US sailors recall the shock of a 40,000-pound bomb blast hitting their supercarrier: 'You could feel it through your whole body'

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US sailors recall the shock of a 40,000-pound bomb blast hitting their supercarrier: 'You could feel it through your whole body'
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) successfully completes the third and final scheduled explosive event of Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean, Aug. 8, 2021. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Novalee Manzella
  • Two sailors told Insider about what it was like on the USS Gerald R. Ford during shock trials.
  • One was on the bridge, and the other was below deck.
  • "You could feel it through your whole body as the percussion hit," one of the sailors said.

The US Navy has been putting its new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford to the test this summer in shock trials, during which it detonated multiple 40,000-pound explosives near the ship.

The Navy wrapped up the third and final explosive event on Sunday. Each test moved the bomb progressively closer to the carrier.

Full ship shock trials, which evaluate a ship's ability to withstand the shock of an explosion and keep fighting, are rare occurrences that most Navy sailors never experience. The last carrier to be shocked was the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 1987.

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The service released photos and videos of the latest testing, including one that shows the ship jolting as the blast wave hits, with crew bracing for shock.

Two Ford sailors told Insider about their experiences with the latest shock trials, offering perspectives from both the bridge and below deck.

Lt. Cmdr. Greg Sutter, the assistant navigation officer and the officer of the deck during the testing, was on the bridge about 100 feet above the waterline while Electrician's Mate 2nd Class Jon Dacanay was in the repair locker located around the waterline.

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"There was an eerie feeling as we counted down the last few seconds, knowing it was about to go off," Sutter said. A lieutenant counted down to the blast on the 1MC, the shipwide broadcasting system.

From the bridge, Sutter could see the powerful explosion, the smoke, and the giant wave building. During the final test, he could smell something like gunpowder. Then, "the ship started rattling and shaking," he said.

US sailors recall the shock of a 40,000-pound bomb blast hitting their supercarrier: 'You could feel it through your whole body'
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) successfully completes the third and final scheduled explosive event for Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean, Aug. 8, 2021. US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jackson Adkins

Dacanay, who was stationed in a repair locker down on the second deck, described distinctly hearing a "loud bang" through his hearing protection that he said "shocked me quite a bit" the first time. "You are able to feel the vibration throughout the ship and the rocking of the waves," he said.

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The rattling of the carrier from the initial blast and the aftershocks lasted for about 10 to 15 seconds.

"You could feel it through your whole body as the percussion hit," Sutter said. "I wouldn't say it was as much as a car accident or anything, but you could definitely feel the thump of it hitting you."

This feeling is fairly unusual for carrier sailors. Aircraft carriers like the Ford are nearly 1,100 feet long and cut through most seas with minimal rolling. The ship's bridge team typically take turns slowly and choose courses to minimize the ship's pitch and roll, recognizing that abrupt movements can damage planes and injure crew.

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US sailors recall the shock of a 40,000-pound bomb blast hitting their supercarrier: 'You could feel it through your whole body'
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) completes the third scheduled explosive event of Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean, August 8, 2021 US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Samuel Gruss

Sailors, who had gone through extensive training prior to the testing, were at their battle stations for an hour before the explosive charge was detonated.

"It goes from unnerving to about 10 seconds of shock and awe. Then, all of a sudden," Sutter said, "everybody snaps back into their training."

Dacanay said the same about his experience, telling Insider that "their training definitely kicked in." He said "everyone grabbed their gear immediately and was ready to respond to whatever may have happened."

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US sailors recall the shock of a 40,000-pound bomb blast hitting their supercarrier: 'You could feel it through your whole body'
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) successfully completes the third and final scheduled explosive event for Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean, Aug. 8, 2021. US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jackson Adkins

Capt. Paul Lanzilotta, the Ford's commanding officer, told reporters that the testing "definitely did break some things," but there were "zero catastrophic failures on the ship, zero situations where we had flooding, zero fires."

Rear Adm. James P. Downey, program executive officer for aircraft carriers, said that the damages were largely minor issues, explaining that the Navy "didn't see damage to the high-risk systems in the manner that we thought we may."

Ford sailors said they were somewhat surprised by the limited impact on the carrier, a first-in-class ship featuring a wide variety of new technologies and capabilities.

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"There was a momentary loss of some systems," Sutter said. The systems that went down temporarily were back online in a matter of minutes though.

"I would have thought that we would have lost more than what we did. I would have thought that it would have taken longer to bring those systems back on," he said.

Both Sutter and Dacanay told Insider the recent full ship shock trials reinforced their confidence in the ship and crew's ability to take a hit and continue the fight.

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