It might be surprising when you know that super aircraft carriers are as tall as a 20-story building and as long as 333 meters. It is impressive, alright! But the really amazing thing is how these super carriers, when busy with war, work. Every 25 seconds, one plane can land or take off only from this small area!
In this post, we will learn how Nimitz-class aircraft carriers work.
The idea of air craft carriers is almost as old as the idea of air planes themselves. 10 years after the first airplanes were made, the US, The UK and Germany started to use carriers to transport their airplanes all over the world. Air craft carriers were very important in World War II.
What Are They For?
Today, super aircraft carriers play a big role in almost all major US military operations because having an aircraft carrier is much easier than making an airbase in another country with different rules and limitations. According to international rules, war ships are independent areas in almost all international waters of the world. If the ship does not get too close to a country’s coast, it is in the international waters. When the carrier is there, it is like a small piece of the United States.
The United States now has six carrier groups (an aircraft carrier and six to eight other warships to escort it) that can move as fast as 64 km/h. It means they can get anywhere in the world in just a few weeks.
An aircraft carrier has four main jobs:
- to move different airplanes around the world
- to be a good place for airplanes to land and take off
- to be a moving command center for operations
- to give good and enough space for the people who work on them
For doing these jobs they must be like a ship, air force base and a city all together. They need to have
- A flight deck, a flat area on the top of the ship where aircraft can take off and land
- A hangar deck, an area below deck to keep aircraft when they are not in use
- An island, The building on top of the flight deck where officers and commanders can control flight and ship operations
- Room for the crew to live and work
- A engine(nuclear power plant) to move the boat and to generate electricity for the ship
- Other systems for making food and fresh water and anything else that a city needs, like sewage, trash , mail, special carrier-based radio and television stations and newspapers…
The Big Numbers
The body of the ship is made of very strong steel that is several inches thick. In lower parts of the ship there are two layers of this steel for more protection against accidents and enemy’s submarines. Here are some more impressive numbers about a super aircraft carrier
- Total height 74 meters, as high as a 24 floor building.
- Weight, when Fully loaded , 88,000 tons)
- Total area of flight deck – 4.5 acres
- Length of flight deck 333 meters
- Width of flight deck (at the widest point) 78 meters
- Weight of each anchor 27 tons
- Weight of each link in the anchor chains 160 kg
- Weight of each propeller 30,000 kg
- Storage capacity for jet fuel for airplanes 12.5 million liters
- Number of telephones 2,500+
An air craft flight area (deck) is one of the most dangerous work places in the word (and of course the loudest). One small mistake and an airplane’s jet engine can suck someone in or throw them off into the ocean. But their jobs is nothing when we think about the pilots’ job because the runway is very short and pilots need to be very careful and skillful to take off from. Of course some machines help them but again it is an extremely difficult job.
There are three things that help a pilot to get the 24+ ton airplane off the ship.
First and easiest thing to do is to move the carrier fast against the direction of the wind to help the airplanes get more and more wind over their wings for takeoff.
Well, number one is important but the main help comes from the catapults that give the plane high speed in a very short time. Here how taking off works:
After the ship is in the right direction with the right speed, the catapults are attached to the front wheels and at the same time the jet blast deflectors are raised. When everything is in position and final check are made, the pilot give the engines full power and the shooter ( catapult officer) gets the catapults ready to go … The engine’s power, the catapult pushing, and the wind from the sea all help the jet take off from the ship ….
Most of the time everything goes well and the plane takes off easily but because there is always the possibility of problems while taking off , the pilot should always be ready to activate the eject seat before the plane falls in to the water in front of the ship.
Taking off is extremely hard but it is easy compared to landing. “Landing on a carrier” has the label of “the most difficult”. The flight deck is only 150 meter long which is not enough for landing a heavy high speed jet that is sometimes loaded with bombs and rockets .For landing, each plane needs a tailhook which is hook that is attached to the plane’s tail. When the pilot is landing, he or she needs to catch one of the four arresting wires with the tail hook. The arresting wire and a hydraulic system help the plane stop quickly. These wires can stop a 24000 kg airplane with the speed of 241 km/h in only two seconds.
It is Interesting that as soon as the plane hits the deck, the pilot will push the engines to full power! Yes, you think why? But what if the tailhook does not catch any arresting wire? The pilot needs enough speed and power to take off again and try another landing.
A typical carrier can has enough room for 80 to 100 airplanes but not all of them are up on the deck. Most of the aircraft are in the hanger which is actually the ship’s garage. There are 60 airplanes and extra jet engines as well as 12 million liters of jet fuel. When the jets are needed, there are four giant high speed elevators that can take 8 airplanes to the deck at the same time.
Life on an Aircraft Carrier
With about 5000 to 6000 people working on the ship, it can be called a city at sea. Not only are they working but also they are relaxing, eating and sleeping. But again it is not like any city on dry land. For example, most residents have little time and opportunity to see the outside world. Of course, the top levels of the main building of the ship (the island) may have good views, but these places are so busy and sometimes dangerous that only a few people are allowed to get to those parts. Sometimes some personnel work at lower levels of the ship for weeks without ever seeing the sun. Everybody on the ship must get used to small tight areas of living. Small bathrooms, small beds, small lockers, corridors, etc.
Out of about 6000 people working on the ship, only 2500 are real aviators and commanders that are directly related to flying airplanes. Another 3000 people are doing other jobs like any in other city. The jobs are different from washing the runway to keeping the nuclear reactors that give the power to the turbines.
The ship has everything that normal people need to live like kitchens that Can prepare 18000 meals a day, laundry, dentist’s and doctor’s offices, stores and telephones for the personnel to talk to their friends and families.
Life on an aircraft carrier is sure difficult and tiring, but it can also be exciting, especially for the men and women that are up on the flight deck, flying and landing planes on a tiny area of runway. Good or bad, it’s like not like any other place on earth.