On Jan. 15, 2022 the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), the US Navy’s last oil-fired aircraft carrier, departed Bremerton for a 16,000-mile journey around South America for its ultimate fate: scrapping at a Texas shipyard.
Among the onlookers there were many former sailors aboard the Kitty Hawk. They watched as tugs pulled the aircraft carrier into Sinclair Inlet on a foggy Saturday morning. The warship will be tugged through the Strait of Magellan en route to Brownsville, Texas, because at more than 1,000 feet long, the Kitty Hawk won’t fit in the Panama Canal.
As reported by Kitsap Sun, the Kitty Hawk follows from Bremerton’s mothball fleet the USS Constellation, USS Independence and USS Ranger, which were all dismantled at the same place: International Shipbreaking Ltd. The company contracted for the warship, along with fellow carrier USS John F. Kennedy, for the stately price of one cent.
In 2021 the carrier got a rare visit to one of the Navy’s only two carrier dry docks so that its marine growth could be scraped off. Under an agreement with the state, Suquamish Tribe and other groups, the ship’s hull could not be cleaned in Sinclair Inlet after a previous carrier’s scrubbing sparked environmental concerns.
The Kitty Hawk will not be turned into museum like it already happened for five former US Navy aircraft carriers. The service declined to pursue that course although many sailors and others advocated for its preservation. In fact, since all of the nuclear-powered era aircraft carriers must be mangled to remove all radioactive remnants, advocates worried that there will never be another one preserved for posterity. The San Diego-ported USS Midway, a flattop that served from 1945 to 1992, was the last aircraft carrier the Navy turned into a museum.
The USS Kitty Hawk was the second naval ship named after Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the site of the Wright brothers’ first powered airplane flight. She was the lead ship of the Navy’s second class of super carriers [the other two were USS Constellation (CV-64) and USS America (CV-66)]. Initially commissioned as attack aircraft carrier CVA-63, she was redesignated as multi-purpose aircraft carrier CV-63 on Apr. 29, 1973.
The Kitty Hawk was laid down by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey, on 27 Dec. 27, 1956. The ship was launched on May 21, 1960 and commissioned on Apr. 29, 1961.
The Kitty Hawk participated in combat operations during the nation’s wars in Vietnam (during her second WestPac tour of the Vietnam War, the ship spent 117 days on Yankee Station. CVW-11 aircraft flew 5,466 combat and 4,887 support sorties, dropping 11,780.64 tons of ordnance on a “resourceful and determined enemy.” “On the line” for 117 days, USS Kitty Hawk conducted key strikes, a total of 38, against North Vietnamese targets near Haiphong, Kep, Bac Giang, Hon Gai, Van Dien, Thai Nguyen, Thanh Hoa, and Ninh Binh, together with 15 mining missions), Afghanistan and Iraq.
For 10 years, Kitty Hawk was the forward-deployed carrier at Yokosuka Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan. In October 2008, she was replaced in this role by George Washington (CVN-73). Kitty Hawk then returned to the US and had her decommissioning ceremony on Jan. 31, 2009. She was officially decommissioned on May 12, 2009 after almost 49 years of service. The USS Kitty Hawk was replaced by the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77).
The following video was taken on Nov. 17, 2017 and shows the USS Kitty Hawk filmed as it sat moored in Bremerton, WA.
Photo credit: PHAN Lee Mccaskill / U.S. Navy
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