A rare look at three carriers at Newport News Shipbuilding
The Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) sits in the graving dock at Newport News Shipbuilding, awaiting her Nov. 9 christening ceremony.
It’s not every decade that a new aircraft carrier design comes along. But now, for the first time since the early 1970s, the first of a new class of nuclear-powered behemoths is being revealed to the public along the shores of the James River in Virginia.
The Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is rising in a giant graving dock at the northwest end of the sprawling shipyard of Newport News Shipbuilding. Officially under construction since November 2009, the work to build the 1,092-fo0t-long ship has actually been going on for more than a decade. Hiding under scaffolding, covered in anti-rust primer, the Ford has just received a new coat of paint, part of the preparations for her public debut on Nov. 9, when ship’s sponsor Susan Ford Bales, daughter of the 38th U.S. president, will formally christen the ship.
Water was let into the dock to float the Ford for the first time on Oct. 11. She’s not yet officially launched — that won’t technically take place until after the christening ceremony when the ship is moved out of the dock to a fitting-out berth in the shipyard. The Ford isn’t anywhere near complete yet, either — the ship is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in early 2016, and it will be some time after that before the ship is declared operational and ready to deploy.
Defense News was given a look at the ship on Oct. 22. While the outside of the hull is freshly painted, inside the Ford is swarming with a couple thousand shipbuilders. Staging and scaffolding abound in the hangar deck and around the ship’s island superstructure, and the flight deck is covered with temporary structures.
Elsewhere in the yard the Nimitz-class carrier Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) is half a year into a three-and-a-half-year refueling overhaul, which will also see most of the ship torn apart and refurbished. At the opposite end of the yard, the Enterprise (CVN 65), inactivated last December, is undergoing dismantlement. Built at Newport News and delivered in October 1961, the ship’s reactors are being defueled and and much equipment is being removed.
Newport News Shipbuilding, part of Huntington Ingalls Industries, is the only US shipyard capable of building a full-sized, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
We photographed each of the three carriers during our visit. Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by Christopher P. Cavas.
GERALD R. FORD (CVN 78)
The Ford sits in the graving dock at the northwest end of the Newport News Shipbuilding shipyard. The dock, big enough to hold two carriers, was originally built to construct commercial tankers, a business the yard no longer handles.
Shipyard employees in lifevests are working on a barge just ahead of the ship, erecting the staging from where ship’s sponsor Susan Ford Bales will christen the carrier on Nov. 9.
On the flight deck, protective sheds cover three of the four electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) catapults, an new technology that will appear for the first time on the Ford-class carriers.
The forward section of the Ford features a large underwater bulbous bow – a feature similar to that fitted on the last two carriers of the preceding Nimitz class. But the Ford also shows a pronounced inward knuckle at the level of the hangar deck – a feature, according to program officials, intended to reduce costs by making the hull simpler to construct.
A closer view of the bow. The projecting structure at right will hold defensive weapons systems.
A glimpse into the hangar deck through the port elevator, which is in the raised position. Note the extensive staging below the hangar overhead (ceiling) to allow work to continue.
A view up the port side from right aft. The stern configuration is noticeably different from the Nimitz class. The flight deck is much larger aft on both sides to compensate for the island structure being placed further aft, resulting in enormous overhangs on both sides.
The ship’s stern still features the boat stages familiar to generations of carrier sailors.
Wooden scaffolding abounds in the after portion of the ship as work continues.
The ship’s vast aircraft hangar stretches in the distance. In this view looking forward, the port elevator is at left.
Another view forward in the hangar deck. The opening for the No. 1 deck elevator is at far right.
Scaffolding and sheeting cover the ship’s island superstructure, where the fifth of six panels of the dual-band radar was being installed. The navigation bridge windows are above the dark green sheeting, with primary flight control (PriFly) a deck higher at right.
The shipyard plans to remove the sheeting in time for the ship’s christening ceremony on Nov. 9.
The navigating bridge, on the 08 level, is considerably smaller than the bridge on Nimitz-class carriers.
