USS Kitty Hawk traveled the world in support of US military actions and relations building, undergoing countless exercises and participating in the Vietnam War as well as the future invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. After nearly 50 years of active service, the Kitty Hawk was relieved of duty and set in reserve status by the United States Navy, her place taken by a newer, more powerful breed of supercarrier. The vessel proved her worth during her tenure of the seas and went down in American naval history as one of the best of her kind.
The USS Kitty Hawk was ordered on October 1st, 1955 and laid down by New York Shipbuilding Corporation on December 27th, 1956. She was launched on May 21st, 1960 and officially commissioned on April 29th, 1961 with Captain William F. Bringle at the helm. The vessel made her official homeport at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard out of Bremerton, Washington but saw much activity through San Diego while also operating offshore of the Yokosuka Naval Base at Yokosuka, Japan. The Kitty Hawk was ultimately replace in the latter position by the USS George Washington before returning stateside for decommissioning in late 2008. The Kitty Hawk was known under the nickname of "Sh@tty Kitty" and was the second US Naval vessel to be named after Kitty Hawk, North Carolina - site of the Wright Brothers first manned flight under power.
USS Kitty Hawk was of a conventional design and layout, following in line with other American aircraft carriers of her class constructed during the Cold War. She fielded four total launch catapults, a forward launch deck and an angled recovery deck fitting arrestor wires for incoming aircraft. The multi-story island superstructure - capped with various antenna, communications systems and a tall-standing mast - was set to the aft starboard side of the flight deck and powered elevators along the edges were used to deliver and recover aircraft from both sides of the flightdeck. Three elevators were set to the starboard side - two were positioned forward of the island superstructure and one aft - while the fourth elevator was set to the aft portside. Design was such that the vessel could launch and recover aircraft simultaneously so as to keep its air wing active at all times - such consistency critical during wartime. The bow was tapered at a point to help the large vessel cut through all types of waters while the hull at amidships was broad and flat. The stern was squared off. USS Kitty Hawk was staffed with up to 5,624 officers and enlisted personnel. The vessel displaced at 62,335 tons on a standard load and upwards of 83,301 tons on a full load. Her running length from bow to stern was 1,068 feet with a beam reaching 282 feet. Her draught was listed at 40 feet. Power was supplied by Westinghouse geared steam turbines and 8 x steam boilers delivering 280,000 shaft horsepower to four shafts. Her top speed in ideal conditions was listed at 33 knots.
The Kitty Hawk's offensive punch stemmed from her stable of up to 85 aircraft though 70 was a typical air wing load. Her air wing was made up of interceptors/strike fighters, airborne early warning aircraft, transport aircraft and multirole helicopters. Her defensive punch relied highly on her flotilla of support ships but she, herself, was outfitted with surface-to-air missiles of which ultimately became upgraded RIM-7 Sea Sparrows by the end of her tenure. These were navalized versions of the air-to-air medium-range missiles used on American military aircraft. Additionally, her defensive umbrella was ultimately upgraded to include 2 x RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile installations as well as 2 x Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) fittings.
Following commissioning , the USS Kitty Hawk set out on the requisite "shakedown" cruise in the Atlantic to work out her kinks. She then deployed out of Norfolk, Virginia for a stop in Brazil to undergo joint exercises with the Brazilian Navy and made further stops at Chile and Peru before arriving at port in San Diego, California. Kitty Hawk was then made flagship of the 7th Fleet and relieved USS Midway in this role on October 7th. Kitty Hawk took part in the Philippines Republic Aviation Week Air Show beginning on November 30th, 1962. Sailing forth, Kitty Hawk stopped in Hong Kong by early December and finally arrived on station off of Yokosuka, Japan on January 2nd, 1963. After several stops across Japan, Kitty Hawk returned home to San Diego on April 2nd, 1963.
In June, US President John F. Kennedy and other top ranking officials came aboard to observe operations. By November of that year, Kitty Hawk's flags were flown at half mast following the assassination of President Kennedy. She entered Sasebo Harbor in Japan on November 25th, conducted additional exercises with the 7th Fleet in the Philippines thereafter and sailed for San Diego, arriving there on July 20th, 1964. She relocated to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to undergo the required overhaul after months of active service at sea.
Kitty Hawk then saw her first combat actions when she was called to support the growing American presence in the Vietnam War. Her carrier air wing became active from November of 1965 to May of 1966, charged with attacking North Vietnamese ground targets of value utilizing her collection of onboard strike fighters. For her sustained activity during this period (60 days of continuous operation), Kitty Hawk received the Navy Unit Commendation and Presidential Unit Citation. In June of 1966, she returned to San Diego for a scheduled overhaul and training of new personnel. She remained there until November 4th, 1966 before returning to waters off of Vietnam. She relieved the USS Constellation as flagship in the region on November 19th and, on December 5th, her air wing was active in combat operations once again. She left the region on May 28th, 1967 before arriving in Japan and ultimately reaching San Diego on June 19th. She underwent another refit period, this time at Long Beach, before returning for training back at San Diego on the 25th of August. On October 12th, 1972 - while heading back to Vietnam waters - Kitty Hawk was home to a racially-charged riot that left some 50 of her sailors injured - a stain on an otherwise fine service record.
