Refueling and Overhaul Starts on the USS Lincoln

For Newport News Shipbuilding and its various subcontractors and parts suppliers, the arrival of the USS Abraham Lincoln in Dry Dock 11 was a time to breathe a quick sigh of relief and then to get back to work.

A contract to cover the aircraft carrier’s midlife refueling and complex overhaul, and funding for a string of other carrier projects, were up in the air as Congress negotiated a last-minute spending bill to keep government running through the end of the 2013 fiscal year.

“I’m responsible for securing a budget and I have to have that by the middle of April,” said Ken Ketterman, who runs Hampton Rubber, a supplier of ship repair parts including the rubber fuel hoses used to drain radioactive water off aircraft carriers.

“I was just totally lost as what to tell my owners in terms of expenses, salaries, employees, inventory because all of that hinges on what contracts are (secured by the shipyard),” Ketterman said Monday. “We’ve got 56 employees here and I didn’t know to tell them if they can buy that new car or pay the bill to send their kid to college with this stuff hanging over our heads.”

Ketterman said the news last week that Congress and the White House approved money for carrier projects including the Lincoln, the defueling and scrapping of the USS Enterprise and the new construction of the John F. Kennedy “couldn’t have come at a better time” for his company, which gets about 60 percent of its revenues through Navy work.

“Now we can get our jobs done for the next three or four years,” he said.

Shipyard and Navy officials spoke of high spirits among Sailors and shipbuilders alike at a news conference in front of the Lincoln Monday.

“We had a chance on Friday after we docked the ship to walk around and talk to a lot of Sailors and shipyard workers, and everybody to a person is very happy to be here,” said Capt. Karl O. Thomas, the ship’s commanding officer.

“We’d been waiting for this day to get started,” Thomas added.

That wait was about six weeks longer than the Navy and the shipyard would have liked as a result of the funding uncertainty.

Sailors and shipbuilders did what they could to prep the ship at Naval Station Norfolk in the meantime.

A top shipyard official said Monday that that hiccup was not significant enough to drive up the price of the overhaul, which was set at $2.6 billion Friday.

“Based on that work (in Norfolk) we plan to make budget … which was the plan from the beginning,” said Chris Miner, the shipyard’s vice president for in-service aircraft carrier programs.

Miner described some of the first big steps on the overhaul in an interview with the Daily Press after the conference.

“We’ll start working very quickly to get to the point where we can take off the old main mast, and then we’ll be cutting holes in the flight deck to pull out the arresting gear engines, which are used to catch the planes,” Miner said

Those five engines take about a y out on time.”

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