Carrier USS Kitty Hawk Arrives in Brownsville for Dismantling

kitty hawk
Kitty Hawk in her prime off Mallorca (USN file image)

Published Jun 1, 2022 9:09 PM by The Maritime Executive

The decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk has reached her final berth at the Port of Brownsville, Texas, completing a multi-month tow around Cape Horn. 

USS Kitty Hawk departed her long-term layberth at Bremerton, Washington on January 15, heading south with the tug Michele Foss leading the way. She rounded Cape Horn and arrived on schedule at Brownsville on May 31. Veterans and former crewmembers have expressed a strong interest in traveling to see their old ship one more time, and hundreds of well-wishers were on hand to pay their last respects at her arrival. 

International Shipbreaking Limited won the contract to recycle the ship for the Navy for the fee of $0.01. It does not own the vessel, but will be marketing the scrap, including small pieces set aside for former crewmembers. Dismantling is set to begin in July. 

Kitty Hawk had a storied history. She was delivered in 1961 by New York Shipbuilding Corporation and decommissioned in 2009 after nearly 49 years of service. Though she was the first vessel in her class, she outlasted all three of the follow-on vessels - Constellation, America and John F. Kennedy - to become the last conventionally-powered carrier in operation in the U.S. Navy.  

Over the span of her five-decade career, Kitty Hawk saw multiple combat deployments. Her first combat flights over Vietnam began in November 1965, and she rotated in and out of combat operations "on the line" in the Gulf of Tonkin through 1972. The ship received the Presidential Unit Citation for her role in beating back the Tet Offensive in 1968. Kitty Hawk's other combat deployments included multilple airstrikes against Iraqi forces in 1990s, after the First Persian Gulf War, and again in 2003, when she contributed to the massive naval strike operations at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

Two veterans' groups attempted to obtain Kitty Hawk for use as a museum, but were unable to finalize suitable arrangements in time to save the ship from demolition. The contract for recycling was signed in 2021. 

The USS John F. Kennedy is next in line at International Shipbreaking, but the firm does not yet have a firm estimated time of arrival.