Confusing Carrier Confirmed! (December 8, 2022)

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
In Wing Commander IV, the TCS Lexington's Officer's Lounge features a prominent image of a historical aircraft carrier at sea. The photograph, part of a framed presentation of some sort, is easily visible in the gameflow scene and in other passing shots. It then appears more closely during the cutscene where Captain Paulsen attempts to recruit you.

But what's the carrier? Conventional wisdom was that it must be the USS Lexington (CV-16); after all, the Wing Commander IV team had spent time aboard the Lexington doing research for the game and they'd named the TCS Lexington (CV-44) in her honor. But that didn't pass the visual test: the carrier in the lounge is a modern supercarrier rather than one that served in World War II. For a long time, the image was thought to be the USS Enterprise because of her unique conning tower which seemed to match the footage... but it turns out that was a false positive resulting from the low resolution of the picture.

We're happy to report that, at long last, the original image has been located! The carrier in the photo is actually the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), America's longest-serving nuclear powered aircraft carrier. The photograph is credited to International Stock Photography's Ronn Martea, himself a former Intruder pilot (and, later in life, the source of a great deal of stock photography used in textbooks, posters and other places). If it looks familiar to you it's because the photo was used as a popular poster in the late 1980s. Scandecor published it as "1718 Aircraft Carrier" and it was the sort of fun 'boys' poster that would've been sold to teenagers at book fairs and in head shops. We've found printings from both the United States and Germany dated 1987 and 1988.

This isn't the carrier's first appearance in science fiction: the USS Nimitz played a staring role in the 1980 film The Final Countdown, in which it travels back in time to the start of World War II! It's not clear why it's pictured in the lounge or what the rest of the presentation says... but that's a mystery for another day!

Original update published on December 8, 2022