• July 25, 2024

The Last Captivating Image of the USS Enterprise Before It Transcends into Timelessness

The US Navy will decommission the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier next week. The USS Enterprise played a significant role in global events, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The final farewell ceremony will take place on February 3 at Newport News Shipbuilding, the same shipyard where the carrier was constructed.


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In 1954, Congress authorized the construction of the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which would bear the name USS Enterprise. This grand vessel was planned to be powered by eight nuclear reactors, two for each of its four propeller shafts. It was an ambitious undertaking, as never before had two nuclear reactors been harnessed together. Consequently, when engineers first initiated the ship’s propulsion system, they were uncertain of how it would function or if it would align with their theories.

The shipyard utilized materials that included 60,923 tons of steel, 1,507 tons of aluminum, 230 miles of pipe and tubing, and 1,700 tons of one-quarter-inch welding rods. These materials were supplied by more than 800 companies. Nine hundred shipyard engineers and designers meticulously crafted the ship on paper, and the millions of blueprints they created, laid end-to-end, would stretch over 2,400 miles, equivalent to the distance from Miami to Los Angeles.


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Three years and nine months after construction began, the USS Enterprise was ready to be presented to the world as “The First, The Finest” supercarrier. The newly-christened Enterprise left the shipyard for six days of builder and Navy pre-acceptance trials. During the trials, the destroyer Laffey sent a message stating, “Subject: Speed Trials. 1. You win the race. 2. Our hats are off to an area thoroughly outclassed.” When the Big “E” returned to port, Admiral George W. Anderson Jr., Chief of Naval Operations, enthusiastically declared, “I think we’ve hit the jackpot.”

After years of planning and work by thousands, the day finally arrived. At the commissioning of Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally Jr. hailed it as a worthy successor to the highly decorated seventh USS Enterprise of World War II. “The fighting gray lady, as it was called, served in such well-known battles as the raid on Tokyo and the Battle of Midway.” Secretary Connally went on to say, “The new Enterprise will reign as a long, long time queen of the seas.”

USS Enterprise Commissioning Program
In October 1962, Enterprise was dispatched to its first international crisis. Enterprise and other ships in the Second Fleet established a quarantine of all military equipment shipped to communist Cuba. The blockade was put in place on October 24, and the first Soviet ship was halted the next day. On October 28, Soviet leader Khrushchev agreed to dismantle nuclear missiles and bases in Cuba, thus concluding the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the U.S. and USSR have ever come to nuclear war.


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In the Fall of 2001, Enterprise aborted her transit home from a long deployment after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. on Sept. 11, and steamed overnight to the North Arabian Sea. In direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Big ‘E’ once again took its place in history by becoming one of the first units to respond in a crisis with its awe-inspiring striking power. Enterprise expended more than 800,000 pounds of ordnance during the operation. The ship returned to homeport at Naval Station Norfolk on November 10, 2001.

USS Enterprise in Marmaris, Turkey
Following several more deployments and an extended shipyard period that began in 2008, Enterprise embarked on its 21st deployment in January 2011, during which the carrier supported operations Enduring Freedom, New Dawn, and multiple anti-piracy missions. During its six-month tour of duty, Big ‘E’ made port visits to Lisbon, Portugal, Marmaris, Turkey, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and Mallorca, Spain.

Big ‘E’ became the fourth aircraft carrier in naval history to record 400,000 arrested landings on May 24, 2011. The milestone landing was made by an F/A-18F Super Hornet piloted by Lt. Matthew L. Enos and Weapon System Officer Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Welsh from the Red Rippers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 11.


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400,000th landing aboard USS Enterprise
Enterprise aircraft launch
On November 25, 2011, Big ‘E’ celebrated its 50th birthday, making the carrier the oldest active duty ship in the U.S. Navy fleet. After 25 deployments and 51 years of active service, the USS Enterprise was officially inactivated on December 1, 2012, and since then has spent the past several years being defueled and dismantled at Newport News Shipbuilding, the shipyard where it was built and refueled.

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