Oldest Aircraft Carriers Still in Service

10 Oldest Aircraft Carriers Still in Service

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Aircraft carriers trace their history back to 1806 when a ship was used to carry out airborne operations via balloons. Today’s aircraft carriers have come a long way and are now able to haul tons of equipment, crew, and of course various aircraft vehicles. Currently, there are about 43 active aircraft carriers in the world operated by fourteen navies. Since the United States has the world’s largest navy, a majority of the active aircraft carriers are American. In fact, only two of the oldest active aircraft carriers belong to different countries.

As of July 2020, the information on this list is as accurate as possible and will be updated as needed.

10. USS Essex

Date Commissioned: October 17, 1992
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Class and Type: Wasp – Landing Helicopter Dock amphibious assault ship
Propulsion: Conventional
Length: 843 ft (257 m)
Tonnage: 40,650 t

USS Essexphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The USS Essex is the second oldest Wasp-class amphibious assault ship and is the fifth ship in the U.S. Navy named after Essex County, Massachusetts. Commissioned in 1992, the USS Essex made its maiden deployment in 1994 to prepare for the complex task of covering the withdrawal of United Nations multinational force from Somalia in Operation United Shield. Essex served as the command ship for Expeditionary Strike Group Seven until replaced by USS Bonhomme Richard on April 23, 2012. Most recently, in 2018, the USS Essex was deployed to the United States Central Command area of operations.

Did You Know?

In 2018, it was reported that the first-ever F-35B airstrike was launched from the USS Essex against a fixed Taliban target.


9. USS George Washington

Date Commissioned: July 4, 1992
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Class and Type: Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
Propulsion: Nuclear
Length: 1,093 ft (333 m)
Tonnage: 105,900 t

USS George Washingtonphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The USS George Washington is the sixth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and the first commissioned in the 1990s. The aircraft carrier is the fourth U.S. Navy shipped named after first American president, George Washington. The early years of the USS George Washington‘s history are mostly uneventful, but the aircraft carrier was deployed to protect New York City after the September 11 attacks. Since August 2017, the USS George Washington has been in its four-year Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH), which is expected to be completed by August 2021.

Did You Know?

In 2008, USS George Washington became the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier to be forward-deployed at naval base Yokosuka, Japan.


8. Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov

Date Commissioned: January 21, 1991
Country of Origin:  Russia
Class and Type: Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier
Propulsion: Conventional
Length: 1,006 ft (306.5 m)
Tonnage: 58,600 t

Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsovphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, typically just called the Admiral Kuznetsov, is the second oldest non-American aircraft carrier in service and the oldest carrier from Russia. Originally, the Admiral Kuznetsov was commissioned by the Soviet Navy and it was supposed to have sister ship. However, the Soviet Union disbanded before the Kuznetsov‘s sister ship was completed. In 2010, the Admiral Kuznetsov underwent a major refit and modernization and less than a decade later, in 2017, the ship was once again began being overhauled.

Did You Know?

The Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov has had numerous name changes since it was first commissioned; initially, the ship was called the Riga, then it was changed to Leonid Brezhnev, followed by the Tbilisi, and finally to its current name in honor of Admiral of the fleet of the Soviet Union Nikolay Gerasimovich Kuznetsov.


7. USS Abraham Lincoln

Date Commissioned: November 11, 1989
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Class and Type: Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
Propulsion: Nuclear
Length: 1,093 ft (333 m)
Tonnage: 105,783 t

USS Abraham Lincolnphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The USS Abraham Lincoln is the fifth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and the last one commissioned in the 1980s. Surprisingly, the USS Abraham Lincoln is only the second Navy ship ever named after President Lincoln. One of the first times, that the USS Abraham Lincoln saw action was during Operation Desert Shield/Storm in the early 1990s. The USS Abraham Lincoln was deployed to operations in the Middle East several times throughout the 1990s. Most recently, in May 2019, the USS Abraham Lincoln was was deployed to the Middle East as the flagship for Carrier Strike Group 12 and Carrier Air Wing Seven assigned to assist the carrier.

Did You Know?

After arriving at its home port in San Diego on January 20, 2020, the USS Abraham Lincoln set a record for being at sea for 295 days, the longest post-Cold War era deployment for a US carrier, breaking its own record in the process.


6. USS Wasp

Date Commissioned: July 29, 1989
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Class and Type: Wasp – Landing Helicopter Dock amphibious assault ship
Propulsion: Conventional
Length: 843 ft (257 m)
Tonnage: 40,532 t Au

USS Waspphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The USS Wasp is multipurpose amphibious assault ship and landing helicopter dock (LHD) and is the lead ship of its class. Wasp and her sister ships are the first specifically designed to accommodate new Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) for fast troop movement over the beach, and Harrier II (AV-8B) Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing (V/STOL) jets which provide close air support for the assault force. Additionally, the USS Wasp can accommodate the full range of Navy and Marine Corps helicopters, conventional landing craft, and amphibious vehicles.

