Home » Around the Globe » DT Photo Tribute: 50 Years of USS Enterprise

DT Photo Tribute: 50 Years of USS Enterprise

DT wishes a happy birthday to the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. She was commissioned 50 years ago this month and despite being the only ship of her class built, paved the way for the very successful Nimitz class nuclear carriers. In addition to her eight nuclear reactors, the Enterprise was equipped with an early version of another weapon system that would one day become a hallmark of the U.S. Navy; the massive SCANFAR phased array radars that led to the development of the powerful Aegis radar system now used on all U.S. cruisers and destroyers. The Big E’s eight reactors would be replaced by two far more powerful and efficient reactors in the Nimitz class ships and he SCANFAR radars had plenty of problems. Still, she taught valuable lessons about both of these technologies and served as a springboard for serious technological leaps. Oh yeah, and she’s seen plenty of combat.

She’s set to decommission sometime in the next few years to make way for the USS Gerald R. Ford.

To celebrate her 50th, DT has put together these photos (after the jump) of the ship that ushered in a new era in carrier tech.

Under construction at Newport News, Va.,  in the late 1950s:

A brand new Enterprise. Who can tell what those aircraft are at her stern?

JFK watching flight ops from the Big E’s bridge:

A picture taken next to an F-4 Phantom showing A-5 Vigilantes and the new ship’s island:

The iconic photo showing the Enterprise sailing alongside the nuclear-powered cruiser USS Long Beach and the nuclear-powered frigate USS Bainbridge in 1964. The ships made up the first-ever nuclear-powered naval task force and sailed around the world in 65 days without a single refueling or replenishment:

A great photo showing the massive A-5s preparing to launch from Enterprise. Notice how big the Vigilantes, designed as nuclear bombers, are next to the F-8 Crusader (sitting on the forward elevator) and the A-4 Skyhawk ( about to launch from the port bow catapult):

The Enterprise ablaze in the Pacific Ocean in 1969 after Zuni rocket accidentally went off on board. The massive fire took 28 lives and destroyed 15 aircraft:

Another shot showing crewmen and a destroyer fighting the blaze:

A newly modernized Enterprise in 1983, note how the big SCANFAR radars are gone from her island but a 1950s-vintage A-4 is still flying from her flight deck:

The hangar deck in 1964:

The hangar deck in 2000 (you can even see a couple of boats in there!):

The Enterprise steaming alongside France’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the FS Charles De Gaulle in 2001:

An F/A-18E/F Super Hornet about to launch from the Enteprise’s waist catapult:

Another great picture of a Super Hornet about to launch from the Big E:

A Sea Hawk helo flies in front or the Enterprise as the ship is underway:


{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

DaveH November 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm

The Navy should always have a ship named Enterprise.


Ed! November 9, 2011 at 1:20 pm

I agree the name Enterprise should always be out there. But with how they have changed the naming conventions on all the ships so far I don't know how they can do it. I think the aircraft on the new Enterprise pic are A-4s but it is too hard to make them out in that small photo, even when zoomed in on.


DaveH November 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Maybe if a certain rental car company were to donate to a certain candidate's electoral fund..


NotTellinYou November 9, 2011 at 10:01 pm



Ed! November 10, 2011 at 8:51 am

Just print the damn thing!

If the rest of you didn't get the reference, then watch Super Troopers.


Max November 9, 2011 at 1:23 pm

I have it on pretty good authority (I was once a sailor) that those 8 nuke reactors could drive the Big E a lot faster than 30 knots, and I mean faster.


DEWright_CA November 9, 2011 at 7:45 pm

You are right; I know a former ChEng from Big-E and he said it could 'MOVE'!!!


mike November 10, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I did time on the Big E in the early 70's,and yes…it went much faster.


robert132 November 10, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Yeah, a LOT faster. Even after 50 years her top end is still classified but it's known she can run her gas turbine powered escorts over the horizon. They can out accelerate her but her top speed is greater. She was the fastest carrier in the fleet until the Reagan's updated underwater bow allowed the newer ships (CVN-76 and later) to edge her out, barely.


