NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – With its predecessor sitting just a few miles away in another part of the shipyard, HII Newport News Shipbuilding today solemnly laid the keel of the future USS Enterprise (CVN-80), the third aircraft carrier in the Ford class program. .
The new aircraft carrier, sponsored by Olympic athletes Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky, will be the ninth in US Navy history to bear the name “Enterprise” (and not including the iconic ship from “Star Trek” ). The Olympians were selected to sponsor the ship in 2016 by then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and are the first athletes to receive the honor.
During his speech, Ledecky, who knows a thing or two about the water with seven Olympic gold medals, spoke about his swimming philosophy and compared it to the challenges shipbuilders face when building the centerpiece of the Navy’s fleet. She also talked about her grandfather who was a Navy member assigned to the Marines in the Pacific theater during World War II.
“The navy is in my blood,” she told a small group of reporters after the ceremony. “I wish he could be here, but he passed away many years ago…I know my grandmother, his wife, was watching today and it’s really special to me.”
Biles was unable to attend the event in person, but filmed a video in which she signed the initials on one of the steel plates that were eventually engraved by two welders from Newport News Shipbuilding. Also present were several congressmen from the Virginia delegation; Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces; as well as many retired Navy sailors who served on the former Enterprise (CVN-65), nicknamed “The Big E”.
Keel-laying ceremonies originated when the service was still building wooden ships. But modern keel laying involves the shipbuilder, in this case HII, engraving sponsors’ initials on steel plates that sit in a “place of honor” on the ship.
“The tradition of laying a ship’s keel dates back to the first ship built by the United States Navy,” Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin told the crowd. “Built from the bottom up, the center timber was laid down to signify the start of its construction.”
Although shipbuilders regularly hold ceremonies to honor sponsors and workforce, the company actually laid the CVN-80’s keel in early April when it moved the first unit – part of the stern of the ship – in the dry dock. Officials told reporters the event took place three weeks ahead of schedule.
On Friday, Navy and industry officials also said that although the Enterprise and the fourth Ford-class ship, the Doris Miller, are still in the early stages of construction, they are already considering development strategies. acquisition for the Navy’s next two aircraft carriers.
The decision to prosecute two more aircraft carriers, and how to do so, will ultimately be up to Congress, but in the meantime the Navy must make a decision on how to dispose of the old Enterprise (CVN-65), the first nuclear aircraft carrier service.
The Navy is currently working on a process that assesses the environmental impacts of disposal — a time-consuming but legally required event — before making a final decision.
During today’s ceremony, Boykin said the old carrier will live on in the new ship in both name and material: parts of the old ship – about 20,000 pounds of steel to that day – were salvaged and reused for inclusion in the construction of the new ship.