The Big “E”
By Captain Vincent P. de Poix, U. S. Navy, published in the June 1962 issue of Proceedings magazine:
From an operational standpoint, the ability of Enterprise to accelerate and decelerate merits first mention. In both cases our capability exceeds any conventional aircraft carrier. This capability is of tremendous benefit when carrying out our primary function of air operations in that we can turn into the wind at a later time with assurance that we can produce the requisite 35 knots of wind over the deck for launching or recovering aircraft.
During periods of light wind in particular since she can accelerate at such a tremendous rate- it is possible to steam down wind or along our intended course for longer periods and still turn into wind and be up to speed at the time appointed for aircraft operations.
We can decelerate very rapidly at the end of a launch or recovery in order to take our helicopters aboard if this course of action is preferable to turning out of the wind. The helicopters are subject to definite wind limitations which are le s than the relative wind over the deck which we require during fixed wing air operations. Recovering our helicopters rapidly means time saved in reassuming our intended track.
Our superior ability to accelerate and decelerate can also extricate us from tight spots in a hurry if necessary. This increases the safety of operation of the nuclear carrier as well as that of other ships which may be involved in a potential collision.
Enterprise is equipped with eight of the most powerful nuclear reactors now supplying power for propulsion. These reactors, operating on four shafts and arranged in pairs, can develop over 200,000 shaft horsepower. In fact, on trials, Ente1prise developed more horsepower than any ship in history.
It almost goes without saying that the high speed we can maintain continuously for long periods of time is not only a tactical but a strategic advantage. Among the tactical advantages are those of the ASW protection inherent in the ability to steam at high speed without necessary regard for depletion of fuel on board. Strategic advantages accrue in several ways. One is that the nuclear carrier can proceed at high speed to any trouble spot to which it may be directed and arrive considerably a head of any other carrier. And on arrival, the nuclear carrier can be ready to execute any assigned task without a needed pause for refueling at sea from tankers.
Much has been said about the fact that Enterprise makes no smoke. The greatest booster of this advantage are the pilots who land aboard, seconded closely, of course, by those charged with topside cleanliness and upkeep. This unobscured visibility and decreased turbulence in landing also increase safety. Our early operations point this out, since we have already had over 3,000 landings aboard Enterprise with no accidents or near accidents. Another “no smoke” factor involves aircraft cleanliness. Airplanes aboard Enterprise are not affected by corrosion caused by stack gas components.
Relative to the lack of stacks is the novel configuration of her island structure. Without the requirement to build around the usual stacks, Enterprise was able to use a square island to accommodate the Hughes SPS-32 and 33 fixed-array radar antenna systems. With this equipment we gain a greater capability in rate of scanning. This helps considerably in the detection and tracking of airborne targets and also increases our range. Additionally, the fixed antenna systems are not subject to the maintenance or reliability difficulties of the rotating radar antennas.
In the vital matter of catapulting aircraft, the reactors, as the source of steam, provide this ship a potential advantage which is not currently realizable. The advantage derives from the ability of a reactor to produce heat much more rapidly than can an oil-fired boiler. All naval reactors possess a design characteristic known as negative temperature coefficient, which means that as heat is drawn off for steam production, the reactor tends to speed up its fission process to produce more heat. This heat generation process takes place in microseconds, much faster than in a conventional boiler. At present, catapult interval is governed by aircraft spotting time, rather than by steam generation or recovery time. When nose wheel spotting becomes operational, steam generation or recovery in the catapult receivers will become governing, and we can then capitalize on our capability to reduce our catapulting interval below that of other carriers.
The training of personnel for Enterprise was intensive, and training continues at a fast pace to insure retention of knowledge, as well as to expand our skills in operating our many complex systems. The naval nuclear propulsion training program places stress on operator knowledge and operator vigilance. In knowing their systems completely, our operators are able to recognize and avoid dangerous situations by proper handling of the controls available to them. This increases the safety and reliability of the equipment, to say nothing of the beneficial effect on the peace of mind of all aboard.
The commanding officer, executive officer, and all officers and men who operate the reactors are not only given practical training at the prototypes, but prior to that they are given an extensive course of theoretical study in reactor physics and other technical subjects which will support their future training.
I consider myself indeed fortunate to have had the one year of training in naval reactors under Admiral Rickover. All commanding officers and executive officers of nuclear ships need this intimate knowledge of the plant including reactor safeguards, plant control, water chemistry, and radiological controls. These things are necessary to proper command functions in a nuclear ship, not only while operating in home port but also in any other U. S. or foreign ports. Had I not been provided this training when I was, I fear I should never have had the time nor opportunity after reporting to the ship to have gained a fraction of the knowledge I had at the time I reported for duty.
Enterprise is opening a new era in naval history. The mission she is to serve was eloquently expressed by Admiral Arleigh A. Burke at her christening when he said, “This new Enterprise is a mighty symbol of our determination to preserve liberty and justice and a clear indication of our ability to do so.”