This one came over the mil-email transom…

Odd little ‘facts’…

-Nimitz class aircraft carriers get refuelled approximately every 20-25 years. Since the lifespan of an aircraft carrier is about 50 years, that means they only get refuelled once. (This is the nuclear fuel for the reactors – the ship gets jet fuel every few days.)

-Almost all of the food has to be manually carried down to the mess and storage decks. This is a constant painstaking feat considering you’re feeding almost 6000 people, and you’re dealing with anywhere from about 4-8 stories worth of stairs, which can take as much as 10 hours in one resupply.

-All USN Aircraft Carriers are powered by steam from the nuclear plants.

-Machinery and non-airwing personnel can go longer than many submariners without seeing the sun. Many go 90-120+ days straight.

-The screws (propellers) installed on the USS Dwight D Eisenhower weight 366,200lbs (166,105kg) each and there are four of them.

-The Screws are each 25 feet tall.

-In even remotely rough seas, the showers alternate between hot and cold with the rocking of the ship. This is hilarious if you’re just using the bathroom, it’s horrible if you’re the one taking the shower.

-The total anchor weight including 1,082 feet of chain for one (of two anchors) is 735,000 lbs. (333,390kg).

-The machinery spaces are so far below the flight and hanger decks, there are emergency crews trained in mountain rescue, called deep rescue crews. They’re trained to rescue personnel out of the escape shafts which are roughly 80ft tall.

-The total number of crew members including the deployed air wing is over 6,000 personnel.

-Nimitz and later class nuclear carriers have 2 dump-truck size nuclear reactors for power. The one Enterprise class carrier has basically 8 submarine-size nuclear reactors powering it. That may seem trivial, but 8 nuclear reactors on a floating ship, each with essentially independent systems for control and safety, is nothing short of insanity.

-The height of the keel to the mast is the equivalent to a 24-story building.

-The Flight Deck is 4.5 acres.

-Steam piping in the machinery spaces is so hot, it will kill nerve cells before someone realises they touched the wrong thing.

-You can water ski behind an aircraft carrier going full speed, not that it’s safe.

-Aircraft carriers don’t have sonar – the carriers are too noisy for it to be effective. (In truth, they do have sonar depth finders, but those point straight down and are only used when you’re fairly close to shore.)

-Additionally, there’s very little shielding from radiation on the underside of a carrier since it’s usually facing the entire ocean, so a person must be certified and wear a radiation monitoring device to be under the ship in dry dock.

-The USS Midway (obviously a retired carrier) has about 5,000 miles (8046 kilometres) of wiring. A modern carrier, despite having much more electronic equipment, has only about half as much wiring because much of the data is now transported by fibreoptics.

-When the engines are engaged, the shafts rotate/twist more than an entire revolution before the propeller/screw actually moves.

-Nuclear operators on carriers, and submarines and formerly cruisers for that matter, receive much less radiation than normal citizens. You get more radiation commuting to work than the people running nuclear reactors. (Chernobyl, 3 mile island, Fukushima, SL1, and some others notwithstanding)

-Many of the dining tables in the enlisted mess can be converted to hospital beds and even surgical tables in the event of mass casualties.

-Thanks to a sophisticated network of supply ships, fresh milk and soft-serve ice cream is almost always available.

-When resupplying the ship, they actually use a gun with a rope attached to it, to initially retrieve the cables from the supply ships. Just picture cruising at 20 knots with a sailor literally shooting a gun at a supply ship from the hanger deck.

-There are small ramps around the edge of the flight deck, each about 18 inches wide or so, that lead out over the water. These are “bomb chutes,” and provide a way to quickly get bombs and other aircraft weapons over the side and away from the ship in case there’s a fire.

-Any time weapons are brought up from or taken down to the magazines, it always requires two elevators to accomplish. They’re taken about half the way, at which point they have to switch elevators since none of them go the whole distance. This is to eliminate one potential path of escape for any fire or explosion that might break out. It’s not at all uncommon to be eating a meal on the mess decks, with a cart full of bombs or missiles sitting a few feet away as they’re waiting to complete their journey up or down.

