Commissioning and trials
In 1958, Enterprise??'?s keel was laid at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. On 24 September 1960, the ship was launched, sponsored by Mrs. W. B. Franke, wife of the former Secretary of the Navy. On 25 November 1961, Enterprise was commissioned, with Captain Vincent P. de Poix, formerly of Fighting Squadron 6 on her predecessor, in command. On 12 January 1962, the ship made her maiden voyage conducting a three-month shakedown cruise and a lengthy series of tests and training exercises designed to determine the full capabilities of the nuclear powered super carrier.
On 20 February 1962, Enterprise was a tracking and measuring station for the flight of Friendship 7, the Project Mercury space capsule in which Lieutenant Colonel John H. Glenn, Jr. made the first American orbital spaceflight. In August, the carrier joined the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, returning to Norfolk, Virginia in October.
1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
In October 1962, Enterprise was dispatched to her first international crisis. Following revelations that the Soviet Union was constructing nuclear missile launch sites on Cuba, President John F. Kennedy ordered the United States Department of Defense to conduct a large-scale buildup. Among the preparations, the U.S. Atlantic Fleet readied large numbers of its ships. On 22 October, President Kennedy ordered a naval and air "quarantine" (blockade) on shipment of offensive military equipment to Cuba, and demanded the Soviets dismantle the missile sites there. Five United States Second Fleet carriers participated in the blockade — Enterprise (as part of Task Force 135), Independence, Essex, Lake Champlain, and Randolph, backed by shore-based aircraft. By 28 October, the crisis was averted, after the United States secretly agreed to remove nuclear missiles from Italy and Turkey.
Second and third deployments
Task Force 1, the world's first nuclear-powered task force. Enterprise, Long Beach and Bainbridge in formation in the Mediterranean, 18 June 1964. Enterprise has Einstein's mass–energy equivalence formula E=mc² spelled out on its flight deck. Note the distinctive phased array radars in the superstructures of Enterprise and Long Beach.
On 19 December 1962, a Grumman E-2 Hawkeye was catapulted off Enterprise in the first shipboard test of a nose-wheel launch bar designed to replace the catapult bridle. Minutes later, a second launch with a launch bar was made by a Grumman A-6A Intruder, demonstrating one of the primary design goals of reducing launch intervals.
In 1963–1964, Enterprise made her second and third deployments to the Mediterranean. During her third deployment, the carrier was part of Operation Sea Orbit, the world's first nuclear-powered task force with the cruisers Long Beach and Bainbridge, together forming a convoy to sail around the world. On 25 February 1964, a crewman of the Finnish merchant ship Verna Paulin was injured in a fall while the ship was in the vicinity of Souda Bay, Greece. Enterprise answered her call for assistance. A surgeon was transferred to Verna Paulin by helicopter. In October 1964, Enterprise returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company for her first Refueling and Overhaul.
In November 1965, the Big E was transferred to the Seventh Fleet, home-ported at NAS Alameda, California. The following month, on 2 December, she became the first nuclear-powered ship to engage in combat when she launched aircraft against the Viet Cong near Biên Hòa City. The ship led Carrier Division Three, with Enterprise (redesignated CVAN-65), which had Carrier Air Wing Nine aboard, Bainbridge; Barry; and Samuel B. Roberts. Enterprise launched 125 sorties on the first day, unleashing 167 short tons (151 t) of bombs and rockets on the enemy's supply lines. On 3 December, she set a record of 165 strike sorties in a single day.
