Navy marks the 100th anniversary of the service’s aircraft carriers

Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Nimitz assemble on the flight deck and form a human “100” to commemorate the centennial of the aircraft carrier. (MC3 Elliot Schaudt/Navy)

Aircraft carriers joined the Navy fleet 100 years ago this month.

“For 100 years aircraft carriers have been the most survivable and versatile airfields in the world,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said during a Navy League centennial celebration Monday in Norfolk. “Perhaps no single military platform distinguishes what our nation is … and what it stands for … more than the aircraft carrier.”

The aircraft carrier concept originated with Cmdr. Kenneth Whiting, naval aviator, as a way to transport planes within the fleet using cargo ships. Whiting was subsequently involved in transforming the collier Jupiter into the first aircraft carrier Langley, according to Naval History and Heritage Command.

The carrier was commissioned March 20, 1922.

“The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is the Nation’s premier class of warship,” said Capt. Craig Sicola, commanding officer of the aircraft carrier Nimitz, in a Navy news release. “It is without a doubt the United States’ strongest asset when it comes to maintaining superiority of the seas, protecting international maritime trade and deterring foreign aggression.”

Of course, there have been many notable carriers in U.S. history, and two of them carried the same name. The USS Enterprise (CV-6) racked up 20 Battle Stars and became the most decorated warship during WWII. Another carrier named Enterprise (CVN 65) became the first nuclear-powered carrier when it was commissioned in 1961.

Aircraft carriers also served as the “primary base for American air power” following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command. The Theodore Roosevelt joined carriers Enterprise and Carl Vinson in October 2001 to conduct the initial strike operations against Taliban and al-Qaida forces at the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Overall, Navy carrier aircraft accounted for 70 percent of all strike missions conducted during the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom from October 2001 to the end of December 2001, according to Naval History and Heritage Command.

On March 12, sailors from the Nimitz formed a “100″ on the flight deck to commemorate the centennial anniversary. The carrier, which is operating off the coast of Southern California, concluded a 10-month deployment in February 2021, and was the first carrier to deploy following the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020.

The ship is one of the Navy’s 11 Nimitz- and Ford-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

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