Aircraft carrier Enterprise. The first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in history

USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in the Atlantic, 2004

The aircraft carrier Enterprise, launched on September 24, 1960, became not only the first aircraft carrier with a nuclear power plant, but also the first and only ship built according to this project. The aircraft carrier holds several records at once. For example, at the time of creation, it was the largest warship. Also, the aircraft carrier Enterprise became the first nuclear powered warship to take part in real combat. Among the records of this nuclear aircraft carrier, there is a record for the number of combat sorties of aircraft per day, as well as a record for the duration of service in the US Navy: the ship was decommissioned only in 2012.

Enterprise, or “Big E”

The US Navy’s nuclear attack aircraft carrier Enterprise became the first ship of its kind in the world. At the same time, it was already the eighth ship in the American fleet to receive such a name. The new aircraft carrier was the direct successor to its famous namesake, the WWII aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Like its predecessor, the ship received the nickname “Big E” for its large size and outstanding combat capabilities. With all its appearance, size and service history, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Enterprise embodied the advanced achievements of the US Navy during the Cold War.

Until now, the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) holds the record for the longest among all warships ever built – 342 meters. I amazed the ship with its displacement. At the time of construction, it was the largest warship ever built. The total displacement of the aircraft carrier was 93,400 tons. Later, this record will be broken only by the new American nuclear-powered aircraft carriers of the Nimitz class, the total displacement of which exceeded 100 thousand tons. For comparison, the Japanese battleship Yamato, the largest warship of the Second World War, had a total displacement of 72,810 tons with a maximum hull length of 263 meters.

Launch of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Enterprise

The size of the aircraft carrier Enterprise’s wing also looked impressive. The ship could carry up to 90 aircraft and helicopters, although most often the size of the wing was just over 60 aircraft. In terms of size and capabilities, it was a real floating city, in which there were more than 3.5 thousand different compartments. The ship could comfortably accommodate up to 5,800 people, while the standard crew size was 3,000 people, another 1,800 people made up the air wing. The aircraft carrier had two gyms, two hairdressing salons, its own launderette, its own chapel, library and printing house (the aircraft carrier had a daily newspaper), as well as a coffee shop and a television studio.

The aircraft carrier Enterprise was supposed to become the first ship of the six aircraft carriers built according to this project, but the American budget could not cope with such a burden, and the Enterprise remained the only ship in the series. The cost of the vessel during construction increased to $ 451.3 million, in terms of prices in 2019, taking into account the accumulated inflation, the cost of one ship would have amounted to $ 4.11 billion. The cost of building the ship was comparable to the construction of two Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carriers, the first of which entered the fleet at the same time as the aircraft carrier Enterprise in 1961. With a comparable size of 88 aircraft, the Kitty Hawk-class ships were significantly cheaper, which also predetermined the fate of the entire series of the first nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the US Navy.

Features of the nuclear power plant of an aircraft carrier

The Enterprise was the only nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in history to carry more than two nuclear reactors. The power plant of the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier consisted of 8 Westinghouse A2W offshore nuclear reactors. In order to provide the warship with additional security and increase survivability, the power plant was initially divided into 4 echelons (practically 4 separate power plants). Each echelon consisted of two reactors, eight steam generators, a turbine, a turbo-gear unit and a separate propeller shaft. The fact that there were four propeller shafts was also a notable feature of the aircraft carrier. The shafts were driven by four five-blade propellers. In order to increase the maneuverability of the warship and reduce the radius of circulation, each of the four propellers was equipped with its own rudder.

Part of the wing of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in 1967

The total capacity of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) nuclear power plant, consisting of 8 reactors, was 280,000 hp. This power was enough to provide a gigantic ship with a maximum speed of 33.6 knots (62.2 km / h). The maximum cruising range of the ship without work on replacing the reactor core was estimated at about 400,000 nautical miles. In fact, the sailing capabilities of the ship in this aspect were unlimited.

