USS America CV-66 Complete History

Exploring the USS America CV-66

The USS America CV-66 is a renowned aircraft carrier that has played a crucial role in naval history  and has participated in significant conflicts and peacekeeping missions, including the Vietnam War, Cold War, Gulf War, and humanitarian operations. In this article, we will examine the fascinating history of the USS America CV-66, its construction, notable features, and the pivotal roles it has undertaken.


USS America CV-66 Framed Navy Ship Display
USS America CV-66 Framed Navy Ship Display


A Storied History

The USS America boasts a rich history marked by remarkable missions and operations in service to the United States. Commissioned during the Cold War, the ship's construction commenced on February 9, 1961. On February 1, 1964, the vessel was launched and eventually commissioned into service on January 23, 1965. As one of the first Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carriers, the USS America introduced significant innovations, such as an angled flight deck and a steam catapult system, revolutionizing aircraft carrier operations.

Vietnam War and Beyond

Positioned near Vietnam, the USS America served as a base for launching airstrikes and providing aid to ground troops. Its air wing executed numerous missions, conducting strikes in both North and South Vietnam. Furthermore, the aircraft from the USS America contributed to ground troop support, reconnaissance missions, and search and rescue operations.

The USS America embarked on frequent deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean throughout the Cold War. These deployments played crucial part of the United States' strategy to maintain a robust naval presence and deter potential adversaries. The carrier actively participated in training exercises, engaged in joint maneuvers with NATO allies, and projected strength during heightened periods of tension.
This aircraft carrier was a crucial tool in the war efforts during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War. The carrier's aircraft launched airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Kuwait and significantly contributing to the success of the coalition forces and the liberation of Kuwait.

Apart from its military endeavors, the USS America actively engaged in various humanitarian missions. and played a vital role in delivering relief supplies, conducting medical evacuations, and providing essential assistance during natural disasters and humanitarian crises. The ship's involvement in such operations highlighted the adaptability and responsiveness of the U.S. Navy to global humanitarian needs.

The Making of the USS America CV-66

Commencing on January 9, 1961, the process involved several stages, including the construction of the ship's hull and superstructure. On February 9, 1961, the ship's keel, the central structural basis at the bottom, was laid, officially marking the commencement of its construction. The ship were meticulously built and assembled in sections by thousands of skilled workers, engineers, and designers and launched on February 1, 1964.  The USS America was officially commissioning on January 23, 1965.

Distinguished Features

The USS America stood out from its predecessors due to several unique features. One of its most significant innovations was the introduction of an angled flight deck, which enabled simultaneous aircraft launching and landing, greatly enhancing the carrier's efficiency. Additionally, the USS America featured a steam catapult system, providing the necessary thrust to launch different types of aircraft, including heavyweight fighter jets and attack planes.

The carrier was equipped with an advanced control and landing system known as the Mirror Landing System. The Mirror Landing System"on the USS America was a highly advanced technology that facilitated safe landings for pilots on the carrier's deck. It utilized a series of mirrors and lights to provide visual guidance during the landing process, significantly improving safety and reducing the risk of accidents.

In terms of size, the USS America measured approximately 1,046 feet in length and 130 feet in width. With a load capacity of around 81,780 tons and a flight deck spanning an area of 4.1 acres, the ship was able to carry out the Navy's mission of projecting massive power abroad. The ship was powered by four steam turbines, fueled by eight boilers, generating enough power to navigate the seas at high speeds while carrying a significant number of aircraft, crew members, and equipment.

The aircraft carrier needed extensive range  for extended deployments and expeditions without the immediate need for resupply.  This requirement was met by having a range of up to 12,000 nautical miles at a speed of 20 knots while having a top speed capability of approximately 33 knots.

The USS America was designed to accommodate over 80 aircraft including fighter jets, attack aircraft, and helicopters. The aircraft storage deck was divided into three sections by watertight doors, with elevators facilitating the movement of aircraft between the storage deck and the flight deck. This efficient design enabled swift deployment and recovery of aircraft during operations.

Unlike some of its contemporaries, the USS America did not utilize nuclear power. Instead, it relied on conventional fuel. The decision not to equip the USS America with a nuclear reactor was primarily driven by budget considerations and the desire for operational flexibility.

The flight deck of the USS America was thoughtfully designed for optimal efficiency and safety during aircraft operations. The layout featured an angled design, allowing for simultaneous aircraft launches and recoveries. This design choice minimized the turnaround time between takeoffs and landings, significantly increasing the overall aircraft handling capacity.

