The Fighting I.

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:

Map of New York and New Jersey, with a red pin in the location of the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum.
Our destination for the day: Manhattan and the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum.
Skyline of New York City in background. The Staten Island Ferry is in the foreground.
Rather than driving to New York City, we opted for a different mode of transportation: the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry service operates 24 hours a day and is free. There is a charge for parking, although that too is free on Sundays. We stashed my wife’s Jeep Grand Cherokee in the parking lot and headed to the terminal.
Entrance to Staten Island Ferry Terminal. A sign above the terminal says WELCOME TO STATEN ISLAND FERRY.
All aboard!
View of Robbins Reef Lighthouse in the New York Harbor.
One of the benefits of the 5.2-mile ferry route are the terrific views around New York Harbor. Robbins Reef Lighthouse, built in 1883, caught my eye.
Staten Island Ferry in water. Jersey City skyline in the background.
The ferry service operates every 30 minutes, except during weekday rush hour, when the ships depart every 15 minutes. We passed this ferry that was heading back to Staten Island. The skyline of Jersey City is in the background.
The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” Definitely the coolest thing I saw on the ferry ride – this will absolutely be a destination for a future post!
View of Ellis Island from across New York Harbor.
A short distance from the Statue of Liberty is Ellis Island. Now a museum, Ellis Island was a major immigration station for over 60 years, through which 12 million immigrants entered this country, including several members of my own family (I don’t have a web link for that fact… my source is my Mom, who has spent several years studying our family history, including census records and other primary sources – thanks Mom!).
View of the Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Manhattan.
Arriving at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal in the South Ferry section of Lower Manhattan.
Exterior of the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog in Manhattan.
Our first stop was The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog. Voted the Best Bar in the World in 2016 by Drinks International, the establishment is named after a New York-based 19th Irish gang (the Dead Rabbits were featured in the Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York).
Taproom of The Dead Rabbits. Numerous whiskey bottles are on the shelves, and photographs hang from the ceiling.
The first-floor taproom is designed to hearken back to a 19th century bar, complete with sawdust on the floors. Fun fact: The Dead Rabbit claims to have the most Irish whiskey of any bar in New York City.
Two Irish coffees on the countertop in stemmed glassware.
Who needs birthday cake when you can start your day with an Irish Coffee? Far from a trade secret, The Dead Rabbit has the recipe for the drink on a chalkboard behind the bar. There are only four ingredients in the drink: coffee, sugar, cream, and Bushmills whiskey. Upon learning it was my birthday, the bartender gave us a second round on the house.
View of exterior of Fraunces Tavern.
Although the Dead Rabbit’s food is amazing, they are only serving cold menu items currently after a kitchen fire a few months ago. The bartender told us that one of the night porters smelled smoke and immediately turned off the gas in the kitchen. That quick thinking saved the restaurant from a far more damaging fire. Wanting something a little more substantial to eat, we decided to try historic Fraunces Tavern, which is on the same block.
Interior of Fraunces Tavern.
Built in 1719, Fraunces Tavern is reported to be the oldest surviving building in New York City. In 1783, at the conclusion of the American Revolution, George Washington held a special dinner here to say goodbye to the officers who had served with him. For a brief period of time when New York City was the capitol of our nation, the Departments of Finance (now the Treasury Department), Foreign Affairs (now the State Department), and War (now the Defense Department) had their offices here.
Shrimp Cobb Salad.
And of course, the food. My wife had Jefferson’s Cobb Salad (bacon, cucumber, avocado, tomato, onion, egg, blue cheese, shrimp, and a champagne vinaigrette)…
Salmon burger with fries.
And I went chose the Blackened Salmon Burger (and the fries were fantastic). After your meal, if you want to explore more of the building, the second and third floors house a museum. We opted to head to our next destination.
View of the Freedom Tower from street level.
We used Uber to transport us from Lower Manhattan to the Intrepid museum. My wife snapped this shot of the Freedom Tower as we drove along West Street.
2012 Honda Pilot in black, pulling away from curb.
Despite leaving my Accord at home, we still managed to sneak a Honda into this post. Uber sent us a Honda Pilot SUV.
View of the USS Intrepid from the starboard side.
We arrived at our destination: the Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space Museum.
Stern view of the USS Intrepid.
Commissioned in 1943 and decommissioned in 1974, the USS Intrepid served in World War II, the Vietnam War, and recovered spacecraft from the Gemini and Mercury missions (via Wikipedia).
Panorama of the USS Intrepid.
A member of the Essex-class of aircraft carriers, the Intrepid weighs over 36,000 tons and is almost 900 feet long. It’s so big, I had to use the panorama function on my phone to capture the entire ship.
In front of the bow of the USS Intrepid.
I felt tiny as I stood in front of the ship’s bow.
View of the anchor room, with one of the large anchor chains in the middle.
Once aboard, we were able to tour two of the decks. This is the anchor room. Anchoring a ship of this size required 3 anchors, each weighing 15 tons. The anchor chains are 1,000 feet in length.
Drawing of the road runner cartoon on the anchor chain machinery.
This Road Runner drawing on the anchor machinery was a piece of sailor’s art, now enclosed and protected. I wonder if the sailor who drew this imagined that his doodling would be part of a museum exhibit decades later.