In January 1966, the aircraft carrier was continuing operations as a unit of Task Force 77 in the Gulf of Tonkin, as the flagship of Rear Admiral Henry L. Miller, Commander Carrier Division Three. Under the command of Captain James L. Holloway III, she was carrying a complement of approximately 350 officers and 4,800 men. Four West coast squadrons of Carrier Air Wing Nine, commanded by Commander F. T. Brown, were embarked; Fighter Squadron 92, under Commander E. A. Rawsthorne, and Fighter Squadron 96, under Commander R. D. Norman, flying F-4B Phantom IIs; Attack Squadron 93 under Commander A. J. Monger, and Attack Squadron 94, under Commander O. E. Krueger, flying A-4C Skyhawks. With these squadrons were three others based on the East Coast; Attack Squadron 36, under Commander J. E. Marshall, Attack Squadron 76, under Commander J. B. Linder, flying A-4C Skyhawks; and Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 7, under Commander K. Enny, flying RA-5C Vigilantes. Rear Admiral Miller was relieved as Commander Carrier Division Three by Rear Admiral T. J. Walker on 16 February 1966. During the change of command ceremony on the flight deck, Rear Admiral Miller praised the ship's performance in his farewell remarks, and presented air medals to more than 100 pilots and flight officers.
The ship tied up at Leyte Pier, U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay, on the evening of 8 December 1966. Loading of supplies for the first line period was started immediately. Rear Admiral Walter L Curtis, Jr, Commander Carrier Division Nine, broke his flag aboard. In company with Manley, Gridley and Bainbridge, Enterprise sailed for Yankee Station on 15 December, and took up her position there three days later.
When Enterprise departed the Gulf of Tonkin on 20 June 1967, her pilots had flown more than 13,400 battle missions during 132 combat days of operations.(Enterprise Command History 1967, 29) As Vice Admiral Hyland stated in his congratulatory statement, "the entire Air Wing Nine has earned a resounding 'Well Done'." The carrier had steamed 67,630 miles in operations with the Seventh Fleet. She arrived in Subic Bay on 22 June and departed on 25 June for return to Alameda on 6 July 1967.
At Alameda, Enterprise began an overhaul. Captain Kent L. Lee relieved Captain James L. Holloway as commanding officer in ceremonies on 11 July 1967. Shipyard work was completed on 5 September 1967, and after completing sea trials on 7 September, Enterprise steamed south from San Francisco Bay to San Diego to reembark Carrier Air Wing Nine and get underway for refresher training off the California coast.
Enterprise was visiting Sasebo, Japan in January 1968 when the US intelligence ship USS Pueblo (AGER-2) was seized by North Korea, and she served as flagship of TF 71 (Rear Admiral Epes), which had been formed in response. When diplomatic negotiations had defused tensions, Enterprise and her escorts were released to head south to Yankee Station on 16 February 1968. Enterprise returned to NAS Alameda on 18 July 1968, having completed 12,839 catapult launches, with 12,246 sorties—9,182 of them combat. After a short overhaul in Puget Sound Naval Shipyard from 29 July to 26 September, she returned to Alemeda to prepare for another deployment to Vietnam.
During the morning of 14 January 1969, while being escorted by the destroyers Benjamin Stoddert and Rogers, a MK-32 Zuni rocket loaded on a parked F-4 Phantom exploded when ordnance cooked off after being overheated by an aircraft start unit. The explosion set off fires and additional explosions across the flight deck.
The fires were brought under control relatively quickly (when compared with previous carrier flight deck fires), but 27 hands were lost and an additional 314 sailors were injured. The fire destroyed 15 aircraft, and the resulting damage forced Enterprise to put in for repairs at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, Hawaii, primarily to repair the flight deck's armored plating. On 1 March 1969, repairs to the ship were completed and the ship proceeded on her scheduled western Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment to Vietnam and the Tonkin Gulf. These destinations would be delayed by events in the eastern Sea of Japan.
In January 1968, the capture of the United States intelligence gathering vessel Pueblo by a North Korean patrol boat led to a diplomatic crisis. Enterprise was ordered to operate near South Korean waters for almost a month.
On 14 April 1969, tensions with North Korea flared again as a North Korean aircraft shot down a Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star that was on a reconnaissance patrol over the eastern Sea of Japan from its base at Atsugi, Japan. The entire 31-man crew was killed. The US responded by activating Task Force 71 (TF 71) to protect future such flights over those international waters. Initially, the Task Force was to comprise Enterprise, Ticonderoga, Ranger, and Hornet with a screen of cruisers and destroyers. Enterprise arrived on station with TF 71 in late April after completion of repairs. The ships for TF 71 came mostly from Southeast Asia duty. This deployment became one of the largest shows of force in the area since the Korean War.
