Ford’s Structure Is Complete After Newport News Shipbuilding Lifts Last Flight Deck Section

(NEWPORT NEWS DAILY PRESS 08 MAY 13) … Michael Welles Shapiro

If the hull of the Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier is a massive jigsaw puzzle – a metaphor sometimes employed by its shipbuilders – then the forward end of the catapult is like a corner piece.

On Tuesday, a crane operator at Newport News Shipbuilding, the nation’s largest shipyard, hoisted in to place the forward end – a 66-metric-ton, 75-foot-long steel section. The process finishes both the Ford’s flight deck and it’s hull, making the carrier structurally complete, marking the end of a three-year process that started with the flat top’s keel laying on Nov. 14, 2009.

The ship is on pace for delivery in early 2016, according to Rolf Bartschi, vice president for construction of the Ford, who was on hand for the carrier’s last of 162 so-called “superlifts.” He was joined by a handful of shipyard executives as well as blue collar employees who assembled the module.

“I’ve been working here 37 years and (the Ford’s) built a little different because it’s bigger units but it still fits together like a puzzle,” said Michael Bonelli, 58, a welding supervisor who has previously worked on Nimitz-class carriers.

Bartschi spoke to a crowd of reporters about the pride shipbuilders take when they see the Ford coming together.

He said a “next step” for employees will be “building out the catapult troughs.”

The Ford will have next-generation electromagnetic catapults to launch aircraft off its flight deck, replacing the steam-powered system on the Nimitz-class ships.

Other “next steps” have already started on the Ford.

Matt Mulherin, the shipyard’s president, noted that workers have started to paint the side of the Ford that was not viewable during a media event for the superlift.

Mulherin also explained to a reporter the reasoning behind a change in launch date for the Ford from July to November that was first reported by the Daily Press on Monday.

He said the schedule adjustment should make for a better final product.

“Could we launch it (in July)? Yes,” he said, but should we launch it?”

Answering his own question, he added, that “the Navy said let’s move that launch date and have a better finish.”,0,7213743.story

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