Floating Fortresses: 40 Fascinating Facts About Aircraft Carriers

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1Aircraft Carrier Fuel

Aircraft Carrier Fuel

All U.S. aircraft carriers are Nuclear Powered, meaning they can continuously sail for up to 25 years without the need to refuel. They still have to be resupplied with food every two weeks. They also need to refuel their aviation fuel from time to time though researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are working on processes to make jet fuel from seawater.

2. There are 3 types of Aircraft carriers. CATOBAR - Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery. These are only used by the US Navy and France, although the Chinese are expected to build some. STOBAR - Short Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery. These are used by Russia, China, India. STOVL - Short Take-Off Vertical Landing. These are used by UK, Italy, Spain, Thailand, Japan, and South Korea will operate carriers in this configuration. The US also has 9 STOVL carriers (Wasp and America class ships).

3. The main purpose of an aircraft carrier is to project force. Each full US carrier (the Nimitz-class carriers) can carry something like 100 aircraft. When an aircraft carrier deploys, it takes a Carrier Strike Group (CSG), made up of several other warships and supply vessels. They are always escorted by at least one (sometimes two) attack submarine(s), guided missile cruisers, guided-missile destroyers, frigates and supply support ships.

4. In 2009, a smoldering cigarette caused fire to break out aboard USS George Washington. The fire raged on for 11 hours, causing $70 million worth of damage, yet it didn’t disable the ship.

5. USS Midway was one of the last internal combustion carriers used by the USA. It consumed about 100,000 gallons of fuel a day. Its ship and air-fuel tanks had the capacity to hold a total of 3.5 million gallons of fuel. At its most efficient speed of about 15 knots, it reached a fuel efficiency of about 20 feet per gallon.

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6HMS Queen Elizabeth

HMS Queen Elizabeth

The Queen christened the British Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth with a bottle of single malt Scotch whisky from the Bowmore distillery on the island of Islay instead of champagne because the ship had been built and launched in Scotland.

7. In 2002, while returning to the US, the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier stopped in Australia, where the sailors wore out the local sex workers to the point the brothel had to close down temporarily.

8. Aircraft Carriers are truly a floating city. Nimitz class carriers can easily house more than 6000 people. They have multiple galleys to eat in, a convenience store, various gyms, library, a barbershop, sleeping quarters, restrooms, hangar space for 100 aircraft, a laundry, recycling center, desalinization plants for freshwater, and a bank (to provide sailors with access to their cash to spend on shore leave in foreign ports).

9. The US navy's new class of aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford can accomplish 25% more aircraft launches per day than the Nimitz class and requires 25% fewer crew members. The Navy estimates it will save $4 billion in operating costs over a 50-year lifespan. It costs $7 million per day to operate the whole strike group.

10. A total of more than 200 aircraft carriers were built throughout World War 2. By 1943, the US pacific fleet alone was larger than all the warring powers’ navies combined.

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11USS Carl Vinson

USS Carl Vinson

Aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was deployed to Haiti after the 2010 Earthquake and it provided the island with 200,000 gallons a day of fresh drinking water from its desalination plants.

12. USS Long Beach was the only US Navy nuclear-powered ship that was not an aircraft carrier. Being a guided-missile cruiser, it was the world's first nuclear-powered surface combatant. During its operation, it was ultimately concluded that nuclear power was too expensive to use on anything other than carriers. It was decommissioned in 1995.

13. As of May 2021, Russia has only one aircraft carrier and none under construction. Unlike most western naval ships that use gas turbines or nuclear power, Admiral Kuznetsov is a conventionally powered ship that uses mazut as fuel, often leading to a visible trail of heavy black smoke. Russia does have five nuclear-powered ice breakers though with five more currently planned or under construction. They need these because it’s the only way they can get their navy out of the North Seas.

14. Due to its unreliable power plant, Russia’s only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is so unreliable that it has to be accompanied by a small fleet of tugboats whenever it is deployed.

