Naval Warfare

US Navy Personnel explain what an aircraft carrier fantail opening is used for

US Navy aircraft carriers

Aircraft carriers are the centerpiece of America’s Naval forces – the most adaptable and survivable airfields in the world.

The US Navy has ten nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. With an overall length of 1,092 ft (333 m) and a full-load displacement of over 100,000 long tons (100,000 t), the Nimitz-class ships were the largest warships built and in service until USS Gerald R. Ford entered the fleet in 2017 (the first sample of the next generation of aircraft carrier).

On any given day, sailors aboard an aircraft carrier and its air wing come to the fight trained and equipped across a full range of missions. They are ready to control the sea, conduct strikes, and maneuver across the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace. No other naval force fields a commensurate range and depth of combat capabilities.

Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department test a F414 engine from an F/A-18 Super Hornet on the fantail aboard aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). Washington and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2 are deployed in support of Southern Seas 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chase C. Lacombe/Released)

US Navy aircraft carrier fantail

As the images in this post show, each aircraft carrier has a large aft opening called fantail.

Fantails “are small insectivorous birds of Australasia, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent belonging to the genus Rhipidura.” According to Twelve Mile Circle – An Appreciation of Unusual Places, they fly in a very distinctive way with the feathers spread out to help them turn quickly so they can catch insects.

The very back end of an aircraft carrier kind-of protruded in a similar way. Anyway, someone thought so because they called it the fantail.

Fantail’s functions

‘The fantail opening serves several functions,’ says Paul Montgomery, Boiler/Eng Controls USS JFK CV67.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F/A-18F Super Hornet VFA-211 Fighting Checkmates, AB200 / 166805 / 2009

Montgomery sums up just about all of the reasons for this large aft opening on Quora.

  • It provides a sheltered area to access the ship when anchored away from a pier.
  • It provides a means to tow stuff behind the ship while underway. Some of those things are secret, but a common item to tow was a barge used as target practice by the pilots. Brrrt.
  • The jet engine shop is just behind doors at the center right. When open, they can extend a rail system where engines can be tested under full power after overhaul.
  • It provides a diving platform for divers to do repairs to the four screws (propellers).
  • You can fish off of it while anchored.
  • Sailors sometimes break out the barbecue grill there and cook.
  • It allows for excellent pictures of the wake of the ship extending out over calm waters for as far as you can see.
This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS

Aircraft carrier fantail: a wonderful place to go for relieving stress

Darald Daugherty, former Electronics Technician aboard US Navy aircraft carriers, adds;

‘I personally observed this area most routinely used for testing jet engines, but it was also used each morning for launching weather balloons. The Aerographer’s Mate’s weather balloon shop is on the far right side (of my CVN anyway).

‘As an added bonus, with flight ops secured, this area was a WONDERFUL place to go for relieving stress! It was both mesmerizing and tranquilizing to watch the frothy white wake of our ship’s four massive screws churning the sea. Within minutes, whatever or whomever had your mind on edge just simply didn’t matter anymore. And at night, if you were REALLY lucky, you might even be treated to a light show of bio luminescent algae which would leave a glowing green wake trail behind the ship. Such an experience is something that cannot be described or recorded, you simply have to see it first hand, out in the pitch black sky and open sea!’

As the following video taken from aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) shows, it is also a great spot for watching incoming jets, although aircraft carrier crew members go out there during one of the rare quiet moments with nothing in the air. Moreover the fantail is normally secured during flight operations for safety reasons.

Top image: PH Rome J. Toledo / U.S. Navy

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.

View Comments

  • SEALs and Marines fire lots of ammo off the fantail. In 1996, I commanded a Marine maritime special ops team, and the stapled large air-filled paper bags the ship used for waste was the BEST target practice I ever experienced, becuase the distance changed rapidly as the ship sailed, they bobbed heavily in the wake, and we knew EXACTLY where we were hitting (or missing) from the visible splash of the rifle and machine gun rounds! Semper Fi

  • I was on the Carl Vinson and it was one of 3 locations where you could smoke and it was also where huge sacks of Garbage from the 6 galleys on board were tossed overboard

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