1797 – United States Frigate CONSTELLATION

The name Constellation is one of the most famous in U.S. naval history. The first ship to be commissioned in the United States Navy; the first put to sea; and the first to engage, defeat, and capture an enemy vessel, was the three-masted, square-rigged U.S. Frigate Constellation.

It all started on March 27, 1794, when a special act of Congress provided for building the U.S. Navy its first new ships. The six frigates were given symbolic names that the new country could rally around -- names such as CONSTITUTION, CONGRESS, CHESAPEAKE, UNITED STATES, and PRESIDENT. But the first to be commissioned received the name held in highest esteem by the fledgling Congress -- the name for that ring of stars, white in a blue field, on the new American flag: CONSTELLATION.

The U.S. Frigate CONSTELLATION was built at Harris Creek Shipyard in Baltimore's Fells Point. She was designed with a main battery of 38 guns, had a crew compliment of 340 men, and displaced 1,265 tons with a beam of 41 feet and length of 164 feet.

On September 7, 1797, CONSTELLATION was launched just in time as the United States entered its first naval war. The "Quasi War" (1798-1801) with France was largely Constellation's war. On February 9, 1799, CONSTELLATION fought and captured the 40-gun frigate L’INSURGENTE, the fastest ship in the French Navy. Under the command of the legendary Captain Thomas Truxtun, it was the first battle by one of the original six frigates. This great achievement for a young United States Navy was the first major victory by an American designed and built warship.

There were many more victories to follow, Truxtun and CONSTELLATION fought a second single-ship action in February 1800: a night encounter with France's 54-gun frigate LA VENGEANCE. CONSTELLATION was again victorious, winning a bloody and violent 5-hour battle. French sailors, amazed at her expert sailing ability because she could attain the thrilling speed of 13 knots while sailing under nearly an acre of canvas sails, nicknamed her "Yankee Racehorse."

Both battles were cause for rejoicing throughout the new republic. CONSTELLATION had aggressively defended America's right of safe passage on the seas for its merchant ships. These first naval victories served notice to the world that the United States would defend her honor and freedom at all costs.

While these victories were important to the nation, Truxtun and CONSTELLATION made an even greater contribution to the infant United States Navy -- this was the system of conduct, discipline, gunnery signals and naval operations put into effect by Truxtun while in command. His system set a pattern of success and efficiency that is the basis of U.S. Naval procedure to this day.

CONSTELLATION would continue to serve with distinction in the Barbary Wars against Tripoli and the War of 1812 against Great Britain. In 1840, CONSTELLATION completed a historic voyage around the world, which included being the first U.S. warship to enter the inland waters of China.

After more than 50 years of extraordinary service, the U.S. Frigate CONSTELLATION was thoroughly worn out. In 1853 she was broken up at the Gosport Navy Yard, Norfolk, VA.


But the name of CONSTELLATION would live on. In 1854, the U.S. Sloop of War CONSTELLATION was launched from Gosport. With similar dimensions to her famous predecessor, she carried 22 guns, had a crew compliment of 240 men, and displaced 1,400 tons with a beam of 42 feet and length of 176 feet.

The new ship's first assignment was interdicting the slave trade off the coast of Africa. She captured two slavers and released the imprisoned slaves. At the outbreak of the Civil War, CONSTELLATION made the first Union Navy capture, overpowering the slaver brig TRITON in coastal waters off Africa.

After the war, CONSTELLATION saw various duties such as carrying famine relief stores to Ireland and carrying precious American works of art to the Paris Exposition of 1895.

In 1894, CONSTELLATION became a training ship for the Naval Training Center in Newport, R.I. In addition to being used extensively as a training ship for Naval Academy midshipmen, she also helped train more than 60,000 recruits during World War I.

Decommissioned in 1933, CONSTELLATION was re-commissioned as a national symbol on August 24, 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt. Shortly after the country's entry into World War II, she became the flagship for Admiral Ernest J. King and Admiral Royal Ingersoll.

