We arrived in Dún Laoghaire, on Saturday July 6th, to the sound of roaring helicopters overhead, as sightseers tried to get an aerial view of the United States Ship, John F. Kennedy CV-67 (to be exact!).
The sailors were prominent and the variety of accents, uniforms and races all contributed to the excitement and carnival atmosphere along the pier of Dun Laoghaire.
After queuing, presenting our tickets, queuing again, and nodding and smiling at passing sailors, we got the ferry to the JFK. As we boarded, we were quickly reminded that we were entering US territory, as a stern-faced marine carrying a loaded M16 assault riﬂe stood scanning the crowd. We entered hanger bay l, which was festooned with colourful flags and a huge stars and stripes banner.
People ﬂoated around, bewildered at the sheer enormity of it all and formed into groups, each headed by a sailor. We wandered over to the nearest group and our guide introduced himself as Lloyd.
To begin our tour, Lloyd took us onto one of the four aircraft elevators, which measure an impressive 4000 square feet each. It swiftly raised the group up to the ﬂight-deck, which is breath-taking to say the very least. It stretches 1025.5 feet and is 252 feet wide. To give you an idea, it would run from Swan Gate to the Jersey Bar approximately. Lining the ﬂight-deck was a striking array of aeroplanes.
The first aircraft we saw was an F14 or a “Tomcat” as it is more commonly referred to as. These are the planes seen in the film “Top Gun”. Tomcats, we were told, are the protectors of the ﬂeet, ﬂying way out ahead of and around the ship. They are big fighters, carry a lot of gasoline and tote the long range Phoenix air-to-air missile.
The “Hawkeye” or E2 is distinguishable because it has a large disc over the cockpit. It provides the eyes and co-ordination of the ﬂeet. These patrol the skies, in touch with all the ships in the Carrier Battle Group and the Air Wing.
Next up was the S3 or “Viking” and Lloyd informed us that this plane was mainly used in ASW (Anti-Submarine-Warfare).
Submarines represent a major threat to the carrier and these planes have a variety of methods available to detect and destroy enemy submarines.
The F18 or “Hornet”, is the latest addition to the JFK’s arsenal. These jets are among the most advanced in the world and are the replacement for the “Tomcat” which is expected to be phased out by the year 2000.
I know it is a cliché but the sailors pride in especially their own planes was very evident as a sailor who works on the “Hornets” subtly belittled the “Tomcats”, during our conversation, while emphasising the “Hornets” prowess as a strike aircraft.
As we walked along, Lloyd and his sidekick, Matt, explained how the planes went from 0 to l50mph in 3 seconds by means of a steam catapult. For take off with this steam catapult, the front wheel of the plane is connected to a “shuttle” which is propelled towards the edge of the deck by steam pressure. There are two blast shields, which are raised up to prevent the planes behind from being damaged by the ferocious power of the jet afterburners. Landing involves bringing the plane down from 160 to O mph on an area smaller than Carnmore Airport car park not to mind runway!!
We were also told about a procedure called “Touch and Go”, which means that the pilots keep the engines on fully while landing, in case that he misses and in which case he goes around and tries again.
Next, we were taken down to the living areas and shown the Sick Bay, the eating areas and berthing areas. Obviously, males are not allowed on female berthing areas and visa versa. After showing the males in our group the male berthing area, he took us ladies to the female area, where he knocked twice on the door, shouted “Male on deck”, waited 5 seconds and opened the door. A nice lady called Jane showed us around. In the room, where 50 women slept, the bunks were three on top of each other, stretching from the floor to the ceiling and in rows of two.
Also on the ship are a complement of marines. Although the marines are on the same carrier, they are completely separate from the rest of the crew. They have their own berthing and eating areas and are the only people on board who are allowed to carry weapons.
They gave a demonstration of these weapons (unloaded of course) in the hanger bay. We re-joined the men and began again down the long narrow corridors, which are identical to those in the movies. The walls are lined with notice board and photographs. A photograph of “Sailor of the quarter” was up and who was it but none other than “our Matt”, who smiled and blushed modestly when I pointed it out.
Lloyd showed us the officers dining area which was an unbelievable contrast to the ordinary crew members’ eating area. It resembled a hotel! 15,666 meals are served on board the ship each day.
Lastly, we met George, who took us back to the ﬂight-deck and up to the ﬂight control tower and bridge also known as the Island. We went into a room on the bottom level where a man was explaining how they organised and kept track of the planes by the use of a scale model of the ﬂight-deck. In typical JFK fashion, the bridge was on not one, but three levels. On the third level, I was surprised to see a large paper map of Dublin Bay. They had thousands of these maps covering every part of the world, we were informed. There were radars and screens with coloured buttons and switches. There were telescopes galore from which I could see eager people in sailing boats swarming around for a glimpse inside. The whole ﬂight-deck was in clear view from the bridge and what a sight it was! We were proud to see the Irish tri-colour ﬂying in the wind on top of the island.
Like all the reports we had read each sailor was courteous and friendly and was delighted to be in Ireland. This was evident as one man said “I love this country. It is magniﬁcent! The only place we see mountains like these (the Dublin Mts.) is on TV”. They were also sad to be leaving as their next destination, Plymouth, did not seem to appeal to them.
There were 176,000 applications for sets of 4 tickets to view the J.F.K. This more than half a million people, combined with the 80,000 people at the air-show in Salthill and the many thousands who visited the static displays at Dublin and Shannon airports, as well as the crowds that massed the piers of Dun Laoghaire to catch a mere glimpse of the carrier shows that a sizeable proportion of the population had an interest in the hardware on display. This puts the protests from political groups before the visit into perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit on board the USS JFK CV-67, and was surprised at the lasting impression it made on me. It also created for me, an interest in both aircraft and carriers, (not to mention sailors!). I will never forget the sight of the JFK as it glistened in the evening sun as we sailed back to Dun Laoghaire harbour and watched it until it disappeared from sight.
I would to thank my brother, Donal, for winning the tickets and for his assistance in writing this article.