The USS Forrestal (CVA-59), commissioned in 1955, was the leading ship of four aircraft carriers that composed the Forrestal class. What made these ships so remarkable in the History of modern warships?

USS Forrestal aircraft carrier
First of all, the USS Forrestal would be the first aircraft carrier built for the United States Navy after the Second World War. But this time, with a large step ahead in terms of functionality. The design of the Forrestal class included as main innovation an angled flight deck that would allow faster operations with aircraft. This innovation had been tested by the first time in the Royal Navy, but the aircraft carriers of the Forrestal class were the first ones built with an angled flight deck from the beginning.

Let us see the main specifications of these ships and why they are referred as the first "supercarriers". We can start with a "weighty" argument. The Forrestal class had a standard displacement of 60000 tonness and a full load displacement of 77100 tons, exceeding in about 15000 tonnes the standard displacement of the Midway class, the group of aircraft carriers immediately prior to the Forrestal class, a project started during the Second World War, around ten years before.

Now let us take a look at the dimensions. The length of the Forrestal class was 301.8 meters on the waterline, reaching 331 meters on the flight deck; thus, the overall length of the Forrestal class surpassed in 36 meters that of the Midway class. The beam, 38.5 meters on the waterline, reached 76.8 meters on the flight deck, exceeding in about 40 meters - and therefore being more than twice - the maximum beam of the Midway class. Finally, the draft reached 11.3 meters, somewhat more than the 10 meters of the Midway class.

Comparing the area of the flight deck, that of the Forrestal class, with approximately 18000 square meters, was about 75 percent larger. The Forrestal class could transport about 25 percent more aircraft than the Midway class, and almost twice than the previous Essex class that served during the Second World War. The photograph below clearly illustrates the size of the flight deck and the numerous air wing carried.

USS Forrestal aircraft carrier
The propulsion plant comprised eight boilers Babcock and Wilcox, which grouped in pairs, moved four steam turbines Westinghouse and their corresponding four shafts, giving a total output of 260000 shaft horsepower. Maximum speed was very respectable, about 33 knots, and operational range reached 6750 nautical miles (12500 kilometers) navigating at a cruise speed of 20 knots.

Now let us see the new functionalities applied on the Forrestal class that made a difference over the precedent classes. The most visible change would be the huge angled flight deck, which allowed the simultaneous landing and takeoff of the aircraft. This concept had been previously tested in the USS Antietam, an aircraft carrier of the Essex class, whose original flight deck was reconverted in 1952 for such purpose.

A closer look at the flight deck would reveal a set of rails where steam powered catapults run. These would allow the aircraft to take off in a short path. The design of the Forrestal class included two catapults placed on the fore deck and another two placed on the larboard side of the central deck; ideally, all these catapults would allow to launch eight aircraft per minute.

The four elevators, which were of a simple rectangular shape and measured 16 x 19 meters, were all of them placed externally to the hull, which increases efficiency in aviation operations. However, not all of them were correctly placed; the weakest point in the design was the elevator located in the fore end of the landing runway, which obviously interfered operations in that area. This mistake would be corrected in the successive designs.

The Forrestal class was originally armed, for self defense, with eight 127-millimeter dual-purpose cannons in single mountings, located at both sides of the hull, four of them in the prow and the other four astern. The fore cannons were practically useless because they were too exposed during bad weather conditions; eventually all the cannons would be supressed, being replaced by two octuple launchers for surface-to-air missiles Sea Sparrow, and much later by two Vulcan Phalanx close-in weapon systems.

The photograph below shows the USS Forrestal shortly after a fire suffered in 1967, whereas the photograph above is older, for the cannon mountings are visible. Stationed on the flight deck, are distinguishable diverse types of aircraft, such as numerous ground attack aircraft A-1 Skyraider, one antisubmarine aircraft S-2 Tracker, a number of fighter-bombers F-8 Crusader and fighters F3H Demon, and some bombers A-3 Skywarrior. The USS Forrestal could carry up to 100 aircraft and the complement was approximately 4900.

USS Forrestal aircraft carrier

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