The treasured warship was decommissioned in February 1955 and was taken "home" to her permanent berth in Baltimore Harbor. Now a National Historic Landmark, she is the last existing Civil War era naval vessel and the last sail-powered warship built by the U.S. Navy. Ironically, just as the aircraft carrier USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64) was beginning her 19th overseas deployment, the U.S. Sloop of War CONSTELLATION completed a $9-million restoration project in July 1999. The restoration will allow a new generation of Americans to learn about the important role CONSTELLATION had in our nation's history.

America's Flagship History 1797-1955

The Tradition Continues In America’s Flagship

The 1961 Aircraft Carrier - U.S.S. CONSTELLATION (CVA/CV-64)

Like her famous namesakes, USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64) has a proud and distinguished record. Connie, as her crew affectionately calls her, has almost 40 years of service, which has seen her sail into harm's way from Yankee Station off the coast of Vietnam to the turbulent waters of the Arabian Gulf.

Built at the New York Naval Shipyard as the second ship in the Kitty Hawk class of aircraft carriers,

The keel of the second Kitty Hawk-class attack aircraft carrier (CVA), hull number 64, was laid on 14 September 1957 at New York Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn, N.Y. She had been named Constellation on 7 November 1956. Christened by Mrs. Christian A. Herter, wife of the Secretary of State, the carrier was launched on 8 October 1960. Tragedy struck the ship on 19 December when a catastrophic fire caused the loss of 50 workers and $75 million in damages.


 Following a seven-month delay, she was commissioned on 27 October 1961 as the nation's 16th active CVA. Captain Thomas J. Walker III commanding with the motto of "Spirit of the Old, Pride of the New."

She has been home ported at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego since September 1962.

Just like the Frigate CONSTELLATION, America's newest and best Navy ship was immediately put to the test. In response to North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964, CONSTELLATION departed from a scheduled port visit to Hong Kong and was the first U.S. warship to launch strikes against North Vietnamese vessels and bases.

Over the next eight years, CONSTELLATION would return to the South China Sea for a total of seven combat cruises, conducting air strikes against heavily fortified North Vietnamese positions, engaging naval targets and shooting down enemy aircraft.

In 1968 President Lyndon Johnson made a surprise visit prior to Connie's fourth deployment to the Western Pacific (WestPac). In November, Connie pilots flew the last strike missions into North Vietnam prior to a bombing halt declaration.

In the early morning hours of 02 Oct 1969 (on that side of the time line) a VRC-50 C-2A departed Cubi Point on a logistics flight to the carrier USS CONSTELLATION. Twenty-six men were aboard - five aircrew, 20 sailors from TF 77 ships and squadrons, and a civilian technical representative, Mr. Frank Bytheway. Shortly before 6 AM, as the aircraft approached CONSTELLATION for landing, the C-2 disappeared from the approach controller's radar scope. Search and rescue efforts began at once, with helicopters overhead the C-2's last known position within minutes of its disappearance. SAR efforts continued through the day but failed to locate anything except an oil slick and aircraft fragments. No human remains were recovered. Since there was no doubt the 26 men aboard had died in the incident they were classed as Died/Body not Recovered.

In May 1972, Lt. Randy Cunningham and Ltjg. Willie Driscoll of Fighter Attack Squadron 96 became America's first fighter aces of the Vietnam War by downing three MiGs during vicious dog fighting over North Vietnam. The extraordinary effort brought their total to five enemy aircraft in four months.

For her actions in Southeast Asia, President Richard Nixon awarded the Presidential Unit Citation to CONSTELLATION.

In 1975 Connie was re-designated "CV" from "CVA" following a complex overhaul to the flight deck, enabling her to deploy with the S-3A Viking (anti-submarine) and F-14 Tomcat (fighter) aircraft.

A newly refurbished Connie began her 10th deployment in April 1977, which included the first port call by a U.S. carrier to Pattaya, Thailand. In September 1978, Connie sailed west once again on her 11th overseas deployment. The ship was extended on station in the Arabian Gulf because of the Iranian hostage crisis. Her service earned her the Navy and Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal. While on her 12th deployment to the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, CONSTELLATION set a new endurance record for that time by remaining on station for 110 consecutive days.

