Navy's legendary carrier USS Enterprise on final voyage
The USS Enterprise leaves Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on its final deployment Sunday.
March 12th, 2012
11:09 AM ET

Navy's legendary carrier USS Enterprise on final voyage

The legendary aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, America's oldest active-duty warship, was steaming in the Atlantic on Monday on the last deployment of its 50-year career.

The carrier and its crew of 3,100 left Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia on Sunday in the ship's 22nd deployment. The ship's air wing and other naval staff aboard add another 1,500 personnel.

It will be deployed in the Navy's Sixth Fleet and Fifth Fleet areas of operations, which cover Europe, Africa and the Middle East, including current hot spots Iran and Syria.

"Enterprise is as ready and capable as she has ever been throughout her 50 years," the ship's commanding officer, Capt. William C. Hamilton, said in a statement. "The ship and crew's performance during work-ups demonstrates that the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier has never been more relevant."

Nicknamed the "Big E," the Enterprise, CVN-65, is the eighth U.S. Navy vessel and second aircraft carrier to carry that name.

The first carrier Enterprise was built in 1937 and was one of only three carriers built before World War II to survive the conflict. That Enterprise was decommissioned in 1947 as the most decorated warship in U.S. naval history.

The current Enterprise, at 1,123 feet the longest ship in the U.S. Navy, saw its first action 11 months after its commissioning, when it was to dispatched to enforce a blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. It participated in strikes on North Vietnam in the 1960s and '70s. In 2001, Enterprise was one of the first ships to respond to the September 11 terrorist attacks, as its warplanes dropped 800,000 pounds of bombs on Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, the Navy said.

The ship was the star of the U.S. Navy for many of its 50 years, and that included a role in "Top Gun," the 1986 Tom Cruise movie about naval aviators.

"The crew is very mindful that we are following the legacy of the more than 200,000 sailors who have come before us during the last 50 years," Hamilton said in a statement. "It's the sailors of this great warship, and the sailors that have served aboard Big E over the past half-century that have established the legacy she enjoys."

The 95,000-ton ship is to be deactivated in Norfolk on December 1 and decommissioned once all reusable items are removed, Ensign Brynn Olson, the ship's deputy public affairs officer, said Monday.

The ship will then be towed to Washington state for scrapping, Olson said.

What the Enterprise will not become is a museum, she said, because removing its eight nuclear reactors will involve so much destruction that the ship could not be repaired to museum quality.

"It would just be too expensive to put her back together," Olson said.

Whether there will be a ninth USS Enterprise remains to be seen.

There are several active online petitions to get hull number CVN-80, the third in the Navy's new Gerald Ford class of carriers, named the Enterprise. That ship is planned to be commissioned in 2021.

"There is no U.S. Navy without a USS Enterprise," one petitioner wrote on

Said another, "Every Navy needs a flagship, and the U.S.S. Enterprise should be ours! There must and will always be a ship named Enterprise."

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Filed under: Military • U.S. Navy
soundoff (249 Responses)
  1. Peter

    Lets make sure that history never forgets the name.....Enterprise.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. john a

    Give em Hell Big E

    March 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. David

    First 20,000 military jobs ( including Navy jet pilots), now retiring military ships. Is this Obama? Maybe we should retire him. What kind of message are we sending the world.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Starman

      That we are retiring 50 year old ships and replacing them with brand new modern ones maybe? You must have retired your brain to attach this to Obama. If you have to attach the name "Obama" to everything you don't like, you have mental issue.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • StephenFromMS

      "Hey, world, the United States Navy is no place for a 50-year-old vessel to remain in active combat roles." Sounds fine to me, that does.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • mattb

      These ships have a shelf life. 50 years is the standard for Nuclear powered aircraft carriers. They are building her replacement now. Stop being an idiot and blaming Obama.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • david Rutledge

      The message, if any, is that:

      1) The ship has served its time and we need to update.
      2) When 59 cents on the dollar goes to the military, we are failing in our duty to the country to provide jobs and quality of life.
      3) This is not an Obama thing. Presidents of both parties have to decommission outdated hardware from time to time.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOhn

      Okay...exactly who was on this misguided and overly simplified "balanced budget" kick? Guess what? Its okay for Republicans to try to cut everything non defense related like lets say health care, education, infrastructure (roads, utilities), Social Security...but not okay to cut where we have too much of our GDP invested in: defense?

