USS CONSTELLATION CV 64
Built at the New York Naval shipyard as the second ship in the "Kitty Hawk" class of aircraft carriers, USS Constellation (CV 64) was christened October 8, 1960, by Mrs. C. A. Herter, wife of the Secretary of State; and commissioned October 27, 1961, under the motto "Spirit of the Old, Pride of the New", Capt. T. J. Walker in command. She was named for one of the six frigates bought by the Continental Congress in the late 1790s.
December 19, 1960 The construction of the "Connie" was nearly 90% completed and in the hangar bay there was a tank with 502 gallons of fuel inside. A forklift collided with that tank and the fuel ran out and flew into a lower deck where some workers were welding. A fire started and the flames quickly grew up because of all the wooden materials laying in the hangar bay and on the flight deck and one moment later a huge flame and a dark cloud of smoke could be seen above the carrier. It took twelve hours to extinguish the fire. 50 people were killed and 323 injured. The extensive damage cost about 75 million dollars to repair, and delayed the commissioning by seven months.
In December 1960, during sea trials, several miles off New York City, there was a fire in a boiler-room because of a broken oil pipe. 2 crewmen, a civilian shop worker and a civilian design engineer died in the accident; 9 were injured. The Constellation had to return to New York City for repairs.
Following fitting out and acceptance trials, the Constellation departed Norfolk February 7, 1962, for initial air operations off the Virginia Capes. In June, she was transferred to the Pacific Fleet and CVG-13 was disestablished. For the two-month trip around Cape Horn to her new homeport of San Diego. The "Connie" embarked elements of CVG-5 and departed Mayport, Fla., on July 25. In November she commenced workup exercises for her upcoming maiden deployment to the western Pacific as a component of the U.S. Seventh Fleet. The uneventful cruise took place from February to September 1963.
USS Constellation deployed to the western Pacific from San Diego on May 5, 1964. The first three months of that deployment brought normal operations, training and port calls. However, on Aug. 2, while operating in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin, USS Maddox (DD 731) reported being attacked by units of the North Vietnamese Navy.
.On August 5, USS Ticonderoga (CV 14) and USS Constellation launched 60 sorties against four bases and their supporting oil storage facilities. Those attacks reportedly resulted in the destruction of 25 PT-type boats, severe damage to the bases, and almost complete razing of the oil storage depot. The strikes lasted for four hours. Constellation lost an A-1H Skyraider, whose pilot, Lt. j.g. Richard A. Sather, became the first Navy pilot to be killed in Vietnam, and an A-4E Skyhawk, flown by Lt. j.g. Everett Alvarez who became the first Navy POW. CVA 64 returned to homeport February 1, 1965.
USS Constellation again deployed to the western Pacific on May 12, 1966, with Carrier Air Wing 15. During 111 days on station, Connie's aircraft pounded roads, bridges and other targets, attempting to impede the flow of men and war materials south. The F-4B aircrew of pilot Lt. William M. McGunigan and radar intercept officer Lt (j.g.) Robert M. Fowler from Fighter Squadron (VF) 161 shot down a MiG-17 fighter jet on July 13, marking the ship’s first MiG kill of the war. The carrier returned to San Diego Dec. 3, after seven-month combat cruise, having lost 16 aircrewmen and 15 aircraft.
USS Constellation made her third deployment to the western Pacific and Vietnam in 1967. She departed San Diego with with a new air wing, CVW 14, on April 29, 1967. The eight-month deployment ended in December, having totaled losses of 16 aircraft and 20 personnel, including 7 KIAs and 8 POWs.
The Constellation began her fourth deployment to the western Pacific and Vietnam on May 29, 1968. On Nov. 1, as directed by President Johnson, all bombing of North Vietnam was halted at 2100 Saigon time. The last Navy mission over the restricted area was flown earlier in the day by Cmdr. Kenneth E. Enney in an A-7 Corsair II. The "Connie" returned to homeport to on January 31, 1969, after flying more than 11,000 combat and support missions and dropping almost 20,000 tons of ordnance. Fifteen aircraft were destroyed, nine due to enemy action. Six aircrew members perished, five were listed as KIAs and three were taken as POWs.
Following maintenance and training periods, USS Constellation once again stood out from southern California, this time on her fifth deployment to the western Pacific and Vietnam on August 11, 1969. A return to Yankee Station on Nov. 1 also produced a major milestone in the carrier's life when the F-4J aircrew of air wing skipper Cmdr. R. K. Billings and Lt. (j.g.) Jeff Taylor of VF-143 conducted Connie's 100,000th arrested landing.
