When a super carrier puts to sea, among the 6,000 crewmembers are those attached to the air wing. The air wing consists of up to nine squadrons and as many as 90 aircraft.

The carrier's first line of defense is the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. Introduced to the fleet in the mid-1970s, the Tomcat is the most sophisticated air defense fighter in the world.

Its state of the art suite of electronics, avionics and weaponry allow it to track as many as 24 targets and the Phoenix AIM 54-A missiles can dispose of those targets at a range of 100 nautical miles.

The F-14 is a two-place aircraft accommodating a pilot and Radar Intercept Officer or RIO. The variable swept wing geometry of the fighter allows it to gracefully double the speed of sound.

The McDonnell Douglas F/A 18 Hornet is the Navy's all-purpose, all-weather strike aircraft. The Hornet was designed to carry out traditional strike functions while maintaining characteristics of a fighter.

During the Gulf War, the Hornets proved their worth. In one incident, a flight of hornets went into fighter mode, shot down Iraqi fighters, and continued on to successfully complete their bombing mission. Other Gulf War Hornets also took direct hits from surface to air missiles and recovered safely to fly again.

The Grumman EA6-B Prowler is the air wing's electronic countermeasures platform. Derived from the proven airframe of the Vietnam Era A-6 Intruder, the Prowler flies in ahead of the strike force and jams enemy radar, data links and communications.

 
 

The E2-C Hawkeye is the Navy's airborne command and control platform. Hawkeyes provide all-weather tactical information, surface surveillance strike and interception control, search and rescue coordination, and communications relays. The E2 plays an integral part in achieving total air superiority for the battle group.

The Lockheed S-3 Vikingcan be used to detect and attack enemy submarines or act as an armed scout for surface contacts. The S-3 carries some of the world's most sophisticated anti-submarine warfare tools and can also be easily modified for tanking and mining.

The Lockheed ES-3 Shadow is a variation on the Viking. The shadows primary role, however is all-weather, long-range reconnaissance and surveillance. The Shadows hit the fleet in 1991and with its $92 million price tag, it's the air wing's most expensive aircraft. Carrier battle groups usually deploy with two Shadows embarked in the air wing.

The Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragon is the Navy's workhorse helicopter. Derived from the CH-53 Super Stallion, the Sea Dragon can operate from a variety of warships and is primarily used for airborne mine countermeasures and general shipboard delivery.

The Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk is the Navy's anti submarine helicopters. It can carry sonobouys and torpedoes, and can operate from almost all the Navy's warships. Seahawks can also be outfitted for search and rescue, drug interdiction, anti-surface warfare, cargo delivery and special operations missions.

The C-2A Greyhound is a powerful logistics support aircraft, whose primary mission is carrier on-board delivery. The payload capacity of 10,000 pounds allows the Greyhound to carry cargo, personnel or both. The Greyhounds are outfitted so they can also be used in medical evacuation roles.