In all, Enterprise made six combat deployments to Southeast Asia from 1965 to 1975.
In 1969–1970, Enterprise returned to Newport News Shipbuilding and went through an overhaul and her second refitting. In January 1971, she completed sea trials with newly designed nuclear reactor cores that contained enough energy for 10 years. Enterprise then left for Vietnam, again to provide air support for American and South Vietnamese units.
In Vietnam, Enterprise, Oriskany and Midway launched a total of 2,001 strike sorties by 30 July 1971. Strike operations in July were disrupted when the carriers on station evaded three typhoons: Harriet, Kim and Jean. A slight increase in South Vietnam strike sorties occurred during the month. These were mainly visual strikes against enemy troop positions and in support of U.S. helicopter operations. From August–November 1971, Enterprise was in operations on Yankee Station.
In December 1971 during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, Enterprise was deployed to the Bay of Bengal as a show of strength against India's naval blockade by INS Vikrant. India tactically used INS Vikrant and Indian Airbase at Andaman & Nikobar Islands to deter USS Enterprise. Later a Soviet Navy submarine was also trailing the U.S. task force. A confrontation was averted when the Americans moved towards South East Asia, away from the Indian Ocean.
In October 1972, the U.S. ended tactical air sorties into North Vietnam above the 20th parallel and brought Linebacker I operations to a close, a gesture designed to promote peace negotiations being held in Paris. Enterprise and the other carriers had flown a total of 23,652 tactical air attack sorties into North Vietnam from May–October and U.S. tactical air sorties during Linebacker I operations helped to stem the flow of supplies into North Vietnam, thereby limiting the operating capabilities of the North Vietnamese Army.
From October to December, Enterprise alternated with other carriers on Yankee Station during the bombing halt and remained on station. As a result of the bombing halt above the 20th parallel in North Vietnam, no MiG kills or U.S. aircraft losses were recorded during this time.
On 18 December 1972, the United States resumed bombing campaigns above the 20th parallel under the name Linebacker II. During Linebacker II operations, Enterprise and other carriers on station reseeded the mine fields in Haiphong harbor and conducted concentrated strikes against surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery sites, enemy army barracks, petroleum storage areas, Haiphong naval and shipyard areas, and railroad and truck stations. Navy tactical air attack sorties under Linebacker II were centered in the coastal areas around Hanoi and Haiphong. There were 705 Navy sorties in this area during Linebacker II. Between 18 and 22 December, the Navy conducted 119 Linebacker II strikes in North Vietnam, with the main limiting factor on airstrikes being bad weather.
In December 1972, the North Vietnamese returned to the peace table and Linebacker II ended. In January 1973, the Vietnam cease fire was announced and American carriers ceased all combat sorties into North and South Vietnam.
From 28 January 1973, aircraft from Enterprise and Ranger flew 81 combat sorties against lines-of-communication targets in Laos. The corridor for overflights was between Hu? and Da Nang in South Vietnam. These combat support sorties were flown in support of the Laotian government, which had requested this assistance. Laos had no relationship with the cease-fire in Vietnam.
After the cease-fire in Vietnam in 1973, Enterprise proceeded to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington, where the carrier was altered and refitted to support the Navy's newest fighter aircraft – the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. Two of four jet blast deflectors were enlarged to accommodate the Tomcat. The No. 4 propulsion shaft was replaced; it had been bent when its screw became fouled in a discarded arresting gear cable.
On 18 March 1974, the first operational Tomcats of VF-1 Wolfpack and VF-2 Bounty Hunters made their maiden takeoffs and landings from the carrier. In September 1974, Enterprise became the first carrier to deploy with the new fighter plane when she made her seventh WESTPAC deployment.
