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Posted on Apr 20, 2008 in Stuff We Like


By Jerry D. Morelock


Petty Officer 3rd Class Jerell Hurdle directs an F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft to a catapult during flight operations aboad the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz while under way in the Pacific Ocean, February 19, 2008.

The typical reaction of young sailors during World War II who saw their first aircraft carrier was “It looks like a floating city block!” Sixty years later, that reaction needs some updating. Today’s modern nuclear-powered monsters have grown in size, sophistication, complexity and deadly lethality. Now, the pride of the U. S. Navy, its aircraft supercarriers, are more like floating cities than merely city blocks.


USS Nimitz on Pacific maneuversEach one contains: 6,000 sailors (crew and air wing personnel) and all their billeting accommodations, offices, work space and battle stations; repair and armament facilities; about 100 fixed wing and helicopter aircraft; 4.5 acres of flight deck; a cavernous hanger deck running the length of the ship; food service operation feeding 18,000 to 20,000 meals each day; post office; barber shop; hospital (including an Intensive Care Unit); and all the “comforts of home” required to productively fill sailors’ off duty time. The World War II carriers that inspired such awe in that era’s sailors displaced about 25,000 tons, while today’s supercarriers are four times as large, 23-stories high and about 100,000 tons displacement. And while the World War II carriers’ operational range was limited by fuel capacity, the supercarriers’ nuclear power plants give them virtually unlimited range. Beginning April 27, PBS gives viewers a chance for an “up close and personal” look at one of the most awe-inspiring combat systems in history and the crew that makes it function.

Two F/A-18F Super Hornets over USS Nimitz The “star” of the 1980 Kirk Douglas “what if” science fiction film, The Final Countdown, has been enlisted once again for a film starring role, as the USS Nimitz now takes center stage in the new PBS 10-hour documentary, CARRIER, which premiers April 27 and concludes May 1. The documentary follows the Nimitz and its crew on the ship’s six-month deployment from the California coast to the Persian Gulf and back in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the May 7 to November 8, 2005 deployment, Air Wing 11, the Nimitz’s strike force, launched 4,500 sorties totaling 11,000 flight hours, 1,100 sorties and 6,000 flight hours in direct support of ground combat troops in Iraq.

Actually, the Nimitz shares center stage with its crew, as CARRIER presents many of their stories – good as well as bad. Sailors deal with personal problems, get in and out of trouble, visit new and exotic ports of ca where they learn about different cultures, and, in episode 6 “Groundhog Day,” conduct combat operations during which the routine makes each day virtually indistinguishable from the next. The stress of work and enforced family separation – not to mention living each day underneath the equivalent of a major airport and on top of a nuclear reactor – causes inevitable stress and tension.

HH-60H Seahawk helicopter above Nimitz-class carrierYet, the crew deals with it through the camaraderie and bonding of the ship’s sub-groups (air squadrons, flight ops, ordnance technicians, etc.). Perhaps the greatest service CARRIER performs, therefore, is to remind viewers that the real “power plant” at the heart of a supercarrier is its crew. The documentary succeeds admirably in putting human faces onto the men and women who operate one of the most powerful and technologically sophisticated combat systems in history.

Don’t miss this “must see” television series. ACG rates CARRIER 5 STARS.

For more information on this outstanding new series, including an episode by episode description, visit

 U.S. Sailors man the rails aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz as the ship gets under way from San Diego, California, January 24, 2008. All photos courtesy of the Department of Defense.  Front page photo taken by crewmen of the USS Nimitz during production of the show.