You finish your last pre-flight check as the canopy closes above you. You maneuver your A-4N Skyhawk fighter jet down the deck toward the bow. Carefully following the signals of the deck crew, you roll the front wheel of your jet into the catapult, the wheel fitting into a small metal shuttle. Crew members swarm around your jet, locking your front landing gear into the shuttle, preparing for takeoff. Behind you, a blast deflector rises from the carrier’s deck to protect the crew from your jet’s exhaust flames. Steam pressure from the aircraft carrier’s boilers builds, charging the catapult. You bring the engine to full takeoff power, hot exhaust glowing orange and red from the tail of your jet. The catapult officer, a crew member on the deck in charge of your launch, presses a button and releases the shuttle that holds your front wheel. Instantly, your jet hurtles down the deck, covering 211 feet in under two seconds, flinging you from the carrier’s deck into the air, accelerating your aircraft from a dead stop to almost 170 miles per hour. Just another day in the office for you, one of a select group of people: pilots qualified to launch from the deck of an aircraft carrier (you can read more about aircraft carrier operations here).
Since I was a little boy, I have been fascinated by naval vessels, especially aircraft carriers. Growing up, I could tell you the differences between the USS Kitty Hawk and the USS Nimitz. I could describe the relative merits of the French carrier Foch and the British HMS Invincible. I could point out the compromised design of the Soviet Kiev-class. I could describe the similarities between the Italian Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Spanish Principe de Asturias. Yet while I have seen these modern marvels in films, studied them in pictures, and read about them in books, I had never seen one in person. For my birthday this year, my wife changed that. This past weekend she took me to tour the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier that served in the US Navy from 1943 to 1974, and is now a museum ship in New York City, the trip happening only one day after my epic birthday road trip. Apparently, a great birthday weekend has not one but two road trips. Let’s begin:
The Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space Museum was another in a series of excellent military exhibits I have visited in recent years. It was a fun birthday celebration, where we ate good food, enjoyed delicious drinks, and learned about the history of life at sea aboard an aircraft carrier. If you plan to visit the Intrepid, I would highly recommend buying tickets in advance. My wife did, sparing us a long wait to get in (having advanced tickets lets you jump ahead of both the security line and the ticketing line). The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm, and Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm. Tickets are $33 for adults ages 13-64, seniors 65+ can enter for $31, and children ages 5-12 can enter for $24. Children under four, military service personnel, and veterans can enter for free. If you come, plan to spend several hours touring this ship – you will want to absorb as much as possible!
Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead.