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 "Big E"



USS Enterprise (CVN-65), formerly CVA(N)-65, is the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the eighth US naval vessel to bear the name. Like her predecessor of World War II fame, she is nicknamed the "Big E". At 1,123 ft (342 m),she is the longest naval vessel in the world. Her 93,284 long tons (94,781 t)[displacement ranks her as the 11th-heaviest supercarrier, after the 10 carriers of the Nimitz class.

The only ship of her class, Enterprise is the second-oldest vessel in commission in the United States Navy, after the wooden-hulled, three-masted frigate USS Constitution. She was originally scheduled for decommissioning in 2014 or 2015, depending on the life of her reactors and completion of her replacement, USS Gerald R. Ford.But the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 slated the ship's retirement for 2013, when she will have served for 51 consecutive years, the most of any U.S. aircraft carrier.

As of September 2010, Enterprise's home port is at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. She has one more deployment before her decommissioning.The 22nd and current commanding officer of Enterprise is Capt. Dee Mewbourne, who assumed command on January 4, 2011, from Capt. O. P. Honors who was relieved of command by Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., Commander, United States Fleet Forces Command (USFFC), for "demonstrating poor judgment while serving as executive officer of that ship."


Enterprise was meant to be the first of a class of six, but construction costs ballooned and the remaining vessels were never laid down.

Because of the huge cost of her construction, Enterprise was launched and commissioned without the planned Terrier missile launchers. These were never installed and the ship's self-defense suite instead consisted of three shorter-range RIM-7 Sea Sparrow, Basic Point Defense Missile System (BPDMS) launchers. Later upgrades added two NATO Sea Sparrow (NSSM) and three Mk 15 Phalanx CIWS gun mounts.One CIWS mount was later removed and two 21-cell RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile launchers were added.

Enterprise is also the only aircraft carrier to house more than two nuclear reactors."This was due to the ready availability of a field-proven production design developed for nuclear submarines. Her eight-reactor propulsion design also fit well with the supercarrier hull designs of the time, with each A2W reactor taking the place of one of the conventional boilers in earlier constructions. She is the only carrier with four rudders, two more than other classes, and features a more cruiser-like hull.[

Enterprise also had a phased array radar system designed to be better at tracking multiple airborne targets than conventional rotating antenna radars. These early phased arrays, which were replaced around 1980, were responsible for the distinctive square-looking island.


Commissioning and trials

In 1958, Enterprise's keel was laid at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. On 24 September 1960, the ship was launched, sponsored by Mrs. W. B. Franke, wife of the former Secretary of the Navy. On 25 November 1961, Enterprise was commissioned, with Captain Vincent P. De Poix, formerly of Fighting Squadron 6 on USS Enterprise (CV-6),in command. On 12 January 1962, the ship made her maiden voyage conducting a three-month shakedown cruise and a lengthy series of tests and training exercises designed to determine the full capabilities of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.


On 20 February 1962, Enterprise was a tracking and measuring station for the flight of Friendship 7, the Project Mercury space capsule in which Lieutenant Colonel John H. Glenn, Jr. made the first American orbital spaceflight. In August, the carrier joined the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean sea, returning to Norfolk, Virginia in October.

1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

In October, 1962, Enterprise was dispatched to her first international crisis. Following revelations that the Soviet Union was constructing nuclear missile launch sites on Cuba, President John F. Kennedy began to prepare for action, moving several military units to Florida and adjacent waters. On 24 October, President Kennedy ordered a naval and air "quarantine" (blockade) on shipment of offensive military equipment to Cuba, and demanded the Soviets dismantle the missile sites there. Enterprise, supported by the carriers Independence, Essex, and Randolph and backed by shore-based aircraft, participated in the blockade as part of the 2nd Fleet. By 28 October, the crisis was averted.

Second/third deployments

Task Force One, the world's first nuclear-powered task force. Enterprise, Long Beach and Bainbridge in formation in the Mediterranean, 18 June 1964. Enterprise crew members are spelling out Einstein's mass-energy equivalence formula E=mc on the flight deck. Note the distinctive phased array radars in the superstructures of Enterprise and Long Beach.

On 19 December 1962, a E-2 Hawkeye was aircraft catapulted off Enterprise in the first shipboard test of a nose-wheel launch bar designed to replace the catapult bridle. Minutes later, a second launch with a launch bar was made by an A-6A, demonstrating one of the primary design goals of reducing launch intervals.