In February 1975, Typhoon Gervaise struck the island nation of Mauritius, and Enterprise was ordered to provide disaster relief. Arriving at Port Louis, carrier personnel spent more than 10,000 man-hours rendering such assistance as restoring water, power and telephone systems, clearing roads and debris, and providing helicopter, medical, food and drinkable water support to the stricken area.
Operation Frequent Wind
Enterprise en route back to the United States following the evacuation of Saigon; the forward end of the flight deck contains a number of USMC CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters.
In April 1975, Enterprise, Midway, Coral Sea, Hancock, and Okinawa were deployed to waters off Vietnam for possible evacuation contingencies as North Vietnam, in violation of the Paris Peace Accords, launched a conventional invasion of South Vietnam. On 29 April, Operation Frequent Wind was carried out by U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps helicopters from the 7th Fleet. The Operation involved the evacuation of American citizens and "at-risk" Vietnamese from Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam under heavy attack from the invading forces of North Vietnam.
President Gerald Ford ordered helicopter evacuation when PAVN shelling forced the cessation of fixed-wing evacuation from Tan Son Nhut Airport. With fighter cover provided by carrier aircraft, the helicopters landed at the US Embassy, Saigon and the DAO Compound to pick up evacuees. The last helicopter lifted off the roof of the United States Embassy at 7:53 a.m., local time, on 30 April 1975 carrying the last 11 Marine Security Guards. During Operation Frequent Wind, aircraft from Enterprise flew 95 sorties.
Eighth and ninth deployments
In February 1977, Idi Amin, the President of Uganda, made derogatory remarks against the United States in public and Americans in Uganda were taken hostage. This was several months after the Israeli raid at Entebbe airport. Enterprise and her escort ships were scheduled to transit home after a seven-month deployment, but having just left Mombasa after a port call, were directed to remain in the area and operated off the east African coast for about one week. The ship's Marine detachment and air wing prepared for a possible mission to rescue and evacuate the Americans, but Amin eventually released all the hostages. The ships then steamed across the Indian Ocean at high speed to make a previously scheduled final port call at NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines before returning to NAS Alameda.
In 1978, Enterprise underwent her ninth Western Pacific deployment, including port calls in Hong Kong, Perth, Australia, and Singapore. In January 1979, the carrier sailed into Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a comprehensive 36-month overhaul. This overhaul modified the ship's superstructure — removing the SCANFAR radars and the unique inverted cone-shaped top section, which was three stories high. During the lengthy overhaul, Navy and shipyard personnel referred to Enterprise as Building 65.
In 1982, the carrier made her 10th WESTPAC deployment. In April 1983, Enterprise ran aground on a sandbar in San Francisco Bay while returning from deployment and remained stuck there for several hours. Coincidentally, George Takei, who played Mr. Sulu, helmsman of the fictional starship Enterprise, was aboard at the time as a Distinguished Visitor of the Navy. Even though groundings and collisions are usually career-enders for U.S. warship captains, the captain at the time, Robert J. Kelly, who had already been selected for promotion to commodore, eventually became a four-star admiral and commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
In 1984, the Enterprise began training for her 11th WESTPAC deployment. Late at night on 2 November 1985 with Captain Robert Leuschner on the bridge, she struck Bishop Rock on the Cortes Bank during flight exercises, damaging the outer hull with a gash more than 100 feet in length and knocking out of one propeller a chip whose size was illustrated with a photograph of a Navy diver stretched out and reclining inside the notch. She took on water and the ensuing list to port reached more than 20 degrees.
Although there were no fatalities and miraculously few injuries, the incident stands out as particularly embarrassing for the US Navy due to the recklessness demonstrated by one of its senior commanding officers. While driving a nuclear aircraft carrier with 6,500 sailor's lives at risk and planes in the air around it, he ignored ample, credible, warning that he was about to drive over a rock which he knew was nearby. Well before the collision personnel operating on the side of the carrier began delivering repeated strident warnings of lights on the water and imminent collision danger.
