aircraft carrier

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aircraft carrier,

ship designed to carry aircraft and to permit takeoff and landing of planes. The carrier's distinctive features are a upper deck (flight deck) that is flat and sometimes sloped to function as a takeoff and landing field, and a main deck (hangar deck) beneath the flight deck for storing and servicing the aircraft. The aircraft carrier emerged after World War I as an experimentally modified cruiser; the first warship to be a dedicated carrier was Britain's H.M.S. Argus (1918). The first aircraft carrier built (1925) from the keel up as an aircraft carrier for the U.S. navy was the U.S.S. Saratoga.

The aircraft carrier remained an experimental and untested war vessel until World War II, when the Japanese destroyed or drove out of the East Asian waters the British, Dutch, and U.S. navies with carrier-borne aircraft. By 1942 the aircraft carrier had replaced the battleship as the major unit in a modern fleet, and in World War II it was indispensable in naval operations against a sea- or land-based enemy. The battle of the Coral Sea (1942) was fought by naval aircraft, and the two opposing fleets never came within gunshot range of each other.

After World War II aircraft carriers were enlarged and improved by the British and U.S. navies and became the nucleus of the standard naval combat formation. With the introduction of nuclear-powered carriers in the 1960s, extremely lengthy voyages became possible because such carriers do not need regular refueling. Modern U.S. supercarriers are the largest fighting ships afloat, with some 5,000 sailors and 80 aircraft, and use special catapaults to help launch their aircraft. Smaller carriers and amphibious assault ships may be equipped with short takeoff (and sometimes vertical landing) planes or helicopters.


See N. Polmar, Aircraft Carriers (1969); G. L. Pawlowski, Flat-Tops and Fledglings (1971); C. G. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers (1978).

Aircraft Carrier


a surface naval vessel serving as a highly maneuverable floating air base. The aircraft carrier’s principal means of combat are its carrier-based aircraft—for example, airplanes and helicopters, which are armed with conventional and nuclear bombs, rockets, and torpedoes. Carriers are also armed with antiaircraft missile launchers and 76–mm to 127–mm artillery guns.

Aircraft carriers were introduced during World War I. During World War II carriers formed the backbone of the strike forces of the American, Japanese, and British navies and played a major role in the war at sea, especially in the Pacific. Because of modern developments in missile weaponry, the significance of the carrier has diminished, although American experts expect their continued use in the near future.

There are two types of modern aircraft carriers: attack and antisubmarine warfare carriers. Both can be conventionally or nuclear powered. Attack carriers are used to strike ground targets and troops, to destroy vessels at sea and in port and flying and stationary aircraft, to secure amphibious assaults, and to protect ocean communications. Antisubmarine warfare carriers are designed to seek and destroy submarines on the high seas. Aircraft carriers operate as part of carrier striking forces and antisubmarine warfare task forces.

In 1968 the US Navy had 16 attack carriers and 11 antisubmarine warfare carriers on its active list, Britain had four, and France had two. Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, India, Argentina, and Brazil each had one obsolete antisubmarine warfare carrier.

One of the most powerful modern carriers is the American nuclear attack carrier Enterprise, begun in 1948 and completed in 1961. The Enterprise, whose eight nuclear reactors produce 220 megawatts (300,000 horsepower), displaces approximately 90,000 tons fully loaded, attains a maximum speed of 65 km per hour, and has an operational range of over 700,000 km. The length of the flight deck is 336 m, the width, 76 m, and the draft, 11.3 m. Armed with two twin surface-to-air missile launchers, the Enterprise bases approximately 100 aircraft. Of these, up to 66 are nuclear-armed strike aircraft, up to 24 are interceptors, and a few are radar patrol, electronic warfare, and reconnaissance aircraft. Carrier-based strike aircraft are capable of hitting targets up to 2,000 km from the carrier without refueling. A large supply of nuclear weapons of differing yields can be stored on board. The construction of the Enterprise cost over $450 million.


Korotkin, I. M., Z. F. Slepenkov, and B. A. Kolyzaev. Avianostsy. Moscow, 1964.


aircraft carrier

[′er‚kraft ′kar·ē·ər]
(naval architecture)
A ship that carries aircraft, has a takeoff and landing deck, and is otherwise designed and equipped to serve as a base of operations for the aircraft. Also known as carrier.
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