The bow section was primarily dedicated to aircraft launches and featured powerful steam-powered catapults capable of launching various types of aircraft. The waist section housed equipment used to decelerate and stop landing aircraft. It also served as a parking area for aircraft awaiting takeoff. The stern section was dedicated to aircraft landings, equipped with systems designed to bring aircraft to a halt within a short distance. Additionally, a safety net could be raised in emergency situations to prevent aircraft from falling off the edge of the ship.

The USS America's hangar, the aircraft storage area, was designed to accommodate a large number of aircraft. It was divided into three bays by watertight doors, with elevators located at the front and back to facilitate access to the flight deck. This layout allowed for swift movement and deployment of aircraft during operations.

USS America Framed Photo
USS America Framed Photo

Aircraft and Squadrons on the USS America

Fighter Jets and Ground Support Aircraft

The USS America housed several significant aircraft throughout its service. The F-4 Phantom II played a prominent role as a versatile fighter aircraft during the Vietnam War. It was later replaced by the advanced fighter jet F-14 Tomcat that was able to engage both airborne and ground targets. The A-7 Corsair II as well as the F/A-18 Hornet, renowned for its ground support capabilities, was instrumental in delivering precision strikes on enemy positions.  Additionally, the A-6 Prowler operated from this vessel.

Surveillance Aircraft

The E-2 Hawkeye played a crucial role in the USS America's air wing, providing early warning, command, and control capabilities.  This aircraft could detect and track enemy aircraft and missiles over long distances with a large radar and advanced sensors

Helicopters and Utility Aircraft

For anti-submarine warfare, the SH-3 Sea King helicopter served as a vital asset. It carried torpedoes and sonar systems to detect and engage enemy submarines. The C-2 Greyhound, a cargo aircraft, played a crucial logistical role by transporting supplies and personnel to ensure the carrier remained well-stocked during deployments.

Over its service life, the USS America hosted various naval air squadrons, with the composition of its air wing evolving alongside advancements in technology and changes in operational requirements. Notable squadrons included Fighter Squadron 33 (VF-33) known as the Starfighters, which flew the F-14 Tomcat, and Attack Squadron 85 (VA-85) known as the Black Falcons, specializing in all-weather bombing missions.

Decommissioning and Legacy

The decision to decommission the ship after three decades of service was primarily driven by rising maintenance costs associated with conventionally powered carriers and the introduction of more advanced and efficient nuclear-powered Nimitz-class carriers.

The USS America Carrier Veterans Association (CVA) established a museum and memorial to honor the ship's legacy when plans to convert the USS America into a museum or memorial were not realized due to financial and logistical challenges. The museum showcases artifacts, memorabilia, and exhibits that commemorate the ship's history, operations, and the dedicated personnel who served aboard.

Throughout its service, the USS America witnessed several accidents, leading to improved safety protocols and procedures. One notable incident occurred during the Vietnam War in 1972 when an A-7 Corsair II accidentally dropped a bomb on the deck, causing injuries and damage. This incident prompted enhancements in weapon handling procedures, fire suppression systems, and crew training to prevent such accidents in the future.

The USS America's service left a significant impact on naval aviation. From hosting a diverse range of aircraft to being led by accomplished officers, the ship played a vital role in various operations and contributed to the evolution of naval aviation. While the physical ship no longer exists, the museum and memorial established by the USS America Carrier Veterans Association keep its memory alive, paying tribute to its history and the brave individuals who served aboard.

USS America CV-66 Personalized Plaque
USS America CV-66 Personalized Plaque

How the USS America CV-66 Functioned

The USS America was a mighty ship primarily constructed from high-strength steel, chosen for its optimal balance of weight and durability. It was purpose-built to serve as a mobile aircraft base, capable of handling a wide variety of aircraft in different operational conditions. Key design features, such as the angled deck for simultaneous takeoffs and landings, and spacious lower decks for aircraft storage and maintenance, ensured smooth operations. The ship also incorporated a series of compartments and bulkheads below the decks, which were designed to contain damage and maintain buoyancy in the event of an attack.

Powering the Ship and Ensuring Safety

The USS America operated on a traditional oil-burning boiler system, generating steam that powered the turbines responsible for driving four propeller shafts. This propulsion mechanism allowed the ship to achieve speeds of up to 33 knots (approximately 38 miles per hour). The boilers also served as a source of steam to generate electricity, powering various onboard systems, including radar, communication equipment, aircraft lifts, and essential services.