      And like others have said: its a 50 year old ship. Kinda like we are using 50s era tech for most of our infrastructure as well. I really wish we would renew non-defense applications as readily.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • damniel

      It was originally scheduled for decommissioning in 2014, but was moved up to 2013 by Congress to reduce the budget. It is being replaced by the ship, USS Gerald R Ford. What really sucks is that the name Gerald R Ford is going to be attached to this new carrier class for at least the next 50 years. Before you make another idiotic comment, remember, Wikipedia's a great tool!

      March 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Terazmac

      How can the standard shelf life for a Nuclear Carrier be 50 years when this is the first one we had and it just hit 50?? Aren't standards based on something like history and statistics?

      March 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • MEME

      "50 years is the standard for Nuclear powered aircraft carriers". Standard, this is the first one to make 50 years. Now 50 years might be the norm for these ships.

      March 13, 2012 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  4. scott

    just before setting the destruction sequence off the uss enterprise, star trek first contact
    Dr. Beverly Crusher: So much for the Enterprise-E.
    Captain Jean-Luc Picard: We barely knew her.
    Dr. Beverly Crusher: Think they'll build another one?
    Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Plenty of letters left in the alphabet.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. bobcat (in a hat) ©

    Oceans the final frontier. This is the last voyage of the seaship USS Enterprise. It's mission to make port and disembark for the last time. It's final destination, the bottom of the deep blue sea.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. DZA

    I agree – the name "Enterprise" needs to remain active in the Navy. It's a long-standing tradition that should continue.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Garth Bock

    I think it should be put on display temporarily in California then we truly would have a....NooooKlear Wessel in Alameda.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Former 'Big E' inmate

    As one of the hundreds if not thousands of Navy people who saw their careers come to an untimely end on the Big E, I think it's time for this thing to be scrapped, along with the lawyers and most of the officers on board. The papers don't mention the Enterprise has a dark side too. I know of others who were blamed for officer's mistakes so the 'brass' wouldn't look bad, and the legal department could look good as their sole purpose was to have good numbers of convictions and discharges by any means possible. Bitter? A little. I had six witnesses that would have cleared me of the bogus charges against me, but they were ordered and threatened not to testify or have their own careers ruined if they did. SOP for the Big E. The guilty officers? Retired with full benifits.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Alan

    Sounds like support for the impending attack Iran!

    March 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • ready

      Seriously? Do tinfoil hat nutjobs have to say this for EVERY carrier deployment to there? Where were you the last 10 times? Saying this as wlel?

      March 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ready

    VSS Enterprise takes the reins

    March 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob A. Booey

    What's wrong with keeping this ship in service?

    March 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • ready

      Its antiquated and is being replaced by 2 or 3 upcoming carriers

      March 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • StephenFromMS

      You're kidding, right? You do realize that they started building this ship right about the same time the first silicon transistor was created? Steve Jobs wasn't even sperm yet when construction on the vessel began.

      March 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • MOSUX

      too expensive. Carrier design has come a long, long way since this gem first hit the seas. Its, time. Sad, but its time.

      July 13, 2012 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  12. goingfast

    they should put the senate on her when they retire it...

    March 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOhn like the House of Representatives...Senate actually gets some stuff done

      March 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. centurion

    Fair winds and following seas.
    Good hunting Big E.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stardust


      March 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Karnak

    A grand ship with a grander heritage!

    March 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |

    From my father's Enterprise in 1943 to Captain Kirk's starship, there must always be an Enterprise.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
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