To test the capabilities of the ship’s nuclear power plant, it was decided to send it on a voyage around the world. Since the entire first half of the 1960s passed under the banner of manned space exploration, it was decided to give the circumnavigation the symbolic name “Sea Orbit”. It is worth noting that the aircraft carrier Enterprise itself was related to the US space program. In 1962, one of the radar control stations was located on board the ship, which provided safety and tracking the flight of the first American astronaut John Glenn.

Especially for the round-the-world voyage “Sea Orbit” as part of the US Navy was created a unit “Task Force No. 1”. The group included the first three ships in the US Navy with nuclear power plants on board. In addition to the aircraft carrier Enterprise, these were the nuclear-powered missile cruiser USS Long Beach (CGN-9) and the nuclear-powered frigate USS Bainbridge (CGN-25). The purpose of the campaign was to demonstrate to the whole world the previously unattainable possibilities for autonomous navigation, which were only capable of ships with modern nuclear power plants. The operation, which was of an important propaganda nature, lasted 65 days from July 31 to October 3, 1964. During this time, three American warships made a round-the-world voyage, passing 30,565 nautical miles without any special adventures or breakdowns.

“Operational group No. 1”

Record for longest service in the United States Navy

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) holds the record for being in military service with the US Navy. The ship has served in the American Navy for over half a century. The aircraft carrier was laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding on February 4, 1958. The first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in history was launched exactly 60 years ago – on September 24, 1960. The new ship was finally entered into the US Navy in November 1961. Its service, with breaks for repairs and modernization, lasted more than 51 years and ended only on December 1, 2012, when the aircraft carrier was officially excluded from the fleet lists. At the same time, more than 55 years have passed from the moment of being included in the fleet until the ship was decommissioned on 1 February 2017.

Since the active service life of the ship has exceeded half a century, the aircraft carrier took part in almost all significant local conflicts and operations in which the American fleet took part. The aircraft carrier made its debut during the Cuban missile crisis. In 1962, a ship in the US Atlantic Fleet participated in the naval blockade of Cuba. This was followed by the Vietnam War, in which the nuclear aircraft carrier, included in the US 7th Fleet, took part since December 1965. It was during the Vietnam War that the record for the number of combat sorties made per day was recorded, the number of which reached 165.

It was also during the Vietnam War that a nuclear aircraft carrier was on the verge of death for the only time. The ship, out of reach of the enemy’s means of destruction, was almost killed by negligence. Due to overheating from the jet stream of the operating engine located next to the stack of 127-mm NUR “Zuni” aircraft, a spontaneous launch of one of the missiles occurred. An unguided projectile hit a nearby attack aircraft, which led to a fuel spill and a subsequent fire with the detonation of aerial bombs and the indiscriminate launch of unguided rockets. The fire that began on the morning of January 14, 1969 was extinguished only after three hours. At the same time, as a result of explosions and fires, 28 people died, another 314 team members received injuries of varying severity and burns, and 15 aircraft were completely destroyed. The total damage from fire and explosions on board was estimated at $ 126 million. The repair of the ship lasted 51 days.

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) on its penultimate campaign in July 2011, in the foreground

Subsequently, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Enterprise continued to take part in the Vietnam War, and in April 1975 took part in the evacuation of American citizens from Saigon, as well as citizens of South Vietnam. In 1998, the aircraft carrier took part in the Desert Fox military operation against Iraq, leading a US-deployed strike force. Later, the ship was used during the hostilities against the Taliban in Afghanistan at the end of 2001, and in 2003-2004 – in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The last 8-month voyage of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) completed on November 4, 2012. All in all, during the service, the aircraft carrier went to sea 25 times.

The Americans abandoned the idea of ​​turning the unique ship into a floating museum. This solution was considered too expensive, complex and unsafe. It was decided to send the ship for scrap, all weapons from the aircraft carrier were dismantled, the reactors were deactivated. The only surviving element of the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in history may be its “island” superstructure, which can be preserved and installed on the shore as a commemorative memorial.

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