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[NNAM.1963.025.001] Aircraft - 'Stratolab Balloon Reaches 113,739.9 feet'
Stratolab Balloon Reaches 113,739.9 feet
Accession Number NNAM.1963.025.001
Accession Date 17/05/1963
Object Desciption In May 1961, Stratolab veteran Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Ross, accompanied by Navy Medical Corps Commander Victor Prather, made a record ascent to 113,739.9 feet in an open gondola launched from the carrier Antietam (CVS 36) steaming in the Gulf of Mexico. During recovery at sea by an Antietam helicopter, Commander Prather slipped from the recovery sling and died.
Notes Essex class Antietam was laid down in 1943, launched in August 1944, and commissioned in January the following year. Antietam saw no WW II action but supported occupation forces in Manchuria, North China and Korea. She was withdrawn from service in 1950. Recommissioned in January 1951, she arrived in 7th Fleet in October, operating in Korean waters with TF-77. In 1952 she moved to the Atlantic Fleet and commenced modernization, becoming the first of her class to receive an angled flight deck.

However, Antietam was redesignated as a CVS in August 1953. On duty in 6th Fleet in 1955-1956 Antietam was available to support the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Egypt when the Suez crisis broke out. In 1957 Antietam took over from Saipan (CVL-48) as Navy aviation training carrier, first operating from Mayport and then, after channel dredging in 1959, from Pensacola, until she was relieved by USS Lexington (CV-16) in 1963. In May 1961, operating in the Gulf of Mexico, Antietam served as platform for a record-breaking high altitude balloon test flight by CDR Malcolm D. Ross and LCDR Victor A. Prather, she was withdrawn from service in 1963. Finally stricken in 1973 Antietam has been scrapped.

Class history: In the spring of 1941 the Congress finally passed a "Two-Ocean Navy" bill which included eight more aircraft carriers, the first of which, USS Essex (CV-9), was laid down in April 1941. The carriers that were the heart of the Fast Carrier Task Force concept in the Pacific war, from early in 1943 to the end, were of the Essex and closely related Ticonderoga class.

USS Essex (CV-9) and 9 others were 872 feet long. Ticonderoga and the remainder of the class were "long hull" configurations at 880 feet in length but they actually had slightly shorter flight decks. Principle reason for that was a running hull modification to the Essex class, reshaping the bow to allow forward placement of an additional 40 mm quad-mount. The Essex class carriers in general displaced about 34,800 tons and made 33 knots. Hangar space permitted stowage for 100 aircraft with another 80 on the flight deck, for a nominal 200-aircraft capacity. These ships cost between 68 and 78 million WW-II dollars, and were built on a round-the-clock basis. Rather than the customary several years, they took from 13 to 20 months to build.

Ships of the class that saw wartime service included USS Essex (CV-9), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Intrepid (CV-11), the second carrier named USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Franklin (CV-13), USS Ticonderoga (CV-14), USS Randolph (CV-15), the second carrier named USS Lexington (CV-16), USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), the second carrier to be named USS Wasp (CV-18), USS Hancock (CV-19), USS Bennington (CV-20), USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) and USS Shangri La (CV-38).

USS Boxer (CV-21) was completed too late to take part in WW II operations, as were USS Leyte (CV-32), USS Kearsarge (CV-33), USS Oriskany (CV-34), USS (Antietam (CV-36), USS Princeton (CV-37), USS Lake Champlain (CV-39), USS Tarawa (CV-40), USS Valley Forge (CV-45), and USS Philippine Sea (CV-47). USS Reprisal (CV-35) was laid down but not completed; she was scrapped, as was USS Iwo Jima (CV-46). In addition the planned construction of CV-50 through CV-55 was suspended. Note: CV hull numbers from 22 through 30 were assigned to the nine Independence-class light carriers (CVL).

At war's end, USS Boxer (CV-21), USS Leyte (CV-32), USS Valley Forge (CV-45) and USS Philippine Sea (CV-47) remained on continued active duty and fought the first aerial battles of the Korean War. Of those whose completion came late, construction of USS Oriskany (CV-34) was suspended for several years after launching before she was finally completed in 1951 to a more modern standard suited to operation of jet aircraft. However, whether they continued on duty in 1945 or were put in reserve and then recalled, many ships of the Essex/Ticonderoga class underwent major modernizations fitting them for wartime employment in Korea and Vietnam, and in many global contingencies.

The modernizations and conversions for the WW II CVs were already planned before the war's end. Most were modernized under SCB-27A or -27C programs, and later further modified under SCB-125 and -125A. By 1952 the post-war conversions produced two classes of carrier more distinct than the relatively minor hull and flight deck differences between Essex and Ticonderoga CVs. A new Essex class comprised all CVS-modified ships (SCB-27A/-125A) while five CVs that saw SCB-27C/-125 modifications, starting with Ticonderoga, remained CVAs. Three CV hulls were designated LPHs supporting the Boxer class "vertical assault" concept and began the evolution of modern amphibious warfare hulls. Boxer (as LPH-4), Princeton (as LPH-5), and Valley Forge (as LPH-8) did not receive the extensive hull modifications alluded to here.

SCB-27A provided more than a dozen significant improvements, largely devoted to enabling heavier aircraft and weapons. SCB-27C involved further additions to alterations already accomplished under -27A, and provided steam catapults instead of hydraulics. SCB-125 brought the angled flight deck and hurricane bow among other changes. SCB-125A was applied only to Oriskany (CV-34), which was nominally built to include SCB-27A features. When added to her design-built inclusion of SCB-27A the provisions of SCB-125A essentially gave Oriskany the full -27A/-27C/-125 treatment.

A special element of the FRAM II program as it affected carriers, SCB-144, was applied to those -27A carriers that were to have primary ASW employment. The changes were few but significant: a bow sonar (the SQS-23) and ASW-specialized Combat Information Center, and a stem hawse pipe and bow anchor necessitated by the spread of the sonar dome beneath the cutwater. SCB-144 was applied to Essex, Yorktown (CV-10), Intrepid, Hornet (CV-12), Randolph, Wasp (CV-18), Bennington, and Kearsarge.

CVS carriers were done away with by 1974, the mission being taken up by adding ASW aircraft to the mix on board the new CV/CVNs. Problem being an inadequate number of CVAs, to the extent that 2 CVSs had to be operated as CVAs during the Vietnam War. The attack-class submarine took on a new dimension in Fleet strategy, but long-range aerial reconnaissance by Navy (P-3) and Strategic Air Command (B-52) aircraft also became significant in countering any lingering Soviet submarine threat to carrier and amphibious forces. And the newest (i.e., Spruance) class destroyers could carry both VTOL aircraft and helicopters. Emergent ASW issues, such as the growing, modern Chinese fleet, are not assayed here.
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