First in Defense: The USS Forrestal

Bill Lescher

September 19, 2022

A supercarrier, first amphibious carrier, and first in defense air-power demonstration are the topics covered in this article. In addition, we’ll examine the deck-edge spray system and a unique amphibious landing exercise. These essential topics can help you learn more about the USS Forrestal.

First supercarrier

The USS Forrestal was the world’s first jet aircraft carrier. Its covered bow keeps the hangar and flight deck dry in adverse weather and extends carrier operations. Before the Forrestal, the Essex-class carriers could only operate in bad weather for 220 days. The enclosed bow also extended the ship’s flight deck and hangar deck.

The USS Forrestal was commissioned in 1978. The ship spent more than three decades in the Navy. She participated in Operation Provide Comfort, an international relief operation for the Kurds in northern Iraq. In addition, she completed the first carrier-based noncombatant evacuation exercise. She also participated in numerous NATO and multi-national exercises. After that, the Forrestal shifted its homeport from Mayport, FL, to Pensacola, FL, and became a U.S. Navy training carrier.

The USS Forrestal was in the Mediterranean during its 20th deployment, and the USS Forrestal was there when the Freights Queen had a catastrophic explosion. The USS Forrestal’s helicopters were able to retrieve one of the ship’s crew members. During its deployment, the Forrestal participated in several exercises and returned to homeport on April 12, 1990.

First amphibious carrier

The USS Forrestal is a former U.S. Navy amphibious carrier deployed to the Mediterranean region four times between 1968 and 1973. One of these deployments was to rescue stranded citizens in Tunisia’s flooded Medjerda River Valley. In addition, the Forrestal hosted over 40,000 visitors during a visit to New Orleans. Visitors were able to tour the ship and see all of its aircraft. In addition, they could experience a damage control demonstration and ride on one of its aircraft elevators.

The Forrestal participated in several fleet exercises and training operations. It accompanied the Seventh Fleet to support operations in the Mediterranean. It was again called upon to perform this duty during the summer of 1958, deploying to the eastern Atlantic after the Suez Canal. It participated in a joint U.S.-Egyptian exercise called Display Determination, which included air combat maneuvering training at low altitudes. The ship was in the Mediterranean for 15 days before it returned to Mayport.

First deck-edge spray system

In the wake of the USS Forrestal’s catastrophic fire, the Navy revised its fire fighting practices and added a deck wash-down system to its fleet. The disaster also resulted in the creation of the Farrier Fire Fighting School Learning Site, named for Chief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Gerald W. Farrier, who died in the initial explosion while attempting to extinguish the fire with a single PKP extinguisher. The crew members on board the Forrestal are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and their names are also on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The first U.S. aircraft carrier, the Forrestal, was a groundbreaking design. It included a flight deck enclosed by a bow to keep the aircraft drier. This feature extended the carrier’s working days compared to its Essex-class sister ships. The enclosed bow also allowed the ship more extensive flight and hangar decks.

A modified version of the Forrestal’s deck allowed it to carry more than one airplane at a time. What was an advantage in a situation where more than one plane could land at one time? The ship’s design also angled the deck, making it ideal for landing planes.

First amphibious landing exercise

On October 15, 1961, USS Forrestal cleared Gibraltar and headed north for “Operation Windbreak.” The exercise was designed to expose sailors to new water and unfamiliar sea conditions. The ship ranged 150 miles south of Iceland and encountered 34-foot seas. It also served as a test to determine whether Soviet ships were monitoring U.S. vessels in the Mediterranean.

During this exercise, the Forrestal defended the Turkish amphibious task group. It worked alongside other ships in NATO, including the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and the French carrier FRGO. It also participated in mock air attacks, in which simulated enemy aircraft attacked U.S. ships and their aviators. The Forrestal returned to Rota after completing its mission.

After entering the shipyard, Forrestal conducted mine-warfare and antisubmarine exercises in the western Mediterranean. In one of the exercises, a Vought A-7E Corsair II crashed in southern Sicily. Another A-7E crashed after takeoff, but the pilot escaped.