Kitty Hawk then underwent a conversion program that saw her designation change from CVA-63 to CV-63, her strict "attack" categorization dropped. She was now considered a "multi-mission" vessel that could undertake anti-submarine operations with the help of new onboard systems and helicopters. Kitty Hawk became the first such vessel to showcase the CV designation. During the lull, the vessel was also refueled with Navy Distillate Fuel to replace the old Navy Standard Oil. New catapults were also installed for the incoming fleet of Grumman F-14 Tomcat interceptors. Throughout the early and middle part of the 1970s, the Kitty Hawk took part in several major exercises. By 1976, she underwent a major overhaul that reworked several of her internal systems and structure. Her self-defense "Terrier" missiles were now upgraded to the "Sea Sparrow". After another exercise, Kitty Hawk returned to San Diego on May 15th, 1978.
Following a humanitarian operation off of Vietnam and deployment near Korea after the assassination of its president, Kitty Hawk was called to the Arabian Sea during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Kitty Hawk received the Navy Expedition Medal for her actions. During 1979, Kitty Hawk appeared in the Hollywood motion picture "The Final Countdown" as a stand in for the USS Nimitz while at Pearl (Nimitz was still active in the Atlantic at the time). She later received the Meritorious Unit Commendation and Battle Efficiency "E" Award upon her return to San Diego. Additionally, Kitty Hawk and crew became recipients of the Navy Expeditionary Medal the Humanitarian Service Medal for her actions in rescuing Vietnamese refugees in the South China Sea.
In early January of 1982, Kitty Hawk was in Bremerton for an overhaul and upgrade. She was back at sea in 1984 and served as the flagship to Battle Group Bravo and spent over two months in the Arabia Sea. In March of 1984, she took part in the Team Spirit exercises in the Sea of Japan. A shadowing Soviet nuclear-attack submarine, the K-314, had been shadowing the group's performance for some time and managed to surface directly underneath the Kitty Hawk, causing hull damage to both. As a result, Kitty Hawk was sent to the Philippines to undergo repair before returning to port at San Diego. She was awarded yet another Battle Efficiency "E" Award for her service.
Back with Battle Group Bravo in July of 1985, Kitty Hawk earned more recognition for the level of quality concerning her operations - a direct testament to her crew and governing officers. Not one of her personnel was fatally injured during thousands of hours of activity, launching and recovering aircraft on a regular basis. From January 3rd, 1987, Kitty Hawk set sail for a six month world cruise. Upon return, she underwent an upgrade as part of the Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) along the American east coast's Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, arriving there on July 3rd. She was made ready once more on August 2nd and additional awards followed including the Black "E". She joined the Argentine Naval Aviation in December of 1991 for exercises and rounded the Horn of South America in the process while en route back to San Diego. In November of 1992, Kitty Hawk was deployed to the west Pacific and spent over a week in support of US Marine forces in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope. In December, the vessel was called to the Persian Gulf to enforce the UN sanctions against Iraq and took part in attack operations against southern targets in January of 1993. From mid-1994 onwards, Kitty Hawk was deployed to Far East waters as a deterrent to North Korean actions. Her 18th deployment followed in October of 1996 to which she ended her journey back in San Diego to undergo another overhaul.
In 1998, the Kitty Hawk took over the USS Independence's duties as a forward-deployed aircraft carrier and was stationed out of Yokosuka, Japan. In March, Kitty Hawk returned to the Persian Gulf region to enforce repeated Iraqi violations of the southern No-Fly Zone. She then returned to Japan with relations-building stops in Australia and Thailand. More exercises followed including a joint operation with Singapore and Thailand. She became the first aircraft carrier to dock at Changi Pier in Singapore. Another joint exercise was completed with the navies of Australia and Canada as the Kitty Hawk celebrated 40 years of service, finally returning to Yokosuka on June 11th, 2001. In October, a pair of Russian aircraft flew over the carrier in a shallow pass, some 200 feet above, during an at-sea replenishment operation.
Following the terrorist attacks on America on September 11th, 2001, the Kitty Hawk was deployed to the Arabian Sea in support of actions concerning Operation Enduring Freedom in an effort to topple the terrorist-supporting Taliban government of Afghanistan. In 2003, Kitty Hawk was placed on readiness during the Global War on Terrorism which called her to Iraq once more, first to enforce the southern No-Fly Zone in Operation Southern Watch and then to support the American invasion of Iraq through Operation Iraqi Freedom. In March of 2008, Kitty Hawk completed her duties in Pacific waters and left Japan for the final time. The USS George Washington moved in to take her place.
The USS Kitty Hawk was removed from active US Naval service on January 31st, 2009 and officially decommissioned on May 12th, 2009. Of the four Kitty Hawk-class carriers - the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), USS Constellation (CV-64), the USS America (CV-66) and the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) - the Kitty Hawk herself was the first of the group to come online and the last to remain in service, also becoming the second longest serving US Navy vessel after the USS Constitution when the USS Independence was decommissioned in 1998. The USS Kitty Hawk was officially replaced in the US Navy inventory by the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the tenth and final addition to the powerful Nimitz supercarrier family.
The United States Navy intends on keeping the Kitty Hawk in reserve status up until 2015. Following commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the Kitty Hawk's future is up in the air. Wilmington, North Carolina is the front runner for maintaining the carrier as a floating museum to stand next to the USS North Carolina battleship of World War 2.
October 2017 - The USN has decided to strip and scrap USS Kitty Hawk. She was struck from the Naval Register on October 20th, 2017 in preparation.