The USS Enterprise’s Last Tour

After 51 years of service, the historic aircraft carrier is about to be decommissioned

U.S. Navy/Lt. Cmdr. Josh Hammond

When the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) sailed away from Norfolk, Virginia, on its maiden voyage in 1962, it was the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and the eighth Enterprise in a long dynasty reaching back to the Revolutionary War. Its eight nuclear reactors, reported the Chicago Daily Defender, had an energy potential "as great as that of all the reactors in the free world."

The most recent Enterprise played a role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, along with other ships in the Second Fleet, blockading shipments of military equipment to Cuba. During the height of the Vietnam War, nearly 100 aircraft were launched each day from the Enterprise, laden with explosives and bound for the Ho Chi Minh Trail. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the carrier—headed home after a long deployment—steamed overnight to the North Arabian Sea to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom.

On December 1, 2012, the carrier will be inactivated, ending 51 years of service. See the gallery below for more about its history. Pictured above: Two F/A-18 Super Hornets fly past the Enterprise on its last deployment, on October 4, 2012.


(U.S. Navy )

There has been an Enterprise since 1775, when Captain James Smith was ordered to Lake Champlain to take command of the 70-ton sloop that originally belonged to the British. Enterprise II was an eight-gun schooner purchased in 1776 that convoyed transports in the Chesapeake Bay. Enterprise III, a 12-gun schooner, searched for British privateers off the coast of Maine in 1812. Enterprise IV launched from the New York Navy Yard in 1831; while Enterprise V, a steam corvette with auxiliary sail power, was commissioned in 1877. Enterprise VI performed harbor tug duties at Newport, Rhode Island in 1917, eventually transferring to the Bureau of Fisheries in 1919.

Then came the famous Enterprise VII (CV 6), a Yorktown-class carrier that joined the fleet in 1936. During World War II, the U.S. Navy participated in 41 battles in the Pacific, and the Enterprise was involved in 20 of them. When the carrier was decommissioned, the Navy promised that the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier would bear the same name.

Here TBM Avengers land on the Enterprise (CV-6) during the Gilberts Operation, November 22, 1943.

Carrier Air Wing One

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jared King)

The USS Enterprise is home to the seven squadrons of Carrier Air Wing One, which fly F/A-18C Hornets; F/A-18E Super Hornets; F/A-18F Super Hornets; E-2C Hawkeyes; EA-6B Prowlers; SH-60F and HH-60H Seahawks; and C-2 Greyhounds.

Above, aircraft assigned to Carrier Air Wing One fly in formation over the USS Enterprise during an air power demonstration.

Catapult Test

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Pittman)

The Enterprise can accommodate 60+ aircraft in its hangar bay and on the flight deck. The carrier has four 286-foot-long steam catapults; in this October 2012 photograph, sailors are surrounded by steam during an aircraft catapult test on the flight deck.

Red Rippers

(U.S. Navy/Lt. Cmdr. Josh Hammond)

The Red Rippers, commissioned in 1927, are the U.S. Navy's oldest continuously active fighter squadron. The squadron first flew the Curtiss F6C-3 Hawk, which had a maximum speed of 155 mph. In 2005, the Rippers transitioned to the F/A-18F Super Hornet (shown here over the Arabian Sea in September 2012), which can travel at a blistering Mach 1.8+, or 1,190 mph. Read about the squadron's 80 years of continuous service flying 26 different aircraft aboard 25 different aircraft carriers.

Screwtops Squadron

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brooks B. Patton Jr.)

The Screwtops squadron (more formally known as Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 123) was commissioned in 1964, flying the Northrop Grumman E-2A.

During the Gulf War, the Screwtops was the only squadron to operate in both the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf (learn more here). In 2003, in northern Afghanistan, the squadron pioneered night vision for this aircraft, which can detect—and track—more than 600 targets anywhere within a 3 million cubic mile area.

In this photograph, an E-2C Hawkeye sits on the flight deck of USS Enterprise in the Gulf of Aden, October 8, 2012.

EA-6B Prowlers

(U.S. Navy/Lt. Cmdr. Josh Hammond)

Commissioned in 1973, the Rooks Electronic Attack Squadron 137 has flown three versions of the EA-6B Prowler on board six different carriers. The squadron's first deployment was with the USS Enterprise in 1974, assisting with the evacuation of Americans from Saigon. The storied squadron was on station in January 1981 when Iran released 52 American hostages, held since November 1979. Most recently, the squadron has supported operations in the Persian Gulf. Read about the Rooks' history here.

At right, two EA-6B Prowlers assigned to the Rooks fly in formation over the USS Enterprise in the Arabian Sea (October 15, 2012).


(Ingalls Shipbuilding/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Pittman)

First established in 1957, the Dragonslayers of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron 11 originally flew the Sikorsky HSS-1 Seabat. They would be the first antisubmarine warfare squadron deployed, in 1969, as part of a modern carrier air wing, on board the Forrestal. The squadron specialized in astronaut recovery during that decade, scooping up various Gemini crew members including Ed White, James McDivitt, James Lovell, and Buzz Aldrin.

Today the Dragonslayers use the Sikorsky HH-60H (here, a Seahawk in the Atlantic Ocean in October 2012) to insert Navy SEALs behind enemy lines, attack submerged targets, and transfer cargo.

What will happen to Enterprise VIII after it's decommissioned? According to the Navy's Enterprise page, the carrier will remain at Norfolk for six months offloading equipment, then will be towed to Huntington Ingalls Industries at Newport News Shipyard for inactivation. After that, Enterprise will be towed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for dismantling and recycling. The four-year process will take longer than it did to construct the carrier.

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