Michael November 9, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I tried zooming in on the picture with the 3 aircraft parked on the stern, and I couldn't identify them either (no surprise), but it looked like each aircraft had 1 rudder.

I especially like the picture of JFK checking out the flight ops; not so much because of JFK, but the guys standing around him look like real men (not that we don't have real men today).


m167a1 November 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Those were s-2 Tracers I think


Ed! November 10, 2011 at 9:02 am

After looking up the history of the E, I found something interesting which seems to match this. The first aircraft to fly off the commissioned E was the F8U Crusader…however, they had 3 TF Traders fly VIPs out to it before. Those have to be the TF Traders, after all, there are 3 of them on that flight deck and it probably was out for a test run. So in essence you are sorta right. The C-1 became the S-2.


Ed! November 10, 2011 at 9:03 am

I found the information here: http://www.uscarriers.net/cvn65history.htm


mhmm... November 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm

65days to circumnavigate the globe. That’s pretty damn impressive


tiger November 9, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Beats that 80 days deal by quite a bit. Magellan's fleet by contrast took 16 months by sail. Now, that is the power of technology.


sdog November 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm

what an interesting set of pictures. I love the comparison of the hanger deck in 1964 with the one in 2000. Does anyone know the reason for having those civilian boats in the hanger deck?


Jose November 9, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Those are not civilian boats, but the ships boats. Top one looks like the captains gig, but no whaleboats in sight.


Lester November 10, 2011 at 3:46 pm

The top boat is the admiral's barge. Beneath it are at least on utility boat. Storing boats in the hanger is common practice as they are too large to hang from davits. Large boats are necessary when anchored overseas. The crew is large. The captains's gig and whaleboats are only about 26 feet long. They will be mounted in davits along the side somewhere.


Ted Becker November 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Some times when a ship moves its homeport,certain levels of command are allowed to transport personal effects aboard ship to its new assigment


Lance November 9, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Its a sad day in several years when they decommission the Enterprise they should name the next carrier Enterprise anyway.


tiger November 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm

And Subs back to being named for fish. I just hope she gets a better end than scrapping or being made into a reef.


robert132 November 10, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Unfortunately I think the Navy is going to have to remove everything nuclear related from the hull and that's going to gut her and maybe structurally compromise her. With the exception of her Island structure I think everything unique to Enterprise will have to be removed. What ever is left may not be worth preserving.

I know I'll probably get taken to task but CVN-79 should be named Enterprise rather than Kennedy IMO.


bill russell November 9, 2011 at 9:02 pm

ive got a double sawbuck says she can still out run anything in the fleet, and they are right there shoud always be an enterprise


Stephen N Russell November 9, 2011 at 9:02 pm

remove N plant & use ship as a Museum someplace, join the ranks of:
Midway, Intrepid & Hornet alone.
Must make Big E a Musuem ship alone, shes that unique.
All past Big E crew should aid to that cause.
Since Precomm to Today.


gunslinger6 November 10, 2011 at 11:56 am

I have heard that to remove the N plants they would have tear the ship apart to get to them. I do not know if this is true, but I do agree they should turn it into a museum.


blight November 10, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Decomissioning to remove the nuke plants will probably be highly invasive. By the time you get them out, the Enterprise will be a mess and restoration will be expensive.


tiger November 11, 2011 at 1:57 am

That is a lot of ship to park some place. Not many ports have a place for something that big. Problem #2 some ships don't make money. The Poor USS Olympia situation in Philly is a prime example. THe Museum is so poorly run They can not afford to dry dock her.