In the summer of 1981, Connie hosted President Ronald Reagan. It turned out to be a watershed moment in the carrier's illustrious history. Reagan presented a Presidential Flag to the ship and proclaimed CONSTELLATION as "America's Flagship" - a new ship's motto which is used to this day.

In 1982, Constellation returned to the yards, this time in Bremerton, Wash. Naval aviation had undergone vast changes since 1961, and when Connie came out of the yards in 1984 two weeks early and under budget, it was completely modernized. One facet of the ship's upgrade was the ability to carry the Navy's newest strike fighter, the F/A-18 Hornet. She was also fitted with the new PHALANX radar-guided Gattling gun, two new flush deck catapults and the NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System.

During WestPac 1987, Constellation once again found itself in the spotlight; this time providing vital air cover for the escort of U.S. flagged oil tankers through the Arabian Gulf.

In February 1990, Constellation left San Diego, returning to the East Coast for a three-year overhaul. The $800-million Service Life Extension Program (SLEP), completed in Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in March 1993, added an estimated 15 years to the carrier's operational life. The overhaul saw upgrades to virtually every system on the ship.

After completing one of the most successful work-up schedules in Navy history, CONSTELLATION departed San Diego on June 18, 1999, beginning her 19th overseas deployment. Connie immediately put her war fighting skills to the test by conducting a Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX). This marked the first time ever that a carrier has conducted JTFEX at the beginning of a deployment. With increased tensions between North and South Korea, Connie then headed for the Korean theatre to closely monitor the situation and provide a calming influence. After port calls in Pusan, ROK; Yokosuka, Japan; Singapore; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Connie entered the Arabian Gulf on August 28 where she spend the next 10 weeks flying combat air patrols over the Iraqi no-fly zones in support of Operation Southern Watch.

In May 2001, Captain John Miller assumed command from Captain James Kelly. Just as Captain Thomas Truxtun left an indelible imprint on our nation's naval heritage as CONSTELLATION's first Commanding Officer in 1797, so too has Captain Kelly continued that heritage by guiding the Navy's finest crew on the nation's best carrier. As Connie's 30th Commanding Officer, Captain Miller will continue this legacy and add to the illustrious history of America's Flagship. CONSTELLATION returned to San Diego, CA September 15th 2001 from her 20th overseas deployment. The USS Constellation CVA/CV-64 Association along with the officers and crew of the CONSTELLATION on October 27th celebrated her 40 years of proud service to a grateful nation.

June 2, 2003, Constellation returned to San Diego after completing her 21st and final deployment to the Western Pacific, during deployment, she took part in the war on Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom. After her impressive 41 year service life, “Connie” was decommissioned pier side, at Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California on August 7, 2003. Mid September 2003, Connie was towed to Puget Sound Naval Station to begin preparation for permanent storage or be stricken from Navy records.

                                                            The Connie is Center          Photo by Long Nguyen

For over 200 years, ship’s named CONSTELLATION has navigated the world’s oceans defending America's interests. In 1797 the first ship of the U.S. Navy, the U.S.F. “frigate” Constellation was commissioned, she was named for the flag of the Continental Congress. Because of her swift sailing speed and handling ability, Constellation became known as the "Yankee Racehorse." Commissioned in 1854, the Sloop of War Constellation carried on the famous name. Then commissioned in 1961, the aircraft carrier Constellation that later became known as "America's Flagship," continued the tradition of always being first to answer her nation's call. Thousands of Sailors serving America and the U.S. Navy aboard ship’s named Constellation have written a proud, illustrious and stellar history as they protected and defended freedom for both America and other nations around the world.

"Let friend and foe alike know that America has the muscle to back up its words, and ships like this and men like you are that muscle ... you are America's Flagship."

--President Ronald Reagan to the crew of Constellation off the coast of California, August 20, 1981.


Site Map
The USS Constellation CVA/CV 64 Association is a not-for profit organization (501 3c).
All of our membership dues and other contributions are fully tax deductible to the extent of IRS laws