Navy aircraft carriers: out with the old, and in with the new

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DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti, 29 June 2011. In a rare symbolic passing of the torch, the U.S. Navy's oldest and newest aircraft carriers passed within distance of one another this month in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in the Red Sea off Djibouti. The Navy's newest carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), is headed to the Middle East, while the Navy's oldest carrier, the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) is headed home to Norfolk, Va., when it completes this, its last scheduled active deployment.

It isn't often that such a milestone passes before the eyes of sailors, and Navy leaders took the opportunity to let related crew members of both vessels visit one another. The Enterprise, nicknamed the "Big-E," was commissioned in 1961 and is scheduled to be decommissioned next year.

The George H.W. Bush was commissioned in 2006, and is arriving on a schedule deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, which consists of the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and the coast of East Africa as far south as Kenya.

The Enterprise this week is visiting port in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, after spending 75 days at sea. When the ship is through with its duties in the Mediterranean, it will head home back across the Atlantic to its home port at Norfolk Naval Station, Va. The ship is not scheduled for another deployment before its decommissioning.

The Enterprise is the Navy's first nuclear-powered aircraft, and will be the first nuclear carrier to be decommissioned. The giant vessel has eight nuclear reactors, so decommissioning the ship promises to be long and expensive, Navy officials say.

More information about the Enterprise is online at

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