Aircraft Carriers

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

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

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?

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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.’

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Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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.

View Comments

  • The Big E would have made a great museum, if it weren’t for those pesky neutrons!
    Would it be possible to save the superstructure/island?

  • The real shame is that the previous Enterprise - CV6 isn't pierside somewhere for people to come and admire. Bombed. Torpedoed. Patched together many times. She was a testament to American industry.

  • I do understand how much work they have to do do get the reactors out of the Big "E". Cause I was on her for her last refuel in the early 90's and how much rescheduling I had to do just to get catapult and arresting gear work done with big holes (8) of them in the flight deck all the way down to the reactors. Yes we also replaced all four catapult main retraction engines and all five arresting gear engines. So we can't save her we have all these WWII carriers as museums with there added cantilever flight decks and center line elevators. Before the last of the Super Carriers gos to the scrap yard. One built from the keel up with four Catapults, four A/G wires four deck edge elevators and an angle deck. It's also a combat survivor I'm talking about the USS John F. Kennedy. If Adm. Tuttle was still around he would still be pushing to make this ship a floating museum! This ship is from Desert Storm the War that started the saying ( thank you for your service), gave the pride back to our Vietnam Veterans which in my opinion they always had! My first fourteen years in the Navy the other than my family and friends the civilian population that I was in the service. Apon my return from Desert Storm people I didn't even know would see me with my ships hat or a Navy shirt on and say, Thank you for your service! They still do. So if you can't save the Big "E" do the next best thing Save the Big John. Sorry I got so long winded. But you know how some of us Chiefs get and yes I took the Big John to Desert Shield and brought him back from from the Storm...

  • The USS Enterprise was not part of operations against Libya in 1986 April. Only USS America and USS Coral Sea were present to launch strikes against Syrte, Bengazi and Tripoli. USS Saratoga had returned to her home at NS Mayport by April 14. I was in VA-72 with Airwing One aboard USS America during our '86 Med Cruise. I was a technician assigned to AIMD, IM-3 Division. We received Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for the operation.

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