Aircraft Carriers - Airports in the Sea


Aircraft carriers are the world's largest ships the most important ships of a country's navy. The United States has the largest fleet of aircraft carriers, a total of 11. The United Kingdom and Italy have two- France, Russia, Spain, India Brazil and Thailand have one carrier.

Aircraft carriers have played an important role in many battles since World War II.  The Japanese, for example, launched their attack on Pearl Harbor, from aircraft carriers. Today, they serve as a floating military base and are still the fastest way to transport soldiers and warplanes to the crisis areas around the world. Aircraft carriers can travel at a speed of 35 knots (about 64 km/h) and reach any place in the world within a few weeks.

Modern aircraft carriers are very expensive, costing about $5 billion each. The American Nimitz class carriers are the world’s most modern. They are powered by two heavily protected nuclear reactors and can travel for years without refueling.

A modern aircraft carrier weighs about 100,000 tons and is as high as a 20-storey building. They are built in modules called suplerlifts. Each of these can weigh up to 900 tons.  When the modules are finished the ship is assembled in a dry dock. The docks are flooded and the finished ship can float out to sea.


aircraft carrier nimitz

USS Nimitz

Flight deck and bridge of an aircraft carrier

Flight deck and bridge of an aircraft carrier


Aircraft carriers have decks that serve certain purposes. Planes take off and land on the 300 meter long flight deck. Some ships have a catapult to make the jets start faster. A tail hook attached to each plane helps it slow down when it lands.

The control center and bridge lie above the flight deck. The control center is like a tower at a normal airport. It gives pilots orders on how to land and take off.  The command center is equipped with radar, communications, satellite phones etc... The hangar deck is a place underneath the flight deck where the planes are put when they are not in use.  The hull is the main part of the ship that floats in the water. It is made up of strong steel plates.

Most of the time aircraft carriers do not travel alone. They are often accompanied by other warships because they do not have many weapons on board.

An aircraft carrier is a city in itself. About 5,000 to 6,000 people work, eat and sleep on board for months at a time. However, living conditions are not always so comfortable. Hallways are very narrow, sleeping quarters are small. Many kinds of people work on aircraft carriers. Apart from the pilots who fly the planes you can find communications officers, electricians, cooks etc.

Aircraft carriers stay in service up to 50 years. The oldest American aircraft carrier is the USS Enterprise which has been on the seas since 1961. The newest carrier is the USS George W. Bush. It came into service in 2009.






  • accompany = escort; to go together with
  • assemble = build
  • battle = fight between two armies in a war
  • billion = a thousand million
  • bridge = the higher part of a ship which serves as the command centre
  • catapult = it is used to send an aircraft into the air from a ship
  • communications officer = sailor who is in charge of getting in contact with other ships and airplanes
  • dry dock = a place out of the water where a ship is built and repaired
  • equip = supply, have
  • fleet = the ships that belong to a country
  • float = to move on the water without sinking
  • flood = to let water in
  • hull = the main part of the ship that is in the water
  • in service = here: to be active
  • in use = here: in the air
  • launch = start
  • navy = the part of a country’s military forces that fights at sea
  • Nimitz class = the type or category that a ship belongs to; here: ships that belong to the same category as the USS Nimitz
  • nuclear reactor = a large machine that produces nuclear energy
  • power = run by
  • purpose = function
  • refuel = to fill up a ship with fuel before continuing a journey
  • sleeping quarter = place to sleep
  • speed = how fast something is
  • storey = floor
  • tail hook = piece of metal below a plane; when it lands it gets caught in a rope and slows down
  • underneath = below
  • weapon = things you use to fight in a war
  • weigh = how heavy something is