The keel is laid at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. on Feb. 4, 1958. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
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Ship is commissioned Nov. 25, 1961. (John Shane)
A rocket loaded onto a parked F-4 Phantom Fire overheats, starting a flight deck blaze in 1969. (Navy)
On Sept. 11, 2001, Enterprise is in the Indian Ocean and starting the journey home. After learning of the terror attacks, the ship — without waiting for orders — turns around and steams back to the Persian Gulf at flank speed. In early October, Enterprise jets are dropping bombs on targets in Afghanistan. (Jockel Finck / AP)
The evolution of aircraft carriers entered its modern era when the nuclear-powered Enterprise joined the fleet in 1961. Named for a highly decorated World War II-era flattop, the new Enterprise arrived with a lot to prove. It was only the Navy's second nuclear-powered ship and by far the largest. But from its first sea trials, "Big E" showed it could sail fast. It would go into harm's way again and again: The carrier has served in every major conflict from Vietnam to today's wars. To get a sense of its longevity, consider that the strike group commander who led Enterprise on its final deployment was only 2 years old when the flagship was commissioned. Significant events in the 51-year career of the Navy's most storied ship:
• 1958: Keel is laid at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. on Feb. 4.
• 1961: Ship is commissioned Nov. 25. Navy Secretary John Connally tells the crowd of 15,000, "The Enterprise will reign a long, long time as queen of the seas." Less than two months later, the ship heads out on its shakedown cruise under the command of its first skipper, Capt. Vincent P. de Poix.
• 1962: Enterprise sorties Oct. 19 as part of the naval blockade ordered by President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The show of force causes the Soviets to relent.
• 1964: Enterprise, with two nuclear-powered escorts, steams around the world to demonstrate the capabilities of nuclear power, a voyage known as Operation Sea Orbit.
• 1965: First combat missions are launched Dec. 2 from Enterprise's deck. 21 planes attack targets near Bien Hoa, South Vietnam.
• 1969: A rocket loaded onto a parked F-4 Phantom Fire overheats, starting a flight deck blaze that kills 27 sailors, injures 314 and wrecks 15 planes.
• 1974: Enterprise is overhauled to carry S-3 Vikings and F-14 Tomcats, new planes that will enhance the flattop's might. It becomes the first carrier to deploy with F-14s late that year.
• 1985: During exercises, Enterprise strikes Bishop Rock, a seamount 100 miles off the coast of San Diego. Damages are repaired in a dry dock.
• 1989: Enterprise heads west from Alameda, Calif., on Sept. 17 for an around-the-world voyage to its new home port in Norfolk, Va.
• 1998: Big E launches more than 70 strike aircraft as part of Operation Desert Fox, a four-day air assault on Iraq.
• 2001: On Sept. 11, Enterprise is in the Indian Ocean and starting the journey home. After learning of the terror attacks, the ship — without waiting for orders — turns around and steams back to the Persian Gulf at flank speed. In early October, Enterprise jets are dropping bombs on targets in Afghanistan.
• 2008: The carrier's overhaul takes longer and costs more than planned, ending up with a price tag of $655 million. It leaves dry dock in April 2010.
• 2011: The ship's skipper, Capt. Owen Honors, is fired after lewd videos emerge that he had filmed years earlier as the ship's XO. The high-profile firing comes only days before the ship leaves for deployment.
• 2012: Enterprise transits Suez Canal for final time on final deployment.
Source: Naval History And Heritage Command