At that time the Enterprise was operating in the immediate vicinity of a shallow sea mount marked with lights. Those warnings were ignored, with the expected result. After a several day delay to deploy divers and otherwise assess the damage, the ship continued operations, exacerbating the damage for several weeks until completion of the peace time pre-deployment training. She then proceeded to dry dock for in excess of $17 million of structural repairs. In the days immediately after the collision hand drawn pictures titled “Leuschner’s Landing” were surreptitiously posted around the ship, lampooning it as perched atop the sea mount. They were quickly snatched down lest they bring embarrassment to the "chain of command".
In 1986, the carrier made her 12th WESTPAC deployment, leaving on 15 January 1986. She led Battle Group FOXTROT, including Truxtun, Arkansas, O'Brien, Reasoner, Lewis B. Puller, McClusky, and David R. Ray. The Battle Group sailed directly for the Indian Ocean, with stops in Hawaii, Subic Bay, and Singapore. On 28 April 1986, Enterprise became the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to transit the Suez Canal. She went from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean to relieve Coral Sea, on station with America off the coast of Libya. Enterprise entered the Mediterranean to support "Operation El Dorado Canyon", the US bombing of Libya. It was the ship's first visit to the Mediterranean in more than 22 years. During the deployment, Rear Admiral J.T. Howe was relieved as Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Group 3 by Rear Admiral Paul David Miller.
In February 1988, Enterprise underwent her 13th deployment and was assigned to Operation Earnest Will, escorting reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. On 14 April, another Earnest Will ship, Samuel B. Roberts, struck an Iranian mine in international waters. In response, the U.S. launched Operation Praying Mantis against Iranian targets, starting with two Iranian oil platforms that were being used as support bases for Iranian attacks on merchant shipping. Aircraft from Enterprise??'?s CVW-11 bombed two Iranian frigates, helping to sink one and damaged the other, and provided other air support for the strike.
In September 1989, Enterprise left Alameda and began her 14th overseas deployment, an around-the-world cruise that would end at the ship's new homeport of Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. In early December 1989, Enterprise and Midway participated in Operation Classic Resolve, President George H. W. Bush's response to Philippine President Corazon Aquino's request for air support during the rebel coup attempt. Enterprise remained on station conducting flight operations in the waters outside Manila Bay until the situation subsided.
In April 1990, Enterprise completed her around-the-world deployment, arriving in Norfolk, Virginia, after having steamed more than 43,000 mi (69,000 km) (nautical). In October, the carrier moved to Newport News Shipbuilding for refueling and the Navy's largest complex overhaul refit ever attempted. On 27 September 1994, Enterprise returned to sea for sea trials, during which she performed an extended full power run as fast as when she was new.
On 28 June 1996, Enterprise began her 15th overseas deployment. The carrier enforced no-fly zones in Bosnia as part of Operation Joint Endeavor and over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch. The deployment ended in December 1996, which also marked the end of active service for the Grumman A-6 Intruder from the Navy. In February 1997, Enterprise entered Newport News Shipbuilding for an extended selective restrictive availability lasting four-and-a-half months.
Aircraft carrier steaming away from camera in open sea. On deck is a large contingent of aircraft
Enterprise patrols the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Fox
In November 1998, following workups, Enterprise departed on her 16th overseas deployment, with CVW-3 embarked. On the night of 8 November, shortly after the start of the deployment, a Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler crashed into a Lockheed S-3 Viking on the carrier's flight deck. The mishap occurred as the EA-6B was landing during night carrier qualifications, striking the folded wings of the S-3, which had not yet cleared the landing area of the flight deck.
The four crew of the EA-6B perished when the aircraft hit the water, but the two crew members of the S-3 ejected. A fire broke out on the flight deck, but was quickly extinguished by the flight deck crew. Three of the four members of the Prowler crew were lost at sea, and the remains of the fourth were recovered shortly after the crash. The crew of the Viking were rushed to the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia. There were no other significant injuries. An exhaustive search for three missing EA-6B Prowler crew members was suspended after nearly 24 hours.
On 23 November 1998, Enterprise relieved Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Persian Gulf.
