Jet Age Carrier

Lieutenant (J.G.) W. J. Aston

The rapid increase in aircraft performance made possible with the jet aircraft engine caused several new requirements to be imposed upon aircraft handling facilities, both ashore and afloat. Heavier aircraft—for the jet engine was an exceedingly thirsty machine, requiring prodigious quantities of fuel if it were to be operated at its most favorable altitudes and airspeeds—with slow acceleration rates required longer runways. Runway lengths ashore grew from five thousand feet to over ten thousand feet in length. Wing geometry and increased weight combined to require approach speeds to rise from 90 knots to over 130 knots. Thus was the aircraft designer confronting the aircraft operator.

What was happening at sea?

The jets had arrived in the fleet in limited numbers. The first jet aircraft to see service aboard ship operated from the Essex and Midway- class carriers. It was soon discovered that the limitations of the old equipment then available on these carriers would prevent the fleet from operating newer aircraft of transonic and supersonic speeds. Aircraft take-off speeds would have to be limited to the maximum catapult end- speeds of the hydraulic catapult. The energy absorption rates of the operational arresting gear would permit only marginal operation of then- existing aircraft and would prevent the operation of heavier, faster aircraft then in design stages. The strength of the flight deck and the lifting capacity of the ship’s elevators would also limit the type of aircraft operated aboard ship.

What could be done to permit operation of this new family of aircraft at sea? A solution had to be found, for without a satisfactory resolution of the problems imposed by the jet aircraft the fleet would soon have been forced to operate only inferior, obsolete planes.

One phase of the solution to these problems involved the extensive modernization of existing carriers, which enabled the service to make excellent use of the many carriers then in commission while awaiting the complete solution to the problem. Such alterations were but a transitional arrangement, however, when seen from the long- range point of view.

This final solution to the difficulties of jet carrier operations was the construction of a new class of aircraft carrier. This had been thought of for several years, but extra-naval considerations prevented the prototype of this new class from being laid down until 1952. Three years later, on October 1, 1955, CVA-59, USS Forrestal, joined the fleet.

This first member of the new attack carrier class has a standard displacement of 59,650 tons, and a rated horsepower of over 200,000. Some 52,500 tons of structural steel and 2,000,000 pounds of weld metal went into her construction. Carrier operating efficiency, however, cannot be judged solely upon displacement or horsepower. The new class has several features new to carrier aviation that make these ships capable of operating all types of aircraft scheduled for fleet use in the discernible future. Of the Forrestal class the Chief of Naval Operations has stated, “These ships will be fully capable of performing their mission through their entire useful life.” The Forrestal class and its successors (and there must be successors) will be the only carriers capable of operating high performance attack aircraft or the Mach 2 fighter aircraft expected to be available in 1966.

The Forrestal’s flight deck, a steel landing area 1,036 feet long and 252 feet wide at its maximum width, has the answer to many “tail-hook” aviators’ dreams: an angled deck which provides not only greater flexibility of flight operations, but, in addition, increases the safety of flight operations. This deck arrangement provides two “runways.” One, the angled deck, furnishes the clear landing runway; the other, the forward axial deck, furnishes a launch runway. From the viewpoint of safety, of particular importance in this era of million-dollar aircraft and highly trained pilots, the new deck arrangement proves itself several times every day of flight operations.

Should a pilot, when making a power-on approach (permitted by the clear deck ahead—no full “cuts” here) fail to engage an arresting wire, he then applies additional thrust, takes off, and makes another approach. On axial deck carriers this failure to engage a wire would have resulted in some form of deck crash into a barrier located forward of the landing area. Although necessary to protect parked planes and personnel, this barrier often was destructive to the landing aircraft and was a psychological threat to the carrier pilots.

The Forrestal has four catapults available for flight operations, twice the number installed in our Essex and Midway classes. All are of the high- capacity steam type required to provide the higher launching speeds of tomorrow’s heavier aircraft. This large number of catapults permits increased launching rates, an important advantage because all jet aircraft require a “cat shot” when they are launched. This was not true of yesterday’s rapidly accelerating, propeller- driven aircraft. The days of the “fly-off” launch have passed astern of today’s attack carrier.

With respect to the arresting gear, this too is stronger and of increased capacity to accommodate heavier aircraft and higher landing speeds. The arresting gear on Forrestal is of the “constant run-out” type. It is designed to spread the deceleration rates of arrested aircraft over a constant length of cable run-out. Rather than an instantaneous high deceleration rate at the moment of engagement, the new gear allows a more gradual deceleration. This characteristic minimizes structural failures of existing airplanes and possibly will permit lighter construction of future carrier aircraft.

Four elevators connect the flight deck with the hangar deck. All are larger and have a greater lifting capacity than do the elevators of other carriers. These elevators are of the deck-edge type, located at the deck edge rather than on the centerline of the flight deck as arc the elevators of the majority of older aircraft carriers. Aircraft can be struck below or sent topside without interfering with either launch or recovery activity. Thus the flight deck handling personnel have fewer traffic problems and their operations are safer than before.

In addition to the foregoing operational features of the Forrestal there is one added attraction of the ship that marks a new approach to warship construction. This is the greater “habitability” of the ship. The ship is a much more comfortable home than have been previous warships. Below decks the ship’s crew has facilities without compare on other naval vessels.

In the crew’s living spaces are seen many changes, some evolutionary, others almost revolutionary in nature. Each Forrestal living space is air conditioned. Bulkhead and overhead colors are soft and restful rather than the somber gray interior of yesterday’s ships. Decks are of special tile, kind to the feet and easy to keep clean. In most living spaces each man’s bunk has an individual fluorescent reading lamp and a separate air conditioning vent which he can regulate. Close by are washrooms, showers, and a lounge furnished with writing tables and comfortable chairs.

Meals are prepared in two separate galleys, one in the forward part of the ship, the other aft. Each has its adjacent messing compartments in which are seen the new colors and furnishings characteristics of the “New Look” in warship accommodations. This new two-galley system eliminates the necessity for carrying food great distances as was the case when widely separated messing spaces were served by one galley. Although mess lines are not completely eliminated, the day of the slow-moving, serpentine mess line is passé for Forrestal sailors.

Other facilities for the crew’s comfort include a dry-cleaning plant, laundry, three barber shops, a cobbler shop, three soda fountains, and four ship’s stores. A far cry from our first aircraft carrier, the converted collier Langley!

The officers and men of the Forrestal are proud of their new ship. They are appreciative of the many innovations they enjoy. They are anxious to operate their ship with such vigor and skill that it will be first in the fleet. So when you meet a Forrestal sailor excuse his cocky air—he’s only basking in the light of the Navy’s newest carrier, the Naval Service’s answer to the challenge and opportunities of the jet age.

Graduated from the Naval Academy in the Class of 1951, Lieutenant Aston is a member of VF-41, the all-weather fighter squadron of Air Task Group 181 which operated from the USS Forrestal this winter during the carrier’s shake-down cruise.


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