The view looking out the navigating bridge. Both starboard elevators are lowered, and protective sheds cover EMALS catapults 1 and 2.
A tighter view of the forward flight deck, showing the sheds over catapults 1 and 2. The cats are numbered right to left, starboard to port.
Brick- and green-colored subsections of the John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), the next ship in the class, already are being fabricated and stored in the shipyard. Erection of the Kennedy will begin once the Ford is moved out of the graving dock.
The view on the flight deck looking back at the island. The shallow trough in the deck at right will hold the jet blast doors behind the No. 2 catapult.
The trough that will hold the No. 3 EMALS catapult.
Looking aft at the ship’s No. 2 aircraft elevator.
Staging is in the hangar, at right, to allow workers access to the overhead.
When complete, the Ford is expected to serve for 50 years. It’s likely that some future commanding officers have yet to be born.
USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72)
Carriers are so big they’re truly tough to photograph up close. This is the Abraham Lincoln, ensconced in Drydock 11 at Newport News for her Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH), scheduled to take 44 months. The ship arrived at the shipyard on March 28 — several weeks late due to the funding uncertainties caused by Congress’ chronic inability each year to pass a budget on time. The Lincoln’s mast has been removed and structures cover the flight deck.
Closeup of the carrier’s giant bow.
The ship’s forepeak nearly touches the end of the drydock.
Looking down to the floor of the drydock. Plastic sheeting covers most of the ship’s midbody.
Looking straight up at the overhang of the ship’s bow.
Seen just after dawn on March 28, the Lincoln arrives at the shipyard under tow from Norfolk Naval Base. The Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) is pierside, finishing up her RCOH. The Lincoln is the fifth Nimitz-class carrier to undergo the refueling process. (Huntington Ingalls Industries photograph)
USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65)
The Enterprise, one of the most celebrated ships in the fleet, lies forlornly at the southeast end of the yard, being stripped of most her fittings and having her eight nuclear reactors defueled. The ship was formally inactivated Nov. 30 last year, and a ceremony marking the occasion was held Dec. 1. She was towed to Newport News — the shipyard that built her — on June 20.
The ship’s masts were removed at Norfolk Naval Base prior to her transfer to Newport News. The island structure will not be taken off until after the Enterprise is towed to her final destination at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., an event expected to take place in 2016.
The jack still flies at the forward end of the flight deck, indicating the ENTERPRISE is still in commission. Nuclear warships are not officially decommissioned until after the reactors are fully defueled and inoperative. The gold anchor denotes a crew with superior reenlistment numbers.
The Enterprise completed her last deployment on Nov. 4, 2012.
Most of the sensors have been removed from the island superstructure. Numerous power units have been placed alongside the carrier.
There was never really a need to identify the ship with her name on the island – it was there purely out of pride. No other carrier looked like the Big E.
The deck edge was once lined with encapsulated life rafts, now all removed.
The Enterprise will be moved next year into Drydock 11 after the Lincoln is refloated.
Weapons and landing aids have been removed from the ship’s stern.
Although out of service, the Enterprise will live on a few more years before she’s finally broken up.
An aerial view of Newport News Shipbuilding on June 20, 2013, as the Enterprise (at bottom), is brought to her pier. Just above her is the Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), finishing up her refueling overhaul. She left Newport News on Aug. 25 to return to the fleet. The Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) is in Drydock 11, just past the floating drydock that juts into the James River at left. At top, behind the blue crane and to the right of the big blue gantry crane, is the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), under construction in the yard’s graving dock. (Huntington Ingalls Industries photo by John Whalen)
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New Ship News – Sub launched, Carrier prepped, LCS delivered
Topping Off a Carrier: GERALD R FORD (CVN 78) Island Landing (pictorial)
Carrier ENTERPRISE (CVN 65) leaves the Fleet, but the name lives on
If it's on, over, under or around the water, I write about it. Ships and aircraft, units, tactics, leadership, strategies, acquisition, politics, industry. In the USA and around the world.
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