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Navy mounts 'full court press' to fix problems on aircraft carrier Ford

The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford steams in the Atlantic Ocean.

RYAN LITZENBERGER/U.S. NAVY

By HUGH LESSIG | The Daily Press | Published: July 3, 2019

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The Navy has dispatched a team of independent specialists to the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford in an all-out effort to fix its troublesome weapons elevators.

The team, drawn from government and the civilian world, arrived on the ship two weeks ago. The Ford is moored at Newport News Shipbuilding, where it has been undergoing post-shakedown work.

“We have a full-court press on the advanced weapons elevators,” said James F. Geurts, the assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition, in a news release.

The team is charged with getting the elevators working and recommending design changes that will improve performance for future ships of the class.

The first-in-class Ford, which is packed with new systems, has endured a litany of technological problems during construction and testing. That has included electromagnetic catapults and advanced arresting gear, which are used to launch aircraft and allow them to land safely.

The weapons elevators represent the latest and most vexing problem.

Operated with electromagnetic motors instead of cables and pulleys, the elevators are designed to move ordnance from lower decks up to the flight deck at a much faster rate than elevators on Nimitz-class ships.

The elevators combined with other new systems are meant to allow more sorties to be flown from Ford-class ships.

The Ford originally was supposed to leave the Newport News shipyard this summer after its post-shakedown period. That was pushed back to October due to elevator problems and other issues.

During a May visit to the yard, Geurts said the October date was still firm, but only some elevators would be working by that time. At last report, two of the 11 elevators were certified.

A variety of disciplines

The specialists have experience in electromagnetic systems, software and electrical engineering, to name three. Some have a track record at solving problems with developing technology, the release states. They’re working in tandem with Newport News shipbuilders, the ship’s crew and other industry experts.

Meanwhile, crew members are taking advantage of the elevators that are working.

“The two upper-stage elevators have absolutely operated as designed,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chabonnie Alexander, the ordnance handling officer. “We operate the elevators 10 times a day, five days week” allowing the crew “to get smarter and more comfortable” with the system.

In a related move, the Navy is constructing a land-based test site at Naval Surface Warfare Center Division Philadelphia for the production, test and delivery of elevator system components.

The site will be completed next year, the Navy estimates.

The Navy and Newport News are completing a “digital twin” of that land-base site at the shipyard.

“Both systems will allow the Navy and shipbuilder to mature the system and aid in troubleshooting,” the release states.

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