May 18, 2009:
The American carrier, USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), after a four month delay, was finally decommissioned in Bremerton, Washington on May 13th. The Kitty Hawk served for 48 years and 13 days. In that time, about 100,000 sailors served on the ship. The ship was the navy's last non-nuclear carrier and, since 1998, the oldest ship in commission. "The Hawk" did not age well, and had lots of breakdowns in its final years. This led members of the crew to nickname the shipr "Shitty Hawk".
The USS Enterprise (CVN 65) now assumes that role of oldest ship in the fleet. For the last decade, the Kitty Hawk had operated out of Yokosuka, Japan. During its career, the Kitty Hawk carried out 448,235 catapult assisted aircraft takeoffs (9,338 a year), and 407,507 arrested carrier landings (8,489 a year).
The Kitty Hawk retirement was delayed because of a fire, last May 22nd, on the carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73), which was to replace the Kitty Hawk in Japan. At the time, the navy still expected to decommission the Kitty Hawk in January, 2009, as scheduled.
The captain and executive officer of the USS George Washington were relieved after a few months, when the details of the fire became clear. The navy inquiry found out that sailors were smoking in an unauthorized area, which was adjacent to where combustible materials were improperly stored. The fire spread so far and so fast because one of the unauthorized items was a container containing 90 gallons of compressor oil. This blaze heavily damaged 80 compartments, and over 400,000 feet of electrical and communications cable. It cost over $70 million, and several months, to repair the damage. The fire delayed, by four months, the George Washington replacing the USS Kitty Hawk. This change over was supposed to take place in August. The schedule was rearranged and the Washington showed up in Japan in September. The Kitty Hawk then returned to the United States in October, and began the decommissioning process, as scheduled, in January of this year.
The Hawk will ride at anchor near Bremerton, in the hope that some organization may turn the ship into a museum. If that doesn't happen, the Hawk will eventually be broken up for scrap. Another long shot is giving the ship to India, which is seeking to expand its carrier fleet.