NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- The future aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford received its island during a ceremony at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding Jan. 26.
The Ford, named for the 38th President of the United States, is the first in a new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers that will replace the current Nimitz-class carriers, while taking state-of-the-art technology to sea.
Susan Ford Bales,the ship's sponsor and daughter of the late president, attended and spoke before the 555-metric ton island was lifted from the pier to the flight deck. Bales paid tribute to her father, by reciting a quote from the 55th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O'Neill.
"'God has been good to the American people. In the time of the Civil War he gave us Abraham Lincoln, and at the time of Watergate he gave us Gerald Ford - the right man at the right time who was able to heal the nation,'" Bales quoted.
Before Ford's island was lowered, the ceremony featured an ancient shipbuilding tradition of placing coins under the ship's mast for good luck. Modern shipbuilders continue this tradition, but it has been modified for aircraft carriers by placing coins and mementos under the island.
Bales placed a small sandstone block, cut from the same stone used to build the White House and the U.S. Capitol, under the Ford's island. Embedded in the stone were several coins commemorating President Ford's naval service in World War II, his years in the House of Representatives, and his service as vice president and president.
Rear Adm. Ted N. Branch, commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic, Capt. John Meier, Ford's prospective commanding officer , and Matt Mulherin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding also placed mementos under the island before it was completely lowered onto the flight deck.
"As the island is landed, Gerald R. Ford will take on that distinctive and unmistakable profile of an aircraft carrier," said Meier.
The Ford's island incorporates the latest flat panel array and dual band radar systems. The island was placed 140 feet further aft and three feet further outboard than previous carriers to improve flight deck access for aircraft operations. The super lift of the completed structure marks the last major piece of the new carrier's construction.
With the ship nearing its launch date later this year, the nucleus of its crew, known as the Ford's Pre-Commissioning Unit is being formed. This small unit of officers and enlisted Sailors has started the process of bringing the ship to life.
"The technology on the ship is so amazing that I stayed in the Navy when I found out I could get orders here," said Electronics Technician 2nd Class (SW) William Hamrick, future administrator of the Reactor department's computer network.
Meier called upon the shipbuilders at Newport News and the ship's crew to continue building a culture of excellence and a legacy that will "last for generations to come."
"Our nation and our Navy needs Gerald R. Ford to put to sea," said Meier. "Ford represents a multi-billion dollar investment by our nation. It's a clear recognition that sea power has been a keystone of our great nation's preeminence throughout the world."
The Ford is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in 2015.