Upon entering formal service, the Ford is expected to replace the aged USS Enterprise (CVN-65) carrier - the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier anywhere in the world. The Enterprise herself was commissioned in 1961 with six of her class having been planned and, as fate would have it, became the one vessel of the class to be completed. Upon her retirement, she will end some 54 years of active service with the USN. Newport News Shipbuilding (Northrop Grumman) became the contracting activity for the USS Gerald Ford's construction in July of 2003 with follow up contracts granted in 2004 and 2008 with the project ranging in the billions of dollars (the Ford alone is tagged at an estimated $11.5 billion). Her keel was laid down on November 13th, 2009. The USS Gerald Ford was afforded her namesake after former US President Gerald Ford, who passed away in 2006. Mr. Ford served with the US Navy during World War 2 as an officer on the aircraft carrier USS Monterey (CVL-26).
Outwardly, the Gerald Ford-class of ships will sport a design look akin to the existing Nimitz-class aircraft carriers with a few notable exceptions. The flight deck will make up most of the ship's surface area and there will still be four launch positions (two at the bow and two at the portside amidships). The angled retrieval deck will also be retained, running from the stern to the portside. However, the key difference in the Gerald Ford-class will be the relocation of the island superstructure to a more aft position along the starboard side. This will result in the relocation of the aft starboard side hangar elevator closer to amidships. This hanger will be further joined by a second starboard side hangar elevator as well as a single portside hangar elevator (Nimitz-class carriers make use of four such hangars - three to starboard and one to port). The new configuration is said to make for higher mission turnaround than in previous American carriers based on decades of operational experience. In all, the class will be able to consistently launch at least two aircraft simultaneously while retrieving one during full combat operations. The hull will follow traditional design contouring though a greater emphasis will be placed on making the vessel more "stealthy" - this initiative consistent with other new-generation US Navy warships such as the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) advanced destroyer. Her displacement will be in the range of 100,000 to 112,000 tons when completed and promote an overall running length of 1,092 feet with a beam equal to 134 feet.
The flight deck is constructed with the island (or flight command center) some 140 farther aft and three feet outboard, shorter and 20 feet taller than previous American carrier designs. This new design allows the Ford-class carrier to have a 25% increase in flight missions per day compared with the previous Nimitz class carriers - and this also with fewer crew members. The ship has required 10 million feet of electric cable and 4 million feet of fiber optic cable. To support the crew and ship's needs she has the capacity to produce 400,000 gallons of fresh water daily and the kitchen can supply 15,000 meals a day.
The conventional steam catapults used for launching aircraft found on other American carriers will give way to a new General Atomics-developed "Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System" (EMALS) that relies on a linear drive motor to achieve maximum acceleration. EMALS will promote lower maintenance requirements and lower stress levels - the latter on aircraft and flight deck alike. On the other side of the flight deck, arrestor gear technology (AAG = Advanced Arrestor Gear) used to "reel in" incoming aircraft will be further improved upon over that of current level technology. The Ford-class will also make use of additional facilities that will overtake traditional crew roles, thusly reducing the number of specialized personnel required on board. Her total crew is expected to top 4,660 personnel including the required air wing. Comparatively, the Nimitz-class of fighting ships requires some 5,600 personnel to manage her various facilities and accompanying air wing.
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