Naval Flight Officer explains why USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, can’t be turned into a museum

Naval Flight Officer explains why USS Enterprise (CVN-65) aircraft carrier can’t be turned into a museum

By Dario Leone
May 21 2024
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The USS Enterprise

Commissioned at Newport News, Virginia, on Nov. 25, 1961, USS Enterprise was the world’s first nuclear aircraft carrier. Ordered to assist the Project Mercury Program in February 1962, she tracked and measured the flight of the first American orbital spaceflight, Friendship 7. During the Cuban Missile Crisis that October, Enterprise participated in the blockade of Cuba.

Along with USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25) and USS Long Beach (CGN-9), she was part of the nuclear-task force, Operation Sea Orbit, from May to October 1964, circumnavigating the globe without refueling. Following this cruise, Enterprise was redesginated CVAN-65 and was deployed in November 1965 for service in the Vietnam War, becoming the first nuclear-powered ship to engage in combat by utilizing her aircraft against the Viet Cong.

On Jan. 14, 1969, an accident involving an F-4 Phantom II on her flight deck resulted on 27 Sailors killed and 314 injured. After repairs, Enterprise continued to serve off Vietnam until 1973 and assisted in Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Saigon, in April 1975.

She was redesignated back to CVN-65 the following year.

Deactived in 2012

Naval Flight Officer explains why USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, can’t be turned into a museum
The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) makes its final voyage to Newport News Shipbuilding. US Navy Photo Courtesy of Huntington Ingalls Industries

Deployed mainly in the Pacific and Indian oceans during the late 1970s and early 1980s, she entered the Mediterranean in April 1986 to assist in Operation El Dorado Canyon, the bombing of Libya. Two years later, she was assigned to Operation Earnest Will, escorting merchant Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf.

Following a lenghty overhaul, Enterprise returned to sea duty in September 1994 and enforced no-fly zones in Operation Joint Endeavor off Bosnia and Operation Southern Watch over Iraq. In 1998, she successfully attacked Iraqi targets in Operation Desert Fox.

To assist in the war against terrorism, she participated, beginning in 2001, in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and underwent further refurbishments and deployments until deactived in 2012. Enterprise was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on Feb. 3, 2017.

As already reported in September, the US Navy decided to dismantle and dispose of the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier using commercial industry expertise.

Why USS Enterprise can’t be turned into a museum

As of today, is the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) mostly scrapped up already? Why can’t it be a museum?

The US Navy F/A-18 that shot down a crewless US Navy E-2C to prevent it from crashing in a populated area
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. E-2C Hawkeye 2000 VAW-112 Golden Hawks, NG600 / 165820 / 2015.

Andy Burns, former US Navy Surface Warfare & Flight Officer, explains on Quora;

Is the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) mostly scrapped up already?

‘Nope. Defueling of the reactor was completed a few years ago but since then Big E has mostly just been sitting pierside at Newport News, Virginia, while the Navy tries to figure out how best to scrap her. As the first nuclear-powered carrier ever to be decommissioned, it turns out the process is a lot more complicated than anticipated.

Why can’t it be a museum?

‘Nuclear powered ships are basically built around their reactors and the associated machinery. There’s no way to remove the reactors without essentially taking the ship apart, and for obvious reasons the Navy doesn’t want to (and can’t, per environmental laws and regulations) simply leave them in place. Nuke subs are chopped up when they’re decommissioned, and their reactors are removed, sealed up, and shipped off to a long-term secure storage facility in eastern Washington.’

Burns concludes;

‘Enterprise will probably have to be similarly disassembled, and unlike the Nimitz class boats, she has eight reactors. That process will be so invasive that reassembling her afterward would be cost-prohibitive, if not practically impossible.’

Naval Flight Officer explains why USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, can’t be turned into a museum
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Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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