tested, from normal operations to simulated full-blown combat situations. Basic carrier equipment such as telephone functions throughout the ship, all compartment lighting, television, radio systems and other creature comforts for the 6,000-plus personnel who occupy the carrier during operational deployments were all checked, over and over again. The ship’s basic capabilities were also tested -high-speed runs to full reverse, high rates of turn and all the emergency procedures. Data amassed during the cruise was recorded so that it could be reviewed and analysed to improve the capabilities of the carrier.
When fully operational the Truman will be home ported at Norfolk Naval Base, Virginia. During its first shake-down cruise, Carrier Air Wing One (CVW-1) deployed for work-up training — as part of this squadrons are required to bring their pilots up to qualification training before deployment on an operational cruise. This training involves all the flight deck crews as well as the aircrews, with the pilots having to achieve day and night qualifications. The day qualifications comprise two touch-and-goes, four catapult launches and four traps; night qualifications involve two cats and two traps. During this period each squadron will fly three or four of its aircraft at the same time to qualify as many pilots as possible during a fleet evaluation, which lasts about 45 minutes. After launching from the carrier aircraft remain in the local area so as to practise go-arounds (flying the pattern for landing practice).
Carrier Air Wing One is normally assigned to the USS John F Kennedy and will not be the operational Air Wing stationed on the Truman. After the ship’s sea trials, systems checks and equipment testing phase of the cruise, the Truman and her crew operated in a training exercise, taking the role of Red Force against other US warships off the southern United States coast. The cruise lasted for about six weeks, after which the carrier returned to her home port at Norfolk.
Another history-making event took place during the first operational cruise of CVN-75 — ‘Blue Angel 1’ made an arrested landing aboard the Truman. Commander Patrick Driscoll, piloted the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet for two touch-and-goes, followed by two arrested landings and catapult shoots (Blue Angels carrier ops, March, pl4). The Blue Angels had not made a carrier landing since the 1950s.
On March 3 the carrier played host to a pair of F/A-18F Super Hornets from the naval test facility at Patuxent River, Maryland for a second round of carrier trials. These looked at all aspects of carrier operations, ranging from deck handling to hangar maintenance. In a few years time they will form the backbone of the ship’s air wing.