In 1963-1964, Enterprise made her second and third deployment to the Mediterranean, respectively. Also during the third Mediterranean deployment, the carrier was part of Operation Sea Orbit, the world's first nuclear-powered task force with the cruisers Long Beach and Bainbridge, which joined to sail around the world. In October 1964, Enterprise returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company for her first refueling and overhaul.

Southeast Asia deployments

In November 1965, the Big E was transferred to the Pacific Seventh Fleet, home-porting at NAS Alameda California. The following month, on 2 December, she became the first nuclear-powered ship to engage in combat when she launched aircraft against the Viet Cong near Bien Hoa. Enterprise launched 125 sorties on the first day, unleashing 167 short tons (151 t) of bombs and rockets on the enemy's supply lines. On 3 December, she set a record of 165 strike sorties in a single day.

In January 1968, the capture of Pueblo by a North Korean patrol boat led to a diplomatic crisis. Enterprise was ordered to operate near South Korean waters for almost a month.

In the morning of 14 January 1969, a MK-32 Zuni rocket loaded on a parked F-4 Phantom exploded due to ordnance cook off after being overheated by an aircraft start unit mounted to a tow tractor.The explosion set off fires and additional explosions across the flight deck. The fires were brought under control relatively quickly (when compared with previous carrier flight deck fires), but 27 lives were lost and an additional 314 people were injured. The fire destroyed 15 aircraft, and the resulting damage forced Enterprise to put in for repairs, primarily to repair the flight deck's armored plating.She was towed into Pearl Harbor by the fleet tug USS Hitchiti (ATF-103). In early March 1969, repairs to the ship were completed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and the ship proceeded on her deployment to Vietnam and the Tonkin Gulf.

On 14 April 1969, tensions with North Korea flared up again as a North Korean aircraft shot down an unarmed EC-121 Constellation which was on a routine reconnaissance patrol over the East Japan Sea from its base at Atsugi, Japan. The entire 31-man crew was killed. The U.S. responded by activating Task Force 71 (TF 71) to protect such flights over those international waters in the future. Initially, the Task Force consisted of Enterprise, Ticonderoga, Ranger and Hornet, with a screen of cruisers and destroyers. The ships for TF 71 were drawn mostly from Southeast Asia duty. This deployment became one of the largest shows of force in the area since the Korean War.

In all, Enterprise made six combat deployments to Southeast Asia from 1965 to 1975.


In 1969-1970, Enterprise returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and went through an overhaul and her second refitting. In January 1971, she completed sea trials with her newly designed nuclear reactor cores which contained enough energy for 10 years. Enterprise then set sail for Vietnam, again to provide air support for American and South Vietnamese units.

Southeast Asia

In Vietnam, Enterprise, Oriskany and Midway launched a total of 2,001 strike sorties by 30 July 1971. Strike operations in July were disrupted when the carriers on station evaded three typhoons: Harriet, Kim and Jean. A slight increase in South Vietnam strike sorties occurred during the month. These were mainly visual strikes against enemy troop positions and in support of U.S. helicopter operations. From August–November 1971, Enterprise was in operations on Yankee Station.

In December 1971 during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Enterprise was deployed to the Bay of Bengal as a show of strength against India's naval blockade by INS Vikrant. A Soviet Navy submarine was also trailing the US task force. A confrontation was averted when the Americans moved towards South East Asia, away from the Indian Ocean.

In October 1972, the U.S. ended tactical air sorties into North Vietnam above the 20th parallel and brought Linebacker I operations to a close, a goodwill gesture designed to promote peace negotiations being held in Paris. Enterprise and the other carriers had flown a total of 23,652 tactical air attack sorties into North Vietnam from May–October and U.S. tactical air sorties during Linebacker I operations helped to stem the flow of supplies into North Vietnam, thereby limiting the operating capabilities of the North Vietnamese Army.

From October to December, Enterprise alternated with other carriers on Yankee Station during the bombing halt and remained on station. As a result of the bombing halt above the 20th parallel in North Vietnam, no MiG kills or U.S. aircraft losses were recorded during this time.

On 18 December 1972, the U.S. resumed bombing campaigns above the 20th parallel under the name Linebacker II. During Linebacker II operations, Enterprise and other carriers on station reseeded the mine fields in Haiphong harbor and conducted concentrated strikes against surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery sites, enemy army barracks, petroleum storage areas, Haiphong naval and shipyard areas, and railroad and truck stations. Navy tactical air attack sorties under Linebacker II were centered in the coastal areas around Hanoi and Haiphong. There were 705 Navy sorties in this area during Linebacker II. Between 18 December and 22 December the Navy conducted 119 Linebacker II strikes in North Vietnam, with the main limiting factor on airstrikes being bad weather.

