The USS America (CV-66 though initially designated as CVA-66) was a conventionally-powered aircraft carrier that served the United States Navy through the Cold War and beyond, officially being decommissioned in 1996. She was of the Kitty Hawk-class of aircraft carriers which were eventually replaced by the powerful breed of nuclear-powered types in the USS Nimitz mold. The America fought on for America in her war with Vietnam, served as a deterrent in the Persian Gulf and Lebanon and took part in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. All her years of service sadly culminated in her use as a target in 2005. Her name was officially struck from the Naval Vessel Register on August 9th, 1996.
Her design was of a traditional layout with a starboard island and the characteristic angled deck serving three catapults (one angled off port and two forward). The flight deck was serviced by four hangar elevators in total with one located on the port side and three on the starboard side, with one of these located aft of the island. The island was dominated by a communications and sensor mast with a further mast located just behind the island before the rear starboard-side hangar deck.
As aircraft carriers go, their power is truly made known by the fleet she can put into the air and the USS America was no exception. Her deck and lower hangars could hold, maintain and repair up to 79 aircraft of various makes and sizes including F-4 Phantoms, A-6 Intruders, A-7 Corsair IIs and SP-2 Neptunes in addition to anti-submarine and transport helicopters. Supported by her flotilla of fleet defenders and resupply ships, the USS America formed an important and vital cog to United States Navy operations covering the globe.
Defensively, the USS America was served by a variety of sensors and processing systems by way of the AN/SPS-48 and AN/SPS-49 air search radars. Her electronic countermeasures suite consisted of the AN/SLQ-32 built by Raytheon Company. Additionally, these systems were augmented by three Sea Sparrow (initially Terrier missile) surface-to-air missiles. This was further supported by 3 x 20mm Phalanx CIWS (Close-In Weapon Systems) for anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense.
By 1967, on her second deployment out, the USS America was called into the Mediterranean as tensions rose between Israel and her Arab neighbors that erupted in the "Six Day War". Little in the way of action for the USS America crew was apparent until the USS Liberty was attacked by Israeli torpedo boats - apparently in error caused through poor communications - sending America's fighters and bombers scrambling off of her deck. 34 souls were lost with 75 injuries.
Her next major assignment saw her on post at Yankee Station in the Vietnam War. Her aircraft were used in anger to pound targets inland, disrupt infrastructure and provide combat air patrols as needed. She would be deployed to Vietnam a total of three times before the cessation of hostilities in 1973. Following the war, the USS America supported the evacuations related to the crisis in Lebanon before undertaking a variety of exercises and tests including NATO-sponsored gatherings. During the Vietnam War, USS America performed to mythical standards without the loss of any of her pilots. Her aircrews dropped over 11,000 tons of ordnance on Vietcong targets and flew over 10,500 sorties total.
The USS American did not have to wait long to see action once more, this time at US President Ronald Reagan's order for two battle groups to be sent into the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya. America's aircraft were used to their highest potential as Libyan SAM sites and aggressive Libyan Navy ships were targeted and destroyed or damaged. Grumman F-14 Tomcats, Vought A-7 Corsair II's and A-6 Intruders were used in the strikes which included the first ever use of the AGM-84 Harpoon air-to-surface missile against a Libyan vessel. Further strikes followed including support of Operation El Dorado Canyon that featured the F-111 Aardvark swing-wing fighter-bombers of the US Air Force. This attack constituted several A-6 Intruders from American as well, charged with silencing more Libyan SAM systems. With her role in the Libyan strikes completed after the arrival of USS Enterprise into the region, USS America served for a time off of Lebanon (taking part in the 1983 evacuations) once more and ultimately made her way back home.
The 1990's brought about a new challenge and a changed face of warfare. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had entrenched his military in positions throughout the US-friendly Gulf nation of Kuwait, effectively giving him control over a large portion of the worlds oil production. The USS America, as part of a larger contingent of world allies, was once again bound for the region and joined the USS John F. Kennedy and the USS Saratoga in the Red Sea. By January 17th, 1991, Operation Desert Storm was in full swing and America's air wing was back in action providing combat air patrols and - later - direct strikes on targets inland. Now officially reassigned to the Persian Gulf alongside the USS Theodore Roosevelt and others, America continued her support with inland strikes, this time conducted from the eastern side of Iraq. In total, USS America would go on to complete some 3,000 sorties from her decks as Iraqi elements were smashed to oblivion and forced to retreat. She later took part in Operation Southern Watch, the enforcement of the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. USS America was later called back to action as she operated in support for NATO forces inland off the Adriatic in Operation Joint Endeavor (over Bosnia).
USS America undertook her final deployment (out of a total of 20) on August 28th, 1995. Her thirty years of trusted service had finally come to an end. Decommissioning took place in middle 1996 and had her name struck from the Naval Vessel Register that same year. Sadly, she was selected for use as a target ship and sunk as such on May 14th, 2005 off of the North Carolina coast. Such was the end for the storied ship as she became the largest ship to ever be purposefully scuttled in this fashion. The event was secretive and unveiled days after the fact with the action serving useful to see how well a carrier to sustain damage from a variety of munitions including cruise missile strikes.
The USS America was ordered in 1960 and laid down in 1961. She was launched in 1964 and officially commissioned in 1965. She made her home port in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, and fought under the motto of "Don't Tread on Me". The America is known affectionately as "the Big A". At the time, USS America was the third ship in the United States Navy history named for the country.