Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (2023)

Table of Contents
USS Gerald Ford model photo The launching of the USS Gerald R. Ford USS John F. Kennedy (2020) The official commissioning Saluting the commander in chief Bringing the Ford to life The Ford's trials will continue through 2021 The Ford in drydock Building the Ford at night USS Gerald Ford (computer model) Designing the carrier in 3D Using augmented reality aboard the Ford The first cut of steel Welding the Kennedy Working on the propellers Inside the steel foundry Working on the USS John F. Kennedy Loading the missiles Bringing out the big guns Loading the guns Prepping the missile launcher Mooring by rifle Keeping an eye on the sky Controlling the ship Testing out electomagnetic launchers Testing the electromagnetic catapult Success! A switch back to steam? Moving the island The heaviest piece of the seaworthy puzzle Finishing the stern Lowering the lower bow unit Finishing off the keel A cross-sectioned carrier Two million pounds' worth of catapult Just lifting 1.7 million pounds is all, NBD Installing the final aircraft elevator platform Giving a tour to the VIPs Erecting the Ford's deck Testing the anchor Fire drill! Sweeping up a foamy mess The Rainbow Sideboys Hull nears completion And 200,000 gallons of paint later ... That's one way to paint an anchor The Newport News Shipbuilding yard Refueling a behemoth Sunrise over the Ford Building the engine Final assembly platen Art inside the warship ...one more coat of paint... The final prep work A trough of food Lunch is served Shopping on the high seas Starbucks is on board! A seaworthy dental chair Serving a higher power Passover on the Ford A tradition that dates back to 1596 President Trump visits the USS Ford for the first time "Big, big trouble" for America's enemies Christening the Ford Flooding the drydock Gerald R. Ford christening ceremony Welcome aboard! Fleeting fame? Manning the rails That is one huge chain 2015 missile system test Royal wedding, or carrier christening? USS Gerald R Ford CVN 78 Shaft Fitting in Machine Shop
Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (1)

1 of 74 John Whalen/Mike Dillard for Huntington Ingalls Industries

USS Gerald Ford model photo

The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford, seen here in a combination model and live shot photo, is the first in the US Navy's next generation of warships, the Ford class. USS Gerald R. Ford was officially commissioned on July 22, 2017.

Here's everything we know about both ships so far...and it's pretty eye-popping.

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2 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

The launching of the USS Gerald R. Ford

The Gerald R. Ford was launched from dry dock into Virginia's James River in November 2013 to begin its trials.

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3 of 74 Chris Oxley/Mike Dillard for Huntington Ingalls Industries

USS John F. Kennedy (2020)

Pictured here (in a composite photo illustration) is the second carrier in the Navy's new Ford-class, the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79).

It is currently under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia and will be commissioned in 2020.

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4 of 74 MC2 Jason Pastrick

The official commissioning

The USS Gerald Ford was officially commissioned on July 22, 2017 in Norfolk, Virginia. Rooted in naval tradition, a commissioning is an elaborate ceremony that puts a ship in active service.

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5 of 74 MC3 Matthew Fairchild

Saluting the commander in chief

Though President Trump has been critical of the ship in the past, he struck a much more inspirational tone during the ship's commissioning ceremony.

"American hands and American steel constructed a 100,000-ton message to the world: American might is second to none," he said.

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6 of 74 MC2 Ryan Litzenberger

Bringing the Ford to life

With President Ford's daughter Susan Bales Ford giving the order on July 22 to "bring her to life," sailors aboard the USS Gerald Ford rush to man the rails -- that is, take evenly spaced positions along the sides of the ship for a salute.

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7 of 74 US Navy/Getty Images

The Ford's trials will continue through 2021

Despite being officially commissioned, the Ford will require another four years of trials before deployment. This will add another $780 million to the ship's already hefty price tag.

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8 of 74 Ricky Thompson for Huntington Ingalls Industries

The Ford in drydock

The worker in the foreground helps put the Gerald R. Ford's massive size in perspective.

The finished carrier measures 1,106 feet long and 250 feet high.

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9 of 74 John Whalen for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Building the Ford at night

The completed USS Gerald R. Ford holds a number of welcome quality-of-life upgrades for sailors over the previous Nimitz design, including quieter sleeping quarters, numerous recreation areas and gymnasiums as well as better air conditioning.

