The U.S. Navy's 5 Best Aircraft Carriers Ever

Nimitz-Class Aircraft Carrier
February 28, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. NavyNavyAircraft CarriersNimitz-classMilitaryDefense

The U.S. Navy's 5 Best Aircraft Carriers Ever

The aircraft carrier is amongst the most prestigious and inspiring pieces of military equipment in the history of warfare. Built to project airpower from the sea, anywhere in the world, the aircraft carrier is essentially a floating airbase, something that, until one hundred years ago, would have seemed a work of science fiction.

Summary: The United States leads in aircraft carrier innovation, having built more carriers than any other nation. Among its historic fleet, five carriers stand out: USS Langley (CV-1) for being the first U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz (CVN-68) as the oldest serving carrier worldwide, USS Lexington (CV-16) for its significant World War II service, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) for its cutting-edge technology, and USS Enterprise (CVN-65) as the first nuclear-powered carrier. These carriers highlight advancements in naval aviation, from pioneering launches to incorporating nuclear power and modern technology, shaping global naval power and strategy.

Top 5 Iconic U.S. Aircraft Carriers: Pioneers of Naval Aviation

The aircraft carrier is amongst the most prestigious and inspiring pieces of military equipment in the history of warfare. Built to project airpower from the sea, anywhere in the world, the aircraft carrier is essentially a floating airbase, something that, until one hundred years ago, would have seemed a work of science fiction.

In the previous century of aircraft carrier design and construction, no nation has built more aircraft carriers or innovated more urgently than the United States. With 11 supercarriers currently in service, and with 55 carriers decommissioned, the US boasts the world’s most impressive historic fleet. Let’s consider the five US aircraft carriers that, for one reason or another, stand above the rest.

Of course, choosing the top five aircraft carriers is a subjective exercise. Our exercise will depend upon a consideration of technical specifications and historical significance. Here are the boats, in no particular order.

USS Langley (CV-1)

The USS Langley was the US Navy’s first aircraft carrier ever, and thus joins the list for her historical significance. Converted into an aircraft carrier in 1920, from the USS Jupiter fleet collier, the Langley also happens to be the Navy’s first turbo-electric-powered ship. The Langley was the only ship in her class, although a second collier to aircraft carrier conversion had been planned, but ultimately scrapped in favor of the Lexington-class carrier design.

USS Langley Aircraft Carrier

Naturally, the Langley was the venue of several US naval aviation firsts. In October 1922, a Vought VE-7 launched from Langley’s deck – the first ship-based airplane takeoff in US military history. A few days later, the first landing was completed, when an Aeromarine 39B touched down on Langley’s deck. In November 2022, an aircraft was catapulted from the Langley, setting a precedent that is still honored today.

USS Nimitz (CVN-68)

The USS Nimitz is the lead ship of the renowned Nimitz-class. First commissioned in 1975, the Nimitz is still in service today, making her the oldest US aircraft carrier in service – and the oldest serving aircraft carrier in the world.

USS Nimitz Aircraft Carrier

In fifty years of service history, the Nimitz has been around – making an impression worldwide with her massive size, measuring over 1,000 feet long. The Nimitz has been memorialized, too, in the Hollywood feature film The Final Countdown starring Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen.

The Nimitz is expected to be decommissioned in 2025 (as her service life is rated at just fifty years). When the Nimitz does retire, she’ll enter US naval lore.

USS Lexington (CV-16)

Named to honor the USS Lexington (CV-2), the CV-16 Lexington was an Essex-class carrier built during World War II. First commissioned in 1943, the Lexington entered service at the height of what may be world history’s most intense naval conflict.

The Lexington participated extensively in the fight against Imperial Japan. The Lexington participated in the Kwajalein Raid, the Philippine Sea Battle, the Leyte Gulf Battle, and as part of Rear Admiral Sprague’s task force. In all, the Lexington made a profound contribution to the war effort. Moreover, the Lexington was recommissioned (after nearly a decade out of service) in 1955 and served on active duty until 1991.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)

The lead ship of the Ford-class, the Gerald R. Ford was commissioned in 2017, becoming the world’s most advanced aircraft carrier. A relatively new ship, without much historical contribution, the Ford earns a spot on the list for her incorporation of cutting-edge technology.

Costing $13 billion to build (not including the $5 billion research and development fee), is the world’s most expensive warship ever. Why so expensive? Updated technological features.


The Ford incorporates the EMALS catapult system, which propels an aircraft forward, off the deck, through the use of an electromagnetic system. The EMALS replaces the traditional steam catapult system found on most carriers with a system designed to operate more smoothly, applying less stress on the aircraft.

The Ford also features the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) system to assist in aircraft landing. The AAG replaces the MK-7 arresting gear found on preceding aircraft carriers.

However, perhaps the most significant difference between the Ford and her predecessors is the increased automation. Through automating various ship systems, the Ford can operate with a smaller crew than past aircraft carriers – saving money in the long term.

USS Enterprise (CVN-65)

The USS Enterprise earned a place on the list because it was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier ever.

USS Enterprise Aircraft Carrier

Debuting in 1958, Enterprise was a game changer, equipped with eight Westinghouse A2W nuclear reactors that allowed the ship to sail for indefinite periods of time without refueling.

Today, the doctrine of the US Navy and the foreign policy of the United States depend upon the aircraft carrier range and endurance that the Enterprise introduced.

About the Author: Harrison Kass

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.