USS Yorktown (CV-10)

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina

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A Short Video of the USS Yorktown

40 Patriots Point Rd, Mount Pleasant, SC

USS Yorktown from Ravenel Bridge

USS Yorktown at Patriots Point

We wanted to make sure we visited the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV/CVS-10) while we were in Charleston. Our first glimpse came as we crossed the Arthur Ravenel Bridge over the Copper River as we headed towards Mount Pleasant. Even here, high upon the bridge deck nearly 190 feet above the water, the Yorktown cut an impressive figure along Patriots Point.

The Yorktown has a fascinating history that began in 1943 as the nation fought valiantly in World War II. Originally the ship was to have a different name. Another ship with the name had been lost in the Battle of Midway and the Navy decided to commemorated the earlier namesake with this one. She served with distinction, earning 11 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation during the Second World War and 5 battle stars during the Vietnam conflict. Towards the end of her service she deployed as a recovery ship for the Apollo 8 space mission. After a long, successful career, the Yorktown was decommissioned in 1970. She became a formally-designated a memorial in 1975 on the Navy's 200th anniversary. Since then the Yorktown has served as a floating historic site, the crown jewel of the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.

The ship's size is nearly overwhelming as one gets closer. The flight deck extends 890 feet, or nearly the length of three football fields. Some 90-100 aircraft would be housed in the Yorktown's massive hanger bays and launched into flight from the deck during its years of service. And yet, and in spite of her immense weight, she could still cruise at 33 knots or close to 40 miles per hour.

Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum

Boarding the USS Yorktown

Patriots Point is the Yorktown's home port now. Several other ships are moored along the same set of piers and collectively they all form the majority of the museum. Visitors can climb aboard and tour through a destroyer, a coast guard cutter and a submarine in addition to the Yorktown. We enjoyed the submarine USS Clamagore (SS-343) in particular. It amazed us that people could live within such a tightly confined space for amazingly long periods underwater. We were practically claustrophobic simply walking from one end to the other as we squeezed through a series of small ports that could be sealed into watertight compartments during emergencies. The museum contains land-based exhibits, too. We walked through a mock-up of a U.S. Naval Advanced Tactical Support Base (ATSB) circa 1965, a part of the "Brown Water Navy" that patrolled the extensive waterways of South Vietnam.

Aircraft Carrier Landing Area

On the Flight Deck

We boarded the Yorktown and climbed up to the flight deck. It's impressive for its size and its length, but it's terribly short when compared to its land-based counterparts. Only arrestor cables running across the landing area and a tailhook dangling from an aircraft would keep a pilot from dropping into the Ocean. There's frighteningly little margin for error.

The landing area of the Yorktown is a museum within a museum, lined with numerous carrier-based aircraft, both jets and helicopters. Visitors are allowed to walk among them to get a closer look. While the fighters get much of the attention, in fact there were many different aircraft that served in valuable support roles. As an example, the aircraft on the right is an E-1B Tracer that the Navy used as a warning system and for guidance support. Notice the large radome filled with sensitive electronics extending over the top of the aircraft. A Tracer could fly hundreds of miles away from the Yorktown, detect distant ships and aircraft, and relay positions back home. It increased battlefield intelligence by providing as a distant set of eyes. The crew gave it affectionate nicknames such as "Stoof with a Roof" and "Willie Fudd."

Immediately to its left is a SH-3G Sea King manufactured by Sikorsky. This was a versatile all-purpose helicopter used by the Navy for several decades. It served well during the early space programs including Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, ably plucking astronauts from ocean waves after capsule reentry. It also had the interesting ability to land on water for brief periods of time without taking on water, an ideal ability for a ship-based helicopter.

Aircraft Carrier Hanger Bay

Inside the Yorktown's Hanger Bays

Next we toured through the cavernous hanger bays running the entire interior length of the ship. Aircraft were stored here under protective cover where they could be maintained, repaired or readied for missions. Massive elevators raised aircraft from the hanger bays to the flight deck. Today this provides ample space for museum exhibits. This particular scene shows Hanger Bay #2, looking towards Hanger Bay #1. There is also a third hanger bay in the opposite direction, so as incredible as it may seem from this angle, there's still another third of the ship not in view!

The aircraft on the immediate left is a Grumman TF-9J Cougar which came into service immediately after the Korean War and featured a modern swept-wing design. As an interesting aside, the Cougar was the first fighter jet used by the Blue Angels aerial demonstration team, replacing earlier propeller aircraft. On the Yorktown today, visitors can actually sit in the cockpit by way of a platform that's been built along side of the jet. Kids love to climb into the cockpit as I can attest by the number of times my children requested that opportunity.

Living on an Aircraft Carrier

Living Area on a Lower Deck

I have a friend who once lived on a boat at a marina. I visited one time and remarked upon its grand size. His responded that even though it might be considered large as boats may be concerned, it was actually a very small apartment. I got the same feeling from the Yorktown once we took some of the tours along the lower decks below the hanger bays. Tour 1, which covered the living and working areas drove this point home even further. Yes, the Yorktown is large and cavernous but keep in mind that 2,500-3,000 sailors served here at any given time. Every space had a purpose and there wasn't room for waste. Narrow corridors and steep ladder-like stairways interlaced with compact rooms of clearly designated purposes. Seamen slept like cordwood, stacked one above the other, among row upon row of tightly packed bunks. Privacy was a practically nonexistent, a luxury that simply could not be accommodated for its important military purpose.