-Procedures have been developed and are sometimes practiced that allows for the launching and recovery of aircraft without the use of radios – no speaking whatsoever. It’s called “zip lip.” This is done when the ship is in EMCON condition, or “emissions control,” when radio-based equipment like radar and radios aren’t used in an effort to remain “silent” to enemies that might use the signals to detect the ship.

-There has never been a nuclear accident or uncontrolled release of radioactivity in the history of Naval Nuclear power, including submarines.

-The stern area of the ship at the hangar deck level is home to what’s called the “jet shop.” This is where in-depth repairs are made to jet engines that have been removed from airplanes. That area has jet fuel plumbing so that the engines can be tested at high power while attached (strongly) to the ship.

-It takes more than 2000 people to spell out “Ready Now” or a similarly large phrase on the flight deck.

-Every carrier landing is recorded on video, and each pilot is graded on how well they did. The best you can do is an OK-3wire, which means both the plane and pilot can be used again.

-During daytime and in good weather, during an aircraft recover (landing) cycle, the goal is to have an airplane land every 45 seconds. That means each one should land, come to a stop, get free of the cable it caught and taxi out of the way in 45 seconds or less.

-A deployment is referred to as a cruise by recruiters.

-The actual speeds for a carrier are classified.


Carriers… — 34 Comments

  1. Yep, the size and population of a city. I’ll stick to my Tin Can. The size and population is more like a neighborhood.

  2. A few years ago, I read that the line-throwing gun/rifle used a .45-70 blank cartridge. Anybody confirm or refute?

    • Last I heard of that was a DTIC paper on use of black powder in the military, circa 1990s. They listed .45-70 blanks (with black powder) for line-throwing equipment.

      The military uses a fair amount of black powder, often in some unlikely places… among other things, it’s more stable than most smokeless powders in extremes of temperature, has an indefinite shelf life, and is easily ignited.

    • The 45-70 line throwing gun was used up until the mid 80’s, then the M-14 was adapted.
      I don’t know when the 45-70 was accepted, thinking around WW-2 plus or minus a few years (maybe).
      Occasionally one of the H&R line throwing guns come up for sale, but you have to check that the bbl length is 16 inches or you will have to wait for the short barrel tax stamp to come.

  3. The Navy switched over to an attachment on the m-14 to make it into a line throwing gun using grenade ctgs. The same attachment can be used on the m-16,

  4. I used to live in Jacksonville, FL. When a carrier group would arrive, the demand for temporary housing skyrocketed, bars anywhere close to the base were packed, and venues featuring adult entertainment were standing room only.

    When a carrier group departed, the economy took a nose dive. Believe me, everyone was sorry to see the sailors leave.

  5. I’ve heard it said that carrier ops (keeping them operating and combat ready at sea) are the most complicated military operations in warfare. And that’s why very few nations do it and only the U.S. does it with multiple carrier groups. The payoff comes when that huge can of whoop-ass comes over the horizon to remind a tinhorn dictator of his place in the world!
    My hat is off to all of the people who work to make that possible.

  6. Worked with a man who was a deck officer, as he called it, on the Enterprise. He had some interesting stories. One involved a near shoreline tsunami when they entered a harbor. Since water doesn’t compress and those carriers are such large displacements, that water goes someplace.

    A case can be made that an aircraft carrier is the most complex machine ever made by man.

  7. The crew and passengers (air wing) on a carrier *may* go without sun longer than submariners but they can go up to fresh air and sunlight if they desire plus they get fresh food and regular mail service…

    I spent 4 years on a fast attack but you couldn’t get me on an active flight deck..

  8. All- Thanks for the comments, and I do believe they’ve switched over to the M-16s with grenade launcher for line throwing. Most of the M-14s have been ‘recalled’ to be updated into designated marksman rifles for the Marines (being done by the small arms group at Crane).

    Posted from my iPhone.

  9. Many of the little things you mentioned were learned at great price to life, such as the bomb-chutes and double elevator for munitions.

