Fleet Week New York 2019
New York City held its 31st annual Fleet Week from Wednesday May 22nd through Tuesday, May 28th and was invaded by not only 15 international Naval ships but also by aircraft in overflights including: four F/A-18E Hornets out of Oceana doing a Missing Man Formation on Memorial Day; two CH-53E Super Stallions; two Marine MV-22B Ospreys, and two SH-60 Seahawks. The helos were all staging out of nearby Teterboro Airport. New York was also invaded by thousands of Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsman and even a few Royal Canadian Navy sailors with everyone intent on seeing the Town on their Fleet Week Liberty. Many special events were happening all over Town to make the Sailors and Marines feel welcome and special. True, it was not the same as some of the earlier Fleet Weeks in New York when we could get as many as 26 international naval ships, including full deck aircraft carriers like the USS Kennedy (CV-67), and flyovers for the Wednesday Arrivals Day with the “Parade of Ships” going up the Hudson River with as many as 30 aircraft in trail flying over the ships as the ships rendered deck gun salutes as they passed the World Trade Center “Hole” to honor the lives lost in the 9-11 Attack on the WTC Towers, as the sailors “manned the rails” in crisp summer whites while the jets flew low over the “Parade of Ships”! But Fleet Week this year was still very special. The organizers and the Navy did a good job in spreading out the 15 ships to scattered berthings in and around different locations in the New York City area with a little bit for everyone, no matter where you lived in the City. Upon their arrival in the “Parade of Ships” early in the morning on Wednesday, May 22nd, right after crossing under the Veranzanno Narrows Bridge at the entrance to Upper New York Harbor, the ships split up to five different berthing areas: the Manhattan Piers on the West Side; the Brooklyn ocean piers; the Staten Island “Homeport”; [The Staten Island “Homeport” opened in 1990 and was to be the original new home for a Navy Surface Action Group consisting of the then-active Battleship USS Iowa (BB-61), three frigates and at least one cruiser, the USS Normandy (CG-60). Almost as soon as it was opened, a 1988 BRAC effectively closed it by 1994, except for most Fleet Weeks in NYC when it became a berthing pier for the Navy once again.]; and finally a berth at the US Maritime Academy near the Throgs Neck Bridge in Queens on Long Island Sound. I was able to get a private tour of the USS New York (LPD-21) on Thursday and see its aircraft on her flight deck. Stand by…….
But first, the “Fleet”: The Fleet Week 15 Ship line Up for 2019 included the following:
(1) USS New York (LPD-21), the Star of this year’s Fleet Week, berthed at Pier 88, Manhattan, a San Antonio-class Amphibious Transport Dock, launched 2009, special because her bow includes 7-1/2 tons of steel recovered the World Trade Center after the 9-11 Attack, it includes a well-deck for on-board recovery and launch of either two LCAC’s (87 foot Landing Craft Air Cushion), or one LCU (134 foot Landing Craft Utility, or fourteen AAV’s (26 foot USMC track / prop Assault Amphibious Vehicles), it is 684 feet long with a 250 aft flight deck, a flight deck hanger bay, aircraft complement can include either two CH-53E Super Stallions, or two MV-22B Osprey Tilt-rotors, or four CH-46 Sea Nights (Phrogs), or four UH-1Y Venoms (Huey’s), or four AH-1Z Vipers (Super Cobras); based in NS Mayport, Florida;
(2) HMCS Glacé Bay (MM-701), Pier 88 Manhattan, 1998, Kingston-class coastal defense minesweeper, 181 feet, based in Halifax, NS on the Canadian east coast;
(3) HMCS Oriole (KC-480), Pier 88 Manhattan, sail training ketch, 102 feet, oldest commissioned ship in the RCN, based in Halifax, NS;
(4) USCGC Lawrence O. Lawson (WPC-1120), Pier 86 Manhattan, 153 feet, Fast Reaponse Cutter (FRC), launched March 2017, Homeport Cape May NJ;
(5) – (8). Four US Naval Academy Yard Patrol Boats (YP-XX), Pier 86 Manhattan at the USS Intrepid Museum Ship, YP’s used for training USNA mid-shipmen in seamanship skills, based at Annapolis, MD;
(9) USS Hue City (CG-66), Brooklyn Piers, Ticonderoga-class Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser, commissioned 1991, 567 feet, Mayport, Florida;
(10) USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109), Staten Island, Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer, 510 feet, commissioned 2010, NS Norfolk, Virginia;
(11) USS Milwaukee (LCS-5), Staten Island, Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), frigate class replacement, 388 feet, commissioned 2015, NS Mayport, Florida;
(12) USCGC Katherine Walker (WLM-552), Staten Island, Coastal Buoy Tender, 175 foot, Homeport Bayonne NJ, known as the “Keeper of New York”, her primary mission is maintaining 342 Aids to Navigation (buoys) in and round New York Harbor, in addition to Port security and SAR;
(13) USCGC Campbell (WMEC-909), berthed in Staten Island, commissioned 1988, Medium Endurance Cutter, 207 feet, based in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Maine;
(14) USS Tornado (PC-14), berthed USMMA Kings Point, Queens, NY; Cyclone-class Coastal Patrol Ship, 179 feet, based at Naval Amphibious Base / Joint Expeditionary Base – Little Creek, Virginia;
(15) USNS Burlington (T-EPF-10), berthed at SUNY Maritime College, Bronx (controlled access), Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport, operated by the Military Sealift Command, commissioned November 2018, 338 feet, unusual design with an all aluminum shallow draft hull, the EPF class is a commercial-based catamaran with a unique double hull design with a high speed mobility capability, with a cruise speed of over 35 knots, it is capable of operating in shallow draft water of under 15 feet in littoral environments, it is 338 feet long, it has an astounding 94 foot beam because it is a catamaran design with just under a 13 foot draft because it is an aluminum catamaran ship. The Navy has never allowed the public close to this ship and access was restricted for Fleet Week.
On Thursday at 4PM, I had a private tour of the USS New York (LPD-21) arranged for by the New York Council of the Navy League of the United States. As is the case lately on the US East Coast, there was a strong weather front coming in from the west. Our small NLUS tour group of 10 just made it into the enclosed NY Cruise Ship Terminal Pier at the start time of 4PM when torrential rains hit New York City. We cleared a very strict security check in and were safely inside the enclosed pier and walking to the access point amidship. After a short run up the open gangplank, we made it safely into the lower well-deck of LPD-21 which was all nice and dry with very few other visitors. The USS New York has two very large well decks that can hold tanks, trucks, HUMVEE’s, and wheeled artillery. The lowest level ramps down to an even lower well that can be flooded with 8 feet of sea water when the stern gate is opened, The flooded well can accommodate either two LCAC’s, one large ACU or 14 tracked amphib-AAV’s. Each can load up troops, vehicles, and even M1-A1 Abrams Tanks on to the landing craft for a Marine assault on to an enemy beach. The USS New York has an Embarked Landing Force capacity of 700 Marines but can surge to 800. The ships company is an additional 28 officers and 332 enlisted sailors.
