The USS Enterprise was the immediate successor of the Forrestal and Kitty Hawk classes and she represents another milestone in the History of modern warships. The USS Enterprise entered service in 1962, being the second surface warship in the world fitted with nuclear propulsion, being the first one the revolutionary missile cruiser USS Long Beach.

In some way, these two ships seemed to be made the one for the other. Both were single on their classes, therefore being unique specimens, and shared a common aesthetic style on their superstructures, for these concealed the SCANFAR system, the first generation of phased-array radars designed to improve the tracking of multiple airborne targets. This system used static planar antennas instead of the rotating type, and it was the predecessor of the current and successful AEGIS system.

Both ships seem married the one with the other when looking at the photos taken in 1964 during Operation Sea Orbit, in which it is present as well the missile cruiser USS Bainbridge. This one along with the USS Enterprise and the USS Long Beach, all of them nuclear-powered and unique in their classes, formed the all-nuclear-powered Task Force 1, which in 1964 travelled around the world without refueling its nuclear propulsion plants.

USS Enterprise aircraft carrier
USS Enterprise aircraft carrier
And yes, it should not sound odd to say "married", since in spite of the English tradition of referring to ships in feminine terms, it is hardly conceivable to think of a warship such as the USS Enterprise as a feminine entity. Now let us take a look at some important characteristics of this naval colossus.

Her standard displacement reached 76900 tons, which surpassed in almost 17000 tonnes that of the Forrestal class, reaching full-load displacement 91000 tonnes. However the dimensions were very similar to those of the Forrestal class. The length in the waterline was 317 meters, reaching the overall length 335.9 meters. The beam on the waterline was 40.5 meters, reaching a maximum of 76.8 meters on the flight deck. And the draft was 10.8 meters, which despite the increased displacement, was similar to that of the Forrestal class.

The USS Enterprise was powered by eight nuclear reactors Westinghouse AW2, pressurized and cooled by water. These worked in pairs to produce the necessary energy to rotate four steam turbines Westinghouse and the four associated shafts. This propulsion plant could deliver a total output of 280000 shaft horsepower, allowing to reach a maximum speed of 35 knots, which was excellent for such a heavy and wide ship (her hull was marginally wider than that of the "superbattleship" Yamato and seven meters wider than that of the Iowa class).

The operational range of the USS Enterprise, as in any nuclear-powered ship, could be referred as theoretically unlimited, as the duration of nuclear resources should be progressively increased by technical progress. When her reactors were resupplied for the first time, the USS Enterprise had travelled almost 216000 nautical miles (or 400000 kilometers, which equals to almost ten times the circumference of the Earth). Compare this with the 6750 nautical miles (12500 kilometers) that the conventional boilers installed in the Forrestal class allowed. In the 1970s the USS Enterprise could travel twenty times around the Earth before depleting her nuclear fuel; when she was retired in 2012, she could spend 25 years without refueling. Many warships do not even last that number of years in service.

Now let us see some key design features of the USS Enterprise, in which some improvements involving the flight deck and the isle were introduced. To start, the elevators no longer were of a rectangular shape like those found on the Forrestal class and previous aircraft carriers; they were given a new shape with an angle on one side, to allow to operate longer aircraft on them. The elevator that so unfortunately was placed in the fore end of the angled deck on the Forrestal class, was reallocated backwards, where it would not interfere the flight operations. The position of the isle - now smaller because of the absence of funnel in a ship that uses nuclear propulsion - was reallocated backwards as well, so now there were two elevators in front of the structure instead of only one, so the isle would be less a nuissance for aircraft operations.

Regarding the defensive armament there is not much to say. The designers omitted any artillery mounting from scratch and only included two octuple launchers for surface-to-air missiles Sea Sparrow, which had a maximum range of 19.3 kilometers. However, in more recent times, two Vulcan Phalanx CIWS 20-millimeter cannons were installed in addition to the missile launchers. There was a time when the military experts thought that missiles would render unnecessary any artillery piece, but over time the critical limitations of missiles became obvious, particularly the minimum altitudes and ranges required to operate. With its high rate of fire, the Vulcan Phalanx system covers the blind spots that missiles have while being able of hitting the target with comparable precision.

USS Enterprise aircraft carrier
The USS Enterprise transported from 80 to 100 aircraft, an equivalent to seven aviation squadrons, and we can imagine the huge load of weapons and fuel that all these aircraft require. This modest but wisely selected air force possesses all the resources necessary to perform any offensive or defensive task, be it air superiority, tactical ground attack, strategic bombing or antisubmarine warfare, being more powerful than most national air forces in the world. Around 1800 crewmen were dedicated to fly and maintain this air wing. The photograph immediately above, taken in her early times, clearly shows the flight deck and, among many other aircraft, some beautiful air-superiority fighters F-4 Phantom.

The complement was around 5500 people, which daily consumed around twelve tonnes of food. The facilities onboard included a small hospital and diverse recreation rooms, including a library with thousands of volumes and even a television station. At the same time, many radars were dedicated to scan the air, sea or terrain hundreds of miles far away, while hundreds of antennas connected the USS Enterprise with any of the main United States military command centers.

Note: photorealistic blueprints of the USS Enterprise are available in the Illustration Gallery.

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