Take a tour of the USS Midway (pictures)

Once the largest ship in the world, the first of a new generation of supercarriers, the USS Midway is now a museum ship in San Diego. Here's a full tour.

Geoffrey Morrison
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The Midway

The USS Midway is the largest aircraft carrier you can tour in the world. Nearly 1,000 feet long and home for over 4,100 sailors at a time, the floating city is impressive inside and out.

For the full story behind this tour, check out Behold the USS Midway.

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Hangar deck, aft

You enter the Midway on the hangar deck, about halfway (midway, if you will) down the wall on the right in this image. At the end you can see an F4F Wildcat and SBD Dauntless.

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Hangar deck, forward

Looking toward the bow from roughly the same spot, you can get a sense of how cavernous this space is. Now imagine it filled with between 65 and 100 aircraft.

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TBM Avenger

This immaculate TBM Avenger is one of several dozen aircraft from the many eras the Midway was in service.

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Adjacent to the hangar on the same deck is the SINS room, or Ship's Inertial Navigation System. In the era before GPS, SINS helped the carrier's navigators figure out where it was in the world, crucial info for them, and the for pilots trying to find targets (and eventually, back to the carrier itself). In the middle is a fascinating display of the early computer parts this system used, showing the UNIVAC CP-642B computer from 1963, and its incredible 32 kilobytes of memory. That's less than this webpage.

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There are multiple ways to go about your tour of the Midway, and most of the lower decks aren't connected (i.e., you can't walk from engineering to the mess without going back up to the hangar deck).

Engineering itself is really the only part of the whole tour that isn't impressive. It's still cool, but compared to the access you get elsewhere on the ship, you don't get to explore or see that much: a control room, this control panel, and one of the boilers and turbines.

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Like most modern Navy ships, the Midway runs on steam. In addition to powering turbines for propulsion, it's also used to launch aircraft via steam-powered catapults.

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The Midway, commissioned in 1945, is prenuclear. On the left is one of 12 boilers that burned fuel oil.

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Heading forward up the ship, you can make your way through the brig. What's ironic is how spacious this is compared to the actual crew living space, which you'll see next.

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Through a passage cut in the bulkhead, this area of the crew's quarters is only a few steps from the brig. There's even less space here! Granted, you're not in the brig, so that's a good thing. I wonder how many times someone in the middle or lower bunk sat up quickly?

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Chow line

Every sailor you ask will tell you the food on Navy ships was quite good. The Midway won several awards along those lines. Doubly impressive when you consider they have to make 4,100-plus meals across the whole ship three times a day.

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One of several huge galleys on the Midway. Other, smaller, galleys would make food for specific ranks, like just the senior officers, or just the CPOs (which we'll see later).

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Mess deck

Looking more like a school cafeteria, the mess deck also gave access to ordinance storage, and is the central intersection of many passageways. Given the hard walls, floors, and ceiling, I imagine it was incredibly loud in here during meal times.

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CPO mess

One of the most amazing things about the Midway tour is going down a narrow ladder, and finding another huge open space. In this case, the chief petty officer's mess. Only CPOs could enter the chiefs' mess; even officers had to get permission first.

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The wardroom was for officers, and is more elegant than the CPO or crew mess. An adjacent room is the senior officers's wardroom, which was one long table in a narrow room called "the bowling alley," but is even nicer.

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The "dirty shirt" wardroom

In order to eat in the wardroom you had to be in proper dress. Work uniforms or flight suits were not allowed. If you were so attired, you ate here instead. It was a popular spot to unwind after missions.

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Like any city, there are dentists and barbers. Here, one of the latter, and a reflection showing how little I would have need to visit here.

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Nearly every space on the ship has photos and stories from people who worked in that area. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the stories from the laundry crew were about how bad it was working on the laundry crew.

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Faster than ironing, which is vital considering how many uniforms they'd have to press each day.

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Command master chief

The command master chief petty officer's quarters are quite large for an enlisted sailor, not surprising since they're the most senior.

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It's hard to see in this photo, but in the stall in the middle, there are actually shoes and pants, as if someone is in there (there wasn't). An amusing touch typical of the detail the museum and restoration staff put into the Midway. Another is dummies of doctors...

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Sick bay

One of several operating rooms in sick bay, along with smaller rooms for check-ups, an X-ray room, and everything else you'd expect in a small hospital. "I can't feel a pulse!"

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The Marines manning the access to the nuclear weapons were instructed to shoot anyone trying to access the area unauthorized.

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XO's office

Is it me or does the executive officer's office have an extreme "vice-principal" vibe to it? Like, if you were here, you were in trouble.

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XO's cabin

Being the second-in-command on a ship this size certainly has its perks, like this lovely cabin. Adjacent to it was a comm center that likely created noise at all hours, but gave fast access for the XO.

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Flag cfficer's cabin

On the Midway, the flag officer was usually a two-star rear admiral in command of the entire carrier task force.

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Like a hotel

I've been in high-end hotel rooms that weren't this nice. It's, perhaps not surprisingly, even nicer than the captain's main "bunk" (though he gets two...).

