Just one week after the Japanese surrendered, ending World War II, the Navy commissioned the first of the 45,000 ton class aircraft carriers, the USS Midway (CVB 41).  The Midway was the largest carrier of the day and promised a bright future for naval aviation. She saw action in the Korean War, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. The Midway was decommissioned in 1991.(4)

Further developments in carrier aviation continued through the 1940s. On July 21, 1946, Cmdr. James Davidson, piloting a McDonnell FD-1 Phantom, made successful landing and take-offs on board USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB 42), in the first U.S. test of the adaptability of jet aircraft to shipboard operations(4).

In June 1947, the Chief of Naval Operations approved "Project 27A." The project called for the modernization of nine Essex-class carriers so that they would be able to handle aircraft to 40,000 pounds, accommodating the burden of heavier armaments on more advanced combat aircraft. The modernization also included strengthening the flight deck and clearing it of guns, increasing elevator capacity and adding special provisions for jet aircraft such as blast deflectors.

The USS Oriskany (CV 34) was the first carrier modernized under this project and began conversion in 1947(4).

In May 1948, The Navy's first carrier qualified jet squadron, VF 17-A, equipped with 16 FH-1 Phantoms, was certified during three days of operations aboard USS Saipan (CVL 48)(4).

"In 1950 a British Royal Navy volunteer devised and entirely revolutionary method for creating the power necessary to propel the massive jets and planes from the decks of contemporary aircraft carriers. This new design, the steam catapult, was quickly tested and adopted by the U.S. in 1954 for use aboard Navy carriers. The steam catapult, coupled with the Royal Navy concept of an angled flight deck, spawned the forerunners of the modern super carrier"(6).

The Forrestal-class carriers joined the fleet in October 1955, with the commissioning of the USS Forrestal (CV-59). These carriers weighed in at an astonishing 79,000 tons, were 1,047 feet long and carried over 60 planes. Other ships of the class were the USS Saratoga (CV-60), USS Ranger (CV-61) and USS Independence (CV-62). These behemoths plowed the oceans, pushed by four steam turbine driven propellers, powered by eight 1200-psi boilers. The Independence is the only active carrier of the class and is the only U.S. carrier "forward deployed" in her homeport of Yokosuka, Japan. The "Indy" is scheduled to be decommissioned in fall 1998(5).

When the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) was commissioned in April 1961, the Navy admitted its first super carrier to the fleet. The three Kitty Hawk-class carriers, including USS Constellation (CV-64) and USS America (CV-66), displaced 81,000 tons and could launch 80 aircraft from their 1,063-foot flight deck.

The America has been decommissioned and the Kitty Hawk is replacing the Independence in Yokosuka. The Constellation is homeported in San Diego, Calif(6).

November 1961 saw the birth of the nuclear super carrier. The USS Enterprise (CVN-65) is the world's largest warship. She displaces nearly 90,000 tons and stood bow-to-stern, the 1,123-foot flight deck is only 100 feet shy of the top floor of the Empire State Building.

The Enterprise's four nuclear reactors allow her to steam for years without refueling, making her almost totally self-sufficient.

The Enterprise is like no other carrier before or since. Aside from her size and configuration, four reactors as opposed to two, the tell-tale boxed superstructure is her "beauty mark" setting her apart from all other super carriers.

Budget cuts forced the Navy to abandon plans for another nuclear carrier. As a result, the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), commissioned on September 7, 1968, was outfitted with eight, two-story boilers to power its four main propulsion plants. The Kennedy, the only ship in the class, displaces 82,000 tons and is 1,052 feet long. Stationed in Mayport, Fla., the Kennedy was on station in the Persian Gulf through Operation Desert Shield and has made numerous deployments to the Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The first modern super carriers joined the fleet on May 3, 1975, with the commissioning of the USS Nimitz (CVN-68). The eight, 97,000-ton Nimitz-class carriers - USS Nimitz, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), USS Carl Vinson (CV-70), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CV-71), USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), USS George Washington (CVN-73), USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and USS Harry Truman (CVN-75) -- are a pivotal part of the United States' maritime defense.

Their twin nuclear reactors give them the freedom of mobility to deploy almost anywhere in the world and the 1,092-foot flight deck rivals the busiest commercial airports, launching and recovering up to 90 aircraft on hundreds of flights each day.

The USS Harry Truman is under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia and is scheduled to be commissioned in July 1998.

These "cities at sea" have crews of nearly 6,000 highly trained men and women who provide services from combat support to cutting hair; and everything in between. The Nimitz-class carriers: serve more than 18,000 meals per day; have more than 900 miles of cable and wiring produce 400,000 gallons of fresh water daily -- enough for 2,000 homes - have nearly 30,000 light fixtures; have 14,000 pillowcases and 28,000 sheets; stock 140,000 rolls of toilet paper; have 2,000 telephones; and use 600,000 ball-point pens and 1.5 million sheets of paper.

In rapid response situations, these ships can act as a flexible arm of U.S. foreign policy, providing presence, influence and strike capabilities around the world.

During Operation Desert Storm, the Navy deployed six Nimitz-class carriers to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. These carriers accounted for nearly 3000 sorties per day over Iraq. U.S. naval air power was an integral part of the liberation of Kuwait and the defeat of the Iraqi military machine.

All the Nimitz-class carriers are in commission, steaming all over the world, with 50-year life expectancies.