The USS Gerald R. Ford is the US Navy’s newest and largest aircraft carrier – in fact, it’s the world’s largest.
Commissioned in July 2017, it is the first of the Ford-class carriers, which are more technologically advanced than Nimitz-class carriers.
It has an improved hull design and weapons stowage, a new weapons elevator, more space on the flight deck, a new electromagnetic-powered aircraft-launch system, three times the electrical-generation capacity of any previous carrier, and a lot more.
We recently got a chance to tour the behemoth as it was docked in Virginia’s Naval Station Norfolk. Climb aboard for a closer look:
We first saw the USS Gerald R. Ford from shore as it was stationed at a harbour in Naval Station Norfolk. The Ford stands about 134 feet tall.
It was docked next to the USS George W. Bush, seen below, as well as the USS Truman and USS Lincoln.
US Navy spokesman Corey Todd Jones, who showed us around the Ford, led us past a security checkpoint, which we were not allowed to photograph, to the entrance seen below.
The entrance led to a massive hangar bay, where aircraft are stored when not in use.
This short video below gives a better look.
This is one of the advanced weapons elevators, which connect to the flight deck and allows sailors to move ordnance from the magazines to the aircrafts.
We were not allowed to photograph down the elevator because it’s classified, but you can read more about the elevators here.
A statue of former President Gerald R. Ford — the carrier’s namesake — stands in the hangar bay. Ford served as a navigation officer on the USS Monterey during World War II. His shipmates credited him with saving the ship during a bad storm, Jones said.
Jones said that a large wave almost washed Ford overboard the Monterey, but his foot got caught on a drain, preventing him from going over. The drain is immortalised in the statue.
Jones then took us up to the flight deck, which is 256 feet wide and 1,092 feet long.
And this short video shows the flight deck from the other side.
There weren’t any aircraft on the flight deck except for the “dud” seen below, an F/18 Hornet that has been stripped of its engine and components. It’s now used by the signalmen to practice flight deck operations and moving aircrafts.
The afterburners have been stripped.
Here’s a closer look of the hollowed-out engine.
This E-2C Hawkeye flew over us outside of Norfolk Naval Station earlier in the day. Hawkeyes are US spy planes that are often assigned to carriers.
Carriers are always assigned a Carrier Air Wing, which generally consists of about nine squadrons and five different kinds of the following aircraft.
Read more about the Carrier Air Wings here.
This compartment, which can be raised and lowered, is called the Integrated Catapult Control System or “bubble.” Officers in here launch the jets after getting the all clear from the signalmen.
There are a number of Bomb Jettison Ramps, or emergency evacuation “chutes,” which sailors can use to offload misfired ordnance.
These shoots were added to carriers after the 1967 fire aboard the USS Forrestal. The Forrestal was in the Gulf of Tonkin when an F-4 Phantom misfired a rocket, resulting in a huge fire that killed more than 100 sailors.
The sides of the flight deck can be rather perilous as it completely drops off into open waters on most sides.
The Ford is also equipped with multiple Sea Sparrows, which are short-range antiaircraft and missile systems.
As well as Rolling Airframe Missile systems.
Here’s another angle of the RAM.
There are also Close-In Weapons Systems aboard, but they were covered up.
From here, Jones took us up in the tower.
We entered the flight-deck control, where the handling officer manages the arrangement of aircraft. This task is done on computers now, which we weren’t allowed to photograph, but it used to be done on this “Ouija board,” still used as a backup.
When notable people visit the Ford, like President Donald Trump, they often autograph US currency, which are then placed along the borders of the Ouija board.
We then went up to the bridge, where the ship is navigated.
The Ford is powered by two nuclear reactors that can bring it to speeds of over 30 mph.
This is the lead helm, which controls the speed and steering. It’s all digital, but there’s an actual steering wheel below for back up.
The navigation officer sits next to the chart table. The ship is navigated digitally and with the paper charts, Jones said.
This two-minute video shows Jones explaining more about the Bridge and its devices.
We also got a great view of the Truman and Lincoln carriers from the bridge.
At this point, we had been onboard for a couple hours and our time was up. But on the way out, we saw one of the bathrooms. And it’s true: The Ford doesn’t have urinals.
You can read more about why the Ford doesn’t have urinals here.