Sunday, September 7th, 2014

There’s a car I see in town every now and again with a personalized license plate that says “CVSARA”. It could mean a lot of things, but it makes a bell go off in my head because I’m kind of a nerd about aircraft carriers, so I know that “CV” means “aircraft carrier” in sailorspeak. I also know there were two aircraft carriers christened “Saratoga,” and that they were both called “Sara” by her crew. The guy who drives the car I see around town may have served aboard the second Sara, but he looks like he might possibly be old enough to have served aboard the first one.

I like to think that he did because I have an extra-special crush on the first one. The Navy started to build the first Saratoga as a cruiser, then decided they needed aircraft carriers more than they needed cruisers and clapped a flight deck on. (It was a little more complicated than that, but the long story’s pretty long and kind of boring.) Saratoga slid down the ways of the Camden Yards into the Delaware River with the long, sleek hull of a cruiser but flat as a board on top.

Capitol ships of the 1920s had decks made of exotic hardwoods like teak and mahogany, and their superstructures were painted in soft, almost pastel hues of blue and gray. With the long, sweeping lines of her cruiser hull, Saratoga looked more like a yacht than a ship of war.

CV-3 Saratoga

Granted, it would have been a very expensive yacht. Even back in 1925, when Saratoga was launched, her price tag was an eye-popping forty-three million dollars. I have no idea what that equates to in today’s dollars, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s as much or more than the cost of a Nimitz-class nuclear carrier.

Saratoga made it all the way through the war, so eventually her bright colors were painted over in shades of gray that made her look like she was made out of concrete and asphalt, and musclebound fighter planes crowded her flight deck and hangar, but in her early years, airplanes were still a novelty. Most were biplanes, their wings covered in fabric and so delicate they had to be held taught by struts and cables. Big radial engines were hung on the noses of the planes by this time, still out in the open to keep them cool. Propellers were carved from laminated hardwood; quite a lot of them had just two blades. Their wings and bodies were painted in bright, primary colors, yellow, red, and blue, to make them easy to see. When a couple squadrons of planes were on the deck, getting ready to take off, they looked like dragonflies swarming:

Planes aboard CV-3 Saratoga

cvsara | 11:45 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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