The Kitty Hawk-class of conventionally-powered aircraft carriers for the United States Navy (USN) numbered four ships in all and were designed to an "improved Forrestal-class" standard. These ships featured an island superstructure fitted further aft along starboard (and a lattice-style mast aft of this) as well as installing two of the four hangar elevators ahead of the superstructure itself. USS Constellation (CV-64) became the second ship of the class after USS Kitty Hawk and preceded sisters USS America and USS John F. Kennedy (the latter built to a slightly different standard than the three).
Constellation was ordered on July 1st, 1956 and saw her keel laid down by the Brooklyn Navy Yard on September 14th, 1957. She was put to sea on October 8th, 1960 before seeing commissioning on October 27th, 1961. USS Constellation became the third ship to carry the Constellation name and, over the course of her sea-going career, was affectionately referred to as "Connie" and "America's Flagship".
As built (under the original pennant number of "CVA-64"), Constellation displaced 62,000 tons (short) and featured a length of 1,088 feet, a beam of 282 feet and a draught of 39 feet. Power came from 8 x boiler units feeding 4 x steam turbines to produce 280,000 horsepower to 4 x shafts. Maximum speed in ideal conditions was 34 knots. Her crew numbered 5,630 personnel of which 2,480 made up the air wing alone.
Aircraft available to the ship were various types of makes and model to cover mission roles from fleet defense and interception to Search and Rescue (SAR) and general transport. There were also special mission platforms carried and the air wing could number as many as seventy-two aircraft in all. Steam catapults, a total of four featured in the design, were used for quick take-off of warplanes and an arrestor wire arrangement served in capturing incoming aircraft on the return trip. Beyond her air arm, Constellation carried 2 x Sea Sparrow Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) systems as well as 3 x 20mm Phalanx Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWSs). Originally she was outfitted with the "Terrier" SAM system.
USS Constellation's arrival was severely delayed when a fire broke out on while she still underwent construction. Though no casualties were reported damaged reached into the tens of millions of dollars putting a black eye on the ship's career before it had even left port. After repairs were completed, she joined the Pacific Fleet in 1962 where she took Kitty Hawk's place in the Gulf of Tonkin near Vietnam.
The warship completed multiple tours-of-duty during the Vietnam Conflict (1955-1975) and was present for both the beginning and the end of the American involvement in the war. Her warplanes conducted a slew of strike, bombing, patrol and reconnaissance missions for their part in the theater. She and her crews participated in several RIMPAC exercises over the years following and took part in enforcement of the No-Fly Zones over Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. She went on to serve as a deterrent near North Korea on several occasions and her final deployment arrived with "Operation Enduring Freedom" and the subsequent "Operation Iraqi Freedom" after the events of 9/11 - amazingly no casualties were reported for her air crew and only one aircraft was lost in the commitment. Over time, her air wing was accordingly modernized with more potent fighters and bombers as well as transport and special mission types while updates came in the form of SLEP (Service Life Extension Program) for her and two of her sisters (USS America was given up prior).
USS Constellation was decommissioned on August 6th, 2003 and struck from the Naval Register that December 2nd. Her post was officially filled by the newer, nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) Nimitz-class supercarrier. The end of her ocean-going career marked just over forty years of faithful service for the grand carrier before her hulk, stripped of all of its usefulness, was unceremoniously sold for scrapping in 2015.
All four Kitty Hawk-class carriers have since been retired from frontline service - the last being USS John F. Kennedy decommissioned in March of 2007. USS Kitty Hawk remains in reserve status while Kennedy is slated to become a museum ship. USS America was sunk as a target in May of 2005.
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