Losses and Aviation Safety

Here’s why Four Weeks were required to Scuttle USS America, the Only Supercarrier Ever Sunk

USS America

USS America (CVA/CV-66) was one of three Kitty Hawk-class supercarriers built for the US Navy in the 1960s. Commissioned in 1965, she spent most of her career in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, but did make three Pacific deployments serving in the Vietnam War. She also served in the Persian Gulf War’s operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

America was named after the large land mass in the Western Hemisphere consisting of northern and southern continents originally connected by an isthmus, but now separated by the Panama Canal. Although discovered by Christopher Columbus, America is named for Amerigo Vespucci who first recognized it as a new continent. The term America is often used loosely to designate the United States of America.

America was the first large aircraft carrier since Operation Crossroads in 1946 to be expended in weapons tests. In 2005, she was scuttled southeast of Cape Hatteras, after four weeks of tests, despite a large protest of former crew-members who wanted to see her instituted as a memorial museum. She was the largest warship ever to be sunk.

Declassified image of USS America sinking by the bow after weeks of weapons tests.

The Only Supercarrier Ever Sunk

On Apr. 19, 2005, the carrier left Philadelphia under tow on its final mission. The America was towed off the east coast where the ship was finally disposed of during a classified SinkEx.

The USS America is the only supercarrier ever sunk, either on purpose or in combat. Blake Horner, Mechanical Engineer, explains why on Quora “It took four weeks and they ended up having to scuttle her from on board due to her not sinking. She is not only far larger than WWII battleships, but she is also a lot tougher. While she does not have the heavy armor the battleships of yore had, she does have a double layered hull, meaning weapons have to push through alternating layers of steel and empty pockets to reach her internals.

“On top of that, her internal compartmentalization was far better than that of battleships. She is so large, there are so many more rooms that must be filled in order to make her sink than that of a battleship.

“Additionally, thanks to modern technology, most bombs, torpedoes and missiles actually have smaller warheads than what they used against WWII vessels. And in the process of the tests, they were actually using controlled explosives, not actual weapons.

The wake left by America following her use as a live-fire target in 2005; the ship was used as a platform to test how the hull of large aircraft carriers would hold up against underwater attacks. Following the tests, America was scuttled, serving as a further test of the sinking of a large aircraft carrier.

Making future carriers more survivable

“The whole point of the tests was to make future carriers more survivable, as well as see how warships reacted to underwater explosion and damage. Clearly, after taking a beating for four weeks, they can survive a LOT due to just their sheer bulk. But at the same time, the tests were not meant to truly sink her immediately. Thus, there was no “shoot to kill” mindset of the naval officers conducting the test, versus the whole point of attacking enemy battleships was to sink them.

“America lasted so much longer because A) they were not trying to sink her immediately (though they did end up having to board her to make her sink) and B) her sheer bulk made it a lot harder to sink by being able to absorb damage better than battleships.”

Live-fire test and evaluation platform

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-14A Tomcat VF-33 Starfighters / Tarsiers , AB201 / 19428 / 1982

America was planned to be sold for scrapping. However, she was chosen to be a live-fire test and evaluation platform in 2005, to aid the design of future aircraft carriers. There was some objection to a ship being named after the U.S. being deliberately sunk at sea, and a committee of her former crew members and other supporters attempted to save the ship for use as a museum ship. Their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. In a letter to them, then-Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John B. Nathman explained:

“America will make one final and vital contribution to our national defense, this time as a live-fire test and evaluation platform. America’s legacy will serve as a footprint in the design of future carriers — ships that will protect the sons, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of America veterans. We will conduct a variety of comprehensive tests above and below the waterline collecting data for use by naval architects and engineers in creating the nation’s future carrier fleet. It is essential we make those ships as highly survivable as possible.

“When that mission is complete, the America will slip quietly beneath the sea. I know America has a very special place in your hearts, not only for the name, but also for your service aboard her. I ask that you understand why we selected this ship for this one last crucial mission and make note of the critical nature of her final service.”

USS America, the Only Supercarrier Ever Sunk

Horner concludes:

USS America

“Economically, it was the smallest loss to the original cost ratio versus any of the Nimitz class, or even it’s sister ships of the Kitty Hawk class (USS America never really went through the Navy’s Carrier Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) and therefore, the ship was in bad shape during its last years of service. In the early 1990s the America even had one of her flight deck elevators fall with an S-3B aircraft and several blueshirts on it. Additionally, the carrier suffered steam and fuel leaks and – also in the early 1990s, returning home from deployment – the carrier cut through a Hurricane destroying large parts of the flight deck catwalks.).

“America was conventionally powered, meaning they did not have to worry about the nuclear radiation of a Nimitz class. It was of similar size and design to the Nimitz so they could learn just as much as they would from sinking one of those in preparation for the Ford class. There were no plans for using her as a potential reactivation ship (one that could come back to service) or as a museum, as she was in very bad condition in comparison to her sisters. It resulted that the potential benefits far outweighed the loss, as the lessons learned from sinking her would allow the Navy to perfect the Gerald R. Ford class, which was under development.

“It was just a logical decision in allowing the vessel to serve in one last capacity, without having to pay for tearing her apart or letting her sit as a museum. And hopefully, it worked.”

Photo credit: Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Michael Sandberg / U.S. Navy

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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  • This is was my father's carrier from his time in the navy in the early 70s. I'm always trying to make t-shirts and memorials for this ship just for him. Rest in peace uss America.

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