In December 1972, the North Vietnamese returned to the peace table and Linebacker II ended. In January 1973, the Vietnam cease fire was announced and American carriers ceased all combat sorties into North and South Vietnam.

From 28 January 1973, aircraft from Enterprise and Ranger flew 81 combat sorties against lines-of-communication targets in Laos. The corridor for overflights was between Huế and Da Nang in South Vietnam. These combat support sorties were flown in support of the Laotian government which had requested this assistance. Laos had no relationship with the cease-fire in Vietnam.


After the cease-fire in Vietnam in 1973, Enterprise proceeded to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington, where the carrier was altered and refitted to support the Navy's newest fighter aircraft — the F-14 Tomcat. Two of four jet blast deflectors were enlarged to accommodate the Tomcat. The No. 4 propulsion shaft was replaced; it had been bent when its screw became fouled in a discarded arresting gear cable.

In the 1970s, Enterprise was refitted to handle F-14 Tomcats, which operated from the ship from 1974 to 2001.

On 18 March 1974, the first operational Tomcats of VF-1 Wolfpack and VF-2 Bounty Hunters made their maiden takeoffs and landings from the carrier. In September 1974, Enterprise became the first carrier to deploy with the new fighter plane when she made her seventh western Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment.

In February 1975, Typhoon Gervaise struck the island nation of Mauritius, and Enterprise was ordered to provide disaster relief. Arriving at Port Louis, carrier personnel spent more than 10,000 man-hours rendering such assistance as restoring water, power and telephone systems, clearing roads and debris, and providing helicopter, medical, food and drinkable water support to the stricken area.

Operation Frequent Wind

In April 1975, Enterprise, Midway, Coral Sea, Hancock, and Okinawa were deployed to waters off Vietnam for possible evacuation contingencies as North Vietnam, in violation of the Paris Peace Accords, launched a conventional invasion of South Vietnam. On 29 April, Operation Frequent Wind was carried out by US Navy and Marine Corps helicopters from the 7th Fleet. The Operation involved the evacuation of American citizens and "at-risk' Vietnamese from Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam under heavy attack from the invading forces of North Vietnam.

President Gerald Ford ordered helicopter evacuation when PAVN shelling forced the cessation of fixed-wing evacuation from Tan Son Nhut airport. With fighter cover provided by carrier aircraft, the helicopters landed at the US Embassy, Saigon and the DAO Compound to pick up evacuees. The last helicopter lifted off the roof of the US Embassy, Saigon at 07:53 on 30 April 1975 carrying the last 11 Marine Security Guards. During Operation Frequent Wind, aircraft from Enterprise flew 95 sorties.

Eighth and ninth deployments

In July 1976 Enterprise began her eighth WESTPAC deployment.

In February 1977, Idi Amin, the President of Uganda, made derogatory remarks against the United States in public and Americans in Uganda were taken hostage. This was several months after the Israeli raid at Entebbe airport. Enterprise and her escort ships, having just left Mombasa after a port call, were directed to remain in the area and operated off the east African coast for about one week. At that point the ships were scheduled to transit home after a seven-month deployment. The ship's Marine detachment and air wing prepared for a possible mission to rescue and evacuate the Americans, but Amin eventually released all the hostages. The ships then steamed across the Indian Ocean at high speed to make a previously scheduled final port call at NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines before returning to NAS Alameda.

In 1978, Enterprise underwent her ninth WESTPAC deployment, including port calls in Hong Kong, Perth, Australia, and Singapore. In January 1979, the carrier sailed into Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a 30-month comprehensive overhaul. During this overhaul, the ship's superstructure was modified, removing the SCANFAR radars and the unique inverted cone-shaped top section which was three stories high. During the lengthy overhaul, Enterprise was referred to as "Building 65" by Navy and shipyard personnel.


In 1982, the carrier underwent her 10th WESTPAC deployment. In April 1983, Enterprise ran aground on a sandbar in San Francisco Bay while returning from deployment and remained stuck there for several hours. Coincidentally, George Takei, who played Mr. Sulu, helmsman of the fictional starship Enterprise was aboard at the time as a Distinguished Visitor of the Navy. Even though groundings and collisions are usually career-enders for U.S. warship captains, the captain at the time, Robert J. Kelly, who had already been selected for promotion to commodore, eventually became a four-star admiral and commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

In 1984, the carrier underwent her 11th WESTPAC deployment. On 2 November 1985, she struck Bishops Rock on the Cortes Bank during exercises, damaging the outer hull and propeller. She continued operations and later went to drydock for repairs.

