USS Nimitz Supercarrier

USS Nimitz ‘Supercarrier’

USS Nimitz Aircraft Carrier

Nimitz-class supercarriers

The Nimitz-class ‘supercarriers’ are the backbone of the US Navy’s sea-deployed airpower and for now, the largest warships in any nation’s service. According to a US Navy factsheet, they are tasked with employing ‘persistent, precise combat power from the sea to destroy or neutralize adversaries in all regions of the battle space.’ In line with this role, each supercarrier can field up to 90 US Navy aircraft and helicopters and has a near-global reach.

Starting with the USS Nimitz, their introduction into the US Navy spanned some four decades and ten examples were built. Nuclear reactor-powered, all were designed to be operational for 50 years, only needing to be refueled and upgraded once.

USS Nimitz Origins

The Nimitz aircraft carrier’s origins can be traced right back to November 1910 when the USS Birmingham cruiser hosted the first ever warship-launched aircraft take off. Sixty years later, the USS Nimitz’ build programme was well underway. The USS Nimitz took its name from Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who commanded the United States Pacific Fleet during WW2. Catherine Nimitz Lay, his daughter, christened the carrier in May 1972. Also present at that event was then-US President, Gerald Ford plus over 20,000 other attendees – such was the Nimitz commissioning’s significance. Three years later, the US Navy officially had its first supercarrier in service.

The final Nimitz-class carrier, USS George H. W. Bush, was commissioned in January 2009. In between occurred the commissioning of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (in October 1977), USS Carl Vinson (March 1982), USS Theodore Roosevelt (October 1986), USS Abraham Lincoln (November 1989), USS George Washington (July 1992), USS John C. Stennis (December 1995), USS Harry S Truman (July 1998) and the USS Ronald Reagan (July 2003).

CVW 11 Nimitz Aircraft Carrier

Newport News Shipbuilding Company handled the entire Nimitz-class production run and a sequential hull-numbering system was adopted, running from CVN-68 (for the Nimitz itself) to CVN-77 (for the George H.W Bush). ‘CV’ was the standard aircraft carrier designation used, while the ‘N’ referred to ‘nuclear’.

USS Nimitz Deployments

The USS Nimitz’ initial deployment occurred in July 1976. This took it to the Mediterranean Sea, to which it returned twice more during the 1970s. Various 1980s-era deployments followed. One especially notable sortie saw it involved in the 1988 Olympic Games’ security operation. Thereafter, USS Nimitz took part in Operation Desert Storm (the first Gulf War) and the subsequent Operation Southern Watch. Next came operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. A pioneering deployment in 2012 saw the USS Nimitz spearhead a pilot version of the US Navy’s ‘Great Green Fleet’ that took part in that year’s RIMPAC maritime exercise. All deployed assets – bar the Nimitz – were part-biofuel powered, to demonstrate ‘green’ energy’s potential at sea. Most recently, the USS Nimitz has been involved in F-35 Lightning II trials, which saw the US Navy’s future frontline combat aircraft blasting off from and landing back on it, by day and night.

US Navy Sailors aboard USS Nimitz aircraft carrier

USS Nimitz Today

In 2016, the USS Nimitz hosts CVW-11 (Carrier Air Wing Eleven), whose homebase is NAS Leemore in California. Formed in 1942, CVW-11 comprises nine squadrons which, between them, operate four fixed-wing aircraft types – the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet and Boeing F/A-18-E/F Super Hornet multirole fighters, Grumman E-2D Hawkeye AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) aircraft and the Grumman C-2A Greyhound COD (carrier onboard delivery) platform – plus two versions of the Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk naval helicopter.

Since January 2016, the USS Nimitz’ homeport has been Naval Base Kitsap, located in Washington state. This is its fifth homeport, having previously been stationed at Naval Station Norfolk (until 1987), Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (until 1998), NAS North Island (2012) and Naval Station Everett (2015).

3,200 naval personnel make up its company, supplemented by a further 2,400-plus air wing representatives.

Aircraft Landing on Nimitz Carrier

USS Nimitz Features

The USS Nimitz is 1,092 feet long and displaces 102,000 tonnes of water. It is powered by a pair of Westinghouse AW4 nuclear reactors, with a maximum output of approximately 260,000 shaft horsepower. These give the carrier a top speed of some 30 knots. When fission (atom-splitting) takes place inside these reactors, heat is generated. This heat is combined with pressurized water, becoming the driver for four turbines which, in turn, drive four propellers. Each of these propellers measures 25 feet from tip-to-tip and weighs around 30 tonnes. The USS Nimitz’ nuclear fuel was replenished during the late-1990s as part of the carrier’s RCOH (Refueling and Complex Overhaul) programme: a process that all Nimitz-class carriers will eventually undergo. In the Nimitz’ case, RCOH lasted three years, concluding in June 2011.

F 35C Lightning II Sea Trials

Directional control is supplied by two 29-foot-high rudders which together weigh 100 tonnes. Some 500 tonnes of aluminium – plus 47,000 tonnes of steel – feature in the USS’ Nimitz construction and, laid end-to-end, the carrier’s wires and cables would stretch out for 1,600 miles: greater than the distance between London and Moscow. Other key Nimitz features include four steam catapults and, correspondingly, four two-inch-thick arresting wires. It’s these which bring 20+ plus tonne landing combat aircraft, like the Super Hornet, to an absolute stop within 400 feet. Offset at a nine-degree angle, the Nimitz’ flight deck measures four-and-a-half acres. An elevator system transits the carrier’s embarked assets between this flight deck and the storage/maintenance area below: a space that’s 684 feet long and 108 feet wide.

Armament consists of pairs of RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) and ESSM (Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile) launchers. These are tasked with short-range and short-to-medium-range protection, respectively.

Missile Storage

USS Nimitz Future

The USS Nimitz is set to remain in US Navy use until circa 2025, although its official decommissioning date hasn’t yet been announced. By that point, the supercarrier will have been in service for 50 years, thus fulfilling its original design philosophy. Its replacement, the USS John F Kennedy – part of the even bigger Ford-class carrier series - is now being built and is set to be launched in 2018.

Key Facts:

Role: Multi-mission aircraft carrier
Length: 1,092 ft (332.8 m)
Width: 252 ft (76.8 m)
Engines: Two Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors
Maximum speed: 36 mph (58 km/h)
Maximum range: Unlimited
Crew: 3,200 personnel, plus 2,480 aircrew
Weapons: Sea Sparrow and Rolling Airframe missiles
First launched: 13 May 1972

All images copyright US Navy – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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