Safety was of paramount importance on the USS America. The ship was equipped with an extensive array of firefighting and damage control systems. It featured high-capacity fire pumps, sprinkler systems, and an intricate network of fire mains for combating onboard fires. The ship's interior is divided into numerous watertight compartments, capable of being sealed off during flooding events. The USS America also boasted advanced damage control centers that monitored the ship's condition and coordinated response efforts during emergencies. These safety measures continually evolved based on lessons learned from previous incidents aboard other vessels.

Upgrades Over the Years

Over its three-decade operational lifespan, the USS America underwent multiple upgrades to incorporate advancing technologies and address evolving naval warfare requirements. These upgrades encompassed enhancements to radar systems, aircraft navigation and communication systems, as well as improvements to the ship's propulsion and power generation systems. In the late 1970s, the ship underwent a significant refit, which included modifications to the flight deck and the addition of new lifts and improved aircraft launching systems capable of accommodating larger and heavier aircraft being introduced into service.

As part of these upgrades, the USS America integrated more advanced radar systems to improve tracking and early warning capabilities. The ship also received upgraded anti-aircraft missile systems, enhancing its defensive capabilities. These enhancements not only bolstered the ship's defensive capabilities but also increased the effectiveness and range of its aircraft. With the ability to operate more advanced aircraft like the F-14 Tomcat and the S-3 Viking, the USS America expanded its capabilities in areas such as air superiority control, submarine detection and tracking, and surveillance operations.

The USS America CV-66 stood as an engineering marvel, its structure and technology designed to support the complexities of naval aviation. From its robust construction to its advanced systems and continuous upgrades, the USS America was a testament to the United States' commitment to maintaining a powerful and versatile aircraft carrier fleet.

The USS America CV-66: Understanding its Structure, Technology, and Upgrades

The USS America (CV-66) was an impressive aircraft carrier that boasted a robust structure, advanced technology, and underwent notable upgrades throughout its service life. Understanding the ship's structure, the technology it incorporated, and the upgrades it received provides insight into its operational capabilities and significance in naval history.

Upgrades and Modernization

Throughout its service life, the USS America underwent significant upgrades to enhance its capabilities and keep pace with evolving naval requirements. In the late 1970s, the ship underwent a major modernization known as the Service Life Extension Program (SLEP). This involved structural modifications, refurbishments, and the incorporation of new technologies.

As part of the SLEP, the USS America received upgrades to its flight deck, aircraft launching systems, and arresting gear as well as improvements to the ship's electronic systems, navigation aids, and communication equipment. These improvements allowed the carrier to handle more advanced and heavier aircraft and increased the carrier's operational lifespan.

The USS America CV-66 was a formidable aircraft carrier that combined a sturdy structure with advanced technology and continuous upgrades. Its angled flight deck, watertight compartments, and spacious lower decks facilitated efficient aircraft operations and maintenance. The carrier's propulsion system, radar systems, and communication equipment provided the necessary power and situational awareness for effective operations. The USS America's upgrades and modernization ensured that it remained a capable and adaptable platform throughout its service, contributing significantly to the United States' naval power and strategic capabilities.

F/A 18 Hornet Engraved Display
F/A 18 Hornet Engraved Display

Structure of the USS America CV-66

The USS America was constructed primarily using high-strength steel, a material chosen for its durability and strength-to-weight ratio. This allowed the ship to withstand the harsh conditions of the open seas while maintaining maneuverability. The ship's design was optimized to accommodate the operations of a large number of aircraft. It featured an angled flight deck, which enabled simultaneous takeoffs and landings, optimizing the efficiency of flight operations. The lower decks were spacious and dedicated to the storage, maintenance, and repair of aircraft.

Technology on the USS America CV-66

The USS America incorporated advanced technology to support its operational capabilities. The ship was powered by oil-burning boilers that generated steam to drive turbines, which propelled the carrier through the water. This propulsion system provided the ship with a maximum speed of approximately 33 knots (around 38 miles per hour). The USS America also featured a comprehensive electrical system that supplied power to various onboard systems, including radar, communication equipment, navigation aids, and lighting.

The ship's advanced radar systems played a crucial role in detecting and tracking aircraft and other potential threats. These systems provided early warning capabilities, enabling the carrier to effectively respond to incoming threats and coordinate its operations. Additionally, the USS America was equipped with sophisticated communication systems, allowing seamless coordination with other naval assets and ground-based command centers.

The Big Dawg's Final Journey: Remembering USS America CV-66

The USS America CV-66, affectionately known as the "Big Dawg", embarked on its final journey in 1995-96, leaving an indelible impact on those who served aboard. As a vessel that witnessed several historical events, the ship and its crew hold many tales of camaraderie, courage, and commitment.