On March 28, 1970, Lt. Jerome E. Beaulier and Lt. (j.g.) Stephen J. Barkley in an F-4 Phantom II of VF-142, shot down a MiG-21 while escorting an unarmed Navy reconnaissance plane on a mission near Thanh Hoa, North Vietnam. This was the first North Vietnamese MiG kill since the November 1, 1968 bombing halt. Following a total of 128 days on the line, Connie's nine-month deployment ended on May 9, with CVW-14 suffering the loss of seven total aircraft, five to enemy action. One aircrewman was taken as a POW, but there were no fatalities. Upon the return, the aircraft carrier began a nine-month major shipyard overhaul, its second since commissioning. In spring 1971 she welcomed aboard a new air wing, CVW-9.
On October 1, 1971, USS Constellation departed San Diego to begin her sixth combat deployment to Vietnam.
A total of 2,462 ordnance delivery strike sorties were flown during December. The number of surface-to-air missile firing incidents increased and the bold excursions by MiG aircraft into Laos prompted both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy to develop new tactics, combining efforts, to suppress the MiG threat. A major protective reaction strike effort by both USAF and USN commenced Dec. 26-30. In this period, TF-77 flew 423 strike sorties employing all-weather A-6A systems backed up by A-7Es as pathfinders, with Dong Hoi, Quang Khe and Vinh the major targets assigned to the Navy. During the month, the Laser Guided Bomb (LGB) was introduced by squadrons aboard the Constellation. Initially, 16 trial LGB drops were road cuts, with subsequent targets antiaircraft artillery sites. In the coming year, LGBs were to be used effectively against heretofore seemingly indestructible targets in NVN, such as heavy steel bridge structures built into solid rock.
On Jan. 19, 1972, the VF-96 F-4 Phantom crew of Lt. Randall H. "Duke" Cunningham and Lt. (j.g.) William P. Driscoll scored a kill against a MiG-21, the first for a Navy aircraft since Connie's VF-142 kill on March 28, 1970. The action occurred during a protective reaction strike in response to earlier antiaircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile firings from the area which had menaced an RA-5C reconnaissance plane and its escorts. This accounted for the Navy's 33rd MiG shot down in the Vietnam war since the first shoot-down on June 17, 1965, downed by Cmdr. Louis C. Page and Cmdr. John J. Smith in an F-4 of VF-21 off USS Midway (CVA 41).
During the following month, naval air attack sorties in South Vietnam had risen to 733 compared to the eight during January. The increase was due to the preemptive operations by allied forces in preparation for an expected large-scale enemy offensive during Tet which did not materialize. Constellation, Coral Sea and Hancock served overlapping tours on Yankee Station, assuring two to three carriers on station at a time during most of February 1972. Naval Air attack sorties in South Vietnam in March again dropped to 113. On March 23, the U.S. canceled further peace negotiations in Paris, France, because of a lack of progress in the talks. This was followed by the North Vietnamese invasion of South Vietnam. This "Easter," or "Spring Offensive" was the result of the long buildup and infiltration of North Vietnamese forces during previous months and presaged some of the most intense fighting of the entire war. The North Vietnamese invasion prompted increased air operations by the carriers in support of South Vietnamese and U.S. forces. The carriers on Yankee Station when North Vietnam invaded on March 30 were Hancock and Coral Sea, which had rotated with Constellation and the Kitty Hawk. Beginning on April 5, aircraft from Constellation, along with those from Hancock, Coral Sea and Kitty Hawk took part in Operation Freedom Train which involved Navy tactical air sorties against military and logistic targets in the southern part of North Vietnam that were involved in the invasion of the south. The operating area in North Vietnam was limited initially to between 17° and 19°N. However, special strikes were authorized against targets above the 19th parallel on various occasions. By the end of April, operations were permitted in North Vietnam throughout the region below 20° 25'N and many special strikes above the 20th parallel had also been authorized.On April 16, in Operation Freedom Porch, aircraft from CVA 64 and the other three carriers on Yankee Station flew 57 sorties in the Haiphong area in support of U.S. Air Force B-52 strikes on the Haiphong petroleum products storage area. From April 25-30, aircraft from VA-146, VA-147 and VA-165 hit areas around the besieged city of Anloc in support of South Vietnamese troops, some only 40 miles outside the capital of Saigon. Targets attacked included artillery fire bases, enemy tanks, bunkers, troop positions, ammunition caches and gun emplacements.