During a port call in Jebel Ali, UAE, the carrier hosted former President George H. W. Bush and enjoyed a live concert by Grammy Award-winning rock group Hootie & the Blowfish.
In December 1998, Enterprise battlegroup spearheaded Operation Desert Fox, destroying Iraqi military targets with more than 300 Tomahawk land attack missiles and 691,000 lb (346 short tons; 313 t) of ordnance. The 70-hour assault was carried out by Enterprise, Gettysburg, Stout, Nicholson and Miami.
Shortly after the Racak massacre and failure of Yugoslavian peace talks in Rambouillet, France, Enterprise quickly left a port visit in Cannes, France to return to the Adriatic.
In early March 1999, Enterprise returned to the Persian Gulf to relieve Carl Vinson in support of Operation Southern Watch, returning to Norfolk in May 1999.
During the 1998–1999 deployment, Enterprise steamed more than 50,000 nmi (93,000 km; 58,000 mi) and spent 151 days underway. Enterprise Battle Group was the first to deploy with IT-21, which allowed unprecedented internal and external communication capabilities, including Internet, email, and television.
Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered carrier (left) with what was then the newest: French carrier Charles de Gaulle, 16 May 2001
On 25 April 2001, Enterprise began her 17th overseas deployment with CVW-8. From 18–28 June, the carrier and four escorts participated in an exercise with the Royal Navy in a joint and combined warfare training exercise in the North Sea, near the Hebrides and in Scotland.
Enterprise was beginning her voyage home from the Persian Gulf when the September 11 attacks were carried out. Without orders, the carrier returned to the waters off Southwest Asia near the Persian Gulf, outrunning her escorts. In October 2001, the United States launched air attacks against Al-Qaeda training camps and Taliban military installations in Afghanistan. The actions were designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a base for terrorist operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.
Over three weeks, aircraft from Enterprise flew nearly 700 missions and dropped over 800,000 lb (400 short tons; 360 t) of ordnance over Afghanistan. On 10 November, the carrier arrived at her home port of Norfolk, Virginia, 16 days later than originally planned. During her last day at sea, the ship hosted a live two-hour broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America. Garth Brooks performed a concert with Jewel from Enterprise on 21 November while she was docked in Norfolk, Virginia. The concert was carried live on CBS. On Pearl Harbor Day (7 December 2001), President George W. Bush addressed the sailors of Enterprise from its flight deck.
In January 2002, Enterprise entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia for a scheduled one-year Extended Dry Docking Selected Restricted Availability.
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Members assigned to USS Enterprise Damage Control Team test their fire-fighting agent prior to entering the simulator round of the Damage Control Olympics during Fleet Week 2004.
From September 2003 to February 2004, the ship deployed to relieve the four carriers that were on station during the invasion of Iraq. Enterprise's role was to provide continued air support for Operation Iraqi Freedom. This also was the last deployment for the F-14 Tomcat. The fully repaired Cole was a member of her escort group at this time. A USO tour was held aboard while at sea, with WWE superstar Kurt Angle, NASCAR racer Mike Wallace, and comedian Robin Williams giving talks and performances. The ship made several port-calls to Jebel Ali, a stop in Bahrain (during which actor Ben Affleck visited the ship), and Naples, Italy and Cartegna, Spain on the way home. Admiral James Stavridis commanded the battle group at this time with Captain Eric Neidlinger as Enterprise's commanding officer.
In April 2004, Enterprise participated in the Fleet Week celebration in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Enterprise's Damage Control team won the Damage Control Olympics at that event, setting several records in the process. In June and July 2004, the ship participated in Summer Surge 2004 and several multinational exercises. She participated in photo ops of a multinational battle group and was anchored at Portsmouth, England on 4 July.
2005 saw the ship in for another routine shipyard overhaul at Newport News Shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. Departing the dock after this yard period, Enterprise ran through a sand bar causing all eight reactors to shutdown, leaving the ship adrift on emergency power for nearly three hours before she was tugged back to her pier at Norfolk Naval Base. It took approximately three days for the ship's nuclear machinists to clear her condensers of river mud.