We walked down a steep ramp into the lower landing craft well that would be flooded to launch landing craft when the stern ramp is lowered. We toured a LCAC – “Landing Craft Air Cushion” – in the lower well deck. This thing is the closest thing to being an airplane without actually flying, although when all the props get going it is actually riding two feet above the surface of the water on a cushion of air. The LCAC has four gas turbine engines, 2 for lift with props under the craft and 2 for horizontal propulsion with 2 large props at the stern of the craft. The LCAC is 87 feet long and 47 feet wide. It could almost be called an “airplane” with its two large 10 foot aviation-type propellers at the stern and with a glass enclosed bridge at the front right corner that inside almost looks like a flight deck on a KC-135. The LCAC usually brings in tanks and trucks but they could strap a troop cabin box on to its floor to bring in as many as 180 Marines to the beach. Needless to say, it is very noisy and throws up a lot of sand on the beach, even with its side skirts. To operate the LCAC, it is almost like flying an airplane or a helicopter. It is similar to a helicopter in that it has six dimensions of motion. The Craftmaster (pilot) sits in a “cockpit” or Command Module with a headset radio on. He talks to “Air Traffic Control” which for the LCAC is either the Well Deck Control located at the LPD’s stern well gate or the Beachmaster on the beach controlling inbound assault beach landing traffic. The LCAC is extremely complex to “fly” and there is a high attrition rate of Craftmaster pilots.
Our tour next went to the large Medical Department (“Sick Bay”) set up like a small hospital with Trauma Operating Rooms, Radiology Suites, Clinical Labs, specialized exam rooms, an ICU and Inpatient Beds. Then we climbed up 7 decks to get to the Navigation Bridge, all digital controls of course. Like an aircraft carrier, the LPD has a “Pri-Fly” Primary Flight Control Center for flight deck ops and a ATC Center for long range air traffic control. And like a Carrier, it has an “Air Boss” and a “Mini-Boss”. Next was the best part (Naturally!), the Flight Deck! The USS New York is not a 1,050 foot CVN aircraft carrier, nor a 850 foot LHD helicopter carrier, but rather a LPD “troop ship” with a 250 foot aft flight deck, so the amount of aircraft that the USS New York came to New York with was somewhat minimal. We had two birds tied down on the stern deck. (Oh, BTW, there were two sets of 50 caliber machine guns that were fully manned and loaded on on deck and four Coast Guard 25-foot Defender-class SAFE boats with forward 50’s manned and loaded as well as three NYPD patrol boats, all providing surface 24/7 Force Protection around the USS New York while she was berthed on the West Side.)
The two aircraft on the flight deck were:
(a) A Bell-Boeing MV-22B Osprey tiltrotar Marine transport aircraft with STOL and VTOL capabilities, up from VMM-263, Marine Medium Tilt Rotsr Squadron 263, MAG-26, Marine Air Group 26 “Thunder Chickens”, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, out of MCAS New River, North Carolina, with tail code “EG”. The Marine Osprey has land.based and ship-borne capabilities and was designed to eventually replace Marine Corps CH-46E Sea Knight “Phrogs” and CH-53D “Super Stallion” fleets. The Osprey has a 4-person crew, can seat 24 troops or 32 troops floor loaded, or can carry 20,000 lb internally or 15,000 lb externally hooked, has a max speed of 275 kts and a range of 1,011 miles. Also on deck was;
(b) A Bell AH-1Z “Viper” Super Cobra attack helicopter, also known as the “Zulu Cobra”, tail code “TV”, from HMLA-167 Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 “Warriors” based out of MCAS New River, North Carolina, part of MAG-29, 2nd MAW.
By the time we got to the flight deck, the Monsoon Rains had ended and the sun was trying to come out but still with a low cloud deck. Then a 2-ship flight of MH-53E Sea Dragons from HM-14 Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron “Vanguard” out of NS Norfolk passed low over the ship at about 5PM doing a low ride down and up the Hudson. During Fleet Week, the two heavy lift helos were based at nearby Teterboro Airport (TEB).
I departed LPD-21 at 5:00 and walked over to the nearby “USS Intrepid” (CV-11), the Air and Space Museum Ship, down river at Pier 86. At 820 feet with multiple museum planes on deck, it is still a formidable sight to see. At 5:30, military and civilian dignitaries in formal military black tie dress and uniforms were arriving for a special Formal Military Dinner Dance in the Hanger Bay of the Intrepid. Then a 4-car black lemo motorcade arrived at about 6PM. Rumor had it at the gate that it was Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State! What a day!!!