The Aircraft Carrier

An aircraft carrier is a military vessel that serves as a base for naval aircraft to take off from and land on. It is a floating airfield that usually also serves as the capital ship of a fleet, which is the main command vessel of a naval task force.

The first aircraft carriers were built to launch balloons and sea planes from catapults that could land next to the ship and be recovered by on board gantry cranes.

In 1918, the Royal Navy’s HMS Argus became the first flat deck ship which could launch aircraft for an attack and recover them through landing.

As the ships and warplanes evolved, so did technology. As planes got faster, arrest cables were installed on the ships because the planes were simply too fast to stop on such a short runway. To accommodate heavier planes, steam catapults also evolved to fling the aircraft into the air.

In the modern era, the United States and the United Kingdom are the biggest users of aircraft carriers and they are used as mobile task forces to get to any place in the world, complete with their own air support. Examples of this were seen in the Falklands War between the United Kingdom and Argentina as well as the more recent Gulf Wars, which saw the deployment of US super carriers, British carriers and a French aircraft carrier.

The British also invented the Harrier jump-jet, which can take off and land vertically. It is used by the United States as well and adds a whole new strike capability.

The biggest number of carriers ever used was in World War II, particularly in the Pacific where US and Imperial Japanese fleets faced off against each other. Interestingly, Germany did not produce any, something which was regarded as a great strategic mistake. Today’s carriers are truly massive with the US Nimitz class carriers accommodating up to 100 aircraft and a crew of 5,000. They are 1,092 feet long.

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