The USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier and, at 346m, still the world’s longest military vessel, celebrates the 50th anniversary since its launch on September 24.
But there will be little time for the crew of the Enterprise, the eighth US ship to wear the proud name, to celebrate, as the ship prepares for what will likely be its final combat cruise later this year.
The only ship of her class, the ‘Big E’ preceded the Nimitz class carriers by more than a decade, and features a cruiser shaped hull and eight nuclear reactors. An anecdotal report claims that she is the fastest serving ship in the US Navy and was clocked at an unofficial 44kt during sea trials in the early 1960s. Unfortunately, huge cost overruns during her construction meant follow-on vessels such as the USSs America, Constellation and John F Kennedy reverted to conventional power as their primary means of propulsion. More than 250,000 sailors, airmen and Marines have served aboard her since she entered service in 1963.
Ironically, in the lead up to her final cruise, Enterprise underwent a US$613m (A$640m), two year long refurbishment, and it is the uniqueness of the ship and the huge expense in keeping it going that has been its downfall. Despite its replacement, the USS Gerald Ford not scheduled to enter service until 2015, the US Navy has decided to retire the Enterprise in 2011 and wear a shortfall in carrier numbers for those four years.