If a person has a chance to go aboard an aircraft carrier, he or she pretty much has to go. For a long time “aircraft carrier” was a byword for enormous. Both in size and in military impact.
The seagoing aircraft carrier retains its ability to project power but it has lost its monopoly on enormity, giving way to bigger tankers and container ships and, often (gasp!), cruise ships.
Still, a weekend afternoon in San Diego … yes, please, I would like to tour the USS Midway docked right there in the southern California city.
So even if 40 cruise ships currently afloat are longer than the longest aircraft carrier (and they are), the latter is still a big deal because of its ability to win a war just about anywhere by arriving off the coast and loosing the jets.
Have to respect that, and a chance to see what an aircraft carrier looks like and feels like … needs to be done.
Some thoughts on the USS Midway Museum:
–Getting all those aircraft aboard a ship is fairly amazing. No fewer than 100 aircraft were carried by the Midway in the 1950s. Most were parked below the deck and moved up via an enormous elevator, and another dozen or two were parked on the deck, pretty much ready to go get busy.
–As big as a carrier is, that aircraft could gather enough momentum in a few hundred yards (even after being boosted by a catapult) is impressive. Also, the aircraft are not small, and the idea that you can fly them off the deck … and then recover them, often in heaving seas, as they land back on deck … wild stuff.
–The Midway was named after a battle of the same name, fought in 1942 and generally considered the turning point in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Three U.S. carriers sank four Japanese carriers, with one U.S. carrier lost, and from that moment forward it was nearly inevitable the Allies were going to break down Imperial Japan.
–The Midway was commissioned in 1945, eight days after the end of World War II. It missed the Big One, but was part of the U.S. Navy until 1992. That is, it was in service right through the Cold War.
–The deck of the Midway is a sort of floating museum of naval aircraft, including an F-14 Tomcat (the Tom Cruise jet in “Top Gun”), an F-4 Phantom and a Huey Gunship. Visitors can climb into some of these. (That’s me, at the top of this post, giving a thumbs up in one of the jets.)
–Also on the hangar deck … some flight simulators that demonstrate the stomach churning reality of flying a fighter or bomber. Kids seem to love this one. It costs a bit extra, but the lines indicated its popularity.
–What goes on below the hangar deck also is compelling. That is where most of the crew of 4,500-plus lived and worked, and the tour takes a person through the various key points in what was a floating city — mess halls, as well as the laundry, sick bay, a post office … room after cramped room.
–The Midway’s 12 boilers and four turbines generated 212,000 horsepower. That’s a lot of horses. The ship’s top speed when it was launched was 33 knots — which was pretty fast, in 1945.
–An informative movie on the Battle of Midway is shown twice an hour at the bow end of the hangar deck. The movie brings to life what it was like to be on one of the mighty ships during battle, and how the lives of pilots hung by a thread — taking off, attacking, being able to find the carrier hours later, landing. Do not miss this.
So, you are in San Diego on a sunny afternoon, join the navy for a few hours and see the USS Midway. Cruise ships and tankers may fill bigger parking slots but none of them bite like an aircraft carrier.