USS Enterprise, First Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carrier, Taken Out Of Service

The U.S.S. Enterprise, which served the U.S. Navy in conflicts ranging from the Vietnam War to the War in Afghanistan, was taken out of service yesterday:

NORFOLK, Va. — The world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was retired from active service on Saturday, temporarily reducing 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, shipbuilders and their families lined a pier to bid farewell to one of the most decorated ships in the Navy.

“It’ll be a special memory. I’ve missed the Enterprise since every day I walked off of it,” said Kirk McDonnell, a former interior communications electrician aboard the ship from 1983 to 1987 who now lives in Highmore, S.D.

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 as conventional carriers at the time.

Every other aircraft carrier in the U.S. fleet is now nuclear-powered, though they have two nuclear reactors each compared with the Enterprise’s eight. The Enterprise was the only carrier of its class ever built.

It’s the end of a long and storied career, but it’s not the end of the name Enterprise:

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced today via video message at the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) inactivation ceremony that the third Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier will be named Enterprise.

Mabus selected this name to honor USS Enterprise (CVN 65), the Navy’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which was inactivated today in Norfolk, Va. Commissioned in 1961, CVN 65 served for more than five decades. It participated in the blockade of the Cuban Missile Crisis, launched strike operations in Vietnam, and conducted combat missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“The USS Enterprise was the first of its kind, and for 51 years its name has been synonymous with boldness, readiness and an adventurous spirit,” said Mabus. “Rarely has our fleet been without a ship bearing the name. I chose to maintain this tradition not solely because of the legacy it invokes, but because the remarkable work of the name Enterprise is not done.”

The future USS Enterprise, designated CVN 80, will be the ninth ship to bear the name.

USS Enterprise and subsequent Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers will provide improved warfighting capability, quality of life improvements for Sailors and reduced life cycle costs.

The Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier will be 1,092 feet in length and have a beam of 134 feet. The flight deck will be 256 feet wide, and the ship will be able to operate at speeds in excess of 34 knots. Enterprise will be built by Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va.

Under the current schedule the new Enterprise will be delivered in 2025.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    The list of all the Enterprises is here.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Will the next one have warp drive?

  3. @Jeremy:

    That’s still a few year’s off. the Warp 5 NX-01 doesn’t come until 2151

  4. Vast Variety says:

    We still have to invent warp drive and we only have about 50 years to do that in.

  5. Whitfield says:

    It is too bad that this carrier that has served this country so well can’t live on as a museum or some sort of other structure. The government needs to designate it a national historical site. Plenty of people would contribute to keep it around.

  6. Gustopher says:

    Perhaps we could threaten to sell the naming rights of the next aircraft carrier, and get Paramount to shell out some cash to ensure that there is an Enterprise in the fleet.

    Of course, Disney might come up with a better offer.

  7. M. Bouffant says:

    Due to the eight reactors it apparently won’t be possible to preserve her.

    Q. Can the ship be turned into a museum?

    A. The inactivation and defueling process will have major impacts on the structure of the ship. It is not cost-effective to return the ship to a condition that would support it becoming a museum. Additionally, the cost to maintain a ship as a museum is generally cost prohibitive.

    Not unlike the WWII Enterprise, whose yearly maintenance was estimated to be $125,000 in 1956.

  8. @Whitfield:

    I’ve read some discussion of that. Part of the issue is that it is going to require extensive destruction of the below-decks area of the ship in order to safely remove the nuclear reactors. As noted in the article, the Enterprise has 8 of them, as opposed to Nimitz class carriers that have only two.

    There is some talk of possibly salvaging the flight deck and control tower for use as a museum, but any decision on that is going to be years off. it will be 2015 before the work to remove the reactors is completed.

  9. Boyd says:

    First off, I’m proud to have sailed in her.

    Secondly, while the Enterprise name in the US Navy has a long and proud tradition, that alone may not have ensured its continued use. Star Trek, though, has cemented the name such that there will always be a USS Enterprise either in commission or in planning as long as the US Navy exists, and probably beyond that.

  10. @Boyd:

    Thank you, Gene Roddenberry, creative genius and US Army Air Corps Veteran.

  11. Boyd says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Indeed.