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10 of 74 Mike Dillard for Huntington Ingalls Industries

USS Gerald Ford (computer model)

Here's another model illustration of the nuclear-powered carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).

The Ford itself will cost US taxpayers $12.8 billion in materials and labor. This doesn't take into account the $4.7 billion spent in research and development of the new carrier class. And, seriously, we're talking about a lot of labor ...

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11 of 74 John Whalen for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Designing the carrier in 3D

Each part built for a Ford-class carrier starts its life as a full-scale 3D model inside Huntington Ingalls Industries' Rapid Operational Virtual Reality (ROVR) system.

It it the first US carrier to be designed using such computerized techniques.

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12 of 74 MC1 (SW) Aidan Campbell/US Navy

Using augmented reality aboard the Ford

The Gerald R. Ford also uses augmented-reality technology to give its crew more insight into the ship's systems and improve efficiency.

Here, Commanding Officer Capt. John F. Meier demonstrates how the ship's new augmented-reality tablet system works.

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13 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

The first cut of steel

The building of a 90,000-ton warship always begins with a single cut.

Newport News Shipbuilding held the Commemorative First Cut of Steel Ceremony for the John F. Kennedy, shown, on Feb. 25, 2011.

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (14)

14 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Welding the Kennedy

Here, apprentice shipfitter Daniel Polson works on the USS John F. Kennedy.

Newport News Shipbuilding estimates that 4,000,000 pounds of metal will be required just to weld the ship together.

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15 of 74 Huntington Ingalls Industries

Working on the propellers

Workers tighten studs on a propeller shaft tail cap on the Ford using a torque wrench.

The propellers will help the new class of ship reach speeds of 35 miles per hour-not bad for a 22.5-million pound sea vessel.

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16 of 74 John Whalen for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Inside the steel foundry

Newport News Shipbuilding operates its own on-site foundry.

Here, workers are casting steel anchor bolsters for the Kennedy.

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17 of 74 John Whalen for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Working on the USS John F. Kennedy

Here, pipefitter Trevin Wilson works on the USS John F. Kennedy.

The new Ford-class carriers were designed to require significantly less plumbing. The Kennedy, for example, has one-third fewer valves than warships in the older Nimitz class.

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18 of 74 MC1 (SW/AW) Patrick Grieco

Loading the missiles

Here, a group of sailors from the ship's Combat Systems department practice loading a dummy RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile into the NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System launcher.

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19 of 74 MCSA Connor Loessin/US Navy

Bringing out the big guns

Gunners Mate 1st Class Ernest Quinones and Gunners Mate Darius Bloomfield handle one of the Ford's .50-caliber machine guns during a general quarters drill.

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20 of 74 MC2 (SW/IDW) Cory Rose/US Navy

Loading the guns

A team of Fire Controlmen aboard the Gerald R. Ford feed dummy ammunition into the ship's MK-15 close-in weapon system during a maintenance check.

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21 of 74 Ryan Litzenberger/US Navy

Prepping the missile launcher

Fire Controlman 3rd Class Lawrence Batcheller performs an operability test on the Gerald R. Ford's Rolling Airframe Missile launching system remote controller.

Each of the surface-to-air missiles weighs 162 pounds and has infrared homing capabilites.

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22 of 74 MC2 Jason Pastrick

Mooring by rifle

Not all guns on the Ford are used for offense or defense.

Gunner's Mate Seaman Sharon Handler prepares an M-14 rifle loaded with a Mark-87 line throwing kit, assisting with the mooring of the PCU Gerald R. Ford as it returns to Norfolk, Virginia.

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23 of 74 MCSN Gitte Schirrmacher/US Navy

Keeping an eye on the sky

Interior Communications Electrician Seaman Beatriz Milique monitors the flight deck of the Ford from Primary Flight Control, or "tower."

It is from this location that the air officer (also known as the air boss) and an assistant (the mini-boss) manage and approve all aircraft operations from the deck of the ship to five nautical miles out.

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24 of 74 MCSN Gitte Schirrmacher/US Navy

Controlling the ship

The ship's bridge, or control center, is one level beneath the Primary Flight Control. From here, Capt. Richard McCormack, the PCU Gerald R. Ford's commanding officer, discusses the bridge watch team dynamics with a group of sailors.

