The Physics
An encyclopedia of scientific essays

Power of an Aircraft Carrier

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Bibliographic Entry Result
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Nimitz Class - Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carriers. Current Projects. Naval Technology. "The nuclear-powered carrier has two General Electric pressurised [sic] water reactors driving four turbines of 260,000 hp (194 MW) and four shafts. There are four emergency diesels of 10,720 hp (8 MW)." 194 MW
8 MW
"Ships and Shipbuilding." Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM: New York: Microsoft, 1998. "At high speeds the power needed is enormous; for example, a 54,431 metric ton aircraft must have 280,000 horsepower to drive it at 35 knots." 209 MW
Aircraft Carriers. Fact File. US Navy. 6 March 2000. "General Characteristics, John F. Kennedy … Power Plant: Eight boilers, four shafts, 280,000 total shaft horsepower" 209 MW
"General Characteristics, Kitty Hawk Class … Power Plant: Eight boilers, four geared steam turbines, four shafts, 280,000 shaft horsepower" 209 MW
Cox, Ben. The First Aircraft Carrier. Powerhouses of the United States Navy. "Horsepower: ~100 SHP [shaft horsepower]" 0.075 MW
(ca. 1865)

Since World War II, the aircraft carrier has become the US Navy's choice of force. With over 60 constructed and about 15 active, carriers are unique because they do not require permission of host countries for landing or overflight rights. Nor are they obligated to build or maintain bases in countries where our presence may cause political strains. Therefore, they are very useful, allowing military maneuvers to be conducted easily and quickly.

Aircraft carriers are designated by size and mission and then grouped by class, based on similarities of construction and capabilities. The main classifications are CV and CVN where CV stands for "carrier vehicle"and the N denotes "nuclear"power. Most of the Navy's aircraft carriers were built and used during World War II, but they were around earlier, originally appearing in combat at the end of World War I. The Cold War also sparked US production of aircraft carriers, when President Kennedy assigned his flexible response theory of defense, which included the US developing its armed forces and cutting down on the production of nuclear weapons. By this time, it is important to note that nuclear technology was well advanced, and the 1960s introduced a wave of carriers built using this technology.

Most of the power ratings I obtained were for nuclear aircraft carriers -- ranging from 260,000 to 280,000 horsepower. One horsepower (hp) or shaft horsepower (shp) is equal to 746 watts, the SI unit of power. Incidentally, many of the measurements when converted to standardized units are of enormous magnitudes, forcing me to use megawatts rather than watts. One megawatt equals one million watts.

The smallest measured power quantity was one I found for the first aircraft carrier, the George Washington Parke Custis Class Balloon Carrier, which measured in at approximately 100 horsepower. This ship was built in the 1860s, and was used to carry a hot air balloon. Power capabilities have a come long way since then.

Joseph Reilly -- 2000