The USS Midway (CV-41) is a former US Navy aircraft carrier that served from 1945 to 1991. Today she sits at the San Diego waterfront as a museum (opened in 2004) in tribute to the US Navy servicemen and women who served on aircraft carriers either as sailors, pilots, air crew or marines.
The USS Midway is a massive ship and an impressive place to take a look around. She is 296 metres / 972 feet in length, with a beam of 41.5 metres / 136 feet and the flight deck width is 75.5 metres / 238 feet and powered by 12 boilers and four geared steam turbines with four shafts producing 212,000 shaft horsepower capable of a speed up to 33 knots. In her final operational years Midway would typically carry 68 aircraft (36 F/A-18 Hornets, 18 A-6 Intruders, 4 EA-6 Prowlers, 4 E-2 Hawkeyes and 6 Sh-3 Sea King helicopters), a complement of over 4,700 personnel (2,828 crew, 1,860 air wing and 72 marines) and total displacement weight was 67,000 tonnes fully loaded. Modern day nuclear carriers are even bigger. The Nimitz class nuclear carriers for example are 333 metres / 1,092 feet in length, weigh 88,000 tonnes, carry around 80 aircraft and have a ships complement of over 5,000 personnel (crew of 3,000-3,200, air wing of 1,500 and 500 others such as Marines etc.).
The Midway served with distinction on a number of tours during the Vietnam War (April to November 1965, May to October 1971, April 1972 to February 1973 – apart from combat missions, 48 rescue missions of downed pilots were also conducted by helicopters from Midway during this last tour). The Midway and Carrier Wing CVW-5 received the Presidential Unit Citation (Navy) from Richard Nixon for extraordinary heroism displayed during the period of 1972 to 1973 on the carriers last combat tour of Vietnam.
Midway pilots from Fighter Squadron VF-21 “Freelancers“ flying the McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom II scored the first 2 air to air kills of North Vietnamese MiG’s (MiG-17’s) by US forces on June 17th, 1965; and the last air to air kill of that war on January 12th, 1973 (also a MiG-17) was achieved by the crew of an F-4B Phantom II from Fighter Squadron VF-161 “Chargers“. Air to air combat was not a major function of Navy pilots during the Vietnam War but Midway crews were credited with 8 confirmed air to air victories and the aircraft silhouettes are still painted on the ships island today (6 MiG-17’s and 2 MiG-19’s of the North Vietnamese Air Force).
Although combat operations for USS Midway ceased in Vietnam in 1973, she performed one last major mission in that theatre in 1975, Operation Frequent Wind. Following the full invasion of South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese Army in 1975 the carrier was despatched to the South China Sea with only helicopters onboard to assist in the evacuation of hundreds of US personnel and South Vietnamese citizens on April 29th, 1975.
One amazing incident during Operation Frqequent Wind was the landing by South Vietnamese Air Force Major Buang-Ly in a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog aircraft that had onboard not only himself but his wife and 5 children! He dropped a message onto the deck stating who was onboard and navy personnel actually pushed millions of dollars worth of helicopters over the side of the carrier into the sea so he could land safely! He and his family made it!
After the people were rescued and safely deposited on other ships, 100 South Vietnamese helicopters and aircraft were either landed or transported onto the deck of the Midway and transported to Guam. Saigon fell and the rest is history.
The Midway served on many more missions and tours around the globe, including the first Gulf War in 1991. This was to be the last combat tour before this proud ship of the US Navy went into retirement.
It is fantastic that today as a museum the USS Midway still serves in a way and people can get a hands on experience of carrier operations. You can go on guided and unguided tours around the ship and there are numerous presentations to explain carrier operations. You can enter the crew quarters, operations rooms, officers quarters, the captains quarters and the Admirals rooms (the latter quarters are much more roomier than the general crew quarters!).
One of the engine rooms is open for display and you can even enter the brig (an onboard jail). Dont miss the pilot ready rooms either. These were where pilots and crews would be briefed or debriefed on missions and contain lots of memorabelia and models (most are accessed by stairs on the side of the flight deck).
Today the USS Midway is not only a museum in which you can tour the inner workings and flight deck of the carrier, it also has on display 29 former US Navy aircraft and helicopters that served on carriers from World War Two and throughout the Cold War to the present day. Aircraft are located on both the flight deck and hangar deck.
The aircraft displayed on the Midway represent some of the greatest naval aircraft to ever take off from a US aircraft carrier. They are beautifully restored and well maintained.
Once you are done looking at all the aircraft on the flight deck you can go up into the carriers “island” on a guided tour to see where she was controlled and where flight operations were monitored. This area gives a great view of the entire flight deck. All in all the USS Midway is a very interesting place to spend a day.
Across the bay from USS Midway you can see the current super carriers that serve in the US Navy on Coronado Island. On my recent visit I saw USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and USS Nimitz (CVN-68 – with her full complement of aircraft on deck and ready to sail). The past and the present are never far apart in San Diego bay.