© Official U.S. Navy Imagery (Flickr) USS Nimitz, USS Chosin, USS Sampson, and USS Pinkney in South China Se
© Official U.S. Navy Imagery (Flickr)
The US Navy began using aircraft carriers in 1910, when the first experimental take-offs of fixed-wing aircraft took place from the deck of the USS Birmingham. Landings at sea were carried out a year later.
Most early carriers were ships which had been converted from vessels which had fulfilled other purposes, such as cargo ships, cruisers, battle-cruisers and battleships.
However, the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 curtailed the expansion in size of aircraft carriers, with Great Britain and the United States limited to up to 135,000 tons of carriers each.
However, exemptions on the specific tonnages of capital ships allowed the conversion of several ships into carriers, such as the USS Lexington class of ships.
World War Two and beyond
World War Two
Carrier size developed between the 20th Century’s two World Wars, and by World War Two the US Navy‘s backbone consisted of these hulking vessels.
Several varieties of aircraft carrier appeared during the war, including Escort class aircraft carriers and high-speed Light aircraft carriers.
More unconventional types of carrier also evolved.
The CAM class could launch fighter aircraft from a giant catapult but could not retrieve them.
There were also Merchant Aircraft Carriers (MACs), which were cargo carrying ships adapted and fitted with flight decks.
Present day operations
The US Navy currently has 11 super carriers in operation.
These are huge ships, displacing over 70,000 long tons.
There is one Enterprise-class carrier in operation, USS Enterprise, while there are ten Nimitz-class ships currently active.
There are the USS Nimitz, the Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Carl Vinson, the Theodore Roosevelt, the Abraham Lincoln, the George Washington, the John C. Stennis, the Harry S. Truman, the Ronald Reagan and the George H.W. Bush.
There is a school of thought that states that aircraft carriers are becoming obsolete as more effective anti-ship weapons systems are developed.
Their expense also makes their loss such a blow that their cost effectiveness if considered debatable in some quarters.
The USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, will also be the US Navy‘s first nuclear-powered aircraft to be decommissioned.