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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — At a glacier’s speed, but with choreographed precision, the U.S. Navy’s oldest active ship was nudged, shoved and pulled Wednesday out of what likely may be its last dry dock.

By 8 p.m., the 86,000-ton USS Kitty Hawk had been eased from Dry Dock 6 — where the 42-year-old aircraft carrier was perched since May 20 — back into the water and into its usual berth a few spaces away.

The day, which began shortly after sunrise when U.S. and Japanese workers slowly started flooding the dry dock, was “a significant milestone in our overall maintenance period,” said Capt. Thomas A. Parker, the Kitty Hawk’s commanding officer.

Still ahead, said Lt. Brook DeWalt, a Kitty Hawk spokesman: finishing various repairs and upgrades that could be completed back at the regular berth.

Among the main tasks done when the ship was out of the water, its keel perched on more than 200 custom-made wood and concrete blocks: blasting the hull down to bare metal, then priming and painting it. The hangar bay also was refitted and crew quarters were upgraded, DeWalt said. With its air wing, the Kitty Hawk’s crew numbers about 5,500.

That includes hundreds who worked on the dry dock, along with about 600 Japanese workers and some 300 American workers from U.S. firms. “We continue,” said Parker, “to have a very successful relationship” among Kitty Hawk personnel, the Ship Repair Facility at Yokosuka and “numerous Japanese and U.S. contractors.”

The maintenance period’s final overall cost has yet to be tallied, DeWalt said. Repairs completed during the Kitty Hawk’s last dry-dock period, in 1998, totaled $110 million, according to the ship’s official Web site.

Although the actual move from dry dock to berth took just a few hours, the lead-up took at least six days, while the ship and its systems were tested extensively, Kitty Hawk officers said.

The ship floated in the newly flooded dry dock more than six hours Wednesday before being moved. Among the reasons, said DeWalt and other Kitty Hawk officers:

• The need to ensure the carrier, which has a 4½-acre flight deck, remained level and stable once it was off the dry-dock blocks — accomplished chiefly by shifting water from one tank in the ship to another, DeWalt said.• The wind. For most of the afternoon, it blew steadily between 11 mph and 15 mph, with gusts approaching 20 mph, according to meteorologists’ reports broadcast at the dry dock. “Anything over 15 mph can be dangerous,” DeWalt said: When being moved to its berth, the carrier was “dead stick,” its main propulsion system shut down, leaving it more vulnerable to instability. “For safety, we had to wait till the winds died down,” DeWalt said.

This maintenance period, including the time in dry dock, was planned before the Kitty Hawk’s recent deployment to the Iraq campaign, ship officers have said.

They have declined to discuss effects of that deployment and a prior one to Afghanistan.

But if the Navy maintains its current plans, Wednesday may have been the last time the Kitty Hawk glides out of a dry dock, flags snapping and new paint glistening: The carrier is slated to be decommissioned in 2008.


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