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(U.S. Navy/Lt. Cmdr. Josh Hammond)

The USS Enterprise's Last Tour

After 51 years of service, the historic aircraft carrier is about to be decommissioned

When the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) sailed away from Norfolk, Virginia, on its maiden voyage in 1962, it was the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and the eighth Enterprise in a long dynasty reaching back to the Revolutionary War. Its eight nuclear reactors, reported the Chicago Daily Defender, had an energy potential "as great as that of all the reactors in the free world."

The most recent Enterprise played a role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, along with other ships in the Second Fleet, blockading shipments of military equipment to Cuba. During the height of the Vietnam War, nearly 100 aircraft were launched each day from the Enterprise, laden with explosives and bound for the Ho Chi Minh Trail. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the carrier—headed home after a long deployment—steamed overnight to the North Arabian Sea to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom.

On December 1, 2012, the carrier will be inactivated, ending 51 years of service. See the gallery below for more about its history. Pictured above: Two F/A-18 Super Hornets fly past the Enterprise on its last deployment, on October 4, 2012.

Enterprise

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(U.S. Navy )

There has been an Enterprise since 1775, when Captain James Smith was ordered to Lake Champlain to take command of the 70-ton sloop that originally belonged to the British. Enterprise II was an eight-gun schooner purchased in 1776 that convoyed transports in the Chesapeake Bay. Enterprise III, a 12-gun schooner, searched for British privateers off the coast of Maine in 1812. Enterprise IV launched from the New York Navy Yard in 1831; while Enterprise V, a steam corvette with auxiliary sail power, was commissioned in 1877. Enterprise VI performed harbor tug duties at Newport, Rhode Island in 1917, eventually transferring to the Bureau of Fisheries in 1919.

Then came the famous Enterprise VII (CV 6), a Yorktown-class carrier that joined the fleet in 1936. During World War II, the U.S. Navy participated in 41 battles in the Pacific, and the Enterprise was involved in 20 of them. When the carrier was decommissioned, the Navy promised that the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier would bear the same name.

Here TBM Avengers land on the Enterprise (CV-6) during the Gilberts Operation, November 22, 1943.

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