Tour of the USS Ronald Reagan

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uss-reagan-mottoThe largest and most modern operating aircraft carrier in the world is home ported in San Diego, CA. Named after the 40th President of the United States and 33rd Governor of California, the USS Ronald Reagan is home to more than 5,500 military members, 60 aircraft, and 2 runways.

This past weekend I had the good fortune of organizing a tour of the USS Ronald Reagan for my local alumni club. It was my 2nd tour of the aircraft carrier. Each visit has left me with a remarkable impression of both the ship’s capabilities and the hard work and dedication of its crew.

flight-deckTo give you some perspective on the size of the ship, take into account that its flight deck is nearly as long as the Empire State Building is high. It has more runways than the San Diego airport (two vs. one). When you step into the hanger, which is just one stairway up from sea level, there are seven floors above you (including the flight deck) and eight floors below you.

If you asked a sailor, “Do you know so-and-so who also serves on the Reagan?”, there is a good chance they’ve never crossed paths with the person. Each of the crew members (20% are women) have a defined role and generally stay within a specific area of the ship.

When speaking with the crew, it is amazing and refreshing to see how much pride the young sailors (the average age is 19) exude. They take it as an honor to represent the USS Ronald Reagan and our country.

fa-18There are four high-speed elevators that take jets, and guests, from the hanger to the flight deck in a matter of seconds. Each elevator can support two F/A – 18 jets, allowing eight jets to be raised to the flight deck simultaneously.

Once on the flight deck, four jets can be launched each minute. There are two runways so that one jet can be prepared for take-off while another jet is landing. (A former Navy officer on the tour told me one of the challenges in WWII was that fighter planes would return to the boats very low on fuel. With only one runway and a stream of planes coming in for emergency landings, there was no way to send up new aircraft to protect the ship from enemy fighters.)

san-diego-viewWalking around the flight deck affords visitors not only an appreciation for the size of a U.S. Aircraft Carrier but great views of Downtown San Diego and Coronado. I can’t imagine how tough it is for the crew to see San Diego disappear on the horizon as they embark on a six to nine month deployment. Then again, a few of the sailors I spoke with were excited to tell me which countries they’ve been able to visit and which ones they hope to see in the future. One in particular had been stationed on the East Coast and sailed past Europe and around to Dubai. He transfered to the USS Ronald Reagan for the opportunity to go the opposite way and sail past Asia and onward to Dubai for the opportunity to have circumnavigated the globe.

bridge-viewFrom the flight deck, we climbed up several floors to the captain’s bridge. The birds-eye view looking down on the flight deck just reinforced the concept that this is a BIG ship. Despite its enormity, it can basically turn on a dime and speed up to nearly 35 mph while carrying food, bunks, and belongings for 5,500 crew members, 60 planes and their ordinance, electronics equipment, an airport, and two nuclear reactors.

After getting a good workout climbing up and down the stairs to the bridge, our tour ended in a small museum dedicated to the ship’s namesake, housed next to the hanger. A video played clips of Ronald Reagan’s well-known role as George Gipp, ‘The Gipper’, in the movie reagan-museumclassic about Notre Dame football, Knute Rockne – All American. (As Notre Dame alumni, we hold a special place in our hearts for the USS Ronald Reagan because of Ronald Reagan’s connection to Notre Dame and the fact our University supplies more naval officers than any other school except for the Naval Academy.) Another notable piece in the museum is a remnant of the Berlin Wall. It offers a symbol of freedom that is characterized by the ship’s motto: “Peace through Strength”.

 I thank all member of the U.S. Military, both past and present, for your dedication to our country and I offer special thanks to the crew of the USS Ronald Reagan for giving us the special opportunity to step onboard and build a greater appreciation and understanding of the aircraft carriers home ported in San Diego.

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A few follow-up notes for those who would like more details. The ship is home to 180 officers and 3,020 enlisted members. In addition, the air wing is comprised of 220 officers and 2,260 enlisted members.

There are no aircraft onboard the ship while it is moored in San Diego. The aircraft depart from the ship the day before arriving in San Diego and return to their home naval bases throughout the West Coast. The aircraft meet-up with the carrier after it leaves San Diego on deployment.

The Marine Corps pilots we see flying around San Diego just east of La Jolla are not a part of the permanent air wings associated with the local aircraft carriers. However, the aircraft carriers do assist in getting the Marines and their jets to their destinations as necessary.

San Diego is also homeport for the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and will become the home of the USS Carl Vinson in 2010.  The USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS John C Stennis are also frequent visitors to San Diego Bay.

You can see the aircraft carriers from the Harbor Walk in Downtown San Diego and from the Ferry Landing on Coronado. To easily distinguish the aircraft carriers, look at the hull numbers.

CVN 68: USS Nimitz

CVN 70: USS Carl Vinson

CVN 72: USS Abraham Lincoln

CVN 74: USS John C. Stennis

CVN 76: USS Ronald Reagan

There are currently ten operating aircraft carriers in the United States Navy, meaning that having the opportunity to see up to three in San Diego Bay at any one time is very unique. (The USS George H.W. Bush passed its sea trials this past weekend and will be put into operation in 2010 as the eleventh carrier.) Outside of the United States, there are only ten other aircraft carriers, none as big or as sophisticated as the U.S. aircraft carriers.

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One Response to “Tour of the USS Ronald Reagan”

  1. Proud Reagan Mom says:

    Thank you. This is one of the best descriptions I have read, including their own home page. I have a sailor aboard the Reagan and have visited San Diego and seen it in port, but never gotten a tour. You are lucky, indeed. I have seen three in port via the webcam, though. Impressive. Again, thank you for your post. I am going to forward (and recommend) it to family and friends.

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