The Forrestal-class warship group was a major reworking of the American approach to aircraft carriers. They became the first of what were classified as "supercarriers", massive floating islands housing thousands of crewmen and sporting a powerful air wing while featuring an angled launch/retrieval flight deck and multiple edge elevators and displacing well over 70,000 tons. Four of the type were completed during the early 1950s with the lead ship becoming USS Forrestal (CV-59) followed by USS Saratoga (CV-60); USS Ranger (CV-61) and USS Independence (CV-62). Unlike their future brethren - which would be powered through nuclear means - the Forrestal-class was driven by a traditional steam-based arrangement.
USS Ranger was ordered on February 1st, 1954 and the contract was awarded to Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company of storied Newport News, Virginia. Her keel was laid down on August 2nd, 1954 and she was launched on September 29th, 1956. The United States Navy (USN) took ownership of the vessel on August 1st, 1957 and she was formally commissioned on August 10th of that year. As commissioned, USS Ranger originally operated under the hull classification of "CVA-61" and she marked the first America carrier to feature the now-standard angled section of deck.
As completed, USS Ranger had a displacement of 57,200 tons under light loads and up to 82,000 tons under full loads. Her dimensions included a length of 1,046 feet, a beam of 130 feet and a draught down to 37 feet. Installed power involved 8 x Babcock & Wilcox boilers feeding 4 x Geared steam turbines developing 280,000 horsepower to 4 x Shafts under stern. Speeds (in ideal conditions) could reach up to 34 kntos.
Aboard was a crew of 3,826 officers and enlisted personnel as well as security and air wing support. The warship was outfitted with the AN/SPS-48 3D and 2D air-search radars as well as the AN/SPS-10 surface-search radar series. Electronic Warfare (EW) was aided some by the Mark 36 SRBOC system, these being nothing more than decoy-launching mortars. Beyond this, the vessel could defend herself through 8 x 5" (127mm) /54 caliber Marck 42 series guns - the installations were removed with the adoption of the Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile system. For extreme close-in defense, the aircraft carrier eventually carried the 20mm Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) at various points about her design. On the whole, however, the ship relied heavily on her supporting force for ranged and point protection. The air wing consisted of between seventy and ninety warplanes of various types to include fighters, interceptors, attackers, transports and multirole helicopters.
Her first orders were in Atlantic waters where she trained and was stocked prior to journeying to the Pacific to join the Pacific Fleet in 1957. The warship was deployed in peacetime throughout the Pacific Theater and was on station when the American involvement in Vietnam grew. She arrived just after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August of 1964 and ensured protection of American interests there for the interim.
In time, her warplanes were called into action on a consistent basis and they carried out a multitude of sorties including Combat Air Patrol (CAP), direct-attack and escort against NVA targets. In December of 1967, USS Ranger hosted the Bob Hope Christmas Show and this was followed by another presentation had in December of 1969. Ranger then took part in Operation Linebacker II in December of 1972, an intense bombing campaign from the 18th until the 29th marking one of the last major commitments of the American military to the Vietnam War. The war ended with a cease-fire in January of the following year.
Due to her constant presence in the war zone, Ranger and her crew had little downtime so a major refit and overhaul was in order during the post-war period. She returned stateside to Long Beach, California in August of 1973 and shakedown cruises then followed to put her through her paces. She returned to Vietnam waters to help in the post-war drawdown and move men and machines about. There was a humanitarian effort had in the Philippines following devastating flooding where supplies were brought in and thousands were rescued. She arrived in Bremerton, Washington for a much-needed overhaul.
For her service in the Vietnam War (1955-1975), USS Ranger was awarded 13 total Battle Stars.
During this downtime, the warship was upgraded extensively with all-modern sensors, communications and processing systems to help extend her service life. Her command center was upgraded as was her propulsion scheme and the "Sea Sparrow" air defense missile system added (this was an offshoot of the air-to-air medium-ranged missile already used on American naval warplanes). She was put to sea for trials once more, following the work, in March of 1976. In 1979, she undertook what became her 14th cruise in the Pacific and spent additional time in the Indian Ocean as a regional deterrent to matters related to instability in Yemen. However, a collision with a Liberian tanker forced her to Subic Bay (and then Yokosuka) for repairs.
In March of 1983, USS Ranger was the proud recipient of an all-female flight crew when a Grumman C-1 Trader transport landed on her deck. In November of that year, six crew were killed in an onboard fire which also disabled her propulsion. In 1985, the warship served as a stage for the Hollywood motion picture "Top Gun". The following year, the vessel stood in for the USS Enterprise for the film Star Trek IV.
Ranger then took part in Operation Desert Storm in early 1991 which resulted in a complete dismantling of Iraqi military capability. One of Ranger's A-6 intruders fell to enemy anti-aircraft fire killing two aviators. Her other warplanes found success in destroyer both sea and aerial targets as they presented themselves. In 1992, the warship marked her 21st, and final, Pacific Theater deployment. Before the end of the year, she supported Operation Restore Hope in Somalia.
Ranger was not selected for modernization so the ship fell to budget cuts and efforts to save her as a floating museum ship fell to naught. She was formally decommissioned on July 10th, 1993 and her name was struck from the Naval Register on March 8th, 2004. She was given up for scrapping and her official end arrived on November 1st, 2017.