In 1986, the carrier made her 12th WESTPAC deployment. On 28 April 1986, Enterprise became the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to transit the Suez Canal. She went from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean to relieve Coral Sea, on station with America off the coast of Libya. Enterprise entered the Mediterranean to support "Operation Eldorado Canyon", the U.S. bombing of Libya. It was the ship's first visit to the Mediterranean in more than 22 years.

In April 1988, Enterprise underwent her 13th deployment and was assigned to Operation Earnest Will, escorting reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. On April 14, another Earnest Will ship, Samuel B. Roberts, struck an Iranian mine in international waters. In response, the U.S. launched Operation Praying Mantis against Iranian targets, starting with two Iranian oil platforms that were being used as support bases for Iranian attacks on merchant shipping. Aircraft from Enterprise's CVW-11 bombed two Iranian frigates, helping to sink one, and provided other air support for the strike.

In September 1989, Enterprise left Alameda and began her 14th overseas deployment, an around-the-world cruise that would end at the ship's new homeport of Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. In early December 1989, Enterprise and Midway participated in Operation Classic Resolve, President George H.W. Bush's response to Philippine President Corazon Aquino's request for air support during the rebel coup attempt. Enterprise remained on station conducting flight operations in the waters outside Manila Bay until the situation subsided.


In March 1990, Enterprise completed her around-the-world deployment, arriving in Norfolk, Virginia, after having steamed more than 43,000 mi (69,000 km) . In October, the carrier moved to Newport News Shipbuilding for refueling and the Navy's largest complex overhaul refit ever attempted. During this overhaul, the Navy extended the carrier's length from 1,101 ft (336 m) to 1,123 ft (342 m), as well as other modifications to extend her service life.

On 27 September 1994, Enterprise returned to sea for sea trials, during which she performed an extended full power run as fast as when she was new.

On 28 June 1996, Enterprise began her 15th overseas deployment. The carrier enforced no-fly zones in Bosnia as part of Operation Joint Endeavor and over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch. The deployment ended in December 1996, which also marked the end of active service for the A-6 Intruder from the Navy. In February 1997, Enterprise entered Newport News Shipbuilding for an extended selective restrictive availability lasting four-and-a-half months.

In November 1998, following workups, Enterprise departed on her 16th overseas deployment, with CVW-3 embarked. On the night of 8 November, shortly after the start of the deployment, a EA-6B Prowler crashed into an S-3 Viking on the carrier's flight deck. The mishap occurred as the EA-6B was landing during night carrier qualifications, striking the folded wings of the S-3, which had not yet cleared the landing area of the flight deck. The four crew of the EA-6B perished when the aircraft hit the water, but the two crew members of the S-3 ejected. A fire broke out on the flight deck, but was quickly extinguished by the flight deck crew. Three of the four members of the Prowler crew were lost at sea, and the remains of the fourth were recovered shortly after the crash. The crew of the Viking were rushed to the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (Portsmouth, Virginia). There were no other significant injuries. An exhaustive search for three missing EA-6B Prowler crew members was suspended after nearly 24 hours.

On 23 November 1998, Enterprise relieved Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf. During a port call in Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates, the carrier hosted former President George H.W. Bush and a live concert by Grammy Award-winning rock group Hootie and the Blowfish. In December 1998, Enterprise battlegroup spearheaded Operation Desert Fox, destroying Iraqi military targets with more than 300 Tomahawk land attack missiles and 691,000 lb (346 ST; 313 t) of ordnance. The 70-hour assault was carried out by Enterprise, Gettysburg, Stout, Nicholson and Miami.

In early March 1999, Enterprise returned to the Persian Gulf to relieve Carl Vinson in support of Operation Southern Watch, returning to Norfolk in May 1999.

During the 1998-1999 deployment, Enterprise steamed more than 50,000 nmi (93,000 km; 58,000 mi) and spent 151 days underway. Enterprise Battle Group was the first to deploy with IT-21, which allowed unprecedented internal and external communication capabilities, including commercial internet, email, and television.


On 25 April 2001, Enterprise began her 17th overseas deployment with CVW-8. From 18–28 June, the carrier and four escorts participated in an exercise with the British Royal Navy in a joint and combined warfare training exercise in the North Sea, near the Hebrides Islands and in Scotland.

Enterprise was beginning her voyage home from the Persian Gulf when the September 11 attacks were carried out. Without orders, the carrier returned at flank speed to the waters off Southwest Asia near the Persian Gulf, outrunning her escorts. In October 2001, the United States launched air attacks against Al Qaeda training camps and Taliban military installations in Afghanistan. The actions were designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a base for terrorist operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime. Over three weeks, aircraft from Enterprise flew nearly 700 missions and dropped large amounts of ordnance over Afghanistan. On 10 November, the carrier arrived at her home port of Norfolk, Virginia, 16 days later than originally planned. During her last day at sea, the ship hosted a live two-hour broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America. Garth Brooks performed a concert with Jewel from Enterprise on 21 November while she was docked in Norfolk, Virginia. The concert was carried live on CBS.

In January 2002, Enterprise entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia for a scheduled one-year Extended Dry Docking Selected Restricted Availability.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

In 2003-2004, the carrier provided air support for Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2004, the ship participated in Summer Surge 2004 and several multinational exercises.

In May 2006, Enterprise departed for a six-month deployment, operating in the 6th, 5th and 7th Fleet areas, and supported both Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. She returned to Norfolk 18 November 2006.

On 19 December 2007, the carrier returned home after a six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf.

In April 2008, Enterprise entered the Northrop-Grumman Newport News shipyard for a scheduled 18 month Extended Docking Selected Restricted Availability, with a projected completion date of September 2009. As maintenance was performed, costs continued to rise above projections and the completion date repeatedly slid. Enterprise, the oldest active combat vessel in the Navy, was scheduled to be decommissioned as late as 2014. On April 6, 2009, Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, stated that he was seeking a congressional dispensation to speed up the process to decommission Enterprise. Under this new timetable, the ship would complete one final deployment before being decommissioned in late 2012 or early 2013. This would temporarily reduce the U.S. Navy to having only ten active aircraft carriers through the launch of the Gerald R. Ford in 2015. In October 2009, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed with the recommendation, approving the decommissioning of Enterprise in 2013 after 51 years of service.


In April 2010, the Navy announced that the cost of refurbishing the carrier had risen to $655 million and was scheduled to be completed the same month.On April 19, 2010, Enterprise left the Northrop Grumman shipyard to conduct sea trials in preparation for return to the fleet.The total cost of refurbishing the carrier was $662 million, which was 46% over budget and took eight months longer than originally scheduled. The Navy stated that it planned to use the carrier for two six-month deployments before her scheduled decommissioning date in 2013.

On 1 January 2011, the Virginian-Pilot leaked highlights from the final video of a set entitled "XO Movie Night" that was filmed on Enterprise and aired via closed circuit television on select Saturday evenings. The videos, which were not meant to be released outside of the command, were produced by Capt. Owen Honors when he was executive officer (XO) of the ship in the 2006-2007 timeframe and included profanity, anti-gay slurs, and sexually suggestive scenes. Capt. Honors received public support from Navy personnel,but on 4 January 2011, Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., the commander of the United States Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk removed Honors for demonstrating poor judgment. Capt. Dee Mewbourne was appointed as replacement commander.Forty officers and enlisted sailors, including six flag officers, were later disciplined to varying extents over the incident.

The carrier and its strike group deployed on January 13, 2011. Accompanying the carrier on the cruise to the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean were Carrier Air Wing One, Destroyer Squadron 2, guided missile cruiser Leyte Gulf, and guided missile destroyers Barry, Bulkeley, and Mason.

Future prospects

Enterprise will be the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to be decommissioned by the United States Navy.In August 2009, an Internet-based petition began circulating to convert Enterprise into a museum ship after she is decommissioned.The costs of doing so regarding her nuclear reactors has yet to be calculated by the United States Department of Defense. A petition has also been set up for the CVN-79 to be named as the ninth USS Enterprise.

Northrop Grumman's facility at Newport News, Virginia will deactivate and de-fuel the ship after its decommissioning. Using the fates of previous U.S. Navy aircraft carriers as a guide, once the ship's nuclear fuel and reactor machinery has been removed and disposed of, petitioners and naval enthusiasts want the ship to become a museum, however that may not be possible.Once the Navy dismantles and recycles the ships' reactors, there will be nothing left to turn into a museum;virtually everything two decks below the hangar bay would have to be cut apart.Enterprise may also enter the Ship-Submarine Recycling Program. Afterward the ship's island could be removed and used as a memorial