USS Tarawa LHA-1 (1976)
From the 1940s, the increasingly large aircraft carriers became the masters of the oceans.
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Masters of the oceans: aircraft carriers
The first aircraft carriers appeared during World War I. These ships carried almost exclusively seaplanes, which were lowered on the water by cranes. Modern aircraft carriers have evolved from these, and by World War II they became masters of the oceans. These aircraft carriers were capable of launching aircraft with wheeled undercarriage.
Supercarriers appeared in the 1950s. These enormous aircraft carriers measure abour 300 m (984 ft) in length and have a displacement of about 90 thousand tonnes.
Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, developed by the late 1950s have a practically unlimited range.
There are several types of aircraft carriers, grouped into classes. Currently the largest fleet of aircraft carriers consisting of 10 Nimitz-class carriers belongs to the U.S. Navy. These carriers are 340 m (1,115 ft) long, 78 m (256 ft) wide, with a displacement of over 100,000 t. They are powered by two nuclear reactors and 4 steam turbines. Their maximum speed is about 60 km/h (30 knots or 37 mph).
Besides carrying an impressive range of weapons (cannons, missile launchers) they are also capable of carrying nearly 100 helicopters and fighter planes. Their crew consists of 5,000-6,000 marines and air crew members.
The best known aircraft carriers are USS Nimitz (1975), USS Enterprise (1960) and USS Eisenhower (1975).
Shape and structure
The design of the ship serves two basic purposes: providing stability and a large deck for the aircraft taking off and landing.
The superstructure of a carrier is called control tower or ‘the Island’. The top of the Island is outfitted with radars, antennas and other communication and navigation instruments. Below are the Primary Flight Control Center and the Bridge, the ship’s command center.
The flight deck is on level 0. It is usually 200-300 m (656-984 ft) long and 70-80 m (230-263 ft) wide. Below is the main hangar deck (level -1), where aircraft and other military equipment is stored.
The level below (level -2) is occupied by the Combat Direction Center. The engine rooms, storage rooms are on the levels below. There are several elevators for aircraft, weapons, cargo and the crew.
The kitchen, the dining hall and the sleeping quarters are also important parts of a carrier. Hangar decks are separated to hangar bays by removable bulkheads (wall panels).
The carrier’s armament is installed on the top deck or embedded in the hull. Lifeboats are also stored there.
Crew and equipment: life on the ship
Modern supercarriers are widely referred to as ‘swimming fortresses’ or ‘cities at sea’. With 5,000-6,000 crew members, this is certainly an accurate epithet.
The most important and most dangerous work on a carrier is done on the flight deck. Crew members working here carry a huge responsibility: they assist the launch and landing of airplanes, install missiles and bombs on them.
They lift aircraft from the hangar bays by special elevators. Communication is mostly done through hand signals, which make up a unique sign language.
Working on the flight deck requires incredible precision and coordination, as planes are landing and taking off at a very fast rate in a limited space in any weather conditions.
Providing food for a crew of 3,000-4,000 members is also a challenge. Several tonnes of meat and vegetables are cooked each day in the galleys. The onboard desalination plant produces 1 million liters (264,200 gallons) of drinking water per day.
Critical point 1: taking off
Airplanes are launched from carriers by steam catapults.
A steam catapult consists of a track built into the flight deck, below, which is a large piston that is attached to hooks on the bottom of the fuselage by a wire rope (older models) or a ‘disposable’ release bar made of weakened metal.
At launch, the release bar holds the aircraft in place as steam pressure builds up, then breaks and the piston pulls the aircraft along the deck.
Catapults are usually powered by the high pressure steam also used for powering the steam turbines of the carrier. Some catapults are powered by linear electric engines.
Taking off is sometimes aided by a ‘ski-jump ramp’ built on the end of the runway (most commonly on British and Russian carriers). The angle of elevation is usually between 10°-20°.
Due to the coordinated work of the flight deck crew airplanes can be launched every 12-15 seconds.
Aircraft taking off
Critical point 2: landing
Landing on an aircraft carrier is an extremely dangerous maneuver, even more so than taking off. Continuous efforts are being made to make it safer.
The landing speed of the arriving airplanes has to be as low as possible, but without crossing a critical limit. However, even this speed will be too high for the airplane to stop using its own brake system on the short runway. Therefore arresting wires are used to slow airplanes down safely.
Orientation is also a problem while landing on an aircraft carrier. Besides radars, an Optical Landing System (British invention) also aids this maneuver at night and under difficult weather conditions.
Although landing is much less difficult for helicopters, organizing the landing of numerous helicopters requires precise, coordinated work by the crew members.
Flight decks are usually designed to allow the simultaneous take-off and landing of several airplanes.
The first aircraft carriers appeared during World War I. These ships carried seaplanes almost exclusively, which were lowered onto the sea by cranes. Modern aircraft carriers have evolved from these ships, and by World War II they became masters of the oceans due to their armaments and range. With their airstrips, these behemoths of the sea were capable of launching aircraft with a wheeled undercarriage.
Modern supercarriers are widely referred to as ‘swimming fortresses’ or ‘cities at sea’. With their crew of 5,000-6,000, this is certainly accurate.
The design of the ship serves two basic purposes: to ensure stability and to provide a sufficiently long deck for aircraft to take off and land.
The superstructure of a carrier is called the control tower or ‘the Island’. The top of the Island is outfitted with radars, antennas and other communication and navigation instruments. Below these are the Primary Flight Control Center and the Bridge, the ship’s command center.
The flight deck is the main level. It is usually 200-300 m (656-984 ft) long and 70-80 m (230-263 ft) wide. Below that, is the main hangar deck, where aircraft and other military equipment is stored.
The level below that is occupied by the Combat Direction Center. The engine rooms and storage rooms are further below. There are several elevators for aircraft, weapons, cargo and crew.
The kitchen, or galley, the dining hall, or mess hall, and the sleeping quarters are also important parts of a carrier. Hangar decks are separated into different hangar bays by removable bulkheads (wall panels) to stop the potential spread of fire.
The carrier’s armaments are installed on the top deck or embedded in the hull. Lifeboats are also stored there.
The USS Tarawa, named after a Pacific atoll that was the site of a battle during World War II, was commissioned in 1976 by the U.S. Navy. She measured 250 m (820 ft) in length and 32 m (106 ft) in width. The carrier was operated by a crew of more then 2,000. Her impressive range of weapons was rounded out by 35 helicopters and 8 Harrier fighter jets.
The ship was decommissioned in 2009, but her name is preserved by a class of amphibious assault ships.
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