    I got to talk to a tech who was on Enterprise on her builder’s trials. Full-full speed was… very fast, too fast for some fitting on the ship, and then the Captain ordered a turn. Everyone went flying (picture bad Star Trek effect here.) Of course, no actual official statement as to speed has been made. Though small observation planes had to be held down on deck less they flew by themselves, without power.

    Even our non-carrier carriers are more complex than most other nation’s carrier-carriers. The Navy remembers the lessons of WWII very well. Which they seem to have forgotten somewhat with the Ford class (all catapults working off of one buggy master control system, no backups, no redundencies. As if Microsoft designed it.)

  10. I trained on the Enterprise prototype, and rumor had it the longest propeller shaft had 1 and a half turns between the bull gear and the propeller at flank turns.

    The only reason the big E has 8 reactors is Rickover hadn’t figured out how to build bigger units plus the catapults demand a LOT of steam. It takes a pair of her reactors to operate one of the four propulsion turbines, plus provide electrical power and fresh water to the ship.

  11. Wow. I know a lot of these juicy tid-bits, but this stuns me: “the shafts rotate/twist”. To think of a huge metal shaft being that flexible boggles the mind! Thanks for sharing…

    Don’t know how true it is, but I think I remember reading that only the US Navy had replenishing while underway down pat during WW2 and for a long time after the war.

  12. Public numbers for Enterprise are 70,000 HP on each shaft and ship propellers can’t spin very fast. An an example 70kHP at 150rpm = 2.45 million ft-lbs of torque. Now put that on a ~600 ft shaft and even steel will flex..

  13. There has never been a nuclear accident or uncontrolled release of radioactivity in the history of Naval Nuclear power, including submarines.

    Evidently, your poorly informed e-mail correspondent was completely unaware of both the propulsion systems or fate of USS Thresher, circa 1963, or USS Scorpion, vintage 1968, let alone the casualties at SL-1 in 1961.

    So in the pre-Common Core math class I took, that would be one nuclear accident and three accidental releases of nuclear materials, but feel free to check my math on that.

    “Bonehead” is spelled with two “e”s, if anyone is interested.

    Just saying, and taking nothing per se away from carriers themselves, nor even the Navy. But facts are stubborn things, and “never” is a binary truth set.
    It either is so, or it isn’t, and unlike Roger Maris, you don’t get by just throwing an asterisk up and vigorous hand-waving.

    • Thresher and Scorpion sank for other reasons, loss of propulsion isn’t a ‘nuclear accident’. Public reports are that repeated samples in the area of both wrecks does NOT show any excess radioactivity, the fuel rods are not degrading.

      The SL-1 was an Army project, and that is the *only* release accident we have had.

      Rick T, NEC 3356 (MM-ELT) 75-81, Trained at A1W in Idaho and we were trained on SL-1.

      • Dear Rick T,

        I never suggested reactor problems were the cause of either sub catatstrophe, as I’m convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Scorpion was deliberately lured and ambushed by the Soviets and sunk via air-dropped torpedo in mistaken retaliation for the loss of their own K-19. That it could be dealt with so is another tally of dead sailors laid at the feet of the Walker spy ring and the Norks who seized the equipment and materials abourd Pueblo. Nonetheless, nuclear-powered boats reaching crush depth is definitely an “unplanned release of radioactivity”, which absolutely sabotages the italicized and therefore disproven quote in question, and the people telling you there’s no radiation leaking there are the same ones who told you Clinton was a shoe in for the White House in 2016, and that NV gunboats had positively, absolutely attacked the Maddox and Turner Joy in the Gulf of Tonkin the night of August 4, 1965. If you need more examples, I can’t help you.

        And the casualty list for SL-1, your so-called “Army” project, included the shift supervisor, Richard C. Legg, Construction Electrician 1st Class, pinned to the ceiling by the reactor shield plug passing from his groin to his shoulder, while standing on top of the containment shield, where trauma probably killed him before the massive dose of radiation would have had the chance to do so as well, just like the KIA Army reactor operator and trainee he was supervising.

