Kitty Hawk, the last oil-fired Navy aircraft carrier, departed Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton, Washington, Saturday for its final transit to a ship-breaking facility in Texas.
Kitty Hawk served for 48 years before it was decommissioned in 2009, earning the nickname “Shitty Kitty” among some crew members assigned to its aged, non-nuclear-powered hull.
It sat at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard since retirement and was moved into dry dock for a time early last year to remove marine growth from the hull before it began its trip south.
Kitty Hawk was reportedly sold to the Texas ship-breaking company for a cent and will have to go all the way down to the tip of South America and back up because it is too big to get through the Panama Canal.
Named after the North Carolina site where the Wright brothers took flight in their “heavier-than-air machine” in 1903, Kitty Hawk was hailed as the first in a “new and greatly improved line of carriers” by then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Arleigh Burke in 1961, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Kitty Hawk was the first carrier of its class, and like the ongoing travails now besieging the first-of-its-class carrier Gerald R. Ford, Kitty Hawk had its own problems back in the day.
Then-Navy Secretary John Connally noted in the summer of 1961 that “a large number of discrepancies and deficiencies have shown up” on the carrier due to shoddy workmanship.
But Kitty Hawk pressed on and steamed proudly around the globe, providing a home and a workplace for countless sailors along the way.
Kitty Hawk conducted six tours in Vietnam and was the first carrier to be awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, according to the Navy.
It spent the last decade of its service life forward-deployed to Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.
And while Kitty Hawk’s best days are now in the past, countless sailors will remember their time onboard.
“When I got onboard in ‘06, there were plenty of reasons it was called ‘the shitty kitty,’” a Reddit user wrote a few years ago. “Everything was old and outdated. We took on more fuel for the boat and planes than any other ship in the fleet, we were unrepping every 3 days.”
“Decommissioning her was still kinda sad though,” the user added.
“I spent 1988-90 assigned to the USS Kitty Hawk while she was undergoing restoration in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard,” one Twitter user wrote. “Even then you could feel the history. Although depressing, I wish fair winds and following seas on her final voyage.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.