— Robert Johnson
The United States is building its next generation of aircraft carrier, the FORD-class carriers. The U.S. Navy gave us access to photograph construction of the USS Gerald R. Ford at Newport News Shipbuilding, Virgina.
The numbers behind the USS Gerald R. Ford are impressive; about $14 billion in total cost, 224 million pounds, about 25 stories high, 1,106 feet long and 250 feet wide. But the sheer enormity of the ship and construction operation is hard to grasp until you’re nearly face-to-metal with the massive military beast.
At Newport News Shipbuilding the power of new technology and 100 years of carrier design is built into every facet of the new ship. The Ford will handle up to 220 takeoffs and landings from its deck every day. Part of that quick turnaround is because when aircraft like the new F-35 return for maintenance, the plane’s network will already have alerted ground crews to what’s needed so they can get the aircraft on its way faster than ever before.
This bow alone is more than three stories tall and weighs 116,000 pounds.
Even with the extra fuel and weapons needed to keep that pace, the Ford is equipped to remain at sea without replenishment for months at a time.
When the Ford finally hits the water in a few years, it will look less like something from “Waterworld” and more like something from the future.
For the first time the Navy will have no urinals on this carrier. Gender neutral toilets mean berthing can be swapped between male and female without concern and one unit means fewer spare parts and repair. The Navy is requesting larger pipes for the Ford to prevent blockage and unpleasant smells, which are common issues on carriers.
That increased rate comes in part from replacing the steam-generated catapult systems like those on the USS Abraham Lincoln shown here, with an electromagnetic system that’s more efficient and gentler on the multi-million-dollar jets.
Before the FORD-class carriers, Newport News Shipbuilding needed to construct mock-ups of many ship sections to see how it would integrate in construction. Now they use 3D design technology. The 3D system also allows engineers to assemble the ship in modules. These modules can be exchanged and modified over the carrier’s lifetime.
Newport News Shipbuilding has learned a lot about building carriers over the years, like the wisdom of leaving the paint job until the ship is finished. This is done to save on repainting over welds and stresses caused during construction.
Criticism of the new carrier, which may be the last of the “Big” carriers now that drones are replacing manned aircraft, has been swift and harsh. Facing a longer timeline for completion and burgeoning costs, Newport News Shipbuilding construction director Geoff Hummel says, “Problems are something we think about every day.”
A carrier’s effectiveness isn’t judged by its plumbing, but by its ability to deliver lethal military force from these 4.5 acres of sovereign US territory. That lethality comes in many forms — like the weapons aboard the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The new FORD-class aircraft carrier will be the largest, most lethal ship ever when it joins the US fleet in 2016.
Moving the island house (the control tower) back further on the ship will accommodate an increased launch rate for the 75+ planes that will live aboard the carrier. The Ford will be capable of launching and receiving up to 220 planes a day.
The scope of the ship’s construction is hard to fathom, but that chain is made up of links weighing 360-pounds each.
The paint applied to the Ford actually isn’t paint, but a “high solids coating” that lasts longer and doesn’t break down as quickly.
With its nuclear power plant and extraordinary size, the Ford is manufactured only here at Newport News Shipbuilding, Va., using “Big Blue” — the largest crane in the Western Hemisphere — towering 235 feet above the shipyard.
George has been hosting review sites and blogging about toy collectibles, travel, digital photography and Nikon digital imaging since 1998. His first model kit build was a Testors 1/35 DODGE WC-54 in 1984.