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Captain's in-port cabin

The capain's in-port cabin is the most impressive I've ever seen on a ship. While at sea, he slept in a small room off the bridge (we'll see that later). This reception area is just part of his series of rooms, including a bedroom, bath, studio and his own galley with his own cook.

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Captain's in-port "bunk"

Adjacent to the huge room in the previous slide. His private head is to the right.

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Captain's head

Spacious, sure, but still definitely a ship's head, which is interesting. Anyone know how the more modern carriers look in this regard? Just curious.

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Ready rooms

The ready rooms are accessible from the flight deck, but I've added them in the story here so we'll end with the flight deck. Each wing on the Midway had their own ready room, and each had a different color and decorations. This room had the wing that flew F4s and other earlier aircraft.

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Carrier airborne early-warning

This ready room was for the pilots of the E-2 Hawkeye early-warning aircraft.

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War room

During the Midway's operations during Desert Storm, this was Rear Admiral Dan March's war room. The charts on the wall show some of those missions.

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The operations room made me feel like I was on a movie set, a testament to the realism of many movies.

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The radar system incorporated IFF transponder codes, allowing fast identification of friends, and marking potential foes (though the latter weren't identified as such without other, usually visual, corroboration).

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Radio facilities control room

This room allowed patching and routing of radio signals to, from, and around the ship.

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This transfer switchboard (SB-973/SRR) connected incoming audio signals to gear around the ship. Also, it makes for a cool photo.

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Into the superstructure - primary flight control

All flight operations were monitored from here, primary flight control. The air boss and his team would keep track of every aircraft. The glass board on the left swung out so the air boss and his assistant could see it, where an enlisted sailor would keep all the data updated. He wrote this backward so the air boss could read it.

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Air boss and miniboss

The air boss and his assistant (and air boss-in-training), the miniboss, sat here, overlooking the flight deck.

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Boss's view

Looking out aft from primary flight control, just behind the air boss's chair, toward San Diego.

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The other end of primary flight control, looking at the two launch catapults. The ship on the other side of the bay, in the center of the image, is the USS Carl Vinson.

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Even though late in its career the Midway did get an early form of GPS, it used charts (not maps) to plot courses and location. The SINS we saw earlier aided this considerably, but a sextant was on display here as an example of backup tech.

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Captain's view

The view forward from the captain's chair. From here he could see just about everything.

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All officers up here. The captain would issue an order, and it would trickle down the chain of command until whatever it was was done.

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No, you drive

It's surprising to a lot of people that the sailor in charge of actually driving the boat can't really see where it's going. Their job isn't to look, but to follow the orders of the people who can. They don't control the speed either; that's a different sailor, positioned at the brass console on the middle-left of the image, who turns dials to relay commands down to the engine room.

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Distance gauge

This is a really clever device. What looks like a clothes drying rack is actually a distance gauge. Standing at the other window (this was a better angle for a photo), you can judge the distance to nearby ships (such as a refueling tanker) just by matching up its waterline to one of the bars.

This is also the first time my car has made it into one of my CNET slideshows, a fact amusing to literally one person.

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Location, location, location

This is the captain's sea cabin, adjacent to the bridge. How's that for convenient?

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Superstructure and A-6

A good look at the Midway's island superstructure. In the foreground, an A-6 Intruder (as in, "Flight of...").

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One of the coolest things I saw during my tour of the Midway was this former aviator giving lectures to crowds of varying sizes about carrier landings and take-offs.

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This is the largest plane to regularly launch from a carrier, the EKA-3 Skywarrior. It was designed to be a bomber, but was used for electronic warfare and even as a midair refueling platform. They were in service for almost 40 years.

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The legendary, and surprisingly large, F-14 Tomcat. There's a "Top Gun" exhibit near the ready rooms, which made this plane famous. F-14s didn't fly from the Midway, as even though it's huge, it was too small.

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Sea King

The SH-3 Sea King was an antisubmarine helicopter, though it has been replaced in that role by the Seahawk (a picture of that is coming up). It was also used for rescue and mine sweeping, and some were modified to be Marine One.

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Sea Knight

A CH-46 Sea Knight. I love tandem rotor helicopters. The Sea Knight was used for cargo and passengers.

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Is there a meal on this flight?

This version of the CH-46 could carry 17 passengers, or 4,000 pounds of cargo. Later versions could carry more.

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An H-60 Seahawk, one of the Navy's workhorses, and closely related to the Army's Blackhawk. The biggest difference is a hinged tail that allows it to take up less space when on ship. Behind is a Huey Gunship.

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Ready to go

Pretty sure they had a real guy doing this during the Midway's service. An A-7 is behind him, ready for launch.

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End of the landing zone

A look back down the landing zone, at the superstructure and San Diego beyond.

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The sun sets on my tour. If you're in San Diego, I highly recommend checking out the Midway. It's an amazing step back into nearly half a century of Navy history, and an incredible ship unlike any other you can tour in the world.

For the full story behind this tour, check out Behold the USS Midway.

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