Dwight55 November 9, 2011 at 9:32 pm

I don't know how fast the "E" can go, . . . but I was told by another sailor, . . . when the Pueblo incident took place, . . . they sent the "E" and the USS Black, DD666 to Korea. The "E" caught the Black, . . . and it took all of 45 minutes for the "E" to go from the astern horizon to the bow horizon, . . . and the Black was supposed to be doing 35 knots when she was passed. That's moving on,……………………..


chaos0xomega November 9, 2011 at 9:49 pm

I petition that Big E be officially renamed "Mobile Chernobyl".


gunslinger6 November 10, 2011 at 11:57 am

I petition that you loose your petition rights!


Lester November 10, 2011 at 3:49 pm

You sir, are an idiot. Not an ordinary idiot, but a flaming, frothing, stupid world class idiot.


Al Hudson November 9, 2011 at 10:17 pm

I was on Bainbridge, put her in comission. Got off in '64. The Big "E" could go faster than 30 knots. At the time she was limited in speed because her bow would bend/twist at high speeds. Got off Bainbridge just before they made that round the world cruise. The boats in the hanger bay were the gig and the barge, Capt's and Adm's boats for whatever purpose. All carriers have them.


TWOTOM2 November 10, 2011 at 7:05 am

Gone are the days of super carriers like E. The Navy and congress back then weren't afraid to put our Muscles on display. We could always do better than any other superpower could and we're proud to show off what the USA is all about! Shame on those who would say " we didn't need all that horespower in a carrier" Just think how fast we could get to the theater with our aircraft to take command of any situation anyplace on the globe! This ship put our Navy in the forefront of all the world's powers and showed them what we stood for - no nonsense from you guys..!! We here and we're staying!!!


Tony C November 10, 2011 at 8:10 am

When the USS Enterprise is decommissioned, then a new hull can be named Enterprise. There will be another Enterprise in the Gerald R Ford class.


Ed! November 10, 2011 at 8:50 am

It lost the petition to the be CVN-79. It has a chance to be CVN-80. 79 will be the new John F. Kennedy.


RAS743 November 10, 2011 at 8:52 am

There must be another major vessel bearing her name after she's de-comissioned. There's no more storied name in the history of the Navy, mostly thanks to her predecessor, CV-6, winner of 20 battle stars (of a possible 22) in the Pacific in World War II and the only ship not of the Royal Navy to win the Admiralty Pennant. Planes flying from her deck sank three of the four Japanese carriers sunk at Midway. For a time, after the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, in October of 1942, she was the only carrier left in the Pacific to fight the Japanese. She was the first carrier ever to conduct night fighter operations. The list goes on … And, for all these heroics, she was turned into razor blades in 1958, because money could not be found to turn her into a memorial. It's been said by some who served on her that it was better for her to have suffered that fate than to have become a tourist attraction and have brats dropping ice cream cones on her deck. All I know is vessels of far lesser renown are now being kept for that purpose. You don't throw away history like that.


robert132 November 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm

There's a small piece of CV-6 still around identifiable as being from her.

Mr. Henry Hoffman, the engineer responsible for the dismantling of the Enterprise between 1958 and 1960, had the foresight to recognize the historical significance of the aircraft carrier's stern plate. In 1959 he donated this sacred artifact to the Township of River Vale for all to view at Hoffman Field where it remained until July 2000 when it was moved to the Veteran's Memorial Park.

From: http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/06m.htm


Jeff Wheeler November 10, 2011 at 8:58 am

I really hope they do keep the name Enterprise in service. The tradition needs to stay alive.


Will November 10, 2011 at 3:31 pm

The Navy ended a long tradition of naming subs after species of fish with the Los Angeles class. When asked, the answer (off the record) was "fish don't vote". Then the Navy broke a longer tradition by naming CVN-77 after the very much alive George HW Bush. And before you go whining about how things were so much better back in the day, James Forrestal (CV-59) wasn't a war hero (he honorably served at a desk in DC) he protected the Navy's budget in the post WW2 reductions as SecNav & SecDef.


tiger November 11, 2011 at 2:02 am

With DC politics, we might have to wait till Star Fleet builds one.


