The US Navy announced on April 22 that the fifth advanced weapons elevator (AWE) aboard the first-of-class aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) was certified and ready for use.
The milestone was achieved almost three years after the carrier was commissioned in 2017. The elevator malfunctioning is among the issues that the navy has been tackling on board CVN 78, which is the service’s first new aircraft carrier design in 40 years.
The aircraft carrier logged this important milestone at its homeport at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, just after completing a rigorous 32 days at sea, where the ship attained flight deck certification and conducted additional catapult launches and arrested landings, bringing the total number of aircraft launched to more than 2,300.
Certifying this key weapons platform enables CVN 78’s crew to elevate combat system and flight deck training to another level during the ship’s Post Delivery Test and Trials (PDT&T) phase of operations. The crew will operate this AWE at sea during its next underway period in May to ensure effective operations of the system in its operational environment, train additional crewmembers, and validate training and maintenance procedures.
AWEs offer Gerald R. Ford-class carriers greater speed in moving ordnance and enhance carrying capability, while reducing manning, maintenance, and total ownership costs. The shipboard AWE construction process is unique in that it has provided a test bed for overcoming many of the incumbent developmental and production challenges associated with a first-of-class system. The ability to identify and to mitigate issues associated with each elevator’s unique operational tolerances has generated hands-on physical adjustments and software refinements, ensuring that future AWE operations are sustainable and reliable.
“The elevators are operating as designed,” confirmed Capt. Ron Rutan, PMS 378 program manager for Gerald R. Ford. “In the past year, Newport News Shipbuilding has turned over four of the ship’s 11 AWEs to the crew, with the ship’s force cycling each elevator approximately 20 times per day to make sure every system stays in good working order and to document sustained performance.”
To date, AWEs aboard CVN 78 have logged more than 8,000 cycles, with Upper Stage Weapons Elevator 1 completing 3,079 cycles; Upper Stage 2: 629 cycles; Upper Stage 3: 3,110 cycles; and an additional utility elevator cycled 1,257 times.
Additionally, Lower Stage Weapons Elevator 1, which facilitates moving ordnance from the forward magazine to the flight deck, is on track to be certified and turned over to the crew in the fourth quarter of fiscal year (FY) 2020.
The remaining five elevators are on track to be certified by the time Gerald R. Ford undergoes full ship shock trials, scheduled for the third quarter of FY21.
The navy said this intense testing and trials period is crucial to ensuring the overall deployment readiness of Gerald R. Ford as well as improving upon the construction and ship trial process for follow-on carriers in the class: the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), Enterprise (CVN 80), and Doris Miller (CVN 81).
Over the next few days, CVN 78 will send 12 sailors to complete more than 16 hours of web-based training in the nearby C-ARTS facility, guided by an instructor working remotely from Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding Division. Ford sailors will then return to the ship for follow-up, hands-on instruction in the elevator spaces.