A Tour of the "Big E"

(Part 1)

Enterprise Arriving!

A "dream come true" for any Star Trek fan would be to stand on the bridge of the USS Enterprise and, if not sit in, at least touch the Captain's chair! Well, that dream came true for me in August 1998, when the USS Enterprise -- not the starship, but the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier CVN-65 -- sailed into port at my hometown of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. As we head out to the ship, I'll tell you a little about the history of the name Enterprise and the aircraft carrier CVN-65.

USS Enteprise
The USS Enterprise, at anchor at the entrance of St. Thomas harbor, is passed by a luxury cruise ship

[Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.]

The Enterprise CVN-65 (originally designated CVAN-65) is the eighth ship of the U.S. Navy to carry that name. The other seven were:

  • A 70-ton sloop captured from the British in 1775 and used by Continental Army forces to harass the British as they moved from Canada into New York via Lake Champlain.

  • A 25-ton schooner that was used for a few months in Chesapeake Bay during 1776.

  • A 135-ton schooner that served with distinction in the quasi-war with France in 1799 to 1801, the Barbary Coast wars in the Mediterranean, and the War of 1812 against the British Royal Navy.

  • A 194-ton schooner that saw service in the Atlantic, the Pacific, and around the East Indies from 1831 to 1845.

  • A 1,375-ton steam-powered sloop of war that completed an around-the-world hyrographic survey cruise and later served as a training ship of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy until 1909.

  • A 16-ton motor patrol boat that served the Second Naval District from 1916 to 1919.

  • The 32,000-ton aircraft carrier CV-6, which served in virtually every major battle of World War II and became the most decorated ship in U.S. Navy history.

[NOTE: For a complete history of these and more than 65 other vessels named Enterprise, check out my online book The Voyages of the Enterprise.]

USS Enteprise
The USS Enterprise is the eighth U.S. Navy ship to carry
that proud name

When she was commissioned in 1961, the Enterprise earned the distinction of being the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the world. (Some 15 years would pass before the first Nimitz-class nuclear carrier was commissioned in 1975.) With an overall length at the flight deck of 1,123 feet the Enterprise is the longest, with an overall height keel to mast of 250 feet she is the tallest, and with a top speed of over 30 knots she is the fastest aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy and the world! The Nimitz-class carriers are about 4,000 tons heavier, at 78,000 tons, than the Enterprise and, therefore, are considered to be the "largest" carriers. But, with a service record that rivals that of her World War II namesake, the Enterprise is arguably the "best" carrier in the fleet today!

USS Enteprise
Approaching the stern of the USS Enterprise

Under her first commanding officer, Captain Vincent DePoix, the Enterprise commenced her maiden voyage on January 12, 1962 and underwent a 3-month shakedown cruise. By August of that year she joined the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and just two months later, in October 1962, she was on alert in the Caribbean as part of the Second Fleet blockading Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Enterprise made her second and third deployments to the Mediterranean in 1963 and 1964, and on July 31, 1964, set out with the nuclear-powered cruiser USS Long Beach and frigate USS Bainbridge on a historic 30,565-mile unrefueled voyage around the world.

The Enterprise transferred to the Seventh Fleet in 1965 and became the first nuclear-powered ship to engage in combat by launching air strikes against the Viet Cong in December 1965. On December 3rd, she set a record of 165 strike sorties in a single day. The Enterprise made six combat deployments to Southeast Asia during the period of 1965 to 1972 and was engaged in combat during a major portion of the Vietnam War. After the 1973 U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, the Enterprise underwent a major overhaul and refit in preparation for taking on board its newest aircraft -- the Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighter.

USS Enteprise
Pulling up alongside the USS Enterprise

The Enterprise returned to the Western Pacific in 1974 as the first carrier to deploy the F-14 Tomcat. She participated in the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, and made two more Western Pacific deployments in 1976 and 1978 before returning to Bremerton, Washington for a 30-month overhaul. The Enterprise made three more Western Pacific deployments in 1982, 1984, and 1986. In 1988, the Enterprise was assigned to escort reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and, during this deployment, launched air strikes that heavily damaged two Iranian frigates that had attacked Kuwaiti shipping. In 1989, the Enterprise was called on, at the request of Philippine President Corazon Aquino, to conduct flight operations outside Manila Bay during a rebel coup attempt. In 1990, the Enterprise arrived at Norfolk, Virginia completing a 43,000-mile around the world deployment that had started at its original homeport in Alameda, California. [Incidentally, in March 1990, just before sailing into Norfolk, the Enterprise paid an R&R visit to St. Thomas. Unfortunately, I was away on a business trip at that time.]

The Enterprise completed one of the most extensive overhauls in U.S. naval history in 1994. With this overhaul, she is equipped to sail into the 21st Century. During subsequent sea trials, the Enterprise performed an extended full power run that proved she was still as fast as when she was first launched -- still the fastest major combatant ship in the world! She completed her 15th overseas deployment in December 1996, which included operations in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf, where she supported strikes against Iraq. As of August 1998, the Enterprise, under command of Captain Evan Chanik, was completing Carrier Air Wing qualifications in preparation for another deployment to the Mediterranean and, possibly, the Persian Gulf.

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Last Updated: January 1, 2003