Sharr Khan said:
That's interesting, seems to undermine GR's own statements to the contrary on the matter... which I find mmm ironic - of course GR disowned the animated series - I'm pretty indifferent about it myself found much of it fun and cheesy even but fun nonetheless.
"I was there in the San Francisco Navy Yards when her unit components were built."
-Commodore Robert April, The Counter Clock Incident
Bits of the animated series have found there way into "canon" in one form or another at times. I chock this up to being one of those times. Wonder if April's words will find their way into the movie in some form? I can see Pike maybe alluding to this in some way.
Well, he does say "unit components," which can be interpreted as parts of it were built on land, while as has been discussed to death above, the final assemblies and the fitting out were done in space.
As far as atmospheric flight goes, Christopher's F-104 tops out at about 75,000 feet. So the Enterprise was quite low in the atmosphere, but obviously not so low that it couldn't escape.
I'm racking my brain, but isn't the bird of prey in TSFS and TVH the first true starship we see in controlled flight deep in the atmosphere? So apparently flying a starship around the sky CAN be done. At least with that particular ship.