Friday, April 22, 2011


On my first full day in San Diego, I made sure to take a tour of the U.S.S. Midway, America's largest aircraft carrier for nearly a decade that is only dwarfed by the U.S.S. Ronald Reagen currently off shore in Japan. I have toured an old submarine once but this was my first military boat tour I have ever taken. It was very impressive to say the least. Some stats are that the Midway:

  • Built in 1945 at the tail end of World War II and was the longest serving military ship in U.S. history seeing action in three wars, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm.
  • First ship built too large to fit through the Panama Canal at 1001 feet long, 258 feet wide (113 feet at beam) and 222 feet tall. The ship needed 35 feet of draft to stay afloat.
  • It held something like 1.3 million gallons of oil to fuel it's 12 boilers and got a whopping 260 gallons per mile for fuel mileage. I was told it could stay at sea approximately 3 weeks before needing refueling compared to the 25 years for the average nuclear powered aircraft carrier.
  • It needed 4500 crew members to run the thing eating a total of 13,000 meals a day which worked out to 10 tons of food or 4500 lbs of beef, 3000 lbs of potatoes, 1000 loaves of bread and 500 pies.

Above is the hangar deck which is immediately below the flight deck. When entering the boat, we ended her on the stern end, donned a set of headphones and a device with a keypad and LCD display that allowed you to wander at leisure and enter the number of the area you were at to hear a recording of its function or history. It was an excellent way to tour something like this and very informative. For the most part, everyplace was busy for the first half hour after it opened but then everyone was clustered at the far end of the hangar deck where the gift shop and flight simulators were allowing me to wander by my lonesome through what felt like miles of claustrophobically small walkways, ladders, and rooms. Had parts of the ship been roped off and there weren't signs every five steps or so, I might still be wandering the halls today.

This is one of those pictures that was impossible to get a sense of scale. There was about 18 inches of aisle width here and I could not walk without turning sideways and shuffling.  The beds hinged up and allowed you access to a pan about six inches deep and the width and length of your bed for storing your gear. When closed, you had about 12 inches of space between your bed and the bed above you which meant I couldn't even turn on my side in the bed. Truly it was a coffin like experience.

The anchor chains were massive but had to be to pull up twelve tons worth of anchor. Those spools pulled up the chains and fed them down the tube to somewhere on the decks below. Where the chains went weren't part of the tour. Here as in most areas of the ship, veterans who had served on the ship were there to answer any questions. The one stationed here said that the rubber flooring was installed because the chains really sparked when being drug across a steel deck. Only after I had gone back home and looking over the pictures did I wish I had asked exactly how a chain this size is made.

The anchor was connected at this end of the chain perhaps thirty or forty feet away.

The brig.

One of four engines driving four 18 foot diameter propellers that weighed 22 tons each producing 200,000+ horsepower and a top speed of about 33 knots. The massive gray thing in the foreground is the gearbox and the white thing in the background the steam driven turbine.

I found this display right outside of one of the barber shops in the ship. I found it amusing.

They had a full hospital area with a surgical suite and an x-ray room as seen in the preceding two photos. According to the veteran in this area, almost a quarter of the crew of 4500 could come down sick after a port of call in some third world country but for the most part, the most prevailing injury while at sea were contusions to the head. Being over six feel tall, I needed no further explanation. He did say it was the best place on the ship because here, you got a larger bed, were waited on by staff and weren't required to report to duty.

The flight deck is a little over 4 acres in size and held lots of planes. Unfortunately, due to an extremely hungry stomach that hadn't eaten anything since the day before, I passed by most of them and went directly to the bridge tour. Above is a photo from the bridge looking back towards the stern. Below is from the same area looking ahead towards the bow.

Finally, if I were an enemy of the United States, the last thing I would ever want to see is shown below. More on how I took that photo in a later post.


R. Sherman said...

It's cool that the last of the Essex class carriers served into the 90's. It shows what a great class of ships that was. Very, very neat museum area.

Happy Easter.


Ron said...

Wow, the scale of that ship is truly amazing. Those beds make me feel claustrophobic... the size of the anchor chain is insane.

sage said...

neat photos. I've never been on an aircraft carrier, but have been on a lot of Navy ships and Coast Guard Cutters (having grown up near a port). The Battleship North Carolina is in Wilmington and it's a fun tour. It's amazing how much fuel and food it takes to keep a ship and crew like that going.

Ed said...

R. Sherman - What amazed me most was that it served well into the 90's with technology of the 40's. I'm guessing that there would be people alive today who couldn't function if you told them they had to live with 80's technology. There was a GPS unit on board the size of a large (not flatscreen) television and today I can carry one that is extremely more powerful in my front pocket!

Ron - I found it hard to scale the ship. I wandered for what felt like days in claustrophobic halls and rooms and rarely saw a place where I could grasp it. I was either too close or too far.

Sage - I'm guessing a dutch oven cookout is out of the question for you! There was a modern nuclear sub nearby that I wished I could have seen. I did cruise by much of the entire Pacific fleet that was in harbor at that particular day.

Murf said...

I hyperventilated just from the photos. I guess I will pass on any tours like this of my own. :-)

PhilippinesPhil said...

On your remark of difficulty in gaging scale in photo, I had a buddy on the Enterprise and would visit him onboard. Imagine those same quarters packed with men. After seeing it I made sure never to volunteer for sea duty or for any kind of "float" for the rest of my enlistment in the Corps. I couldn't live like that.