Carrier Ford Test Program on Track Despite COVID-19


A fifth weapons elevator is certified

By Christopher P. Cavas

WASHINGTON – Test and development efforts for the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) remain on track despite the Covid-19 virus outbreak, the Navy’s chief official for carriers said, while a fifth advanced weapons elevator (AWE) – and first “lower stage” elevator – has been certified, allowing access to the ship’s after weapons magazines.

“We now have the capability to move ordnance from the aft magazine complex deep in the ship through the carrier to the flight deck with a speed and agility that has never been seen before on any warship in any fleet,” Rear Adm. James Downey, Program Executive Officer Carriers, told reporters April 22. 

“Ford is on schedule from [the post-shakedown availability overhaul that ended in October], hitting those schedule requirements and milestones,” Downey said. “The weapons elevators are on schedule and on track to support full ship shock trials in 2021.” He credited “the teaming between the Navy and industry to work these elevators both in port and underway while Ford conducts her training and various missions” to keeping the schedule on track, despite impacts on daily life from the virus. 

Visitors to the Ford go through a virus screening period of about two weeks, Downey said, during which they’re checked for any signs of covid-19 and interviewed about where they’ve been. 

“This has a significant level of attention,” he said. “We watch impacts to the screening, how many people we can get aboard in an hour. We actually begin screening shipyard workers as early as 0400 to make sure we have the crew on board at the start of the workday,” adding that, “we’ve also pushed folks into later shifts to have more separation in the elevator working group.”

Downey noted the carrier “is in month six of an 18-month post-delivery test and trials (PDT&T) period. Over those 18 months she’s at sea for a month then in port for a month. During these six months she’s been in port 80 days, out at sea about 90.” 

The carrier’s crew completed aircraft compatibility testing in January, Downey noted, with test pilots qualifying all the various airframes that will operate from the ship. The Ford moved into flight deck certification in March, then performed carrier qualifications for 97 pilots during the month, including current fleet pilots who needed requalifying and student pilots.

“Total launches and recoveries are now at 2,310,” Downey said. “She’s preparing to embark [the staff of] Carrier Strike Group 12 and Carrier Air Wing 8 in May for cyclic flight operations. That will mark the first end-to-end movement of weapons from the lowest levels of the magazines to the flight deck, then on to aircraft and launching and recovering the aircraft. That will continue into next year.”

With Lower-Stage Weapons Elevator 5 now certified for operations between the lower aft magazine and the hangar deck, work has moved to LSWE 1, connecting the forward magazine. Downey said he expected the work to be completed this summer and the elevator will be certified for operation by the end of September. 

Three upper-stage elevators and one auxiliary elevator that run from handling rooms on the hangar deck to the flight deck already have been certified. With the certification of LSWE 5 the full cycle of weapons movement in the ship can now be practiced – from the lower magazines to hangar deck handling areas to the flight deck to loading aboard aircraft. 

“We’ll work with the flight deck crew making sure they understand how to work the aircraft, making sure there’s no impact on the EMALS [electromagnetic aircraft launch system] and AAG [advanced arresting gear],” Downey said, adding the crew will now be able to practice removing weapons from aircraft and returning them to the magazines.

The Ford conducted its first vertical replenishment [VERTREP] at sea on March 24 with the oiler Joshua Humphreys, using helicopters to transfer supplies aboard. 

“We’ve done some pretty significant VERTREPs of all sorts of supplies – food, repair parts. A lot of progress there,” Downey said, adding that the Ford has carried out a number of underway replenishments at sea from supply ships alongside.

The ship has been at Norfolk Naval Base for most of April and carried out a series of inclining experiments on April 16 to determine the ship’s center of gravity and stability characteristics. She’s expected to return to sea this month to continue the test and development program,


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