How are Aircraft Carriers Made?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Aircraft carriers are the centerpieces of the world's most powerful navies. They are possessed by nine nations: The United States, United Kingdom, France, India, Russia, Spain, Brazil, Italy and Thailand. China possesses one, although it is inactive. The United States possesses 12. These ships have played decisive roles in naval battles since WWII, and still serve as the most efficient means for quickly transporting thousands of troops and dozens of warplanes to any hotspot in the world.

Aircraft carriers cost about $4.5 billion each.
Aircraft carriers cost about $4.5 billion each.

Modern aircraft carriers cost about $4.5 billion each. One of the most popular types is the United States' Nimitz-class carrier, powered by two heavily shielded nuclear reactors. Yearly upkeep costs are about $250 million.

Nearly all US aircraft carriers still in service today have been built at the Northrop Grumman Newport News naval shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. Building them requires about 2,000 suppliers representing over 100,000 workers. First-tier suppliers can be found in 48 of 50 states, according Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition, an organization formed in 2005 to lobby for the continued funding of aircraft carrier construction.

Like most ships, aircraft carriers are manufactured in dry docks which are then flooded, allowing the finished ship to float out. They are constructed from modular components called superlifts: multi-room, multi-deck objects that weigh between 70 and 800 tons. An aircraft carrier will typically be built out of 200 superlifts. Superlifts are lowered into place with a gigantic bridge crane, then welded together. The final piece of the carrier is the island, which includes the bridge and observation deck, weighing in at around 570 tons.

The development of nuclear reactors and other improved naval technology permitted the construction of supercarriers starting in the 50s, a term loosely used to refer to any warship with a displacement of over 75,000 tons. The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier has a displacement around 100,000 tons, including 60,000 tons of structural steel. This class can go for years without refueling, running off efficient nuclear power. The height from keel to mast is 244 feet (~74m), the height of a 24 story building. The deck length is 1,092 feet (333 meters), with a width of 252 feet (77 meters).

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments


Newport News Shipbuilding has built all of the Nimitz class carriers and will build all of the Ford class carriers. It has never been a government run shipyard; it has been a private business since it's inception. It has had several owners over the 100 or so years it's been around, including Northrop Grumman.

No government yard currently builds CVNs, but they do perform maintenance and overhauls. Refueling is only performed at NNS.

Carriers are designed to hog and sag somewhat with sea loads just like any other ship. Ships are not "hinged."


The Bush was built in a ship yard in Newport News VA. Northrop Grumman did own the shipyard for most of its construction. The shipyard was previously government run.


How do they construct the hull of an aircraft carrier so it does not break up in heavy seas? It seems like a 1000 ft long ship would not "bend" or have any up/down motion and would just break in two. Is the hull somehow "hinged" to allow up and down "bending" in high seas?


Armand - I believe it's Northrop Grumman. I think all US aircraft carriers come from Northrop Grumman.


Who were the suppliers for the Bush Aircraft carrier?

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