Peter Boschert onboard the Nimitz Class CVN-68 to CVN-77

First Picture CVN-75

The beginning of the Nimitz class aircraft carriers really began with the construction of the USS John F. Kennedy, which is visually similar to the carriers of the Nimitz Class.

At the beginning of the construction of the USS Nimitz, it was planned to finish 3 carriers of this class. The beginning construction costs amounted to $700 million each, but rapidly rose to $2 billion.

This increase in costs caused the Carter administration to refuse to build further nuclear-powered carriers and support the construction of conventional carriers. Against the will of President Carter, Congress approved a further carrier of the Nimitz class in 1980.

With the election of Ronald Reagan and his Marine Minister John Lehman, the procurement program of the US Navy changed. Eight ships of the Nimitz class were approved through 1988, and two more followed in 1994 and 2001. The construction costs of a carrier rose to $4.3 billion for the USS Ronald Reagan, and the last carrier of this unit, the USS George Bush, has consumed $6.3 billion. The USS Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush are the ninth and tenth ship of the Nimitz class. They differ mainly by a stronger drive and a new generation of “intelligent” catapults when compared to the other carriers of this class. The new catapults don’t accelerate immediately to full thrust, but get increasingly faster. This allows the aircrews and the jets to better cope with the rapid acceleration. I recognized this difference also during my visit to the carriers.

All carriers of the Nimitz class were built in the 670-meter dry dock in Newport News, Virginia. The construction of a carrier starts a few months before keel laying with the setting of the concrete and wooden blocks on which the keel is placed. The construction will take about 4 years, and the carrier’s “slide” into the water at the launching no longer takes place; instead the dry dock is flooded.

The modern carriers are manufactured in a modular design; gantry cranes lift the modules into dry dock where they are welded together. However, it is not possible to build a carrier of the Nimitz class completely in a dry dock. The dock can only be flooded to a depth of only 10 meters, and the channel to the shipyard provides only limited space. The draught of a fully equipped carrier is slightly deeper than this value. The carriers leave the dry dock as early as possible, and are finished elsewhere after leaving the confined area.  The carrier goes to completion during an almost 2-year test drive, then its back in the shipyard to eliminate the  problems found, before the carrier enters into service.

When naming the aircraft carrier class, it began with Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, but the subsequent carriers were named after politicians. Following Navy tradition, ships are always named after deceased persons. With this class, that tradition was broken by four carriers – the Vinson, Stennis, Reagan and Bush.

Basically, all carriers of the Nimitz class have the same construction.  However, due to the long building time from the construction of the first to the construction of the last carrier, there was technical development. From the construction of the Roosevelt forward, enhanced armor of the hull has been introduced and the catapult arm was taken off. Of course, the carriers are always kept up to date with “small” modernizations after acceptance. This approximately 12-month work is carried out in the shipyard. Subsequently, all of the carriers are usually at the same technical level.

The ships of the Nimitz Class are 317 meters long at the waterline, the hull is 40.8 meters wide. Since the flight deck spans over the hull, the carrier measures at its widest point 76.8 meters.  The length overall (i.e. including the flight deck) is 333 meters. The draught is about 12.5 meters fully loaded. With a displacement of more than 97,000 long tons, the units are the largest warships in the world. In the last unit, the George H. W. Bush, many edges along the flight deck are rounded to reduce the radar cross section of the carrier. To reduce water resistance, the latter two carriers (the Ronald Reagan and the Bush) also possess a bulbous bow.

The flight deck is 333 meters long and at its widest point 76 meters wide; the total area covers 18,000 square meters. It is designed with an angled flight deck, with runways along the central axis of the ship over the bow, and another runway which is angled 9 ° 3 ‘ to the left of the longitudinal axis. This allows planes to take off over the bow and land on the angled deck at the same time. Each carrier has four steam-powered catapults, two each for the angled runway and the runway over the bow. The catapults are numbered from starboard from 1 to 4. The catapults are controlled from two Integrated Catapult Control Stations. These ICCSs are recessed into the flight deck in retractable capsules, which were used on the carriers of this class for the first time.

The hangar has a length of 208 meters, is 33 meters wide and is three decks (i.e. 7.6 meters) high. It is a single room, but can be divided by three sliding double doors, which helps, among other things, to reduce the possible spreading of fires. After the hangars, towards the aft of the ship, are workshops and test benches for engines. In front of the hangar, installations include the anchor pills for two 30 ton anchors and their 140-ton, 330-meter-long anchor chains.

A maximum of 50 to 60 aircraft can be accommodated in the hangar, so on a cruise, aircraft must  often be parked on deck. The hangar deck is connected with the flightdeck by four lifts. During good weather, their openings allow daylight into the hangar, but when it is raining or windy, these are closed. The elevators – there are two on the starboard side of the island, another behind it, and one more on the port side – at the height of the astern starboard lift – are made entirely of aluminum to save weight and increase payload.

