NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - On March 11, the USS Enterprise will embark on its final mission.
Many members of the current crew weren't even born when the nuclear aircraft carrier was launched in 1960.
But believe it or not, some of the shipbuilders who built the "Big E" are still working at Newport News Shipbuilding. Construction of the USS Enterprise began in the late 1950s, and at that time, it was the largest warship ever built.
More than half a century later, Newport News Shipbuilding is still building nuclear aircraft carriers, but it only built one like the Enterprise. She is in a class all her own, as are the people who built the ship that to this day remains the fastest carrier in the United States Navy.
Shipbuilder Shirley Langston said, "That was my first project when I went into the shipyard, and almost 54 years later, I'm still working on the same project."
Langston wasn't more than 19-years-old when she was assigned to work on the Enterprise.
"I was excited! I thought man, a carrier. A ship this big. That was wonderful, and being the first nuclear powered ship, that was awesome," Langston said.
Ed Sise, a nuclear engineer, added, "We built the machinery room and a reactor plant. It was built out in the desert. Then we started, finished that and we started on the design of the ship."
Now 82-years-old, Sise worked with Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of today's nuclear Navy, to develop the nuclear program at Newport News Shipbuilding. Sise also worked on two of the Enterprise's eight reactor plants.
"We had the confidence to build the ship as designed. We tested it as designed. It worked as designed," Sise said.
Although the ship looks a little different today than is did when it left Newport News in 1961, it is essentially the same design that continues to sail at the tip of the spear for today's Navy.
Rear Admiral Walter Carter, Jr., commander of the Enterprise Strike Group, told WAVY.com, "It's a tremendous testament..."
Carter said the shipbuilders that brought the Enterprise to life share a common bond with the sailors who serve aboard "The Big E".
"They are just as proud of this ship and just as excited to see it go out on its final chapter as those of us who serve on board," Carter explained.
When the ship completes her final deployment, Enterprise won't just retire, she will be inactivated.
Program Director David Long said, "...and just like the Enterprise led the way with the nuclear program in aircraft carriers, she'll be leading the way for inactivating nuclear aircraft carriers."
The shipyard has rendered other nuclear vessels inactive, but this will be the first carrier to be inactivated. Long, who will direct that process, isn't worried.
"...it's step by step. Inactivate this vessel. With all the expertise that we have, it can be done safely and we have the people to do it right," Long said.
Langston added, "It's gonna be some experience to see them go in and just rip out, tear out and deactivate it, and knowing it's not going to be back in service anymore because it certainly has served this country very well."
The inactivation of the Enterprise (inactivation, by the way, is the preferred term as opposed to deactivation) is still in the planning stage but is expected to take about three and a half year. The same number of years it took to build the ship.
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