NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier is closer to being operational.
Currently, the USS Gerald R. Ford is currently out at a sea completing its post-delivery test and trials. The Ford, which is the first of its class, is 94% complete with intense testing and training to make sure its deployment-ready.
“What we’re doing out here is super important,” said Capt. Paul Lanzilotta, who is the commanding officer of the Ford.
Since January 2020, the aircraft carrier has gone through numerous testings and certifications.
“A lot of nations build ships around the world,” Lanzilotta said. “Not many put their ships through the rigor of tests and evaluations like we do. That’s how we’ve won wars in the past with strenuous testing.”
By being the first of its class, the Ford is different from previous carrier classes from the layout to the new technological advances.
There’s an integrated island, which is pushed further back than the Nimitz class carriers and has more deck space. The Ford also has a new propulsion/electric plant with Plasma Arc Waste Destruction System that is more environmentally friendly.
A day’s worth of waste can be turned into 10 pounds of ash.
The ship also includes enhanced ship self-defense and makes it easier to determine incoming threats, according to Lanzilotta.
Lanzilotta says that many of the changes are things that aren’t noticeable such as the change from steam catapults to electromagenetic catapults.
Steam catapults require more maintenance. Lanzilotta says that after flight operations, crews working with steam catapults would usually take two to three hours to prepare for the next day.
“On our ship, our sailors put it [electromagnetic catapults] in a standby mode, get a bite to eat and go to sleep. Those are hard-to-measure benefits but they’re huge. Just from operability, we’re shuttling ships left to right,” he said about the efficiency of the catapults.
Lanzilotta says the Ford also requires less manpower for the ship but there’s still a lot of learning to be done on board. Crews from all East Coast-based carrier strike groups are all onboard learning about the next-generation ship.
“All of the other ships are in maintenance or in build. Walking around, you’ll see a lot of those sailors walking around. The best way to learn in the U.S. Navy, in my opinion, is hands-on and out at sea,” he said.
Lanzilotta says having so many crews helps them diversify the opinion of thought onboard.
“They’ve seen things different. We can avoid that age-old thing where you hear ‘This is the way we’ve always done it.’ Frankly, that’s not a thing here because we’re learning. We’re teaming with diverse aspects,” he said.
Lt. Michael Thorsen, from VFA-122 based out of NAS Lemoore, is one of those visiting.
“It’s my first time on the Ford and it’s been great. Everyone from the CO down has been gracious hosting us to conduct CQ [carrier qualifications]. It’s been good,” he said.
The VFA-122 is the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet replacement squadron.
“We train the next generation of F18 pilots to go out to the fleet to replace the guys going out to the fleet tours,” Thorsen said.
Thorsen also said there were a few changes on the Ford class including the electromagnetic catapults. However, it’s the use of “Precision Landing Mode” that sticks out the most.
The software takes a lot of the workload off pilots and makes it easier to land, according to Thorsen.
“It’s a pretty awesome piece of tech. It incorporates flight control as well as autothrottles to make landing on an aircraft carrier a lot easier,” he said.
The testing of the Ford will continue until the middle of the year when the Ford is expected to undergo shock trials, where bombs will be detonated near the Ford to test its operability.
“It’s going to be exciting. We’re going to make history. It hasn’t been done in 35 years since the Theodore Roosevelt in the 1980s,” said Lanzilotta.
He’s not the only one excited about the Ford.
ABH1 Christopher Houy is, too.
“I’m not going to lie. I was pretty excited,” he said about getting assigned to the carrier. “It’s a big deal to be a part of history, to be a part of something new. It’s the first of its kind to come here and lead junior sailors and teach them the things of how to go about the Ford is a big deal. I like it a lot.”
Houy previously served aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and deployed three times with the carrier.
“It had a lot of differences between this and the Ford. After being stationed on here for two years, there’s a lot that will help it go smoother and faster. The Ford for me is 10 out of 10. I love it,” he said.
After the shock trials, the Ford will go back to the shipyard for maintenance and modernization, according to the commanding officers.