For most of its existence, the aircraft carrier has been the centerpiece of the U.S. Navy. Forward-thinking visionaries predicted as much during the 1930s, but the Coral Sea campaign in May 1942 and the resounding victory at Midway a month later forever cemented the flattop’s prominent place in America’s battle fleet.
During its 90 years in the Navy, the aircraft carrier has come a long way, from the modest beginnings of the USS Langley (CV-1) in 1922 through the Essex-class workhorses of World War II and Korea, on to the nuclear-powered supercarriers of the Nimitz class that sail the world’s oceans today. That brief listing shows how the ship type evolved significantly over the decades. But although several Nimitz-class carriers have joined the Fleet in the past 15 years and will continue to serve until the middle of the century, the design itself originated in the 1960s. Now it’s time for the next generation—the Gerald R. Ford class.