Kitty Hawk Class

Overview

Country: United States

The Kitty Hawk class was a development of the Forrestal class, with a revised flight deck elevator arrangement and a smaller island positioned further aft. Its large size was determined by the take-off and landing distances required for operating heavy attack aircraft like the A-3 Skywarrior and A-5 Vigilante. It was also one of the last aircraft carrier types to be powered by oil-fired boilers rather than a nuclear power plant. The Kitty Hawk and the Constellation were commissioned in 1961 and they were joined four years later by the third and last ship of their class, the America, which differed from her sister ships slightly in several respects– most notably in being fitted with sonar for defence against the growing threat posed to fast aircraft carriers by Soviet submarines. The America also had a slightly greater displacement than the other two ships. The Kitty Hawk class were the first aircraft carriers to be equipped with guided missile batteries in place of 5-inch guns for air defence. These were initially Terrier and later Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles.

During the Vietnam War all three Kitty Hawk class carriers played their part in the air war over North Vietnam and in 1972 the crew of one of Constellation’s F-4 Phantoms - Lt R.H. Cunningham and Lt (jg) W.P.Driscoll – became the first US Navy aces of the Vietnam War. In the early 1970s the role of the Kitty Hawk class carriers changed to include an anti-submarine capability in addition to their traditional attack role. This involved the introduction not only of anti-submarine warfare aircraft but also the provision of an anti-submarine classification and analysis centre. Providing facilities for the latest attack aircraft was still a high priority for the Kitty Hawk class, however, and after her 1985 refit Constellation became the first aircraft carrier to operate the F/A-18 Hornet.

Between 1988 and 1993 the Kitty Hawk and Constellation were extensively upgraded in an $800 million Service Life Extension Programme (SLEP) to enable them to remain in service into the twenty-first century. Due to her very poor physical condition, however the America was not given a SLEP and was decommissioned in 1996. She ended her life as a live target and was sunk in 2005. Constellation was decommissioned in 2003, but Kitty Hawk – currently the oldest ship still in service with the US Navy – is expected to remain in service until 2008.

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