USS Nimitz CVN-68 is a nuclear-powered multimission aircraft carrier of the United States Navy, and the lead ship of the Nimitz-class of carriers. At 1,092 feet long and over 95,000 tons loaded, it is one of the largest warships in the world. The carrier was launched on May 13, 1972, and is named after Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.
It was built at "Newport News Shipbuilding Co.", Newport News, Va.
After her commissioning on May 3, 1975, Nimitz’ first deployment began on July 7, 1976 when she departed Norfolk for the Mediterranean. Included in the task force were the nuclear-powered cruisers USS South Carolina (CGN 37) and USS California (CGN 36). The deployment marked the first time in 10 years that nuclear-powered ships had deployed to the Mediterranean. In November 1976, Nimitz was awarded the coveted Battle “E” from Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet for being the most efficient and foremost aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Fleet. The ship returned to Norfolk on Feb. 7, 1977 after a seven-month deployment. Nimitz again sailed toward the Mediterranean Sea on Dec. 1, 1977. Following a peaceful deployment, the ship returned home to Norfolk on July 20, 1978.
During Nimitz’ third cruise to the Mediterranean beginning on Sept. 10, 1979, she was dispatched to strengthen the U.S. Naval forces in the Indian Ocean area as tensions heightened over Iran’s taking of 52 U.S. hostages. Four months later, Operation Evening Light was launched from Nimitz in an attempt to rescue the hostages. The rescue was aborted in the Iranian desert when the number of operational helicopters fell below the minimum needed to complete the rescue. Nimitz’ homecoming on May 26, 1980 was, at the time, the largest given to any carrier battle group returning to the United States since the end of World War II.
On August 18–19, 1981, during her fourth deployment, Nimitz and USS Forrestal (CV 59) conducted an open ocean missile exercise in the Gulf of Sidra near what Libyan leader Khadafi called the “Line of Death.” On the morning of August 19, two Nimitz F-14 Tomcats from VF-41, were fired upon by Libyan pilots. Nimitz pilots returned fire and shot both Libyan aircraft from the sky. It was the US Navy's first aerial combat since the Vietnam War. Newspapers across the country rallied around the incident against terrorist-backing Libya with front page headlines reading: “U.S. 2 - Libya 0.”
Nimitz departed the Mediterranean on May 21, 1987, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, rounded the rough waters of Cape Horn, South America, and sailed for the first time in the waters of the Pacific Ocean en route to her new home port of Bremerton, WA., arriving there on July 2, 1987. In September 1988, during her initial Western Pacific deployment, the ship operated off the South Korean coast to provide security for the Olympic Games in Seoul. On October 29, 1988, Nimitz began operating in the North Arabian Sea where she participated in Operation Earnest Will. Nimitz returned home on March 2, 1989. Following an extensive overhaul period, Nimitz departed Bremerton on February 25, 1991, for the Western Pacific and eventually the Arabian Gulf, relieving USS Ranger, during Operation Desert Storm and returned home on August 24, 1991. Nimitz again deployed on February 1, 1993 to the Arabian Gulf, relieving USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) as part of Operation Southern Watch.
On September 1, 1997, Nimitz set out on an around-the-world cruise that would allow the carrier to return to her East Coast roots and begin a multi-year overhaul at Newport News Ship- building and Drydock Company. During the around-the-world deployment, Nimitz was ordered into the Arabian Gulf to support Operation Southern Watch and various United Nations initiatives; answering each challenge. At times the Nimitz Battle Group was the only force available in the region to enforce U.N. sanctions as lraq launched a campaign of defiance.
Before the cruise was over, the U.S. returned to a policy of keeping two carriers in the Gulf simultaneously. Nimitz returned to Virginia on March 1, 1998 and on May 26, 1998 began her mid-life refueling overhaul. On June 25, 2001, Nimitz departed Newport News Shipbuilding and began preparations for her transition to her new home port of San Diego, California. Nimitz arrived in its new home port of San Diego on November 13, 2001.
As hostilities grew during the early part of 2003, Nimitz was tasked to set sail in March to support combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The ship returned to San Diego in November after more than eight months at sea. As a result of the crew’s hard work and the ship’s success, Nimitz was awarded the Battle “E,” as the finest carrier in the Pacific Fleet; the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; the Navy Unit Commendation; and the 2003 Admiral H. Flatley Memorial Award for excellence in aviation safety, in combination with the ship’s air wing, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11.
