One of the most recognizable American Navy names of World War 2 became the name of one of the most identifiable aircraft carriers in the Cold War. The USS Nimitz - named after US Navy Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz - was the first vessel in her Nimitz-class when launched in the early 1970's and she has developed a storied career through her decades of service. Initially designated as CVAN-68 but redesignated in 1975 to CVN-68, the USS Nimitz still remains one of the largest ocean-going warships ever constructed and represents one of the most powerful offensive weapons in the world.
Design is conventional, with the island superstructure held at starboard. The angled flight deck runs from stern to port and four steam catapults are operated from the angled deck (2) and the straight deck (2). Four hangar elevators service the flight deck with one located port, one starboard abaft of the island and two on the starboard side forward of the island superstructure. Defensive armament consists of 2 x Sea Rolling Airframe Missile launchers and 2 x Mk 29 Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile launchers. Her offensive air arm is made up of 90 aircraft of various makes and types and include the F/A/-18 Hornet strike fighters (formerly F-14 Tomcat interceptors, since retired), EA-6B Prowler airborne electronic warfare, E2-C Hawkeye airborne early warning, S-3B Viking anti-submarine warfare, SH-60/HH-60 Seahawk (helicopters) and C-2A Greyhound transports. All of these systems are further complimented by the offensive and defensive capabilities of her accompanying support vessels when partnered as such.
Being a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Nimitz is powered by 2 x Westinghouse brand A4W reactors which, in turn, power quadruple steam turbines and 4 x shafts at 260,000 shaft horsepower. The vessel can achieve top speeds just over 30 knots and, due to the nature of the nuclear reactors, has essentially unlimited range. Her complement consists of 3,200 sailors and up to 2,480 members of the air group.
The USS Nimitz set out on an uneventful first deployment and cruised the Mediterranean on her second. She supported the rescue of US Embassy workers in Tehran, Iran after the fall of the Shah in 1979. Rescue helicopters took off from her deck but poor weather in the desert doomed several of the flights in a catastrophic failure for the Americans and a morale boost for the new regime. Nimitz was called back home the following year. The USS Nimitz's powerful air wing was on center stage in the Mediterranean in the 1981 Gulf of Sidre incident off the coast of Libya. Two F-14 Tomcat interceptors were attacked by two Libyan aircraft. The resulting action left both Libyan aircraft destroyed with no loss to the Tomcat group. Nimitz served as a deterrent during the taking of TWA Flight 847 and later at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, providing off-shore security. The volatile 1980's rounded out with standard port visits and security operations.
The early 1990's saw the Nimitz called to support operations related to Desert Storm and later in Southern Watch, the enforcement of the no-fly zone of southern Iraq. More deterrent duties brought her to Taiwan when it was learned that China had begun testing missiles in an obvious show of force. An around-the-world voyage begun on September 1st, 1997 ended on November 13th, 2001 in San Diego, California (now Nimitz's new home port). 2003 would see the vessel supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom with several more Persian Gulf deployments to follow. The USS Nimitz made the news twice in 2008 in an ode to the Cold War when Russian Tu-95 "Bear" bombers passed overhead without communication with the Nimitz crew. Nimitz fighters were ordered aloft when the bombers were within 500 miles on the first occasion and escorted the aircraft away from the vessel, no doubt a test of Nimitz's response capabilities on the part of the Russian crews.
The Nimitz was first ordered in 1967 and laid down the following year by Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Virginia, USA. She was launched in 1972 and officially commissioned in 1975. The vessel fights under the banner of "Teamwork, a Tradition" and carries the affectionate nickname of "Old Salt". As of this writing, she is maintained in active service. The USS Nimitz is the focus of the time-traveling Hollywood science fiction motion picture "The Final Countdown" starring Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen.