HALIFAX -- The FA-18 Super Hornet revs its engines to maximum thrust, and the jet fighter's nose wheel is locked into a steam-powered catapult on the aircraft carrier's flight deck.

The thunderous noise reaches an overwhelming, bone-jarring intensity, and in less than three seconds, the jet is gone -- hurled over the bow of the ship at 200 kilometres per hour.

That was the scene aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on Tuesday as the U.S. navy played host to a select group of Canadian journalists, politicians and military officials in advance of the ship's week-long visit to the port city, which started Wednesday.

"This is an acknowledgment of our respect and our celebration with you for Canada 150," U.S. Rear Admiral Jim Malloy said from aboard the nuclear-powered ship, which at 333 metres is almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall.

The spectacular 45-minute air show, which was kept secret until Wednesday for security purposes, included a simulated dogfight between two screaming Super Hornets, a search-and-rescue demonstration with a MH60 Sierra helicopter and a high-speed pass featuring a Super Hornet hurtling past the flight deck at more than 900 kilometres per hour.

Crew members in brightly coloured helmets and vests -- they call themselves "skittles" -- hurried about their tasks, most of them communicating by hand signals.

Below the busy deck, Petty Officer, 2nd Class Samuel Canning took a break from his job as an aviation ordnanceman, which means he works on the jets' weapons system.

"This is essentially a floating city," said the 32-year-old, who was born in St. John's, N.L., and has an elaborate network of tattoos crawling under the sleeves of his blue coveralls. "You do everything you would do back at home, but you're on a ship."

One of the few Canadians aboard, Canning said he was looking forward to Canada Day.

"I'm pretty excited that I get to visit my home country," he said while standing in one of the ship's huge hangars, decorated with gigantic Canadian and American flags. "I haven't celebrated Canada's birthday since I was about 18."

It has been almost 18 years since an American aircraft carrier visited Halifax.

The Eisenhower is so big, it has its own zip code.

There are more than two dozen decks. If you don't like steep ladders, stay away. Crew members say it's virtually impossible to meet everyone aboard, even during an extended tour.

The ship even has its own TV studio and a hospital with an operating room.

"Short of cardiac or neurosurgery, we pretty much do everything," said Lt. Doug Pokorny, the ship's surgeon.

Named after the 34th U.S. president and launched on Oct. 11, 1975, the 86,000-tonne Eisenhower is the second-oldest Nimitz-class vessel in the U.S. navy's fleet. Its flight deck, which can carry about 60 aircraft, is larger than three football fields, and its crew can include up to 6,200 sailors and airmen.

On this trip, there are 3,100 crew aboard, mainly because its air wing is taking a break, having completed a seven-month tour of the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf in January, where there were combat missions over Iraq and Syria.

As part of a seven-ship strike group, the Eisenhower's lethality is hard to comprehend.

When it is in full combat mode, the ship's crew can handle fighter jet takeoffs and landings at a rate of one per minute.

"It feels good when everything is going as it should," said Cmdr. Jeremy Rifa, the carrier's lantern-jawed "air boss."

The ship's arrival in Halifax is sure to attract big crowds to the waterfront. However, some critics are making it clear the warship is not welcomed by all.

Lyn Adamson, co-chairwoman of Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, said the ship may represent a marvel of technology, but it is really just a weapon of war.

"We need a world that's good for people to live in, and we won't get there by force," said Adamson, whose group has been advocating for nuclear disarmament and a "culture of peace" since 1960. "We are distressed by the visit of this nuclear-powered ship. It's not the way that we're going to secure peace in the world."

Adamson also suggested that this type of vessel, with its two nuclear reactors, is inherently dangerous.

"It's not something to be viewed as just a spectacle. It is actually a threat -- a threat to our future."

Canadian Rear Admiral John Newton, who met with Malloy aboard the carrier Tuesday, said the local population has nothing to fear.

"Propulsion systems shouldn't be picked apart because they are nuclear or diesel," said Newton, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic and the nuclear emergency response commander for Halifax.

"We have done incredible work around the world with these ships and with our allies. They are integral to the defence of our homeland and they should be welcomed here ... These are very safe ships."

The last time an aircraft carrier visited Halifax was in 2010, when the former flagship of the Royal Navy, HMS Ark Royal, took part in the Royal Canadian Navy's 100th anniversary in Halifax harbour. The 221-metre ship was accompanied by the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship.

The Eisenhower, known to its crew as "Mighty Ike," saw action in the Gulf War in 1990-91 after Iraq invaded Kuwait, and it later helped enforce the United Nations embargo against Iraq.

Other operations have included deployments to the waters off Haiti and Bosnia in 1994, Iraq in 2000, Afghanistan in 2006 and several subsequent deployments to the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which started with the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.