Captain R.E. Suggs, who famously mustered the crew into Hangar Bay 1 for a moment of unity, and Master Chief Looney are fondly remembered for their leadership. The Captain's distinct bravado was evident when he led the crew in a jestful gesture towards the George Washington, claiming it was the USS America that would receive the Battle E.

Serving on the USS America was more than just a duty; it was an honor and a learning experience. As Jeffery Wilson fondly recalls, he was handpicked by Captain Dinkler to serve in his office, a responsibility that allowed him to learn more about the Navy's operations. Crew members like Jon Thompson, who served as the ABCM, saw their time on the America as a remarkable tour of duty.

Crew members also recall the last Mediterranean Cruise (Med Cruise) of the USS America with a mix of pride and nostalgia. Joe Paver from the SEAOPDET Cecil Field, Jeff Hillman from NAS Cecil Field, and Stacy Sain from AIMD IM3 are some of the veterans who were part of this final journey.

The crew remembers the spirit of the USS America, which they believe every Navy ship should strive to emulate. The decommissioning crew, (to include Brian Gray, Mike Keefer, Ed Devlin, Paul Swanson and Fred Benford) was proud to serve the ship until the end. The spirit of the ship remains alive in the hearts of these sailors, who view their time on the USS America as the best period of their lives.

The crew's camaraderie transcended their time on the ship, with many friendships enduring to this day. Many crew members express a yearning to reconnect with their shipmates and relive the glory days on the "Big Dawg". Carl Tabor, a crew member from the 3rd Deck, recalls painting the anchor tubes during the Med Cruise and remains close friends with some of his shipmates, 26 years later.

Several crew members, like Coneal Knowles from the Propulsion team, see their time on the America as a rite of passage that helped them mature and understand the values of discipline, teamwork, and duty.

The USS America CV-66 was more than just a ship to these shipmates. It was a symbol of unity, a beacon of American resilience, and a cherished memory in the hearts of its crew. While the ship may no longer sail the ocean, its legacy will forever be etched in the annals of the US Navy.

USS America CV-66 Frequently Asked Questions

What was the most important battle that the USS America CV-66 was involved in?
The most notable engagement of the USS America CV-66 was likely its contribution to Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

How many planes could the USS America CV-66 hold?
The USS America CV-66 had the capacity to carry between 80 and 100 aircraft, though the exact number depended on the combination of different aircraft types.

Are there any existing artifacts from the USS America CV-66?
Indeed, various museums and collections preserve numerous relics from the USS America CV-66, including items such as ship bells, uniforms, photographs, and crew members' personal items.

Did any famous people serve on the USS America CV-66?
While individual crew members didn't generally become famous, many served with honor, including Admiral James L. Holloway III, a former Chief of Naval Operations who once led the USS America.

What are the main features of the USS America CV-66?
The USS America CV-66, a Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carrier, had a full load displacement of about 81,000 tons, was approximately 1,048 feet long, and could reach speeds of 34 knots.

Did the USS America CV-66 participate in any missions of humanitarian aid?
Yes, the USS America CV-66 was part of humanitarian missions, including Operation Provide Comfort in 1991, which provided assistance to Kurdish refugees in Northern Iraq.

What were the regular activities onboard the USS America CV-66?
The daily operations on the USS America CV-66 involved activities such as launching and recovering aircraft, steering and powering the ship, regular maintenance, conducting training drills, and providing crew services like food and medical care.

How many years did the USS America CV-66 serve in the Navy?
The USS America CV-66 was in service from 1965 until 1996, spanning approximately 32 years.

Is there a dedicated museum or memorial for the USS America CV-66?
While there isn't a dedicated museum or memorial for the USS America CV-66, several maritime and naval museums house artifacts from the ship, and its legacy is honored at crew reunions and gatherings.

What were the significant upgrades and overhauls made to the USS America CV-66?
The USS America CV-66 underwent numerous upgrades and overhauls, including improvements to radar systems, installation of new anti-aircraft and missile systems, and upgrades to accommodate new aircraft.

What were the significant historical milestones and events in the USS America CV-66's service?
The USS America CV-66 had many historical milestones, including service during the Vietnam War, operations in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, a prominent role in Operation Desert Storm, and its unique conclusion as a target in a controlled sinking exercise in 2005.

Framed Navy Discharge Certificate
Framed Honorable Discharge Certificate
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1 comment

The USS America was more than just a ship to me. It was home and a significant part of my life. As someone who worked in the boiler rooms, I can tell you that it was hot, loud, and tough work, but it was always rewarding.

JR Evans

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