        When last I looked, Seabees were naval personnel, both now and in 1961, at the time of the incident, and I’m moderately certain that “shift supervisor” of a three-man operation indicates a pretty definite responsibility for what’s going on with a nuclear reactor, but feel free to correct me on either of those points if I misunderstand how that works.

        Less gullibility and propagandizing, and wee bit more more internet depth and perspective, if you please.
        Google is definitely a thing.

        If someone is butthurt by pointing out that Navy reactor operations have a 1000-3 lifetime W-L record, I suggest an appropriate salve to the afflicted region.

        One cannot handwave and gainsay naked facts, try though they might.

  14. Thanks.

    I’ve been looking for some ideas for how the oversized hypercarriers in Girls und Panzer might work. Or, I think they are massively scaled up, I don’t have a good feel for that.

  15. Think of a 3D Tetris game 1000’x140’x100′, compartment after compartment and dead end passages everywhere.

    One sea story from an Enterprise sailor had an electrician tracing a power cable into a bulkhead but he could never find the other side. After many searches and head scratching the hull techs were called and they cut a hatch (carefully) into the bulkhead. On the other side was a completely equipped machine shop (lathes, milling machines, etc.) all still in cosmoline from when the ship was built. Somebody read a plan wrong and welded over the only hatch into the compartment….

  16. “-All USN Aircraft Carriers are powered by steam from the nuclear plants.”

    Which explains why they cost so much, are always needing to be repaired and require such large crews. The Navy is still in the 1800’s.

    • There are only two Prime Movers for ships this large: giant Diesels or Nuclear Power, and diesels can’t push a ship as fast as a carrier needs to go. Gas turbines aren’t big enough and are too thirsty at high power levels.

      Crews are large because ship’s force does most (if not all) of their own maintenance and repairs plus having enough hands to do fire fighting/damage control AND fight the ship at the same time. Same thing for the Air wing. Lots of hands are needed to keep the planes ready to fly.

      You can get by with 20 people and a large slow engine if you are pushing 1000’s of containers from Port A to Port B.

      Crews are only as large as they have to be, this isn’t an Army post or Air Force resortbase where there is space for slackers and featherbedders. 🙂

      • “Lots of hands are needed to keep the planes ready to fly.”

        IIRC, one of the primary reasons they scrapped the F-14 Tomcat was it required 50 man-hours of maintenance for every hour in the air.
        I think as it aged, it took much longer to do what was needed than it did in its’ early years.

  17. On my first ship (CV 67), my rack was about 3 feet from a weapons elevator. On my second ship (CV 59), I was near the bow, under the cats. You soon learn to sleep through a lot of things.

    • On Forrestal, M Division had to move from aft of the after mess decks serving line, to a larger compartment that was just below the after mess decks. I finished my time on her living under the scullery and as you said, you can sleep through a lot of things.
      I was on her mid ’74 to mid ’76.

  18. I toured the USS Midway, from flight deck down to the opened engine spaces. Heartily agree with mountain rescue techniques to get personnel or casualties up escape shafts or up ladders and companionways. Hard to work in those spaces. The ordnance and the equipment elevators can give you severe vertigo. They had a thick plexiglass barrier over the lift for jet engines and other major parts, which was like looking down a tall building atrium.

    The long-retired Chief giving info in the engineering spaces was very proud of the spotless shaft gears and the concealed engineer’s hull art. I also had the impression that if given some lead time, they’d take their grey lady back out to the big dance. Lots of spirit left in her and her former crew. Bless ’em all.

  19. I helped set up telemetry equipment on the first F-35 carrier trial. Was in dock for most of a week with several equipment modules in the hangar deck. When I got there, most of the hangar deck (all three sections) were full of equipment and food. Only a few days later, it was all stowed below decks and the hangar bays were empty other than my equipment. Was amazing, a bee hive of activity. Most fascinating was the elevator system to move boxes of food below decks.
    Winching a overweight box van and a expandable conex onto the elevator and then driven into the hangar was pretty neat, and seeing the engine run pads on the fantail. Otherwise, going through the halls and stairs was a 3-D Tetris game.