This modernized version of the World War 2-era aircraft carrier became the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the world when it was commission in 1961 with its eight A2W reactors. Born to lead a class of six like-carriers, budget constraints limited the type to just this single instance. Nevertheless, the Enterprise has soldiered on for over four decades and has been a part of many of the events transpiring throughout and after the Cold War.
Design of the USS Enterprise follows along the traditional guidelines appearing during and after World War 2 with the vast angled flight deck protruding off portside and the superstructure at starboard. A full compliment of nearly 5,700 personnel (including flight crews and officers) can be accommodated in the 93,500 ton vessel making it similar in size to a small town. Defensive armament was initially limited due to ballooning costs but this has since been rectified with the addition of Phalanx CIWS elements and RAM launchers to go along with the Sea Sparrow anti-aircraft systems. Some 90 aircraft provide the needed offensive punch and center around a mix of interceptors and fighters, electronic warfare and anti-submarine warfare aircraft and search & rescue and transport systems. Other items aboard of note include four hangar elevators (3 starboard and 1 port) and four steam-powered catapults.
After undergoing an understandably long trial period, the Enterprise was pressed into action during the Cuban Missile Crisis as a deterrent and to cut off additional access of the island from Soviet deliveries. After the conflict subsided, the vessel spent some time in Mediterranean waters and was soon in placed into action for the Vietnam War, launching sortie after sortie against Viet Cong positions. An on-deck accident during the conflict forced the Enterprise to dock at Pearl Harbor to undergo repairs with the accident costing 27 souls. Once repaired, she was placed back into action in support of the war.
Post-war, the Enterprise would undergo major refitting beginning January of 1979 and ending March of 1982. Incorporated changes included a revised superstructure, upgraded radar systems and masts. She also received operational deliveries of the stellar Grumman F-14 Tomcat series of interceptors becoming the first American carrier to do so.
The Enterprise would be set out to see again, this time becoming actively involved in striking at Iranian targets through Operation Praying Mantis. Additional service through Operation Classic Resolve in support of the Philippines government against rebel forces ensued. Other Enterprise involvement occurred over Bosnia in the enforcement of the no-fly zone in effect there. Another accident was to strike the air group of the Enterprise in 1998 when an Grumman EA-6B Prowler slammed into a Lockheed S-3 Viking aircraft on the flight deck resulting the in loss of three of the four Prowler aviators. A month later, the Enterprise would be back in action against Iraqi targets in the Gulf through Operation Desert Fox.
Years later and several more deployments, the storied Enterprise would take part in the support of American operations covering the invasion of Afghanistan, flying some 700 total sorties. Later, the Enterprise would be called in for the invasion of Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Enterprise appeared in cameo roles in the Hollywood motion pictures The Hunt for Red October and Top Gun. The Enterprise is affectionately known as the "Big E", a nickname brought about for the original Enterprise serving in World War 2. Enterprise completed an around-the-world journey in March of 1990, covering some 43,000 miles before settling in Norfolk, Virginia. Currently, she is docked in the Newport News Shipyard and undergoing an 18-month long stay there. She is scheduled to be replaced in service by 2015 by the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78). As such, her future as to whether the Enterprise will remain a costly floating museum or be recycled for scrap remains to be seen.
Regardless, the Enterprise name will no doubt be resurrected once more at a future date. The legend carries on with the name from generation of sailors and aviators to the next. In any case, the Enterprise will forever be remembered by her crews and flyers alike for the resolve she instilled in a nation during some of the toughest years of her existence.