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New aircraft carrier marks construction milestone

Saturday - 1/26/2013, 8:31pm  ET

By BROCK VERGAKIS
Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. - The Navy marked a major milestone in the construction of its newest aircraft carrier Saturday when the USS Gerald R. Ford's island was placed onto its flight deck, giving the first-of-its class aircraft carrier its signature look.

The Ford is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in 2015 and will replace the USS Enterprise, which was inactivated last year.

The island serves as the command center for the ship's flight operations, and the Ford's island is different from that of its predecessors. It is smaller and has been pushed farther back on the ship to allow for more efficient flight deck operations. Its new design also replaces rotating radar antennas with advanced phase arrays, which are intended to reduce the ship's signature for incoming cruise missiles, maintenance and manning.

"Simply put, this is not your father's aircraft carrier," said Capt. John Meier, the Ford's prospective commanding officer. "Virtually everything but the skin of the ship is new and different."

The Ford has been designed to require 800 fewer sailors to operate the ship and for 400 fewer personnel to embark with an air wing on it. Having fewer sailors onboard will save the Navy about $5 billion in personnel costs over the ship's 50-year-lifespan.

With shipbuilders and some of the ship's future crew looking on from the Newport News shipyard where the Ford is being built, a crane hoisted the 555-metric ton island into place as onlookers snapped pictures and recorded videos of the event. The Navy also webcast the ceremony.

"We are not just witnessing an important construction milestone, but we are witnessing history. We are celebrating years of hard work," said Newport News Shipbuilding President Matt Mulherin.

In a Navy tradition, commemorative mementos were placed under the island that will later be permanently welded inside it.

Meier placed the wings from his uniform that denotes he's a naval aviator under the island, while Rear Adm. Ted Branch, commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, placed coins underneath it that paid tribute to other aircraft carriers that were the first of their class, including the USS Enterprise and USS Nimitz.

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Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)