As the world’s largest aircraft carrier in the world’s dominant navy, the USS Gerald R. Ford is gargantuan. The aircraft carrier took eight years to build, several more years to test, and is large enough to tower over the biggest building in plenty of large towns.Named for the 38th President of the United States, the Gerald Ford is the lead ship of the US navy. It clocks in at over 1,000ft or nearly three American football fields in length, and nearly 250 feet high. Contained in that massive space, the aircraft carrier also has a whopping 25 decks.
The massive ship, which can house over 4,500 people and carry over 75 aircraft, is powered by two nuclear reactors, and fully-loaded, weighs in at over 100,000 tonnes. That makes her the largest warship ever constructed. The total building cost is estimated at over 17 billion dollars, including 5 billion spent on research alone. After several delays it came in at 22% over the intended budget.Construction began in 2009, and was completed and finally delivered to the navy in late 2017, after the ship was formally commissioned by Donald Trump. Gerald Ford himself died during the period of construction, so while the naming was already in place, Ford was never able to see the finished product.The ship’s primary purpose, of course, is to provide a launch base for those 75 aircraft. Inside is a huge hangar, where aircraft are stored when they’re not on deck, or on missions. Inside the hangar there’s also an array of weaponry, and several massive lifts designed to move the weaponry from storage locations to the aircraft ready to be armed.
You might be familiar with videos of the intense-looking take-offs and landings that military aircraft undertake from aircraft carriers. The Gerald R Ford’s deck is the longest on offer for these daring pilots, but they still have to launch and land their jets on just under 1,100 ft of deck, all with a severe overhanging drop off into the ocean.The aircraft are controlled from a ‘bubble’ – more formally an integrated catapult control system – through which officers set up the high-paced, catapult assisted take offs. In the tower, powerful computers assist in the arrangement of aircraft on the deck.Improvements in technology mean that 25% more aircraft can be launched daily by 25% fewer crew members than would be required on the ‘Nimitz’ models of war ships that predated the Gerald Ford. In the long-term, it’s hoped that thereduced crew numbers required will help offset the high cost of the new ship.The Ford’s electromagnetic launch system also weighs less, occupies less space, and requires less maintenance than thesteam powered catapults tat predated it.
The reduced strain is expected to benefit the aircraft themselves, and technical adjustments will mean more different types of aircraft can be launched. The technology did cause some delays in construction and continue to cause issues, but had navy officers gushing.“She is truly a technological marvel,” Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert has said. “She will carry unmanned aircraft, joint strike fighters, and she will deploy lasers.” Once planes land, there are more than 40 different fuelling stations to help get them back off the deck.Officers still have access to the old way of doing things. A ‘ouija board’ model. In the Ford’s case, the sailors collect autographs of famous visitors, including Presidents, on currency, and also keep these on their ouija board.On the side of the deck, chutes are provided for offloading any weapons that might be ‘misfired’, a legacy safety measure after an incident in the 60s with a weapons failure led to a fire and over one hundred deaths aboard the USS Forrestal.Of course, the various types of aircraft aren’t the only weaponry on offer to the carrier. In order to protect its own decks, the ship features numerous Sea Sparrows, short range anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons. The ship also features RAM weapons, lightweight surface to air options that can be moved around the deck.The broader control centre is, of course, the bridge, from which the twin nuclear engines can be used to power the massive ship to speeds of over 30 knots.
As you can probably imagine, at 100,000 tonnes, it takes quite a while to stop.While the core functions of the ship are usually controlled digitally, there is an actual physical steering wheel as a back up. Both paper and digital systems are used to navigate, but the touch-screen set up is said to almost drive itself.In fact, the changes from previous ships are so substantial that in the early days of testing, the Ford’s crew reported that they were essentially working out guidelines for how to sail as they worked.Carrying the slogan “integrity at the helm,” the Gerald R Ford naturally features a lot of military hardware, but the ship is also designed to provide a modest level of comfort for the thousands of people whomight call it home for extended periods.The Ford is a modern carrier, however, and so has gender neutral toilets. While most of those on board are typically men, that means no urinals on the whole ship. The reasoning, though, is not political, but practical.”This is designed to give the ship flexibility because there aren’t any berthing areas that are dedicated to one sex or the other,” Operations Specialist 1st Class Kaylea Motsenbocker told Navy Times.
Other modern adaptations compared to other navy constructions include USB ports for phone charging, energy efficient light bulbs, less people to a cabin, large gym areas, and improved air conditioning. The space has allowed for distinct sleeping and resting areas.Talking of the improved space, a controlman said: “”Usually, we have about 12 guys struggling with each other to get in their firefighting ensemble. But here you can get dressed out and have someone inspect you with enough space for others to enter and exit the area. Big difference. Huge difference.”Crewmen are also said to be impressed with shorter queues for food, connected with the ship’s layout, and improvements to their berths. Flat screen TVs with on demand TV, boxing facilities, and a chapel all feature.Markings on the hangar floor show it doubles as a basketball court, which could make for some interesting games at sea.
Plush conference rooms include polished tables and ceremonial flags, while the captain’s cabin is home to lots of Gerald Ford memorabilia.There’s even a nice history connecting President Ford back to the ship itself. Ford’s picture hangs over the aircraft hanger. He’s honoured not just as a President, but as a navy veteran, too. Ford was stationed aboard the USS Monterey during World War II, thirty years before he became President. He’s said to have saved the ship during a partcularly bad stormFord is also thought to have been saved from going overboard during a storm by his foot getting caught in a drain on deck. As a result, a statue of Ford on board the modern ship features that drain.Unfortunately, the ship is yet to be fully operational, due to teething problems.
A report in early 2021 stated that the ship was facing a launch failure of its aircraft every 181 attempts, well short of the once every 4,166 required. It’s not yet clear how these issues are going to be fixed. Latest indications are the ship might be deployed sometime in 2022.All in, we think it would take a long period at sea to even get to know the stacked floors and modern technology that make up the Gerald Ford. The sheer size of the place would certainly offer plenty of variety in terms of work and entertainment. That, we think, would be entertaining in itself.Would you step on board, or would being restricted to an area even this big in the middle of the ocean just be a little oo much? Share in your social networks.