The Kitty Hawk performed admirably overall, especially considering it was designed to be only a slight upgrade over the previous class.
The carriers from the Kitty Hawk class can remember better. The Ford, Nimitz, and Enterprise classes are well known to the general public; however, the Kitty Hawk class must not forget.
Yet, the Kitty Hawk class served the US for five decades with distinction and marked a significant advancement in aircraft carrier design.
The Kitty Hawk carriers were established to slightly improve the Forrestral-class carriers that came before them. The Forrestal class consisted of four boats: Independence (CV-61), Ranger (CV-61), and Saratoga (CV-59) (CV-62).
The four Forrestrals were the first class of supercarriers with deck-edge elevators, angled decks, and enormous tonnage; they were constructed between 1952 and 1958. The US Navy acknowledged the Forrestral-class had significant drawbacks, particularly the elevator locations, which were placed in the waist catapults’ launch and landing paths when the boat was still in service until 1998.
The Navy began constructing the Kitty Hawk, a partial replacement but a complement and a modest upgrade over the Forrestal. The Kitty Hawk class has a longer overall length and more strategically placed elevators, with two located in front of the “island,” one aft of the island, and one on the portside stern.
The elevator locations were more practical and could be used while planes were being launched and landed, which increased the boat’s sortie rate and increased flight operations efficiency.
Three genuine Kitty Hawk carriers—Kitty Hawk (CV-63), Constellation (CV-64), and America (CV-66)—were constructed. A fourth Kitty Hawk, the John F. Kennedy, was initially intended. Indeed, the Kennedy was constructed, but she had undergone so many modifications compared to the Kitty Hawks before her that she was thought to belong in a separate class and be the sole carrier in that class.
The Kennedy was conventionally powered, despite the Navy’s hopes that it would be nuclear-powered. However, Congress did not provide permission. Kennedy has a unique chimney that tilts outboard to pump fuel away from the flight deck and is about 17 feet shorter than the Kitty Hawk carriers. Like the Nimitz-class carriers but different from the other Kitty Hawks, Kennedy also had an angled end waist (which still needed to be built).
The Kitty Hawks were in use for many years. As part of the Service Life Extension Program, the USS Kitty Hawk was overhauled in the late 1980s for $785 million (SLEP). Constellation’s interior was updated as part of SLEP for an additional $800 million between 1990 and 1992. Kennedy received a $491 million boost to lengthen her service but still needs to be upgraded as part of the SLEP program. On the other hand, America did not undergo any renovation; instead, she experienced a unique outcome.
America was supposed to undergo a SLEP overhaul, but instead, she was decommissioned, and that’s when things started to get interesting.
At first, the Navy intended to disassemble America into parts. The strategy then shifted. Instead, they would purposefully sink America after being shot at as part of a live-fire drill to test a carrier’s capacity to survive combat.
American sailing navy veterans were not pleased. The veterans begged: rather than sink such a legendary ship, why not turn her into a museum? The Navy objected and declared that they would destroy America.
In 2005, the USS America stood sunk. America endured a penalty for four weeks while being closely observed by military observers. It’s impressive that, under typical battle situations, the ship would not capsize.
She had to be boarded, and explosives had to be placed internally to scuttle the carrier finally. America proved to be a resilient vessel, and the Navy observed a mournful moment of silence when she ultimately went down.
The ship is still intact today at a depth of 16,860 feet, southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
The USS Kitty Hawk, the class’s namesake, which served until 2009, was honored to be the last Kitty Hawk in service, not America.
The Kitty Hawk performed admirably overall, especially considering it was designed to be only a slight upgrade over the previous class. Operation El Dorado Canyon, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, and other operations all involved Kitty Hawk carriers. Nowadays, all of the Kitty Hawks have been scrapped, but you can still spot the USS Kitty Hawk making a brief cameo appearance in The Last Countdown, serving as a stand-in for the USS Nimitz.