Aircraft carrier

HomePage | Recent changes | View source | Discuss this page | Page history | Log in |

Printable version | Privacy policy

An aircraft carrier is a military ship whose main function is to deploy and recover aircraft. This allows a nation to project power great distances without having to depend on local bases for land-based aircraft. Aircraft carriers are generally the largest ships operated by navies; a Nimitz class carrier powered by 2 nuclear reactors and 4 steam turbines is over 1,000 feet long and costs about $4.5 billion. Only a few countries maintain aircraft carriers, including France, India, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom and the USA. China appears to be actively interested in acquiring a carrier.

Aircraft carriers have two basic configurations. The most common has a flat top deck that serves as a take off and landing area for airplanes. A steam-powered catapult accelerates an aircraft under full throttle, from 0 to 165 mph in 2 seconds during take-off to help it reach take-off speed. To land on the carrier, incoming airplanes moving at 150 mph are equipped with tailhooks to engage one of up to four arresting cables stretched across the deck, stopping the aircraft within 320 feet after engaging a cable.

The second configuration, most commonly used by the Royal Navy, has a 'ski-jump' at one end of the flat deck, that helps launch the aircraft. This arrangement is designed for use with VTOL or STOVL aircraft that are able to take-off and land with little or no forward movement. These aircraft do not require catapult facilities or arrestor cables to be deployed across the flight deck.

In either case the ship steams at up to 30 knots straight into the wind during take-off and landing operations in order to increase the apparent wind speed, thereby reducing the ground speed the plane needs to achieve.

Aircraft carriers are generally accompanied by a number of other ships, to provide protection for the relatively unwieldy carrier, to carry supplies, and to provide additional offensive capabilities. This is often termed a battle group or carrier group.

Eugene Ely piloted the first airplane to land on and launch from a ship in November 1910. He took off from the US Cruiser USS Birmingham at Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The first strike from a carrier against a land target took place on July 19, 1918. Seven Sopwith Camels launched from HMS Furious attacked the German Zeppelin base at Tondern. Several airships and balloons were destroyed.

The first ship to have a full length flat deck was HMS Argus the conversion of which was completed in September 1918. The first ship to be designed specifically as an aircraft carrier was the second HMS Hermes which was commissioned in July 1923.

Individual aircraft carriers:

See also: Escort aircraft carrier; amphibious assault ship

External links:

  • Haze Gray & Underway, World Aircraft Carrier Lists:
      • The World Aircraft Carriers Lists are comprehensive and detailed listings (and photo gallery) of all the world's aircraft carriers and seaplane tenders from 1913-2001.