In May 2005, Nimitz embarked on a six-month deployment to the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism. These operations helped set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment and complemented the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. While in the Fifth Fleet area of operations, Nimitz and its embarked air wing, CVW 11, launched more than 4,500 sorties totaling more than 11,000 flight hours. More than 1,100 sorties and 6,000 flight hours were flown in direct support of troops on the ground in Iraq.
Ships from the Nimitz Strike Group also conducted 286 queries, 410 approaches and 14 boardings of foreign vessels in support of Fifth Fleet Maritime Security Operations.
Shortly after leaving the Gulf, the strike group participated in MALABAR 2005, the seventh annual bi-lateral exercise between the U.S. and Indian navies. For the first time in the history of the exercise, a U.S. carrier operated together with the Indian carrier INS Viraat (R 22).
During the deployment, the Nimitz Strike Group made a number of port visits throughout the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf including stops in Hawaii, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Thailand, Bahrain, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Nimitz also made her first-ever stops in Guam and Fremantle, Australia. The ship returned to San Diego in November 2005 and subsequently was awarded the Pacific Fleet Battle “E” and the Admiral H. Flatley Memorial Award.
Flight deck crash in 1981
On May 25, 1981, during work ups off the eastern Florida coast an EA-6B Prowler crashed on the flight deck, starboard side. A moderate breeze touched the night, and the ship steered 160º at five knots, reaching 30º29’3”N, 080º22’0”W, during the second dog watch on Tuesday the 26th. A particularly dark night with thin clouds above, no visible horizon, heavy haze at lower altitude and thunderstorms moving toward Nimitz produced problems for aircrew in the landing cycle. Suddenly, the landing signal officer shouted, “Power! Power!” as the aircraft dropped too low while landing at 2351. The Prowler hit the ship and its impact sheared off the top of the aircraft; it then slammed into three Corsair IIs spotted forward and then hurtled into a nearby Tomcat, pushing it into two adjacent F-14As. The EA-6B exploded near aircraft loaded with live ordnance, killing the crew and sending a “fireball” rolling across the flight deck and cooking off 20 mm ammunition, which spewed fragments into the men on deck. Sailors bravely plied hoses onto the inferno as CAPT Batzler ordered left 30º rudder and brought the ship about 90º to come out of the wind, forcing smoke away from the hose teams. A secondary explosion erupted at 0021 near catapult No. 2, probably caused by an AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile. The fire blazed into the mid watch and at one point caused the ship to lose steerageway, though her crew regained control of Nimitz, battling the flames until 0219. The fire fouled the flight deck and forced about a dozen aircraft aloft to emergency divert ashore to Charleston, S.C., before they ran out of fuel. Destroyer USS Moosbrugger (DD-980) manned her pilot rescue detail, and her helo joined two from Nimitz to search throughout the night for survivors, although they only recovered some aircraft wreckage. Moosbrugger also refueled one of the carrier’s helos during the ordeal, and all three helo aircrew “performed superbly,” including at least one that landed on Nimitz’s fantail at the edge of the wind envelope during the height of the fire, a dangerous maneuver which observers said could not be done under the circumstances–until sailors persevered to aid their shipmates. Nimitz passed through several rainstorms through the nightmare, however, the merits of avoiding increased wind over the deck offset difficulties imposed by the rain and the captain chose to keep way to reduce wind interference. Initial reports, which proved to be erroneous, indicated that some men were blown over the side. In addition to the three marines on board the Prowler, 11 sailors had died and 48 were injured; 21 of the most critical were evacuated to Naval Air Station Jacksonville. Four of the most severely burned men went on to the burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center at San Antonio, Texas. The fire destroyed three Tomcats as well as the Prowler, and damaged two Tomcats, nine Corsair IIs, one Intruder, three Vikings and one Sea King. The Navy determined that a combination of “environmental, mechanical and human factors” caused the crash of the Prowler, and recommended a zealous anti drug program that became known as “zero tolerance.” Nimitz returned to Pier 12 at Norfolk during the afternoon watch on the 28th to repair damaged catapults, getting underway for additional training two days later. .