Inside look: USS Gerald R Ford post-delivery test and trials


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The USS Gerald R. Ford has had a very busy 2020. Earlier this year, WAVY news reported their work on aircraft compatibility testing with launches and recoveries.

10 On Your Side’s Tamara Scott went back on the aircraft carrier this week to get insight on their post-delivery testing and trials as they prepare for future deployment.

With 4,000 sailors onboard and 35 aircraft, the USS Gerald R. Ford is in the second half of its testing and trial period.

They can do aircraft recoveries every 55 seconds and they’ve logged more than 5,200 launches and recoveries, but the exercised flight deck is only part of the work being done on the vessel.

“We are actually conducting integrated carrier strike group operations,” said Rear Adm. Craig Clapperton.

10 On Your Side was given a tour of what their day-to-day training looks like testing combat systems and certifying fuel and aircraft systems.

It’s a process all first-class ships must undergo to meet operational requirements.

“We are doing everything from combat search and rescue, air defense exercises, straight transit exercises. We are doing transit through restricted waters, being attacked by adversaries’ small boats — how would we defend ourselves? How do we command and control those operations?” explained Clapperton.

This also includes testing new technology that helps with everyday operations. That technology includes improved weapons and material handling, enhanced ship self-defense equipment, an enhanced flight deck and certified weapons elevators.

“Sometimes people say it’s in maintenance phase. So, it’s really not even in maintenance phase. It’s in a test and trial phase, but we are actually doing missions that this carrier and this strike group would be doing if we were actually in a workup phase for one deployment,” he said.

They are doing all of this testing while embracing changes COVID-19 has brought.

“Those protocols, the random testing, everybody wears a mask all the time and we do the physical separation throughout. And you’ll notice as you walk throughout the ship, sailors are either doing work that they have to do or they are separated, isolated from the rest of the crew,” said Rear Adm. John Meier.

Clapperton said the intense training and trials period is crucial for ensuring the overall deployment readiness, but it also instills pride in the crew.

“Some of these sailors’ grandchildren will be serving on Ford-class carriers and they are the ones who are setting the foundation for what is really the future of the Navy and how the naval aviation operates,” said Clapperton.

Ford is serving as the only aircraft carrier regularly available on the East Coast to conduct carrier qualifications for fleet replacement squadron pilots (FRS) and student naval aviators.

To date, Ford has qualified 75 SNAs and 126 FRS pilots.

The Ford is 70% done with their testing and trials and are scheduled to continue through mid-2021.

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