US navy retires 'super carrier' USS Enterprise

US navy retires beloved carrier - the world's largest - after serving in Cuba to the Iraq war, and even a role in Star Trek

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 November, 2012, 4:14am

After half a century on the high seas, the oldest warship in the American fleet, the USS Enterprise, is returning to port for the last time.

From the Cuban missile crisis to the war in Afghanistan, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier has played a part in every conflict involving the United States since it was commissioned in 1961.

But the massive vessel was due to glide into the US naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, yesterday, with sailors in white uniforms standing on deck, marking the end of its 25th and final deployment after an eight-month tour in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf.

"Homecoming will no doubt be a bittersweet day," said Captain William Hamilton, the ship's commanding officer.

"We are pleased to be returning to our families after a very successful deployment, but to know that it is the last time Enterprise will be under way through her own power makes our return very sentimental."

The ship will be formally retired at a ceremony on December 1, but the vessel known as the "Big E" already relinquished its ammunition and ordnance last week at sea, with helicopters ferrying more than 1,500 tonnes of missiles and bombs to nearby cargo ships.

With a length of 342 metres, the Enterprise is the longest naval ship in the world, and weighs nearly 95,000 tonnes. The floating base can accommodate 4,500 sailors and aviators, as well as 72 planes and helicopters.

The ship has gyms, a coffee shop and a television station. It even produces its own daily newspaper while at sea.

The ship has passed through Hong Kong many times; its last visit was in 2006.

With its distinctive design and four rudders instead of two, the carrier occupies a special place in American maritime history and is the eighth ship that bears the name. The first Enterprise was a British vessel captured during the American War of Independence from 1775 to 1783.

The ship features in the hit films Top Gun and The Hunt for Red October, and was the inspiration for Captain Kirk's spaceship in the Star Trek television series.

On February 20, 1962, the Enterprise operated as a tracking station for the Project Mercury space capsule that saw astronaut John Glenn make the first American orbital space flight.

Later that year, the ship was ordered on its first military mission, taking part in a blockade of Cuba during the nuclear missile crisis. It later saw action in the Vietnam war.

In the 1980s, the Enterprise sailed in the Gulf in confrontations with Iran, while in the 1990s its aircraft helped impose no-fly zones on Iraq and Bosnia.

After the 9/11 attacks, the navy turned to the super-carrier to launch bombing runs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On its final deployment, the Enterprise's warplanes carried out 8,000 sorties for the Nato-led coalition in Afghanistan, officers said.