Hook Down, Wheels Down (1974)

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Huntington Ingalls to inactivate the Big E

Huntington Ingalls will inactivate the Big E at Newport News, after which she’ll be towed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for reactor disposal.

Navy and shipyard sign $745 million Enterprise contract

June 29, 2013|By Michael Welles Shapiro, mwshapiro@dailypress.com | 757-247-4744

What does it cost to defuel and take apart one of the Navy’s most famed ships?

About $750 million, it turns out.

The Navy and Huntington Ingalls Industries came to terms on a contract for the inactivation of the USS Enterprise. The cost-plus-incentive fee contract allows for the ultimate price tag to be adjusted based on a formula under which the Navy and the shipbuilder would both share some of the burden of cost overruns.

The work will be done at Newport News Shipbuilder, the sole builder of U.S. aircraft carriers, which built the Big E and has handled its spent nuclear fuel rods in the past.

The 51-year-old Enterprise is the country’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and as a result the contract is the first inactivation of such a ship.

“Although Newport News Shipbuilding has defueled and refueled many ships, including Enterprise, this is the first inactivation of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier,” said Chris Miner, the shipyard’s vice president, of in-service aircraft carrier programs.

“Our shipbuilders know Enterprise well, and have enjoyed working on her over her decades of service,” Miner said in a news release. “We are extremely proud of her great legacy, so it is with heavy hearts that we will work to retire this one-of-a-kind ship.”

More than 1,000 shipyard workers are expected to support the inactivation, and the work in Newport News is set to run through September 2018, according to a contract award description posted by the Naval Sea Systems Command.

At that point, the ship will be towed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., which according to the Navy is the only yard that can dispose of the Enterprise’s eight nuclear reactors.

The reactors will be cut out of the hull of the ship and barged to the desert of Eastern Washington, for burial at a Department of Energy site.

The Enterprise was towed to Newport News Shipbuilding on June 20 from Naval Station Norfolk.

That voyage capped off a career that spanned more than half a century.

The flat top was the only ship in its class, and was built before the Nimitz-class carriers that now make up the U.S. carrier fleet.

Built by Newport News shipbuilders, the Big E aided in the naval blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis and took part in operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.

The ship once steamed through the seas with 200,000 horsepower and became one of four carriers in naval history to record 400,000 arrested landings of jet aircraft.

Enterprise completed its final combat deployment in November and was removed from military service the following month.

Since then, sailors have worked to prepare the ship for its eventual decommissioning.

The combat crew of 2,500 sailors has been whittled down to about 1,300. Eight gaping holes were visible in its hangar bay during its tow to Newport News.