Currently, there are four squadrons (4 @ VFA’s with 48 jets) of FA-18Cs, -Es and -Fs on board. There is a squadron (1 @ VAQ  with 5 jets) of EA-18G Growlers for electronic warfare, and a squadron (1 @ VAW with 4 turboprops) E-2C/Ds for observation. The 10 helicopters H-60 (1 @ HS) are used for quick transfer of people within the battle group, combat search and rescue and anti-submarine hunting. Each Carrier Wing (CVW) has two C-2A Greyhounds for transport flights from land.

Each carrier is operated by 3200 people who live on board, plus the 2480 men and women of the Air Wing. This includes the aircrews the maintenance personnel. Officers and enlisted men sleep separately, their “dormitories” are several levels below deck. Directly below the flight deck live the flying personnel; the aircraft on the flight deck and operation of the hydraulically driven catapults and arrester cables cause a lot of noise.  However, the members of the Air Wing are already topside,  running operations on deck. The dining halls are on the second deck, up to 20,000 meals are served per day. Typically, 280 kg of hamburger meat and over 2000 eggs are fried per day. Up to 800 bread loaves are baked and approximately 350 kg of vegetables are cooked daily too. In addition, 400 kg of fruit are consumed. Food for up to 90 days can be stored aboard .

After 25 years, the ships are brought to Newport News for their halftime overhaul. The nuclear fuel of the reactors are replaced at that occasion. The whole ship is modernized and technology aboard is brought up to date. At the moment, the CVN-72 Abraham Lincoln is in overhaul until November 2016. The reconstruction and modernization costs approximately $ 2.5 billion. The next carrier in line is the CVN-73 George Washington, which was recently replaced by the USS Ronald Reagan in Japan.

During December 2010, of the ten carriers of the class, six were stationed in the Pacific and three in the Atlantic, while one was in for mid-term overhaul at the shipyard. While all Atlantic units (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman, George H. W. Bush) are based at Virginia’s Naval Station Norfolk, the Pacific ships are dispersed on four bases, the Naval Station Everett Washington, (Abraham Lincoln), the Naval Base San Diego California (Ronald Reagan, Carl Vinson), the Naval Base Kitsap Washington (John C. Stennis), while the Ronald Reagan is stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. At the moment, the Nimitz is in overhaul (for 16 months) and then will relocated from San Diego to Naval Station Everett. For security reasons, the Navy plans to move an Atlantic carrier from the Norfolk Naval Station to Naval Station Mayport, in Florida.

The total cost of operating and supporting a carrier of the Nimitz class, using a dollar’s value in 1997, amounted to nearly 15 billion dollars over the entire service life of the ship. Given the assumed 50-year term of operation of a carrier it costs up to almost $300 million per year. Included are the costs of personnel, the training, fuel, maintenance and modernization costs, but not the cost of mid-life extended Refueling and Complex OverHaul (RCOH) and the nuclear fuel. Including RCOH, construction and disposal, a carrier costs the American taxpayer around $22 billion, or 444 million US dollars per year. It is good to note that costs vary greatly between the stay in the harbor and operations at sea. Crew salary costs are around $250,000 per day in port, while the rate per day at sea is approximately $2.5 million.

The construction of the next generation aircraft carrier (Gerald Ford Class) has begun; the USS Gerald Ford CVN-78 has the latest technology incorporated already. For the first time, no steam – but electromagnetic catapults are used in this carrier-class. The take-off rate is increased and the maintenance and wear is minimized. The dimensions will be similar, but the ship’s bridge is set further back. The keel laying occurred in 2009, and the commissioning is planned for 2019. Two further carriers are currently in the planning stages, the CVN-79  USS John F. Kennedy will go into service in 2022 and the CVN-80 USS Enterprise will replace the USS Nimitz in 2027.

The overview of the carriers of the Nimitz-class:

-USS Nimitz (CVN-68), NAS Kitsap-Bremerton, CVW-11 NH

-USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), NAS Norfolk, CVW-3 AC

-USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), NAS San Diego, CVW-17 NA

-USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71),NAS San Diego, CVW-1 AB

-USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), NAS Norfolk, Not assigned

-USS George Washington (CVN-73), NAS Norfolk, CVW-2 NE

-USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) NAS Kitsap-Bremerton, CVW-9 NG

-USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), NAS Norfolk, CVW-7 AG

-USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), NS Yokosuka, Japan, CVW-5 NF

-USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77), NAS Norfolk, CVW-8 AJ

It’s amazing to see the precision aboard an aircraft carrier during its’ daily routine. Everything is meticulously planned and then implemented with 100 percent accuracy. Amazing to see how jets land at 200 Km/H on the flight deck, and only a few meters away Super Hornets or a Growler takes off for their mission as if it were the most normal thing in the world. This is the daily life on a US aircraft carrier under way.

A big thanks to the PAO in Bahrain, Norfolk and North Iceland.


Peter Boschert

Peter is a photographer covering events in the United States and in Europe. He likes to cover Nellis AFB, NAS Fallon and RAF Lakenheath.

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