As the fleet grapples with coronavirus, the US Navy's newest aircraft carrier hit a major operational milestone
- The US Navy's first-in-class carrier USS Gerald R. Ford completed flight-deck and carrier air-traffic control center certifications this month.
- Those milestones underscore the progress of carrier, which has struggled with an array of new systems, and make it able to play a much bigger role in the fleet, as it can now host pilot qualifications.
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Off the East Coast this month, the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford, reached several major milestones in a matter of hours, marking the advancement of the carrier's crew and its systems.The Ford completed flight deck certification and carrier air-traffic control center certification on March 20, after it achieved Precision Approach Landing Systems certification and conducted two days of flight operations.Advertisement
F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets from four squadrons assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8 conducted 123 daytime launches and landings and 42 nighttime launches and landings aboard the Ford over a two-day period, exceeding the minimum requirements for each by three and two, respectively.
"Our sailors performed at a level that was on par with a forward deployed aircraft carrier, and this was a direct result of the hardcore training and deployment-ready mentality we have pushed every day for the past year," Capt. J. J. Cummings, the Ford's commanding officer, said in a release. "Our team put their game faces on, stepped into the batter's box and smashed line drives out of the park. It was fun to watch."The certifications, photos of which you can see below, are major achievements not only for the carrier but also for the Navy, as the Ford is now the only only carrier qualification asset - meaning it can conduct carrier qualifications for pilots and other support operations - that will be regularly available on the East Coast this year.
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Before flight deck and carrier air-traffic control certification, the Ford did Precision Approach Landing Systems certification. PALS is a requirement for flight operations. along with air-traffic controllers, it aids pilots in night or bad-weather landings and guides them to a good starting position for approaches.
The Ford's carrier air-traffic control center team assisted the flight-deck certification and had to complete its own certification in concert with it. CATCC certification was the culmination of a process that started at the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Florida last year.Advertisement
That training was vital to the Ford sailors' success this month. "We had no rust to knock off," said Chief Air Traffic Controller Lavese McCray. "We've tested and trained for so many operations that it made the [certification] scenarios look easy."
The certification process is meant to test pilots and crews on operations they'll face when deployed. In one recovery scenario, aircraft were stacked behind the Ford in 2-mile increments, waiting to land every minute, which deployment-ready aircraft carriers are required to be able to do. The Ford landed aircraft 55 seconds apart.Advertisement
The March 20 certifications came a day after the Ford's 1,000 recovery of a fixed-wing aircraft using its Advanced Arresting Gear on March 19 at 5:13 p.m. Moments later, the ship had its 1,000 launch with its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System.
The Ford's accomplishments come as the Navy grapples with a fleet-wide challenge in the coronavirus. The service's first case came on March 13, when a sailor on the USS Boxer, in port in San Diego, tested positive. The first underway case came on Tuesday on the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.Advertisement
There are no reported cases on the Ford, which Gilday said Tuesday was also carrying "a couple of hundred shipyard workers" who were "working on many of her systems to continue to keep her at pace and on schedule" for deployment.
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