The USS Enterprise (CVN-65) is the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to serve in the United States Navy. Ordered in November of 1957, the Enterprise's keel was laid down at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in February of 1958. Launched in September of 1960, the Enterprise was commissioned into active service in November of 1961.
As the first nuclear powered carrier in the fleet, the Enterprise's reactor arrangement is very conservative; the Enterprise, who's hull design is actually a modification of the Forestall-class carriers, is the only nuclear-powered vessel equipped with eight individual reactors (the Nimitz class carriers are equipped with only two reactors) essentially substituting reactors for boilers on a one-for-one basis. Though the reactors, in comparison to the larger units present in more modern carriers, were relatively small, having eight of them provided the Enterprise with the capability to go to "full steam" almost immediately, enabling the 93,000 ton carrier to out accelerate escorting destroyers which were a fraction of her size.
Intended to be the flagship of a six-member class, escalating construction costs resulted in the other five Enterprise-class carriers being dropped, with funding diverted to the construction of additional, conventional, oil-fired Kitty Hawk class carriers. Cost overruns also forced the Enterprise to enter commissioned service completely unarmed. Though slated to be armed with four Terrier air-defense missile systems. These were not installed at the time of her commissioning and eventually plans to install them were abandoned in favor of a Sea Sparrow system.
As the first nuclear powered carrier, the Enterprise has a number of unique characteristics and has provided a number of "firsts" in naval technology testing. At 1,101 feet in length and 250 feet tall, the Enterprise is, physically, the largest ship in the US fleet. In addition, it also has the highest top speed of any carrier and is the quickest carrier from dead stop to full speed.
The Enterprise was the first carrier to utilize the now standard nose-wheel catapulting system (the first aircraft launched was an E-2C Hawkeye in December of 1962.) Prior to Enterprise, aircraft were launched using recoverable sleds (bridles) attached to the landing gear. The nose wheel tow bar system was faster, and more efficient, as it did not require any auxiliary equipment (the catapult tow bar was attached directly to the aircraft nose wheel.) The Enterprise was also the first carrier rated to operate the F-14 Tomcat fighter, and deployed with a squadron of Tomcats for the first time in September of 1974.
In July of 1964 the Enterprise formed up with the nuclear powered cruisers Long Beach (CGN-9) and Bainbridge (CGN-25) to form Task Force 1, the first all-nuclear task force. Steaming from Gibraltar, TF1 initiated Operation Sea Orbit, a 65-day, 30,216-mile circumnavigation of the world, accomplished without a single refueling or replenishment.
One additional feature that identified Enterprise as a "unique" vessel was her unusual island. As a nuclear powered carrier, exhaust gas funnels were not required to vent off machinery and power plant gasses, but what made the Enterprise's superstructure unique was the then revolutionary incorporation of a twin element phased planar array radar system (these were the vertical and horizontal "billboard" radar antennas on the island's upper surfaces) and the complex "inverted ice cream cone" ESM antenna array on the top of the island. The phased array radars, the horizontal SPS-32 air surveillance and the vertical, target tracking SPS-33, combined to form the SCANFAR system, itself a modified version of the SPG-59 track-while-scan phased array (the precursor to the SPY-1 Aegis system.) Technological limitations made the single antenna SPG-59 unreliable and so the system was converted to the SPS-32/33 pairing and installed on both the USS Long Beach (CGN-9) and Enterprise.
Unfortunately, even this "division of labor" proved to be unreliable and in January of 1979 the entire island was replaced, eliminating both the billboard radar arrays and the ESM cluster.
USS Enterprise is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2014-2015.
The Enterprise is 1,123 feet long, has a beam of 133 feet, and draws 39 feet of water. The flight deck measures 1,088 feet by 252 feet. Enterprise displaces 93,970 tons at full load and her compliment is 171 officers, 3,044 enlisted (ship's company), and 2,122 enlisted and 358 officers (embarked air wing). The Enterprise's top speed is 33 knots, and, thanks to her nuclear power plant, her endurance is only limited by the availability of food and aviation stores (fuel, munitions, parts.) Enterprise carries sufficient aviation fuel for 12 days of high intensity flight operations.
The Enterprise is equipped with 4 aircraft elevators, two located on the right hand edge of the flight deck forward of the island, and two located aft of the island on the left and right edges of the flight deck. The Enterprise features 4 steam-powered catapults and 4 arresting wires. The Enterprise is capable of launching and recovering aircraft simultaneously.
The Enterprise can embark 90+ aircraft, depending on mission requirements, though typically, only 66 aircraft are carried at any given time. A typical embarked air wing consists of 43 F/A-18 hornet strike fighters, 6 S-3B Viking ASW aircraft, 4 EA-6B Prowler offensive electronic warfare aircraft, 4 E-2C Hawkeye electronic early warning aircraft, 5 SH-60F Seahawk ASW helicopters.
The Enterprise is powered by eight Westinghouse second-generation AW2 nuclear reactors that drive four Westinghouse steam turbines, producing 280,000 horsepower combined. Propulsion is provided by four shafts.
The Enterprise features an SPS-48E three-dimensional C/D band air search radar, SPS-49(v)5 C/D band long range air search radar, a Mk 23 TAS (Target Acquisition System) D band system which serves as the director for the ship?s Sea Sparrow launchers, a SPQ-9B surface search and tracking radar (sea-skimmer capable), an SPS-67 short range G-band surface search and navigation radar, and an SPS-64(v)9 I-band navigation radar.
The carrier's aircraft management radars include an SPN-41 electronic carrier landing system, an SPN-43A air traffic control and marshalling radar, and an SPN-46 precision approach landing system (PALS.)
Fire control systems include six Mk 95 continuous wave illuminators for the Sea Sparrow launchers and three Mk 91 Sea Sparrow fire control systems.
Command and control systems include the ACDS (Advanced Combat Direction System) Block 0, SPQ-14(v) Advanced Sensor Distribution System, the USQ-119E (V) 27 - maritime Global Command and Control System (GCCS-M), Mk 91 Guided Missile command and Control System, and the SSQ-82 electronic emission management system.
Defensive and electronic warfare systems include the Mk 2 mod 2 Ship Self-Defense System, four Mk 36 SRBOC chaff launcher, the SLY-2 Advanced Integrated Electronic Warfare System, WLR-1H Over-The-Horizon Cued Detection, Classification and Targeting system, SLQ 32(v)4 electronic warfare system, the SLQ-25A, Nixie passive, electro-acoustic torpedo decoy system, and the SSTDS (Surface Ship Torpedo Defense System.)
The Enterprise is armed with is armed two Mk 29 Sea Sparrow Guided Missile Launch Systems, two RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) systems, and two Mk 15 Phalanx 20mm CIWS (Close In Weapon System.)