In May 2006, Enterprise departed for a six-month deployment, operating in the 6th, 5th and 7th Fleet areas in a world-tour, supporting Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, and visiting ports in Dubai, Hong Kong, and crossing the line. She returned to Norfolk 18 November 2006.
On 19 December 2007, the carrier returned home after a six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf.
In April 2008, Enterprise entered the Northrop-Grumman Newport News shipyard for a scheduled 18-month Extended Docking Selected Restricted Availability, with a projected completion date of September 2009. As maintenance was performed, costs continued to rise above projections and the completion date repeatedly slid. Enterprise, the oldest active combat vessel in the Navy, was scheduled to be decommissioned as late as 2014. On 6 April 2009, Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, stated that he was seeking a congressional dispensation to speed up the process to decommission Enterprise. Under this new timetable, the ship would complete one final deployment before being decommissioned in late 2012 or early 2013. This would temporarily reduce the U.S. Navy to having only ten active aircraft carriers through the launch of the Gerald R. Ford in 2015. In October 2009, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed with the recommendation, approving the decommissioning of Enterprise in 2013 after 51 years of service.
Enterprise meets with Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Atlantic in July 2011; Enterprise is returning to Norfolk at the end of her six-month cruise to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, while Eisenhower is working up following a six-month maintenance period.
In April 2010, the Navy announced that the cost of refurbishing the carrier had risen to $655 million and was scheduled to be completed the same month. On 19 April 2010, Enterprise left the Northrop Grumman shipyard to conduct sea trials in preparation for return to the fleet. The total cost of refurbishing the carrier was $662 million, which was 46% over budget. Also, it took eight months longer than scheduled. The Navy said it planned to use the carrier for two six-month deployments before her scheduled 2013 decommissioning date.
On 1 January 2011, the Virginian-Pilot leaked highlights from the final video of a set entitled "XO Movie Night" that was filmed on Enterprise and aired via closed circuit television on select Saturday evenings. The videos, which were not meant for release outside the command, were produced by Captain Owen Honors when he was executive officer (XO) of the ship in the 2006–7 timeframe and included profanity, anti-gay slurs, and sexually suggestive scenes.
Captain Honors received public support from Navy personnel, but on 4 January 2011, Admiral John C. Harvey, Jr., the commander of the United States Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk removed Honors for demonstrating poor judgment. Captain Dee Mewbourne was appointed as replacement commander. Forty officers and enlisted sailors, including six flag officers, were later disciplined to varying extents over the incident.
The carrier and her strike group deployed on 13 January 2011. Accompanying the carrier on the cruise to the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean were Carrier Air Wing One, guided missile cruiser Leyte Gulf, and guided missile destroyers Barry, Bulkeley, and Mason. In February 2011, Enterprise was involved in an incident with Somali pirates, an event that ended in the deaths of four American citizens and two pirates.
The carrier returned to Norfolk on 15 July 2011. During its deployment, it had participated in operations that captured 75 Somali pirates and its strike group made missile strikes against the Libyan government.
On 17 August 2011, Captain William C. Hamilton, Jr. relieved Capt. Dee L. Mewbourne as Enterprise's commanding officer. Captain William C. Hamilton, Jr. will be the ship's last commanding officer.
On 9 April 2012, the Navy announced that Enterprise and her group, Carrier Strike Group Twelve, would be assigned to join Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf. The mission was described as routine, not a response to a specific threat. Upon completion of this mission in fall 2012, Enterprise was scheduled to be deactivated.
In October 2012, Enterprise transited the Suez Canal for the final time. She paid her last foreign port call when she visited Naples, Italy, between 16–21 October, which had been the Big E's first foreign port-of-call fifty years earlier.
