World’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier taken out of active service after 51 years
NORFOLK, Va. – The Navy inactivated the USS Enterprise during a ceremony in Norfolk on Dec. 1 after 51 years of service. The world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier returned from its last deployment on Nov. 4. The move temporarily reduces the number of carriers in the U.S. fleet to 10 until 2015.
The USS Enterprise ended its notable 51-year career during a ceremony at its home port at Naval Station Norfolk, where thousands of former crew members, ship builders and their families lined a pier to bid farewell to one of the most decorated ships in the Navy.
The Enterprise was the largest ship in the world at the time it was built, inheriting the nickname “Big E” from a famed World War II aircraft carrier. It didn’t have to carry conventional fuel tanks for propulsion, allowing it to carry twice as much aircraft fuel and ordnance than conventional carriers at the time. Using nuclear reactors also allowed the ship to set speed records and stay out to sea during a deployment without ever having to refuel, one of the times ships are most vulnerable to attack.
Every other aircraft carrier in the U.S. fleet is now nuclear-powered, although they only have two nuclear reactors each compared to the Enterprise’s eight. The Enterprise was the only carrier of its class ever built. It was only designed to last 25 years, but underwent a series of upgrades to extend its life, making it the oldest active combat vessel in the fleet
The ship served in every major conflict since participating in a blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis, helping earn its motto of “We are Legend.”
Even though the Enterprise was inactivated, it will be several more years before it is fully decommissioned. Its nuclear fuel must first be removed by punching gigantic holes in the ship, rendering it unfit for service or turning it into a museum. It will eventually be towed to Washington state for scrapping.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was the eighth U.S. ship to bear the name Enterprise, but it won’t be the last. According to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a future aircraft carrier would be named USS Enterprise, after the delivery of the USS Gerald R. Ford and the USS John F. Kennedy.