May 10, 1972, was the most intensified air-to-air combat day of the entire war. Navy flyers shot down eight MiGs. An F-4 Phantom II from VF-96 on board Constellation; Lt. Randall H. Cunningham, the pilot and Lt. (j.g.) William P. Driscoll; while engaged in aerial combat over Haiphong shot down three MiGs for the first triple downing of enemy MiGs by one plane during the war. These three MiG downings, coupled with their Jan. 19 and May 8 downing of two MiGs, made Lt. Cunningham and Lt. (j.g.) Driscoll the first MiG aces of the Vietnam War. Three other kills were scored by planes of VF-96 and one by VF-92 off Constellation and one by VF-51 off Coral Sea. The nine-month deployment ended on July 1, the carrier having spent 154 days off Vietnam. Seven aircraft were lost, two aircrewmen were reported KIA and two became POWs.
On January 5, 1973, USS Constellation, along with Carrier Air Wing 9, began her seventh deployment to the western Pacific and Vietnam. The Vietnam cease-fire, announced on Jan. 23 went into effect on the 27th. Aircraft from Connie and Oriskany operating on Yankee Station, the location of which was changed to a position off the coast of the northern part of South Vietnam, flew strikes against targets in southern Laos. Combat sorties from carriers on Yankee Station against targets in Laos had continued since the cease-fire in Vietnam. These combat support sorties were flown in support of the Laotian government which had requested this assistance and it had no relationship with the cease-fire. CVA 64 returned to homeport October 11.
USS Constellation again departed for her eight and first peacetime deployment in 10 years on June 21, 1974. On Nov. 19 the aircraft carrier was part of an eight-ship force from the United States participating in the Central Treaty Organization Exercise Midlink 74. The exercise got underway as the largest naval exercise ever held in the Arabian Sea. Participating were forces from the United States, United Kingdom, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. The "Connie" returned to San Diego on Dec. 23.
On January 31, 1975, USS Constellation departed San Diego for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Wash., to undergo on of the most extensive carrier overhauls ever undertaken, enabling her to carry the Navy's newest air supremacy fighter, the F-14A Tomcat, and the S-3A Viking, a submarine hunter. On July 1, 1975, the Connie, along with all U.S. aircraft carriers, were redesignated as "CV" from "CVA." This change was made to improve the accuracy of designations in modern warfare. By removing the letter A, which stood for attack, the new designation CV could serve a multipurpose air, surface, and ASW role, depending on the type of aircraft carried. After 14 months at Puget Sound, she departed the shipyard on April 26, 1976 to rejoin the Pacific Fleet.
USS Constellation began her 10th deployment April 12, 1977, which included the first port call by a U.S. carrier to Pattaya, Thailand.
July 15, 1978 An F-14 ("NG 107") from VF-211 crashed into the sea while operating from the USS Constellation.
On September 26, 1978, the "Connie" sailed west again beginning her 11th deployment. On Dec. 27, the Battle Group was directed to the vicinity of Singapore in response to the internal crisis in Iran and because of vital U.S. interests in the Arabian Gulf area, but on January 2, 1979, the President directed USS Constellation and her escort ships to remain on station in the South China Sea and not enter the Indian Ocean. The BG was released from contingency operations in the South China Sea on Jan. 28. The crisis in Iran abated when the Shah of Iran departed for exile on January 16. Due to the uneasy situation in Iran all U.S. government dependents and nonessential American citizens were ordered to evacuate the country on January 30. The BG was ordered to the Gulf of Aden on March 7 in response to the conflict between North and South Yemen. On April 16, CV 64 was relieved by USS Midway as the Indian Ocean contingency carrier. USS Constellation returned to San Diego May 17.
The Constellation departed for the 12th underway period to the western Pacific on February 26, 1980. After participating in RIMPAC exercises, she steamed westward to the Arabian Sea, where Gonzo Station had been established following the November 1979 takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Connie had reached the eastern Indian Ocean when the unsuccessful April 24, raid to free American hostages took place, and she relieved USS Coral Sea (CV 43) on Gonzo Station on May 1. This at-sea period would last a record-setting 110 days. The deployment ended in mid-October.
Constellation began her 13th deployment October 20, 1981, returning to San Diego May 23, 1982.
December 19, 1981 An F-14 "Tomcat" from VF-24, aboard USS Constellation, missed the arresting cables during the landing and as a result the aircraft ran off the deck edge and was lost in the Indian Ocean.
