39 pictures that show why a US aircraft carrier is such a dominant force

USS George Washington us navy chilean air force fly by aircraft carrierLt. j.g. David Babka/USNUS Naval aircraft and aircraft from the Chilean Air Force participate in a fly-by adjacent to aircraft carrier USS George Washington.

Aircraft carriers are the heart of the US Navy. The deck of a carrier is literally a few acres of American territory floating around the world, projecting massive air and seagoing military might.

Carriers are expensive, with new Ford-class ships running about $13 billion, but they last about 50 years.

Business Insider’s Robert Johnson visited the USS Eisenhower during a massive mine clearing effort in the Persian Gulf a few years ago.

The Ike, which finished two years worth of maintenance in 2016, is the second-oldest US carrier still in service. But as you’ll see, her age takes nothing from her powerful presence near foreign soil.

This post is originally by Robert Johnson.

We took this picture from 'Vultures Row,' overlooking the flight deck as it sends F/A-18s on patrol over the Persian Gulf.

Zooming in, we can see pilot Lt. Tom Shelly giving his ground crew a crisp salute.

Then he's off. Out of runway and with nowhere to go but up, Lt. Shelly hits his afterburners and shoots into the sky.

Robert Johnson

As Lt. Shelly is still plotting his course, the batch of planes that went out earlier come to land.

Tail hooks down, the pilots are aiming for the second of four cables stretched across the deck to stop them from careening off the other end of the flight deck.

Carrier landings are challenging, even in the bright, midday light and this pilot leans forward waiting to catch the cable.

Touching down on deck, the wheels throw plumes of smoke as the hook dredges the surface looking for the cable before finally catching the third line.

The aircraft rips the steel cable from its coil before reversing its afterburners and coming to a halt.

As the pilots climb out, the ground crews climb on, cleaning and inspecting all parts of the jet.

'Red Shirts' also move in and disarm the jets, storing unused ordnance deep below decks until the next mission.

AIM 9X Sidewinder missiles get put on a rack to be rolled away.

As do these 500-pound MK 82 bombs, which are part of a standard weapons load.

It's unbelievably loud out on the hangar deck, even while wearing protective headgear, something that requires the deck crew to communicate and work through highly choreographed movements.

And though it's routine for the crew, it doesn't change how dangerous every minute out here really is.

This 'Hookup Man' is guiding the F/A-18 into the launch catapult, easing the plane's towbar into place.

Firmly locked, an established hand signal gives the all-clear.

And with barely time to drag the camera around, the 30,000-pound jet is flung like a toy down the length of the deck.

From the flight deck, a single flight of stairs lead into the massive hangar deck.

All type of craft sit in various states of repair, as everything that flies from the deck is maintained here.

Because of its sheltered and open space, the hangar deck is one place sailors exercise to stay fit for their physical fitness tests.

Going up, the way to the deck passes through flight deck control where the old-school 'Ouija board' is used to keep track of the confusion outside.

The cutout planes get tagged with various items and colour-coded, designating them with a specific function or service needing to be performed.

Steering the nearly 1,100-foot, 100,000-ton ship ship through the Persian Gulf requires many hands.

And many eyes as well. The Ike's captain is in the background doing interviews with CNN and ABC.

As the captain speaks, work on the deck never stops. Some maintenance can only be done with the tail of the plane hanging off the lip of the deck, so this is where this jet will spend the night and where work will begin in the morning.

Close to the main captain's bridge is the admiral's bridge -- notice the cigar within arm's reach of the chair. From here, the admiral can exercise control over other vessels in his fleet without interfering in the running of the Ike.

Below deck is the ship's '7-11,' where we grab some snacks and several 25-cent bottles of water.

Even miles from land and months from home, there's plenty for sailors to spend their money on with retail goods brought onboard in Naples, Italy.

The selection of items is large and includes an array of expensive Italian bicycles.

These gloves approved for use on the flight deck are likely far bigger sellers than the bikes, which will never have a place on the ship.

And there's no shortage of other goods to buy if the mood strikes. Sellers know they have a solid customer base in the thousands of pilots and sailors on the ship.

There is even a Starbucks. These sailors trained in a civilian store in the US prior to working here on the ship.

Despite the onboard amenities, there is no replacement for family contact. Officers encourage crew members to wake up at 3 a.m. to call home and wish families a good morning before starting the day's shift. Every single person we speak with says missing family is the biggest challenge out here.

Back on deck it is quieter now, and we're able to step into the world of the landing signal officers.

This group is responsible for lighting up the 'Christmas Tree' to let pilots know when their approach is on target.

Despite precautions, mistakes are not unheard of, which is why there's this emergency escape chute to take the landing signal officers to safety if a plane careens out of control.

From here, we notice a missile battery on the back of the ship looking out to sea.

As we helicopter out from the Ike, we get a glimpse at what most of this military presence is about: safeguarding passage for tankers such as this as they carry much of the world's oil supply through the Strait of Hormuz.

With just hours before we head back out to sea ..

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