An E-2C Hawkeye assigned to the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 116 performs a flyby as sailors join family members and friends to watch an air power demonstration on board the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier (CVN 72) on March 15, 2011. US Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Arif Patani.
On Aug. 19, 2021, Navy Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt took command of the USS Abraham Lincoln in San Diego, California. With that, she became the first woman to command a United States Navy aircraft carrier.
“There is no more humbling sense of responsibility than to know you are entrusted with the care of the people who have chosen to protect our nation,” Bauernschmidt said at the change of command ceremony. She called the Abraham Lincoln “the finest ship in the fleet.”
In 2022, under Bauernschmidt’s command, the Abraham Lincoln embarked across the Pacific with a crew of roughly 5,000 sailors and Marines. The ship deployed with the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, known as the Black Knights. It was the first time a Marine squadron deployed on an aircraft carrier with America’s newest fighter jet, the F-35C Lightning II.
The Abraham Lincoln sailed for seven months, covering more than 65,000 nautical miles, a distance equal to about three trips around the globe. In August 2022, the ship returned to its home port at Naval Air Station North Island in California.
Including the 2022 trip, the Abraham Lincoln has logged more than a dozen deployments since it was commissioned in 1989. It holds the record for the longest carrier deployment since the end of the Cold War: 295 days. From what it is, to where it’s been, and where it’s going, here is everything else you should know about the multibillion-dollar flattop.
Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt, incoming commanding officer of the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) aircraft carrier, reads her orders during a change of command ceremony held on the flight deck, Aug. 19, 2021. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeremiah Bartelt.
The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, designated CVN 72, is the third ship named after the 16th president of the United States. The first was a German steamship commandeered by the US government during World War I. The second was the George Washington-class submarine SSBN 602, which served from 1961 to 1981. Ballistic missile subs, like SSBN 602, have one job: patrol while armed with nukes.
The third “Abe” serves a different purpose.
Airplanes flew off ship decks as early as 1910, only seven years after the Wright brothers’ maiden flight. But it wasn’t until the ’20s and ’30s that navies started building aircraft carriers from the keel up. In 1934, after converting three ships to aircraft carriers, the US Navy commissioned the USS Ranger, its first ship designed and built as a floating airfield.
Since then, aircraft carriers have been the Navy’s pride and joy. From the USS Enterprise — the most decorated US warship of World War II — to the USS Gerald R. Ford, a latest-gen flattop, carriers have played a crucial role in US maritime operations for nearly a century.
Usually, dozens of aircraft, from fighter jets to helicopters, deploy on a carrier. Having the ability to launch multiple aircraft from a ship at sea enables the US to easily strike targets far from its shores.
An F-35C Lightning II fighter jet, assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, lands on the USS Abraham Lincoln as the squadron prepares to deploy as part of Carrier Strike Group 3, Jan. 3, 2022. US Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Charles Allen.
Aircraft carriers don’t operate alone. Each flattop typically leads a carrier strike group, or CSG, a versatile combination of warships. The USS Abraham Lincoln deploys as the flagship of CSG 3, colloquially known as the Lincoln carrier strike group.
The Abraham Lincoln is one of 11 US Navy aircraft carriers currently in service. The USS Gerald R. Ford is one of those ships. The Navy’s 10 other aircraft carriers, including Abe, are all Nimitz-class flattops.
The ships measure roughly three football fields long and displace the equivalent of more than 300,000 bathtubs-full of water when loaded. Because of their size, both the Ford- and Nimitz-class carriers have been dubbed “supercarriers.” They are the largest warships in the world.
Commissioned in 1989, the USS Abraham Lincoln, CVN 72, is the fifth ship in the Nimitz class. The class’s lead ship, the USS Nimitz, was commissioned in 1975.
The Navy plans to eventually replace all Nimitz-class carriers with Ford-class ships on a one-for-one basis. For now, however, the Abraham Lincoln sails on. The supercarrier’s predicted service life is more than half of a century. Abe won’t reach its 50th birthday until 2039.
The Lincoln carrier strike group ships cruise in formation during an underway replenishment with the Military Sealift Command’s fast combat support ship USNS Rainier on Sept. 19, 2010. US Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen D. Doyle II.
Because CVN 72 is powered by nuclear energy (“CVN” is the Navy’s hull classification for nuclear-powered aircraft carriers), it won’t have to refuel again before it retires from service.
Since the mid-2000s, all of the Navy’s aircraft carriers have used nuclear propulsion, which means they don’t need to gas up. Instead, pressurized reactors heat water through nuclear fission. The steam powers turbines that spin the ship’s propellers. In the Abraham Lincoln’s case, its reactors power the ship to speeds over 30 knots, or 35 mph.
Unlike diesel-powered carriers, nuclear-powered flattops require only one midlife refueling. The process takes multiple years. In 2013, the USS Abraham Lincoln docked in Newport News, Virginia, for its midlife refueling and complex overhaul, or RCOH. Four years and 2.5 million man-hours later, Abe returned to the fleet with full reactors and tech that made it compatible with the F-35C.
The Abraham Lincoln serves with roughly 200 other ships in the US Pacific Fleet. Since the supercarrier was commissioned more than 30 years ago, it has been involved in numerous operations around the world.
Abe’s first deployment began in May 1991. The aircraft carrier embarked for the Persian Gulf as part of the US-led response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait but was diverted to the Philippines after the volcano Mount Pinatubo erupted. There, the supercarrier and its crew helped evacuate tens of thousands of Americans and their families from Naval Base Subic Bay. Then, Abe continued its voyage to the Persian Gulf.
Sailors on board the Abraham Lincoln stand at the rails as the ship pulls into NAS North Island to a cheering crowd of family and friends during their port visit to offload the ship’s air wing on May 2, 2003. US Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Juan E. Diaz, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Abraham Lincoln deployed three more times during the 1990s. For part of each deployment, the ship supported Operation Southern Watch, a mission to monitor Iraq’s airspace after the Gulf War. Also in the ’90s, the Abraham Lincoln became the first Pacific Fleet aircraft carrier to integrate female pilots into its crew.
After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Abe made multiple trips back to the Persian Gulf. On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush stood on the deck of the ship under a banner that read “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” and announced — some might say prematurely — the end of major combat operations in Iraq.
More than a decade into service, Abe’s work was far from over. The supercarrier provided humanitarian aid to Southeast Asia after a tsunami wiped out the region on Dec. 26, 2004. The Boxing Day tsunami killed more than 200,000 people, making it the deadliest tsunami in recorded history.
The ship’s midlife refueling kept it on the sidelines for much of the 2010s. But soon after its RCOH was completed in the spring of 2017, Abe was back in action, providing disaster relief to Floridians in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
A year later, Abe made its big Hollywood debut in Top Gun: Maverick, which features scenes filmed on the ship’s flight deck. Then came the record-breaking 295-day deployment, Bauernschmidt’s historic taking-of-command, and the first carrier deployment of a Marine F-35C squadron.
At the moment, the USS Abraham Lincoln is taking a breather in its home waters off the coast of California. But the ship should be back on the high seas before long, sailing off to log more deployments, records, and firsts.
Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.
Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.
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