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Wanted: Aircraft carrier in Wyoming

Wanted: Aircraft carrier in Wyoming

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“Wanted to buy: Aircraft carrier, used or new. Cost may be important. Contact Wyoming Legislature, Cheyenne, Wyo.”

Wyoming state legislators’ desire for an aircraft carrier barely survived the weekend.

Inserted on Friday into a bill to establish a task force considering what the state should do if the federal government collapses, the seemingly sarcastic amendment was probably a pill meant to poison continuity-of-government legislation some might consider lunacy and others believe is just good planning.

On Tuesday, the ‘doomsday’ bill got its own reckoning: Legislators killed it by a three-vote margin.

Yet if legislators can toy with arguably outlandish ideas, let’s indulge them: What would it take for Wyoming to get its own aircraft carrier?

First, lots and lots of money.

The U.S. Navy has signed contracts worth more than $7 billion for the new U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, now under construction and the lead ship in a new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

Could the state get some sort of discount? After all, Wyoming would definitely be a first-time buyer.

A representative for shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries of Newport News, Va., referred requests for a quote to the U.S. Navy. A spokesman for the Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command didn’t return a phone call.

Nonprofit competition?

A used aircraft carrier is definitely cheaper. The decommissioned U.S.S. Ranger, launched in 1954, is currently docked at a naval base in Washington. the U.S.S. Ranger Foundation is trying to raise the $20 million to $30 million it will take to retrofit, transport and dock the vessel as a museum ship and tourist attraction on the Columbia River in Oregon.

The navy doesn’t charge for decommissioned ships marked for donation, said the foundation’s Peter Ogle. But don’t think it’s easy to get your own floating air base. Ogle’s ranking of the work: “Quite difficult.”

“You either acquire it by donation or disposal by a winning a bid as a qualified ship-breaker with the facilities in the United States to dismantle ships for scrap,” he said.

I suppose Wyoming could certainly obtain a donated ship, restore it, and only power up the strike jets when the federal government falls. Oh, don’t forget the cost of aircraft. Nicely equipped F/A-18E/F Super Hornets cost upward of $55 million apiece.

It might be unpatriotic to mention, but state legislators could certainly consider foreign-made aircraft carriers. Russia sold China three aircraft carriers. China refurbished Varyag but converted the Minsk into a floating military theme park and the Kiev into a floating hotel.

The United Kingdom also sold off a couple aircraft carriers in the past decade: one scrapped in India and the other due for the depths as an artificial reef.

So while the international market for aircraft carriers is a little tight right now, let’s assume Wyoming can get its hands on one. Where would it be berthed?

Wyoming has a number of watery locations in which you could squeeze an aircraft carrier, although without much room to maneuver. Keep in mind that the smaller of the two American-made options, the U.S.S. Ranger, is about 1,000 feet long, or about three football fields, and its keel will rest on the bottom in 37 feet of water.

Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming’s biggest natural body of water, has an average depth of 139 feet. It could work as a home for Wyoming’s flagship, although you might need a really long pier.

The Flaming Gorge Reservoir averages several hundred feet in depth and has the added benefit of prime location as a firebreak to stop greedy hordes of Utahns and some Coloradoans from crossing into Wyoming without a friendly overflight.

How will the aircraft carrier get to landlocked Wyoming? I’m not completely sure, but I have seen massive pieces of machinery used in Wyoming coal mines and wind farms make their way across the state. However, I’m sure pieced-out, cross-country transport will jack up the final cost.

And the question must be asked: Is an aircraft carrier ever the same after it’s been reassembled?

Reach Jeremy Fugleberg at 307-266-0623 or jeremy.fugleberg@trib.com. Read his blog at trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom and follow him on Twitter: @jerenergy.

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