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USS Gerald R. Ford prepares to begin flight deck certification

An EA-18G Growler, assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, prepares to land aboard USS Gerald R. Ford's (CVN 78) flight deck. Ford is currently conducting Aircraft Compatibility Testing to further test its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ruben Reed)
March 04, 2020

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is poised to log major milestones this month, when Carrier Strike Group Twelve (CSG-12) assumes operational control of the first ship of the Navy’s newest class of aircraft carrier and the ship begins flight deck certification off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia.

“I appreciate the diligence and speed that are being applied by all hands to ‘Make FORD Ready,’” said Acting Secretary of Navy Thomas B. Modly. “The updates I received at last week’s Ford Summit demonstrate the commitment of our people to accelerating our progress in the right direction. To help us proceed expeditiously I look forward to bringing on the first FORD carrier strike group commander that will bring us into future operations and set the standard for the class.”

On March 2, CSG-12, under the command of Rear Adm. Michael E. Boyle, assumed operational control of Gerald R. Ford.  The Norfolk-based CSG had previously operated aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), which set a 290-day record for a carrier strike group deployment.

“We’re extremely excited to have Gerald R. Ford join Carrier Strike Group twelve as she prepares for Flight Deck Certification this month, an important milestone on her way to becoming a fully operational aircraft carrier,” said Boyle. “I know the ship has already achieved many milestones during her Post Delivery Test and Trials, and I believe Ford’s leadership and support system will continue that forward progress.”

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As part of “Make FORD Ready” initiative, Secretary Modly convened the Gerald R. Ford’s second summit Feb. 26, to continue harnessing the collective expertise of senior Navy and shipbuilding industry leaders to transition CVN 78 into Fleet operations as quickly and effectively as possible.  The summit showcased a number of achievements.

Entering the fourth month of an 18-month Post Delivery Test and Trials (PDT&T) period, the ship has performed extremely well while under way for 54 of 110 days, since completion of its Post-Shakedown Availability in October 2019, conducting exercises and testing installed shipboard systems at sea as well as pier-side at Naval Station Norfolk.

CVN 78 completed Aircraft Compatibility Testing (ACT) on January 31, following 16 days under way, during which the crew launched and recovered 211 aircraft, testing five different airframes and employing first generation, state-of-the-art flight deck systems. The testing phase included Gerald R. Ford’s first-ever underway catapult launches and arrested landings for several aircraft types, including C-2A Greyhounds, E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, and T-45C Goshawks.

The total count for launches and recoveries since CVN 78’s delivery is now 958, along with another 147 aircraft “touch and goes.”  All of the aircraft types expected to make first deployment are now certified to conduct flight operations on board the ship.

During the first significant in-port period, known as a Window of Opportunity, CVN 78 performed at 135% of plan, completing 1,620 work items against a plan of 1,194.  The ship is on track to accomplish the next significant milestone of Flight Deck Certification later this month, and upon completion, will serve as the primary Carrier Qualification CVN on the East Coast, generating readiness for naval aviation in the form of newly qualified student aviators and re-qualified fleet pilots.

Final construction of the ship’s Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWEs) is also progressing.  The four elevators previously turned over to the crew continue to perform well, with Sailors conducting more than 7,000 cycles.  Lower Stage Elevator #5, which provides aft magazine access, has progressed into final testing and is on track to turn over in April.  Lower Stage Elevator #1, which provides forward magazine access, is on track to turn over in the fourth quarter of Fiscal Year 2020.  The remaining five elevators are on track to be turned over by Full Ship Shock Trials, scheduled for Fiscal Year 2021.

In May, Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW) 8 will embark Gerald R. Ford and begin conducting cyclic flight operations. This will include the first end-to-end movement, loading, and launch of inert ordnance from the ship’s aft weapons magazine to an F/A-18 on the flight deck.  Eight of the remaining nine at-sea periods will involve flight operations and carrier qualification events, which, when completed, will add significant operational readiness to the Fleet.

“I’m optimistic that testing will be completed as planned,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chabonnie Alexander, Ford’s Ordnance Handling Officer. “Of course there will be unknowns, but that is exactly what testing is designed to do—correct the unknowns before certification.”

“NNS [Newport News Shipbuilding] is working as hard as they can to deliver the remaining elevators in the most efficient timeline possible,” said Ford’s Commanding Officer, Capt. John J. Cummings. “These lower stage elevators are critical to our lethality in that they will allow our crew to move ordnance between the lower levels and the main deck.  I am confident NNS has worked through initial technology concerns and will deliver the lower stage elevators as soon as possible.”