Staffers at Motor Trend are adept behind the wheel of virtually any vehicle found on the road. From small, maneuverable sports cars to massive trucks, we pride ourselves on our ability to wring maximum performance out of a platform. In our quest to command the largest machine we could get our hands on, the U.S. Navy granted us a rare opportunity to get a little seat time in its largest ship, an aircraft carrier.
Piloting 4.5-acres of ship, we were not looking to beat acceleration records, set slalom times, or measure a turning radius certain to rival the shoreline of a small island nation. Instead, we were seeking more of a "living" impression than "driving" impression.
Motor Trend was honored to travel on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) from San Diego, California, to its homeport of Everett, Washington, to experience the awesome machine and its talented crew in action. When it comes to heavy metal, it doesn't get more massive than this.
Crew and visitors gaze out at the North Island Naval Air Station from within the doorway of the No. 1 elevator. The huge opening is required to allow aircraft to enter and leave the hanger deck via the elevator.
Lashed down on the flight deck, an F-14 Tomcat waits for the USS Abraham Lincoln to moor at its homeport in Everett, Washington. In the lower right corner is the catapult shuttle. Powered by steam, it flings aircraft off the bow of the carrier.
A trio of Trackers is lashed to the flight deck as a helo eyes its landing position. The diminutive Chevys generated quite a bit of interest among the crew, with one lucky crew member winning a Tracker in raffle broadcast on the ship's close-circuit television network.
Looming over the flight deck, the "island" is the nerve center during launching and recovery operations. Festooned with antennas, it offers a full view of all flight deck ops, as well as helm controls. In the foreground is a tractor, used to move aircraft around the flight and hangar decks.
Online Editorial Director Jeff Bartlett poses for an obligatory photo as he contemplates the financing, and logistics, necessary to put the F-14 Tomcat fighter in his driveway. Note the bar attached to the nose gear of the aircraft. The forward end will be attached to a tractor, like the one in the background.
I wonder who's going to win this drag race? While the twin-engine, variable swept-wing F-14 Tomcat can fly in excess of twice the speed of sound and carry a wide range of ordnance, the Chevrolet Tracker has a much better paint job and a more consumer-friendly cabin. The profusion of tie-downs on the F-14 is not for show; a 60-knot wind on the bow can move heavy objects with ease.
The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is no place to be rubbernecking. For the careless, natural selection kicks in very quickly. During launch and recovery operations, the flight deck is like an enormous ballet, with every individual tasked with a specific job.
Heading into the setting sun, the USS Abraham Lincoln powers towards north, toward Washington. With a 4.5-acre flight deck, the modern aircraft carrier is truly a mobile airport. Canting the flight deck allows simultaneous launching and landing of aircraft.
RADM Balisle watches as a gale and the USS Abraham Lincoln intersect. At sea, ship control is the responsibility of the ship's captain, while the admiral is in charge of battle group operations. Notice the no-nonsense interior. Meant for fighting, the Lincoln will never be mistaken for a cruise ship.
The winner of the Chevrolet Tracker (center) poses with personnel from Chevy and the ship's company, including the USS Abraham Lincoln's Commanding Officer, Captain Douglas K. Dupouy (right).
Photographer Newhardt, a submarine veteran, is amazed by the room on the USS Abraham Lincoln, but still feels that there are two types of ships in the world - submarines and targets.
Getting ready to cast off in San Diego, California, a couple of USS Abraham Lincoln crew members stand by to take in lines. Note the elevator lift cables to the right, sufficient to raise the huge elevator as well as a multi-thousand pound aircraft.
Is the Chevrolet Tracker getting ready to tow the F-14 Tomcat? Maybe in its dreams. Chevrolet and the U.S. Navy have a close relationship, allowing service members to buy vehicles with minimum fuss, taking into account a sailor's nomadic life. Vehicle delivery and financing can be tailored to fit the unique needs of military life.
Crew members walk past the catapult officer's position, a control station shielded with heavy bracing and armored glass. The abrasive non-skid surface of the flight deck is necessary to minimize aircraft from sliding around. The high speeds the carrier can achieve results in gale-force winds blowing cross the deck.
A half dozen aircraft tractors wait for to move something, somewhere. Our Motor Trend staffers felt more at home with this equipment, even if it did have the acceleration of a kid on a 10-speed. Weather protection is sadly lacking, but visibility is unbeatable.
Bartlett shoots video of the Trackers lashed to Elevator No. 1. Fashionable beige inflatable life vest is required in case Barlett is blown into the water like a piece of flotsam. (Think of the paperwork.) The elevator is shown level with the Hanger Deck, where most of the aircraft are stored and where maintainace is carried out.
Leaving San Diego, California, the USS Abraham Lincoln slips past the submarine base at Ballast Point. Moored at a pier is an SSN-688 Class nuclear fast attack submarine. This particular boat is an early Los Angeles-Class sub, as evidenced by the sail-mounted fairwater planes. Note the fully raised No. 2 periscope.
Somewhere off the West Coast, a pair of F/A-18 Hornets buzz the USS Abraham Lincoln during maneuvers. Humid conditions and high speed create fog on the wing surfaces. Short of an air show, most civilians never get to see the kind of performance these fighters are capable of.
Oklahoma native RADM Phillip M. Balisle surveys the ocean from the Flag Bridge. Currently the Director, Surface Warfare Division (N76), Manpower/Training Requirements Branch, at the time he was Commander, USS Abraham Lincoln Battle Group.
RADM Phillip Balisle endures yet another interview with a landlubber. Concise, intelligent, and possessing a keen sense of humor, he is the first to credit the men and women under him as the real stars of the US Navy.
Online skipper Jeff Bartlett tries out the admiral's chair for fit and finish, while RADM Balisle orders a barber to the Flag Bridge on the double. Note the crazed, maniacal look in Bartlett's eyes, as the admiral rests on a radar station that costs more than a Ferrari 360 Modena.
Silhouetted by the dawn in Everett, Washington, the crew of the USS Abraham Lincoln man the rails as the Nimitz Class aircraft carrier pulls into its homeport. A custom dating hundreds of years, manning the rails is a tradition in most of the world's navies.