The USS Enterprise (CVN-65) aircraft carrier was powered by eight nuclear reactors. Credit: Mate Airman Rob Gaston / US Navy photo.
The USS Enterprise (CVN-65) carrier entered the US Navy service in November 1961. Credit: DoD photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Todd Cichonowicz, US Navy.
The USS Enterprise (CVN-65) was formally deactivated in December 2012. Credit: Oldnavy1024 / Wiki Commons.

USS Enterprise (CVN-65) was considered to be the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the largest active warship in the world when commissioned by the US Navy in November 1961.

Nicknamed Big E, the aircraft was built by Newport News Shipbuilding (acquired by the Northrop Grumman Corporation in 2001). The aircraft celebrated its 50th anniversary in November 2011.

USS Enterprise is the only ship of its class and was preceded by Kitty Hawk Class and succeeded by Nimitz Class. It was replaced by Ford Class aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R Ford (CVN-78), which was commissioned in July 2017 at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

The Enterprise Class was originally intended to consist of a fleet of six ships. The other five Enterprise-Class ships, however, were dropped due to escalating construction costs.

A $453.3m contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman to undertake maintenance work on the USS Enterprise ship in April 2008. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding performed maintenance and re-delivered the ship to the US Navy in April 2010.

The maintenance cost at the time of delivery was reported to be $662m. It was the ship’s last scheduled drydocking prior to its deactivation in December 2012 at Naval Station Norfolk. The ship was then towed to Newport News Shipyard for dismantling in June 2013. Formal decommissioning of the ship took place in February 2017 followed by its inactivation in December 2017.

The post-deactivation process is expected to be completed by 2021 while the dismantling and disposal planning is expected to be finalised by 2022. Scrapping is expected to be completed by 2025.

USS Enterprise (CVN-65) design and development

CVN-65 was originally designed for a service life of 25 years. The service life was lengthened due to timely maintenance and proper upkeep. The ship’s hull design is a modification of the Forestall-Class carriers. The ship initially featured a typical square island that was used to support phased-array radars and electronic warfare systems. These were replaced in 1980.

"Formal deactivation of the ship took place in December 2012."

With a length of 1,123ft, USS Enterprise was considered to be the longest carrier in the US Navy. Its waterline beam was 132.8ft, the draught was 39ft and displacement was 94,781t. The flight deck area was 4.47 acres and its width was 252ft. The area of the hangar bay was five acres.

The construction authorisation of the ship was given by the US Congress in 1954. The keel of the ship was laid in 1958. The vessel was launched in September 1960 and the commissioning took place on 25 November 1961.

The maiden voyage was undertaken in January 1962 and the speed exceeded 40 miles an hour during initial sea trials.

The ship was fitted out with four aircraft elevators, four steam-powered catapults and four arresting wires. It had the ability to launch and recover aircraft simultaneously.

It took approximately 900 shipyard engineers and designers to create the ship on paper. More than 800 companies supplied the construction materials that included 60,923t of steel, 1,507t of aluminium, 230 miles of pipe and tubing and 1,700t of one-quarter-inch welding rods.

An extensive refit programme was undertaken between January 1979 and 1982. Island superstructure was rebuilt and new radar systems and a mast were fitted out to replace the electronic countermeasures dome and the billboard radar antenna.

Aircraft landing spaces on Big E

Depending on mission demands, the ship was capable of embarking more than 90 aircraft and only 66 at any given time. An embarked air wing on the ship comprised approximately four EA-6B Prowler offensive electronic warfare aircraft, four E-2C Hawkeye electronic early warning aircraft, five SH-60F Seahawk anti-submarine warfare helicopters, six S-3B Viking anti-submarine warfare aircraft and 43 F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters.

Weapon systems on the nuclear aircraft carrier

USS Enterprise was armed with three Mk 29 Nato Sea Sparrow guided missile launch systems and three 20mm Phalanx close-in weapon systems (CIWS). The ship was also armed with two Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) systems.

Radar technology on the USS Enterprise (CVN-65)

The ship was equipped with an SPS-49(v)5 C/D band long-range air search radar, SPS-64(v)9 I-band navigation radar and SPS-48E 3D C/D band air search radar.

Other radars onboard included a Mk 23 target acquisition system (TAS), D band system and an SPQ-9B surface search and tracking radar with sea-skimmer capability. An SPN-46 precision approach landing system, SPN-41 electronic carrier landing system and SPN-43A air traffic control and marshalling radar made up the ship’s aircraft management radars.

Command and control systems

Command and control systems were comprised of an SPQ-14(v) Advanced Sensor Distribution System, Mk 91 Guided Missile command and control system, ACDS Block 0, USQ-119E (V) 27 – GCCS-M (Maritime Global Command and Control System) and SSQ-82 electronic emission management system.

Propulsion and performance of the former warship

The propulsion power for the ship was generated by eight Westinghouse second-generation A2W nuclear reactors. The four Westinghouse steam turbines produced 280,000HP.

The propulsion was provided by four propellers, each containing five blades. There were four rudders, each of 35t, and two anchors, each of 32t.