A quick tour of the USS Midway in San Francisco

While in San Diego for a CODES gig, I got a chance to tour the USS Midway, a simply enormous aircraft carrier sitting in the bay. This thing is a small city, laid down in the year of my birth,1943 and after many years of service, towed to San Diego as a historical exhibit.

After some refurbishing, a modernized Midway began service in the South China Sea during the Laotian Crisis of spring of 1961. In1965, she flew strikes against military and logistics installations in North and South Vietnam. On 17 June 1965, aviators of Midway’s Attack Carrier Wing 2, VF-21 downed the first two MiGs credited to U.S. forces in Southeast Asia.

On 12 January 1973 an aircraft from Midway made the last air-to-air kill of the Vietnam War. For her service in Vietnam from 30 April 1972, to 9 February 1973, the USS Midway and her crew received the Presidential Unit Citation from Richard Nixon.

Only twenty bucks to tour, this paltry fee offsets the half million dollars it cost to tow it to San Diego.  The Navy requires another half million in the bank from the promoters in case the exhibit goes bankrupt to finance the cost to tow it elsewhere.

One can walk all over the ship with recorded headphone remarks. It could easily take a full day to see it all. Most interesting part was the deck side lectures on taking off from- and landing on the Midway, given by retired fighter pilots mainly in the Vietnam era.  Both saw combat action.

Taking off from a catapult involved racing from standing still to 165 miles per hour (265 KPH) in two seconds over about 250 feet. Pilots pull 2.5 G’s. The steam driven catapult beneath deck weighs about three tons and while travelling 165 mph at the end of the flight deck it’s stopped cold in five feet by a water trap (shakes the entire ship).

The deck personnel wear color-coded jackets to delineate who is responsible for what and they communicate by a series of elaborate hand gestures. All are junior commissioned officers. Hands over head for pilots and hands under waist for other deck crew. When everything is set and the pilot is ready, he or she salutes, the lunch officer returns the salute and the switch is flipped. Just like in “Top Gun”.

The landing lecture was given by another retired pilot and was equally fascinating. The landing area is about 300 feet. The approaching aircraft drops a tail-hook (below the wheels) and on touchdown (at 150 mph) the hook has a grab at one of four wrist thick wires a few feet apart. This is usually successful, bringing the aircraft to a dead stop in 2 seconds with about the same G force as takeoff, except from the opposite direction.

Landing Signal Officers guide the plane in through radio communication as well as a collection of lights on the deck. The pilot will see different lights depending on the plane’s angle of approach. If the plane is right on target, the pilot will see an amber light, dubbed the “meatball,” in line with a row of green lights. If the amber light appears above the green lights, the plane is coming in too high; if the amber light appears below the green lights, the plane is coming in too low. This system is especially interesting at night where the pilot sees only the meatball bobbing up and down with the motion of the ship.


Accidents are infrequent but can be dramatic. Former Presidential candidate John McCain is said to have been sitting in the cockpit of his aircraft on the deck of the USS Forrestal stationed off the coast of North Vietnam, conducting combat operations. A rocket accidentally exploded on another plane, causing a chain reaction of dangerous fireworks. Hundreds of sailors were injured or killed in the melee. McCain is said to have ejected from his stationary aircraft. He was not significantly injured.

This is an incredible tour- highly recommended by me if you find yourself in sunny San Diego.

Here are the brief collections of photos by me. Remember these are high def. and you can increase the size of the screen by the appropriate YouTube icon.

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