This Navy Ship Is Taxiing WWII Warbirds to Hawaii

The vintage fighters and bombers don't have the range to fly by themselves. In comes the USS Essex.

caf wildcat
Facebook/CAF Wildcat

    A U.S. Navy warship that typically sees F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and MV-22B Osprey tiltrotors crowding her flight deck is carrying a cargo of vintage airplanes instead.

    The amphibious assault ship USS Essex is making the trip from San Diego to Pearl Harbor with 14 World War II fighters, bombers, and trainers aboard, all scheduled to take part in a commemoration of World War II in the Pacific.

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    The Essex is an 844-foot-long landing helicopter dock. The ship has a full-length flight deck, an island to oversee flight operations, elevators, and a voluminous hangar. On a typical deployment, Essex would take on more than two dozen U.S. Marine corps jets, tiltrotors, and helicopters, plus the Marines to operate them.

    The ship is currently headed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to participate in the biennial, multinational Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2020 exercises.

    2019 bray air display
    P-51 Mustang.
    NurPhotoGetty Images

    The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused the Pentagon to shut down RIMPAC’s air exercises, so the Marines didn’t need to bring their aircraft. In January, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper sought help from the services in bringing a number of World War II airplanes to Hawaii to participate in a commemoration of the end of the war in the Pacific, also known as V-J (“Victory over Japan”) Day, which is commonly celebrated on August 15.

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    PBY Catalina flying boats over the Aleutian Islands, World War II.
    KeystoneGetty Images

    According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, the “Commemoration Air Force” will conduct flyovers over Hawaii between August 29 and September 2, the anniversary of Japan’s signing of a peace treaty in Tokyo Bay. The planes will include “five AT-6/SNJ advanced trainers, two PBY Catalina flying boats, the B-25 bomber, an FM-2 Wildcat, an F8F Bearcat, a P-51 Mustang, a Stearman biplane, a TBM Avenger and a T-28 Trojan.”

    Here’s a video from Facebook of the Wildcat fighter being loaded onto Essex. The Wildcat was an early U.S. Navy wartime fighter that was crucial to the victory at the Battle of Midway.

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    Pilots, maintainers, and other ground crew accompanying the planes haven’t had it easy. They were required to spend two weeks in quarantine at a naval base in San Diego in order to ensure those who tested positive for COVID-19 wouldn’t embark on the ship. The U.S. Navy has struggled to keep the coronavirus off its ships.

    The 14 airplanes embarked on Essex will return with the ship to San Diego once the commemoration and RIMPAC are both over.

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