DT wishes a happy birthday to the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. She was commissioned 50 years ago this month and despite being the only ship of her class built, paved the way for the very successful Nimitz class nuclear carriers. In addition to her eight nuclear reactors, the Enterprise was equipped with an early version of another weapon system that would one day become a hallmark of the U.S. Navy; the massive SCANFAR phased array radars that led to the development of the powerful Aegis radar system now used on all U.S. cruisers and destroyers. The Big E’s eight reactors would be replaced by two far more powerful and efficient reactors in the Nimitz class ships and he SCANFAR radars had plenty of problems. Still, she taught valuable lessons about both of these technologies and served as a springboard for serious technological leaps. Oh yeah, and she’s seen plenty of combat.
She’s set to decommission sometime in the next few years to make way for the USS Gerald R. Ford.
To celebrate her 50th, DT has put together these photos (after the jump) of the ship that ushered in a new era in carrier tech.
Under construction at Newport News, Va., in the late 1950s:
A brand new Enterprise. Who can tell what those aircraft are at her stern?
JFK watching flight ops from the Big E’s bridge:
A picture taken next to an F-4 Phantom showing A-5 Vigilantes and the new ship’s island:
The iconic photo showing the Enterprise sailing alongside the nuclear-powered cruiser USS Long Beach and the nuclear-powered frigate USS Bainbridge in 1964. The ships made up the first-ever nuclear-powered naval task force and sailed around the world in 65 days without a single refueling or replenishment:
A great photo showing the massive A-5s preparing to launch from Enterprise. Notice how big the Vigilantes, designed as nuclear bombers, are next to the F-8 Crusader (sitting on the forward elevator) and the A-4 Skyhawk ( about to launch from the port bow catapult):
The Enterprise ablaze in the Pacific Ocean in 1969 after Zuni rocket accidentally went off on board. The massive fire took 28 lives and destroyed 15 aircraft:
Another shot showing crewmen and a destroyer fighting the blaze:
A newly modernized Enterprise in 1983, note how the big SCANFAR radars are gone from her island but a 1950s-vintage A-4 is still flying from her flight deck:
The hangar deck in 1964:
The hangar deck in 2000 (you can even see a couple of boats in there!):
The Enterprise steaming alongside France’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the FS Charles De Gaulle in 2001:
An F/A-18E/F Super Hornet about to launch from the Enteprise’s waist catapult:
Another great picture of a Super Hornet about to launch from the Big E:
A Sea Hawk helo flies in front or the Enterprise as the ship is underway: