While the Ford class is coming soon, for now the Nimitz class is the best aircraft carrier on Earth. Here’s why: On August 28, the USS George H. W. Busha Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, return with the USS Harry Truman, taking on responsibilities with the US 6th Fleet in Europe. During this deployment, the carrier, with its surface combatants and carrier-based air wing, will serve as a tangible reminder of American naval power; acting as a deterrent to would-be aggressors and serving as a symbol of support for his allies. This is a role that aircraft carriers have fulfilled since World War II.
Today’s carriers, however, bear little resemblance to those that fought in the Coral Sea and Midway. Close to four times displacement and several hundred feet long, the modern nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is a technological marvel with capabilities far beyond those of its predecessors.
Meet the Nimitz class
At 1,092 feet long and with a beam of 292 feet, the Nimitz-class are real juggernauts, boasting a massive cockpit above six acres in the zone.
First developed in the 1960s, it is currently the backbone of the Navy’s naval air forces, making up 10 of 11 mandated carriersthe 11 being the brand new Gerald Fordfirst in its class.
The Nimitz was designed with increased protection and better defensive armaments to replace aging Falcon kitten class and USS Companythe latter being the first nuclear-powered carrier in the fleet.
Nuclear power proved to be a huge advantage, allowing the carrier to stay at sea for months without having to refuel and generating power for propulsion as well as electricity.
Using the lessons learned from the development of the Company as well as an increase in general knowledge, the designers of Nimitz were able to reduce the nuclear reactors of the eight used by the Company only up to two. This freed up a substantial amount of space for fuel and stores while reducing weight. The two A4W engines drive four propeller shafts with a maximum output of 260,000 horsepower.
This massive amount of power propels the carrier through the water at over 30 knots (35 mph); actual top speed is classified. This is incredible considering the size of these warships.
Nimitz class: designed for war
Under normal circumstances, aircraft taking off from land runways have long runways with plenty of room to build up the speed required for flight. While 1,092 is long enough for a ship, it is not the required length for a fully loaded F/A-18 weighing 66,000 pounds. The transporter circumvents the need for a long runway with a steam catapult. In a steam catapult, the reactors heat water into high-pressure steam. Once the pressure has reached a sufficient amount, it is released, driving a shuttle along a track in the deck. The plane is hooked to this shuttle, accelerating to launch speeds in two to four seconds.
Catapult velocity alone, however, is not sufficient to launch an aircraft; this is where the carrier’s high speed comes into play. Cruising at over 30 knots, the carrier can generate a relative headwind along its flight deck, even if the winds are calm. This headwind, coupled with the steam catapult, provides enough lift over the wings to launch heavy aircraft from a short cockpit.
The steam catapult represents half of the CATOBAR system employed by Nimitz-aircraft carrier, the other half being the arresting device used to recover or “trap” landing aircraft. During recovery, the aircraft deploys a hook to catch a tight wire on the carrier’s deck. When the hook engages the wire, the steam pressure from the reactor dampens the force of the plane pulling the wire. Coupled with an angled flight deck and unique lights to help the pilot stay on the proper glide path to the wires, carrier landings became much more reliable.
What makes the Nimitz class special
For decades, the Nimitz-class carriers were the only carrier in the United States Navy. In 2017, however, the USS Gerald R. Ford was ordered as the first in a new class of carriers. Based on Bushwhich has had many upgrades over the Nimitzthe Ford is the next generation of American carrier. With improved electronics and radar systems, updated design and new technologies such as the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), the Ford is ready to meet the challenges of the coming decades as it represents the Navy and America at sea.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst at the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has lines in numerous publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel.