Gerald R. Ford Build Sequence: Keel-laying to Launch in Under Two Minutes [VIDEO]

Here is a three-dimensional rendering of Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) supercarrier’s build sequence, from keel-laying to launch.

Ever wonder why an aircraft carrier takes so long to build?

Aircraft carriers, and warships in general, are about as complicated as the CPU in your computer, and the Gerald R. Ford, currently under construction at Huntington Ingalls Shipyard, is certainly no exception.  She’s literally been under some form of construction since 2007, and will be the first new class of US aircraft carrier since USS Nimitz was commissioned in May, 1975.

In an effort to increase the efficiency of the $9 billion design/build process for this ship, Huntington Ingalls utilized the latest and most advanced computer tool capabilities and functionalities for visual integration in design, engineering, planning and construction.

Every piece of this ridiculous puzzle (Over 3 million pieces to be exact) was created in full-scale a 3-D model, so technically, the ship has been completed since 2009… at least in the virtual world.  In the real world, at any given time hundreds of designers, engineers, planners and construction representatives were in the model designing, creating and planning every feature of the ship.

Huntington Ingalls notes that the Ford’s data set comprises of 2 terabytes, or 2,000 gigabytes of data.

Part of the design build process is to validate requirements and ensure ship specifications are met, including access, passage, repair, take-downs, removals of components and safe working areas. For the Ford-class, Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding considered sailors with heights in the 95th percentile male to the 5th percentile female, ensuring all operations can be performed without restriction of human size.

3D modelling gerald r. ford class carrier
Working on the 3-D model. Image courtesy Huntington Ingalls

Consideration of emergency crew wearing various apparatus and the capability of routing injured personnel through the ship also was considered. All these design challenges along with working to maintain the shortest and optimal routes for distributive systems tested the capabilities of the 3-D visualization tools.

At first glance, the Ford hull design may look similar to the Nimitz, however this new ship is brimming with the latest 21st century technology.

Flight deck changes

Flight deck: The island is smaller and moved farther aft than on Nimitz class so there is more area for airplane maintenance and flight deck operations will be faster and safer due to better space utilization

Weapons Elevator: Elevators use moving electromagnetic fields instead of cabling, which allows elevator shaft to use horizontal doors to close off magazines. This reduces manning and maintenance costs.

Flexible Infrastructure: Flexible infrastructure architecture that allows spaces to be adaptable to rapid changes without the use of “hot work.” It eases compartment reconfiguration to support changing missions, maximizes time for technology development prior to equipment installation, and eliminates cost and schedule impacts associated with the traditional conflicts from re-work.

Advanced Arresting Gear: Recovers current and future aircraft, is lighter than the legacy system, software controls, reduce manning.

New technologies

Among the new technologies in the Ford-class are:

  • Multifunction radar and volume search radar: Comprised of the SPY-3 X-band MFR (multi function radar), and S-Band VSR (volume search radar), integrates two radars operating on different frequency bands
emals catapult
The electromagnetic catapult system increases efficiency by removing the old steam-powered catapults. Image: HII

Improved efficiency

With the Ford-class, the Navy has made capital investments to reduce cost and maintenance over the carrier’s life span — that’s $5B in total ownership cost savings over the 50-year life of the ship. The improved design of the carrier allows for more efficient operations and requires fewer sailors to man. Among the efficiencies are:

  • Steam to electric transition: No catapult steam, no service steam and no steam turbine driven auxiliaries.
  • Fewer overall components: A third to a half as many valves, elimination of 70 sea chests, three vs. four aircraft elevators, one vs. two hangar bays.
  • Extended drydocking interval: the Ford-class is designed for 12 year intervals
  • Improved shipwide air conditioning: Provides lower moisture and dirt levels
  • LED Battle Lanterns: The LED light source will be life of ship and the lower power demand will greatly extend lanterns run time per battery. In the Nimitz class, the current bulb has a 100-hour life.
  • Electric Water Heaters: Moving away from steam heating for hot potable water will lower the maintenance load and will reduce ships weight by eliminating a piping network that covered the entire ship.
  • Better shipboard lighting: High efficiency fluorescent T-8 lighting will be utilized throughout Ford-class ships. The T-8 light produces more light than the legacy T-12 with reduced energy consumption — each bulb will last almost twice as long as the previous lighting system.

Ford-class carriers can be operated with 800 fewer billets than the Nimitz class of carriers.

General Characteristics, Gerald R. Ford class
Huntington Ingalls Industries, Newport News, Va.
Propulsion: Two nuclear reactors, four shafts
Length: 1,092 feet
Beam: 134 feet, Fligt Deck Width: 256 feet.
Displacement: approximately 100,000 long tons full load.
Speed: 30+ knots (34.5 miles per hour)
Crew: 4,660 (ship, air wing and staff).
Armament: Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, Rolling Airframe Missile, CIWS.
Aircraft: 75+.