Did You Know?

The USS Wasp was named in tribute to the the U.S. Navy’s history of naming ships Wasp since 1775.


5. USS Theodore Roosevelt

Date Commissioned: October 25, 1986
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Class and Type: Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
Propulsion: Nuclear
Length: 1,093 ft (333 m)
Tonnage: 106,300 t

USS Theodore Rooseveltphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The USS Theodore Roosevelt was the fourth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier built and is still in operation. Authorization for building the USS Theodore Roosevelt was first granted in 1976, but this was canceled and the ship did not start construction until 1981. The USS Theodore Roosevelt was the first aircraft carrier to be assembled using modular construction, wherein large modules were independently constructed in “lay-down” areas, prior to being hoisted into place and welded together. Since its maiden voyage in 1984, the USS Theodore Roosevelt has been deployed during the Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom, and several others.

Did You Know?

The USS Theodore Roosevelt‘s radio call sign is “Rough Rider,” the nickname of President Theodore Roosevelt’s volunteer cavalry unit during the Spanish–American War.


4. Giuseppe Garibaldi

Date Commissioned: September 30, 1985
Country of Origin:  Italy
Class and Type: Giuseppe Garibaldi – Anti-submarine warfare aircraft carrier
Propulsion: Conventional
Length: 590 ft (180 m)
Tonnage: 13,850 t

Giuseppe Garibaldiphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The Giuseppe Garibaldi is the oldest non-American active aircraft carrier in the world. This Italian aircraft carrier, named for General Giuseppe Garibaldi, was the first through deck aviation ship ever built for the Italian Navy, and the first Italian ship built to operate fixed-wing aircraft. The Giuseppe Garibaldi is powered by four Fiat COGAG gas turbines built under license from GE, offering a sustained power of 81,000 hp (60 MW). Over the years, the Giuseppe Garibaldi has been involved in combat air operations in Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Did You Know?

Aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi is the fourth ship of the Italian Navy to be named after the 19th  century Italian General Giuseppe Garibaldi. All of the Giuseppe Garibaldi ships have an image of Garibaldi in their crests.


3. USS Carl Vinson

Date Commissioned: March 13, 1982
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Class and Type: Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
Propulsion: Nuclear
Length: 1,093 ft (333 m)
Tonnage: 102,900 t

USS Carl Vinsonphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The USS Carl Vinson is yet another Nimitz-class aircraft carrier that has been in service for several decades. The ship was named for Carl Vinson, a Congressman from Georgia, who is credited with expanding U.S. Navy in the 20th century. The USS Carl Vinson set sail on its maiden voyage 1983, which was an eight-month, around-the-world cruise that had them operate in the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, South China Sea, and Pacific Ocean.

The USS Carl Vinson was deployed during Operation Desert Strike, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Southern Watch, and Operation Enduring Freedom and has been the site of some important events, including being the ship used to bury Osama bin Laden’s body at sea.

Did You Know?

On Veterans Day 2011, the USS Carl Vinson hosted the first NCAA basketball game on an aircraft carrier, between North Carolina and Michigan State.


2. USS Dwight D. Eisenhower

Date Commissioned: October 18, 1977
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Class and Type: Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
Propulsion: Nuclear
Length: 1,093 ft (333 m)
Tonnage: 103,200 t

USS Dwight D. Eisenhowerphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, nicknamed Ike, was the second Nimitz-class aircraft carrier ever built and the third nuclear-powered carrier. Like the USS Nimitz, the USS Eisenhower‘s first deployment was to the Mediterranean Sea. Since commissioning, Dwight D. Eisenhower has participated in deployments including Operation Eagle Claw during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, as well as the Gulf War in the 1990s, and more recently in support of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower serves as the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 10.

Did You Know?

Recently, on June 25, 2020, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its escort ship, the guided-missile cruiser USS San Jacinto (CG 56), set a new record for the U.S. Navy by being continuously at sea for 161 days.


1. USS Nimitz

Date Commissioned: May 3, 1975
Country of Origin:  United States of America
Class and Type: Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
Propulsion: Nuclear
Length: 1,093 ft (333 m)
Tonnage: 100,020 t

USS Nimitzphoto source: Flickr via Tony Alter

First commissioned on May 3, 1975, the USS Nimitz is the oldest aircraft carrier still in service in the world. The Nimitz was authorized by Congress in 1967 and cost $1 billion (in 1975 dollars). USS Nimitz first deployed to the Mediterranean Sea on July 7, 1976 with Carrier Air Wing 8 embarked in company with the nuclear-powered cruisers USS South Carolina and USS California. Over the years, the USS Nimitz has deployed all around the world and in 2018, the ship entered dry dock at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for ten months of overhaul.

Did You Know?

Since Nimitz-class carriers have a lifespan of 50 years, the USS Nimitz is projected to be replaced around 2022 by the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79).


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