15. Back in 1929-30, the aircraft carrier USS Lexington powered the city of Tacoma, Washington for a month. When drought conditions caused the water levels in Lake Cushman to fall below the intake level for the hydroelectric dam, the Navy sent Lady Lex from Bremerton and used cables to tie her into Tacoma's power grid. Lady Lex provided power through Christmas and New Year’s until melting snow had sufficiently replenished the lake.

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16USS Ronald Reagan

USS Ronald Reagan

In the 2005 war games, a Swedish submarine called HSMS Gotland was able to sneak through the sonar defenses of the US Navy Aircraft Carrier Ronald Reagan and its entire accompanying group, and (virtually) sank the US Aircraft carrier on its own and still got away without getting detected.

17. In 1942, as Japanese torpedoes slowly sank the U.S.S. Lexington, then the second-largest aircraft carrier in the Navy’s arsenal, the crew abandoned ship, but not before breaking into the freezer and eating all the ice cream.

18. During Korean War, General Lewis B. Puller tried to convince the Pentagon that ice cream was a “sissy food” and that troops would be tougher if indulged with beer and whiskey. Pentagon responded with an official statement ensuring soldiers were served ice cream a minimum of three times a week on aircraft carriers and other navy ships. Going back, ice cream not only bolstered the morale of US forces in Pacific during World War 2, it greatly demoralized the Japanese Senior Command to the point where they had no hope in winning the war. US Navy, seeing the importance of ice cream in raising the spirits of troops, converted a tanker to be able to produce thousands of gallons of ice cream so that it would always be available to troops. Japanese were appalled realizing that they were against an enemy so abundant in resources that they could “waste” such valuable fuel and manpower to provide their men with something so trivial as ice cream.

19. In 1975, a lot of Huey helicopters had to be pushed off the flight deck of the USS Midway into the sea to make way for the emergency landing of an aircraft with Vietnamese evacuees on board. Not just USA helicopters, every Vietnamese helicopter that landed was immediately pushed off for the next one to land. America’s evacuation effort consisted of sending helicopters to the embassy to pick people up. Anyone with a helicopter in the military ranking flew their family and loved ones away. They all headed out to sea to look for the nearest American ship. Lots of pilots said they were totally out of fuel, waiting to land.

20. In 1972, some of Aircraft Carrier USS Ranger's crew carried out two-dozen acts of sabotage to prevent the ship from returning to Vietnam.

21HMAS Melbourne

HMAS Melbourne

In 1985, Australia decommissioned its only aircraft carrier (HMAS Melbourne) and sold it for scrap to a Chinese company. It was towed to China where, before scrapping, it was studied extensively by the military to help design China’s first aircraft carrier. The Chinese even asked the Australian government for the blueprints but this request was “politely rejected.” Apparently, the ship was not fully broken down until 2002.

22. Aircraft carrier USS Oriskany which was intentionally sunk after its decommissioning in the Gulf of Mexico is now known as the Great Carrier Reef. 70 feet down, the Oriskany’s navigation tower is teeming with prickly sea urchins and crusty barnacles. Giant barracuda prowl the tower’s empty windows. The wreck has attracted at least 38 species of fish, including goliath groupers, mako sharks, amberjacks, and red snappers. It is by far the largest vessel ever sunk to make a reef.

23. The French named one of their aircraft carriers after Ferdinand Foch, a man who said, “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” French aircraft carrier Foch was decommissioned in 2000.

24. During World War 2, the Japanese navy had Submersible Aircraft Carriers. These carriers were able to carry aircraft underwater to their destinations, surface, launch their planes and then quickly dive again before they were discovered. They were able to carry 3 Aichi M6A Seiran aircrafts underwater to their destinations.

25. During a film sequence of Top Gun, an aircraft carrier captain changed the ship’s course and altered the lighting of a shot. Director Tony Scott was told it would cost $25,000 to change its course. He quickly wrote a check, the course was reverted, and he got 5 more minutes to get his shot.

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