When she was launched the USS Midway was the largest ship in the World. Even today, 50 years later, the sheer size and complexity of the thing is amazing. It’s hard to conceptualize something so intricate and dangerous and simply huge.
The Midway’s flight deck is over 4 acres in area; it had a crew of 4,500, used over 100,000 gallons of fuel a day; the figures are all rather staggering. And then you look across the bay and see a modern aircraft carrier still in service and realise it dwarfs the Midway.
The Midway is now a huge museum moored in San Diego harbour. An absolutely excellent audio tour gives you a real feel for what life was like on board. Even without the excitement of the aircraft activities, it’s fascinating to learn about the logistics of running an operation as complex as the Midway.
My favourite story of Midway’s long life was the role she played in the evacuation at the end of the Vietnam War and in particular the landing of a small, very unofficial plane. The decks of the Midway were crowded with helicopters which had arrived completely overloaded with refugees, when a small light plane arrived and started circling. After a few passes the pilot came in low enough to drop a note explaining that he was a major in the South Vietnamese airforce and had his wife and family on board and asking politely if some space could be made for him to land.
Showing the sort of initiative you get in the commander of an aircraft carrier, the captain promptly ordered that the runway be cleared by the simple expedient of pushing every helicopter in the way overboard. The Vietnamese major and his family landed safely and eventually settled in the US.
The Midway is not pretty, although she does fit in with the working San Diego harbour, but it’s impossible to visit without some sense of awe.