Friday, May 1, 2015

The USS Midway: An Aircraft Carrier Musuem

Sometime in mid-April, my parents and I had visited the USS Midway Museum in San Diego. The Midway is America's longest serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century, and is the only one to have served through the Cold War and beyond. It was also the first US warship which was too big to pass thorugh the Panama Canal. In 2004, the ship retired to Navy Pier in San Diego, where it remains to this day. (Right): The Midway coming in to dock at Navy Pier in San Diego. 

Like all aircraft carriers, the Midway is huge. It was powered by 12 steam boilers and 4 turbines, unlike modern aircraft carriers which rely on nuclear engines for power. Almost all parts of this carrier are open to the public, including the engine room, the lower hanger under the main deck, the deck itself, and also the superstructure and the bridge (the superstructure on a carrier refers to the structure sticking out from the deck from where all carrier operations are overseen).

Several Navy veterans were conducting tours on the deck and the bridge, and a few were explaining the launching and landing mechanism on the carrier, which is the same as those on today's carriers. Due to the limited take-off space on a carrier's deck, a special steam-powered catapult is required to propel aircraft to the appropriate speed required for take-off. When the plane taxis on to the runway, a towbar is attached to its front wheel. The pilot then opens up the throttle. Thus, the only thing holding the plane back is the towbar, which is designed to break at a certain thrust setting. When the catapult is released, this limit is exceeded, and, like a bullet being fired from a gun, the plane goes shooting forward at high speed, which is usually enough to get it airborne. If not, the pilot has to eject before this happens. The limited space on a carrier also means that a plane has to slow down much faster then normal. Thus, as a pilot comes it to land, he or she has to snag a one of four arrestor cables woven from steel wire with a tailhook at the back of their craft, which will pull their craft to a stop. However, the pilot must be ready to take off again is he or she misses all of the wires.

(Above left): A Tomcat positioned in front of the jet blast deflector. This is a retractable panel built into the deck which deflects the thrust of a plane away from the crew.
(Below left): A crew member checking the towbar on a F-14 Tomcat.
(Right): A Hornet catching one of the arrestor cables on the deck.

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The Midway has a huge array of aircraft on display, from WWII-era propeller planes to modern day planes such as the E-2 Hawkeye, a long-range radar surveillance craft, which is instantly distinguished from other planes due to its radar dish, the Sikorsky Seahawk, a multipurpose helicopter whose many roles include submarine hunting and search and rescue and the S-3 Viking, a plane which can do anything from refuel other planes in-flight to detect submarines. A F-4 Phantom II was also on display, hooked up to a arrestor cable for demonstration purposes.

(Above left): An E-2 Hawkeye on deck on the Midway.
(Below left): A S-3 Viking on deck.
(Below right): A Phantom II on display with its tailhook connected to a piece of arrestor cable for demonstration purposes.

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For more pictures from the USS Midway, click this link:

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