Enlisted personnel bunks. There are 9 bunks and two lockers visible in the photo.
Enlisted crew bunks – not much in the way of personal space for the crew, despite the ship’s immense size.
Anti-aircraft gun on the side of the ship.
On our way to the flight deck, we passed this 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun. During WWII, these guns were called into action many times, as the ship was struck by Japanese attack planes several times, including one kamikaze attack in October of 1944 that killed sixty-six sailors.
Israeli Kfir C7 fighter jet on carrier deck.
The deck of the Intrepid is a museum of military aircraft. This is an Israeli Kfir C7 fighter jet.
F-16 Falcon jet on carrier deck.
An F-16A Fighting Falcon. This jet, from the New York National Guard, fought in Operation Desert Storm.
F-14D Tomcat, on carrier deck, with the New York Skyline behind it.
“Highway to the danger zone…” Star of the movie Top Gun (and subject of posters in many children’s bedrooms during the 1980s, including mine), this is the F-14 Tomcat. After the F-14 was retired from service in 2006, almost every single existing jet was shredded in a giant metal shredder, to prevent any spare parts from falling into the hands of the Iranian Air Force, who are the only other operators of this jet. Only a few survive in museums, including this one.
Lockheed A-12 parked on carrier deck.
One of the highlights of the collection for me: the Lockheed A-12. A spy plane, it was designed to fly high in the atmosphere at supersonic speeds and photograph enemy military targets. It was later developed into the more widely known SR-71 Blackbird.
Grumman E-1 Tracer on carrier deck.
The Grumman E-1 Tracer. The odd device on the top of the plane is a radar. This was designed to fly high above the aircraft carrier, using its enormous radar to scan for enemies at great distances.
Hawker Siddeley AV-8C Harrier.
The Hawker-Siddeley AV-8C Harrier. Nicknamed the “jump jet,” this British invention was able to take off and land vertically. I was fascinated by this as a boy, and had a moment of hero worship when I saw it on the deck. Unable to convey in words my excitement, I think all my wife heard was me yelp, “Harrier!” and off I ran to photograph it.
Vought F-8 Crusader on carrier deck.
The Vought F-8 Crusader. It was a rugged aircraft that saw much combat service. Unfortunately, it also had a high rate of mishaps. Of 1200 jets produced, over 1,000 of them were involved in some type of accident. One of the most gruesome? The air intake at the front of the jet was poorly positioned. Walk too close to it on the deck while its engine is running, and well… imagine a fighter-jet sized vacuum cleaner. I’ll spare you the gory bits. Crews nicknamed it “the Gator” and the “Ensign Eliminator.”
MiG-21 fighter jet.
Even the enemy is represented. This is a MiG-21, a Cold War-era Soviet fighter jet. Over 11,000 of these were produced from 1959 until 1985.
Space Shuttle Enterprise.
Enter a large structure at the aft end of the flight deck, and from the darkness emerges a space ship…
Space Shuttle Enterprise.
The space shuttle Enterprise. Originally named Constitution, it was renamed Enterprise after the White House received hundreds of thousands of letters from Star Trek fans asking that the shuttle be renamed after the spaceship from their beloved TV show (via Wikipedia).
Photo of the underneath of the space shuttle.
The shuttle’s immense size is truly evident once you stand beneath it. The tiles on the hull are the heat shielding, designed to protect the shuttle when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
Metal grating. Below the grating his the waters of the Hudson River.
As we began to descend from the flight deck, my wife pointed out that you could see through the deck’s drain holes. That’s the Hudson River, WAAAYYYY down there.
Panorama of hangar deck.
More aircraft are stored below decks on the hangar deck.
Grumman TBM Avenger on hangar deck.
The massive Grumman TBM Avenger, a WWII-era carrier-based bomber. In 1943, one of these was hit by Japanese gunfire. Despite the damage, the pilot managed to bomb his target before ejecting into the Pacific, where he was later rescued. His name? George H. W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States.
Lego model of USS Intrepid on hangar deck.
How about a 1/40-scale USS Intrepid, made from Legos? I was in nerd heaven. It is 22 feet long, weighs 550 pounds, and is made from approximately 250,000 pieces.
Concorde jet on pier next to hangar.
As we departed the ship, we spotted this on the far end of the pier- a Concorde. Capable of flying at twice the speed of sound, it could travel from New York to London in 3 hours. This particular jet first flew on August 25, 1976, 42 years and 1 day ago.
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, white, parked in a parking lot. Trees are in the background.
After a day of ferry rides, walking, walking, and more walking, it felt good to settle into the seats of Grace, my wife’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. Now at a little over 25,000 miles, the Jeep continues to cruise along well. There were also several massive potholes in Staten Island that made me glad we had left my Accord at home.

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.

‘Til next time.

8 thoughts on “The Fighting I.

  1. Whenever you make it out here to AZ, I’ll have to take you to the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson. You’ll get a kick out of it – there’s so much cool aircraft history. I learned a few things in here. A little surprised the living quarters are so sparse aboard the Intrepid for being such a large barge! That Jefferson’s cobb salad is calling my name right now. Great choice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pima sounds terrific- I’d definitely want to see it (only if the Legend coupe takes me there, though…). I definitely had ordering regret when I saw my wife’s Cobb salad. My sandwich was good, but the salad was amazing.

      Thanks for reading!


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