In December 1982, CV 64 again sailed north to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., to begin a 14-month complex overhaul. During the overhaul, it was modified to carry the Navy's newest strike fighter, the FA-18 Hornet. Connie was the first carrier to receive the new aircraft. She was also fitted with the new Phalanx radar-guided gattling-gun, two new flush deck catapults and the NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System.
USS Constellation set sail on her 14th deployment to the western Pacific and Indian Ocean on February 21, 1985. This was the first operational deployment of the F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter and the LAMPS, which used the SH-60B Seahawk ASW helicopter. In addition to the western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, the cruise included port visits to Singapore, Kenya and western Australia. The ship returned to San Diego In late August.
The Constellation began a two-month Northern Pacific Cruise in September 1986. In early September, the aircraft carrier spent five days in Vancouver, British Columbia, where many members of the crew visited EXPO '86. In late September the ship spent four days in Anchorage, Alaska. It was the first carrier to ever visit that port. During these port visits, the ship hosted over 15,000 visitors. Constellation's final port visit was in Seattle, Wash., where an estimated 45,000 visitors walked her decks while America's Flagship celebrated the Navy's 211th birthday. She returned to Naval Air Station North Island in time for her 25th birthday.
During an April 11 to October 1987 deployment, the Constellation conducted air operations in support of Operation Earnest Will, the escorting of re-flagged Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf as a result of Iranian attacks against international shipping.
USS Constellation departed homeport for a six-month deployment on December 1, 1988, in the Indian Ocean. Four days out to sea, an EA-6B Prowler and its four crewmembers were lost at sea.
In February 1990, CV 64 departed Naval Air station north Island, returning to the east coast for a three-year overhaul. The $800-million Service Life Extension Program (SLEP), completed in Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in March 1993, added an estimated 15 years to the carrier's operational life. The overhaul saw upgrades to virtually every system on the ship. USS Constellation departed the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard March 4, 1993, the fifth and last carrier to complete SLEP.
On July 31, 1994, Lt. Kara Hultgreen made her first qualifying landing in an F-14A on board the Constellation, 110 miles southwest of San Diego. She thus became the first fully qualified female Tomcat pilot. Lt. Hultgreen was assigned to VF-213 at NAS Miramar, Calif. Lt. (j.g.) Carey Dunai, also in an F-14, became the second woman to reach the milestone with her qualifying trap moments later. Lt. Hultgreen was killed at sea October 25, while approaching USS Abraham Lincoln for a landing, 50 miles off San Diego.
USS Constellation and her battle group deployed again on November 10, and spent most of December in the western Pacific. On January 11, the carrier and her seven-ship battle group entered the Arabian Gulf. Aircraft from Constellation's air wing, Carrier Air Wing Two (CVW 2), patrolled the U.N. no-fly zone over southern Iraq in support of Operation Southern Watch. The "Connie" returned to homeport May 5, 1995.
In February 1997, USS Constellation was selected by the Navy as one of the test ships for a new working uniform. The test lasted six months. Also, from February 10-21, 1997, CV 64 BG and the Boxer ARG, took part in Pacific Joint Task Force Exercise 97-1, off the southern California coast.
On April 19, 1997, while the Constellation and her nine-ship battle group were on a routine six-months deployment, she was conducting a vertical replenishment with the replenishment ship USNS Niagara Falls (T-AFS 3) when one of the replenishment ship's UH-46E Sea Knight helicopters crashed into the sea. The crash occurred approximately 2,000 miles southwest of Hawaii and all four crew members were safely rescued. The Connie's Battle Group entered the Arabian Sea May 16, and conducted high tempo operations that included more than 4,400 sorties during more than 10 weeks. Operations included exercises with friendly forces in the region. Carrier Air Wing Two participated in Operation Southern Watch, flying 1,460 sorties enforcing the no-fly zone over southern Iraq.
On July 14, USS Constellation rescued two Iranian merchant seamen found adrift in international waters of the Arabian Gulf.
Beginning August 28, CV 64 participated in Fleet Battle Experiment Bravo (FBE-B) with deployed naval forces in the eastern and western Pacific to test warfighting concepts and capabilities for the 21st century. The San Diego-based aircraft carrier returned to homeport Oct. 1.
June 18, 1999 After completing one of the most successful work-up schedules in Navy history, USS Constellation departed San Diego, beginning her 19th overseas deployment.
After port calls in Pusan, ROK; Yokosuka, Japan; Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, she entered the Persian Gulf on Aug. 28, and in 10 weeks conducted more than 5,000 sorties and 1,256 OSW sorties, and expended nearly 44 tons of ordnance during nine combat engagements against Iraqi ground and air targets. This period was highlighted by air strikes against two Iraqi radar stations and an attempt by VF-2 to engage an Iraqi jet with the long-range Phoenix air-to-air missile on Sept. 14. CVW-2 aircraft engaged in nine specific ordnance-dropping air strikes while in the Persian Gulf. The battle group departed the Persian Gulf on November 5, and USS Constellation returned to San Diego Dec. 17.
October 20, 2000 Lt. Darren Jewell was killed when his F/A-18C from VFA-151, crashed 80 miles west of Ensenada, Mexico, shortly after takeoff from the carrier during a routine training exercise. The accident happened at 7.30 p.m. local time.
USS Constellation began its 20th western Pacific deployment on March 16, 2001. She entered the Persian Gulf on April 30 and immediately commenced operations in support of OSW.
On May 13, Capt. John W. Miller assumed command as Connie's 30th skipper, and her last. She ceased OSW operations on Aug. 4, having conducted multiple air strikes in response to Iraqi violations of the no-fly zone.
On August 11, the Navy has called off the search for two aviators who were reported missing over the Bay of Bengal on Aug. 8, after their F-14 Tomcat fighter jet, assigned to VF-2 "Bounty Hunters", did not return to the Connie. Lt. Richard Stephen Pugh and Lt. Cmdr. Robert Wayne Sides had been on a routine training mission over the Indian Ocean when they disappeared. Both men are presumed dead, Navy officials said.
USS Constellation departed Pearl Harbor on Sept. 9 with dependents on board for the traditional Tiger Cruise on the final leg to San Diego. On Sept. 11 the carrier was nearly halfway between Pearl Harbor and San Diego when word was received of the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Despite discussions about turning the battle group around, it was allowed to complete her regularly scheduled deployment. CV 64 returned to San Diego September 14 and celebrated her 40th birthday the next month.
The Constellation Battle Group departed for JTFEX on October 17, 2002, between 12 and 1 PM EDT. She was accompanied not only by her Battle Group but also departed with Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell (WHEC 719) which is due to join the Tarawa ARG when it deploys later in 2002.
October 19, A sailor was blown overboard by jet blast at five minutes past midnight as he walked behind an EA-6B Prowler on the flight deck. Connie’s helicopter squadron recovered the sailor and returned him to the ship where he was in stable condition following medical treatment.
USS Constellation BG completed JTFEX 03-1 a day earlier than planned on Oct. 29, and upon completion returned to San Diego for a brief period before deploying for western Pacifc on November 2.
On or about Nov. 9, a fire broke out in number four Main Machine Room, aboard USS Constellation. The fire was put out relatively quickly and there were no injuries. It was believed that this might delay the time of arrival in the Gulf as she might need to divert to Pearl Harbor but on Nov. 11 the Navy stated that the aircraft carrier could continue without stopping for repairs.
November 27, The Constellation Battle Group departed Hong Kong after a five-day prt visit. The BG pulled to Singapore Nov. 30 for a scheduled port call.
January 19, 2003 Lt. Frank Wittwer, flying an F/A-18C Hornet from VFA-137 "Kestrels", caught the number two wire, at 8:53 p.m., recording the 390,000th trap aboard the "Connie".
Operation Iraqi Freedom, the multi-national coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and end the regime of Saddam Hussein, began on March 20 with the firing of Tomahawk missiles from U.S. ships in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea.
On April 1, an S-3B Viking from VS-38, veered off the flight deck after making an arrested landing at approximately 5:10 a.m. local time. Shortly after touching down on deck, the Viking malfunctioned while taxiing on the carrier's flight deck and slid to the port side of the deck. The plane went over the side and hit flight deck safety netting, with the two pilots aboard ejecting into the water. The plane then followed into the water. Both pilots were recovered by a SAR swimmer and transported to the Constellation, where they were evaluated for minor injuries.
The aircraft carrier departed the Arabian Gulf on April 16 and began its journey back to homeport.
June 2, CV 64 returned to San Diego after a six-month underway period in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Carrier Air wing Two aircraft flew more than 1,500 sorties and expended more than 1 million pounds of ordnance, including 408 Tomahawk cruise missiles.
August 7, After nearly 42 years of service and 21 completed deployments, USS Constellation was decommissioned in a ceremony held at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego.
September 12, Decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Constellation departed San Diego to begin transit to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The "Connie" will be towed by a contracted ocean-going tug operated by Foss Maritime of Seattle, Wash.