On 4 November 2012, Enterprise returned to her homeport at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, for the last time. While on her last journey, the carrier cruised nearly 81,000 miles in a 238-day deployment to the Persian Gulf and her aircraft flew more than 2,000 sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Enterprise was inactivated on 1 December 2012 at Norfolk Naval Station, Virginia. The deactivation of Enterprise resulted in a one-time increase of approximately $857.3 million in depot maintenance costs for the U.S. Navy's operation and maintenance budget for Fiscal Year 2013.
Enterprise will be the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to be decommissioned. Naval enthusiasts have requested that Enterprise be converted into a museum. While the costs of doing so regarding her nuclear reactors has yet to be calculated by the United States Department of Defense, by 2012 they had been deemed too expensive to make such an effort practical, in addition to the fact that the ship will need to be partially dismantled anyway to remove the eight reactors safely. A petition had also been set up for the next carrier (CVN-80) to be named as the ninth USS Enterprise. At her inactivation ceremony, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced in his taped message that the next Ford-class carrier, CVN-80 would indeed be named "Enterprise".
Speaking at the ceremony was Chaplain John Owen, Captain William C. Hamilton, Jr. (CO), Vice Admiral David H. Buss (Commander, Naval Air Force Pacific), Admiral John Richardson (Director, Naval Reactors), Matt Mulherin (President, Newport News Shipbuilding), ADM Jonathan W. Greenert (Chief of Naval Operations), a video speech from Ray Mabus, and the Master of Ceremonies was the ship's Executive Officer. SECNAV had to deliver his speech via taped video as he was in China at the time. VIPs present for the ceremony included several former Commanding Officers, a granddaughter of the ship's sponsor, and a former A-6 pilot who had been captured in North Vietnam returning to the ship for the first time that day since he launched. He received a standing ovation at his introduction. Actor William Shatner was scheduled to appear, but canceled.
During the ceremony, the representative of the ship's sponsor received a flag flown from the ship during its last underway and a piece of wooden railing leading to the CO's inport cabin. Also the CNO was presented with a time capsule produced by ship's crew with artifacts and pieces of the ship. Enterprise crew and visitors were encouraged to add the items or messages the week before inactivation. While presenting the capsule, Commanding Officer William C. "Boomer" Hamilton informed the CNO that the only stipulation would be that the capsule could only be opened by the crew of the next ship to be named Enterprise. When it was announced shortly after that CVN-80 would be the 9th Navy vessel to carry the name "Enterprise", the entire crowd cheered and gave a standing ovation.
On 8 February 2013, the United States Department of Defense announced that a number of nuclear projects would have to be postponed until the upcoming budget sequestration issue was resolved. These include the planned de-fuelling of Enterprise as well as mid-life overhauls (including nuclear refuelling) for two Nimitz-class ships. The contract for defueling Enterprise was eventually awarded to Huntington Ingalls Industries in June 2013.
Newport News Shipbuilding will deactivate and de-fuel the ship, which will then be formally decommissioned once all nuclear fuel has been removed. The process started at the downtown piers in Newport News in order to set the conditions required in the propulsion plant for fuel removal. Huntington Ingalls Industries moved the ship on Saturday, 4 May 2015 from Pier 2 to her original birthplace, Dry Dock 11. Newport News employees will continue the defueling process in the dry dock.
Once the Navy completes fuel removal, the ship will be prepared for open ocean tow to Bremerton, Washington. There, the remaining parts of the ship that are associated with the reactor plant (reactor compartments and associated piping) will be removed and shipped to Hanford site for disposal. The final pieces of the hull are scheduled to be scrapped by 2025. It remains possible the ship's island could be removed and used as a memorial. As of June 2013, the ship has had all antennas, radars (including the main-mast on top of the island), weapons launchers, anchors, and other miscellaneous items removed from her exterior. Additionally, the inside of the ship has been removed of much gear that can be reused on other ships. All spaces outside of the propulsion block and some office space in the hangar bay have been locked and secured. Certain hatchways and passageways have been welded shut.
In October 2014, Newport News Shipbuilding announced that one of Enterprise's anchors, removed from the ship during breaking up, had been transferred to the Nimitz-class Abraham Lincoln during her RCOH.