March 14, 2018

A Day on the America Part 1

In my first year as a volunteer on the Iowa, I got a once in a lifetime opportunity. Iowa was serving as the host for LA Fleet Week 2016, and had gotten about 15 tickets for people to ride up on the ships coming from San Diego. Fortunately, I managed to get one, and I got to spend 9 hours aboard the amphibious ship USS America (LHA-6). It was one of the most memorable days of my life. I've alluded to it before, but somehow never got around to telling the whole story. It's going to be mostly pictures, of which I took a lot.

Me on the flight deck of America1

Tuesday, August 30th began about 0215. I had to be at Iowa at 0300 to catch the bus to meet the America. Going down was the contingent from the battleship, a bunch of assorted bigwigs from various Fleet Week organizations, some people the Navy was trying to woo, and some Boy Scouts who had somehow gotten tickets. I tried to sleep, but couldn't.

Iowa at 0300

Finally, we got to the base around 0530, and I got my first up-close look at real warships. We had to clear security to get onto the base, but it wasn't that much different from going through security at an airport. We waited a while, then got metal detected and our bags were searched. You were allowed to have water, though.

My first glimpse of America

We came aboard through the vehicle deck, then were lead up a ramp into the hangar deck, where we were welcomed onboard and assigned to our groups.

America's hangar deck

After that, there was a lot of standing around. "Hurry up and wait" applies when visiting the military as much as when you're a part of it. Eventually, we were taken to breakfast in the officer's mess.

The officer's mess where we had breakfast

After that, our guide lead us around the ship and out onto the flight deck, where we got to watch as America put to sea.

The flight deck

USS Makin Island on the other side of the pier2

The superstructure of the destroyer moored behind America3

The tug pushing America out to sea, from the aft elevator

America was tied up to the southern pier at Naval Base San Diego. The only ships south of us were the USS Makin Island and one destroyer. The way out is to the north past downtown San Diego, so we got to go past the entire fleet, including the carriers moored at Naval Air Station North Island. I think we saw 9 Ticonderogas and 10 Arleigh Burkes, along with a bunch of other ships. It was almost certainly more naval power than any other nation on Earth can muster, and it was only about half of the US Pacific Fleet. I'll let the pictures tell the rest of that story.

The berth we came out of. L-R: A San Antonio class LPD, an LSD, three Burkes and Makin Island

L-R: USNS Curtiss, a Tico and a Burke

A Wasp class LHD undergoing work and a Tico

Three Avenger class mine countermeasures ships

A closer look at the LHD, with another Burke alongside

A Burke tied up next to Lake Erie (CG-70)

An example of the Independence (LCS-2) class in a floating drydock

An LSD and two Ticos, with a Burke in the drydock to the left

USS Anchorage (LPD-23) tied up next to the Coronado Bridge

A pair of Burkes just to the north of the bridge4

This took us past downtown San Diego, including Naval Air Station North Island, where the carriers are based,5 the USS Midway museum, and into the open sea.

Downtown San Diego

The USS Midway, now a museum ship

Our escorting security boat

USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) undergoing work at NAS North Island

Helicopters at NAS North Island6

Airplanes at NAS North Island7

The submarine base at Point Loma

At this point, we were finally in the open sea. I stayed on the flight deck for a while, and managed to get separated from my group. In fairness, I was just enjoying being on the deck, and there were two guides who looked exactly alike from behind. It turned out that the one on deck was not mine. We were asked to get off the flight deck because aviation operations were about to begin.

I promise that showing all the different Burkes and Ticos isn't just me showing different pictures of the same ships. It was an insane sight, and I had a blast. The day had barely begun, but this post is getting long, so we'll pick up next time. (Don't worry, my phone's battery started to get low at this point, and there wasn't nearly as much to see once we were in the open ocean.) What a way to go to sea for the first time!

1 All pictures from my collection.

2 This was actually the second time I saw Makin Island. The first was when my family was doing relief work after Katrina in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and she was under construction.

3 Sorry, can't remember the name now.

4 The white covering on the left ship is a plastic sheeting, probably to give a controlled environment for painting.

5 I believe this is because they can't fit under the Coronado Bridge.

6 Hlynkacg, this one is for you.

7 I think this was the reserve area, given how they were parked.


  1. March 14, 2018Andrew Hunter said...

    The angle of the picture of the DDG--you are way above it. This is just because LHAs/carriers have extremely high decks, right? You're not in the superstructure?

    (By the way, I don't think we discussed carriers while talking about freeboard and it feels like carriers have dramatically higher decks (I'd believe you if you told me this was an optical illusion.) Is this a factor of different needs for stability, trying to keep airplanes farther away from waves, or what?

  2. March 14, 2018bean said...

    I was on the flight deck for the pictures in this post. I got into the island later, and was there throughout the run into San Pedro.

    (By the way, I don’t think we discussed carriers while talking about freeboard and it feels like carriers have dramatically higher decks (I’d believe you if you told me this was an optical illusion.) Is this a factor of different needs for stability, trying to keep airplanes farther away from waves, or what?

    More or less the last, I think. Keep in mind that on a carrier, the critical deck in terms of freeboard isn't the flight deck itself. It's usually the hangar deck, at least 20 feet down. You want to be able to operate airplanes in reasonably bad weather, which you can't do if the sea is washing over the elevators in the down position. You can seal the elevator wells in really bad weather, but it takes the ship out of service.

    Of course, you could go for centerline elevators, which don't have this problem, but they have issues of their own. That may have been part of the reason they were used on Invincible and co.

  3. March 14, 2018RedRover said...

    Do you know if the white cover on the Burke is just for weather protection during the overhaul, or if it has anti surveillance utility as well? I would assume most of the observable information on the Burke has already been gleaned by the interested parties, but maybe not?

  4. March 14, 2018bean said...

    I think it's weather protection, or maybe to keep paint fumes from getting out. There's quite a bit you can learn from antenna sizes and shapes, but I suppose it's possible that someone with a camera could learn even more by seeing them installed. (As you can see, most of the ships had all their antennas exposed.)

  5. March 15, 2018quaelegit said...

    Thanks for sharing bean, this was fun!

    Before I started reading naval gazing, pretty much everything I knew about military ships came from touring the Midway (and a nearby submarine I think?). I can verify it's a really fun experience even if you know nothing!

  6. March 15, 2018bean said...

    I never did get down to the Maritime Museum in San Diego, and I'm ashamed to say I didn't realize they had either Dolphin or B-39. If I'd known, I definitely would have gone. I thought it was all sailing ships.

  7. March 16, 2018John Schilling said...

    I never quite got around to the submarines, but I've visited the Midway twice. Second time under very unique circumstances.

    The Moog corporation's space products division used to (alas, no more) throw very elaborate quasi-secret parties at major aerospace conferences. If they knew you, or you knew a guy who knew a guy..., you got a ticket and an address for some appropriate local attraction. 2011, San Diego, they rented the Midway for an evening.

    With a couple hundred aerospace geeks, and an open bar in the hangar deck. Not sure what that cost them, or if they ever sold enough valves, thrusters, etc, to cover that cost, but it was certainly memorable.

  8. March 18, 2018ScrumLordDan said...

    Nice post, man. Makes me want to get a bigger sailboat.

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