Ray November 10, 2011 at 9:05 am

I was on the "E" for the round the world trip… Interesting was the fact we did not require fuel but ran out of toilet paper and salt about Sydney…..Was on for first combat tour also and although we did not need fuel, we still needed fuel for the airplanes, bombs, bullets etc. so we still went along side for replenishments every other night.


Todd Porthouse November 10, 2011 at 9:07 am

I certainly believe they will make the "Big E" a museum and I will definitely donate heavily. I was stationed on her as part of the CVW-2 airwing from1984 thru 1986 (VA-22). She is truly a class act and one of a kind.
AMSC(AW) Retired


JSFMIKE November 10, 2011 at 9:27 am

The Big E deserves a proper resting place in order to acknowledge all the accomplishments, and the sacrifices made by all the ship's company and air wings that acheived those feats. A ship is iron but a truly great ship is also made of flesh and blood. I had a neighbor who was a chief who served on the deck of the Big E during the time of the deadly fire. Some time after the fire, he nearly lost his legs when an arresting cable separated from the deck pendant.
As a former aviator and ship's company on the USS Lexington, I took great pride in showing my new bride around the vessel in Corpus Christi, TX where it is a museum. The Big E deserves a similar fate.


Commander November 10, 2011 at 10:15 am

It may be extremely difficult to turn the Big E into a museum. The reactors will need to be removed along with all traces of radioactivity. By the time you've done that you've pretty much disassembled a large part of the ship. Deactivation of a nuclear ship requires tens of millions of dollars and Enterprise will be the first nuclear carrier to be deactivated. Once the deactivation is completed a civilian group would have to come along and fund the conversion to a museum. That's going to be very expensive, probably too expensive for any public spirited group.


tiger November 11, 2011 at 2:05 am

And space!!!! Where do you park it that does not have a carrier already???


OldNavyOrdie November 10, 2011 at 10:30 am

The boats are Captains Gig and Admials Gig belonging to the US Navy.


David November 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Admirals BARGE.


current crewmember November 10, 2011 at 10:38 am

Not sure if this is public knowledge but there are 3 portholes that were slavaged from CV-6 of WWII fame, installed on CVN-65 in the COs in-port cabin. Every time I see those it amazes me that ADM Halsey might have stood there looking out that very porthole at the Japaneese fleet! So even today, the legacy of ENTERPRISE is much longer than the 50 yeears CVN-65 has been in service. I certainly hope that someone has the foresight to salvage them again for the next USS ENTERPRISE.

Current crewmember


gunslinger6 November 10, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Amendment accepted to loose posting and petition rights for chaos0xomega! Thanks Phil!


JWil November 10, 2011 at 5:07 pm

As one "Captain" of the (starship) Enterprise once said…
"There will ALWAYS be an ENTERPRISE".


Lee McCaleb November 10, 2011 at 9:09 pm

My dad was onboard when the Zuni cooked off in '69. I still have a 15lb. piece of the flight deck he gave me after they cleaned her up in Hono. I was 4.

Around that time Big E changed its home port from Alameda to Bremerton, WA. They offloaded the air wing and built a ramp to the flight deck. The crew loaded their cars on the deck and loaded their families into overstuffed cabins. We then spent three wonderful days cruising to our new home. What a memory for a kid.


Speedy (Oz) November 10, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Is there a reason they can't plug her into the "grid" of what ever port they retire her at?

The electricity she generates would help cover the costs.
Also, I heard once that the Enterprise can generate a lot of fresh water each day… another useful resource.


blight November 10, 2011 at 11:11 pm

You'd have to crack open the Enterprise and refuel it, since the Enterprise was refuelled in 1990 with a refurbishment in 2010 (did this include refuelling?). Expensive.

De-sal is a product of the excess heat generated by the reactors. The Navy doesn't need to do cost-benefit projections for water, but in the commercial setting it might not necessarily be cost-beneficial, unless the government runs it regardless of costs. Which then hatches the "government is wasteful" people who will come streaming out of the woodwork…


tiger November 11, 2011 at 2:08 am

What are you going to do, sell it to Haiti?


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