The captain controls the ship. The helmsman is responsible for the actual steering, while the lee helmsman controls the ship's speed via the engine room. The Quartermaster of the Watch tracks the ship's navigation.

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25 of 74 MCSA Joshua Murray/US Navy

Testing out electomagnetic launchers

Aviation Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Robert McLendon participates in a waist launcher test of the Gerald R. Ford's Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS).

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26 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Testing the electromagnetic catapult

The Navy demonstrates its new EMALS system by shuttling weighted sleds off the deck of the USS Gerald R. Ford and into the James River.

Previously, plane launches were assisted by a steam catapult system.

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27 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Success!

Ship sponsor (and daughter to President Ford) Susan Ford Bales celebrates after a successful test run of the carrier's electromagnetic catapults.

The new tech can accelerate a 100,000 pound object to a speed of 125 miles per hour in less than 300 feet.

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28 of 74 Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

A switch back to steam?

President Trump, in an interview with Time, panned the ship's new high-tech catapult system.

"I said you don't use steam anymore for catapult? 'No sir.' I said, 'Ah, how is it working?' 'Sir, not good. Not good.'

"It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it's very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out. And I said -- and now they want to buy more aircraft carriers. I said what system are you going to be -- 'Sir, we're staying with digital.' I said no you're not. You going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it's no good."

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29 of 74 Huntington Ingalls Industries

Moving the island

Newport News Shipbuilding's crane, "Big Blue," begins moving the island, aka the air traffic control tower, onto the Gerald R. Ford in January 2013.

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30 of 74 John Whalen for Huntington Ingalls Industries

The heaviest piece of the seaworthy puzzle

Weighing in at 1,026 metric tons (2.26 million pounds), the gallery deck to flight deck bridge is the heaviest component piece of the USS Gerald R. Ford.

It measures 128 feet wide by 128 feet long and houses the ship's firefighting, jet fuel and catapult systems.

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31 of 74 John Whalen for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Finishing the stern

In the past, major military vessels were built in one piece from the ground up. Today, the shipbuilding process is modular.

In this picture, workers lower the final piece of the Gerald R. Ford's stern into place.

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32 of 74 Ricky Thompson for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Lowering the lower bow unit

Shipbuilders lower the 680-metric-ton lower bow unit onto the Gerald R. Ford.

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33 of 74 Ricky Thompson for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Finishing off the keel

Workers join the lower bow unit to the keel of the USS Gerald R. Ford in May 2012.

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34 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

A cross-sectioned carrier

Here, workers prepare the cross-sectioned Gerald R. Ford for the addition of its 787-metric-ton upper bow unit.

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35 of 74 Huntington Ingalls Industries

Two million pounds' worth of catapult

The forward end of one of the aircraft carrier's catapults is put into place by a massive 1,050-metric ton gantry crane.

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36 of 74 John Whalen for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Just lifting 1.7 million pounds is all, NBD

Here, Newport News Shipbuilding's crane puts in serious work, adding the 787-metric-ton upper bow to the Gerald R. Ford.

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37 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Installing the final aircraft elevator platform

This recently installed aircraft elevator platform will move planes from the carrier's hangar bay to its flight deck.

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38 of 74 MCSA Connor Loessin

Giving a tour to the VIPs

The USS Gerald R. Ford has hosted a number of important dignitaries from the private and public sectors. In this June 2016 photo, Captain Richard McCormack gives a tour of the ship's bridge to New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick and his wife.

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (39)

39 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Erecting the Ford's deck

Susan Ford Bales visits the USS Gerald R. Ford during the building process in 2011.

Here, the daughter of the late president helps a shipbuilder position part of the vessel's main deck.

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40 of 74 Ricky Thompson for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Testing the anchor

Ship sponsor Susan Ford Bales, along with Newport News Shipbuilding employees Gary Carter (left) and Gary Paden (right), tests the carrier's new anchor-handling system.

The anchor on the Gerald R. Ford weighs a massive 30,000 pounds; its chain is 1,440 feet long.

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41 of 74 MCSA Joshua Murray

Fire drill!

Chief Damage Controlman Scottie A. Farra trains sailors on the use of a firehose during a ship-wide drill on damage control.

The US Navy notes that this is a critical part of certifying the Gerald R. Ford's crew before it sets sail.

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42 of 74 MC3 Cathrine Mae O. Campbell/US Navy

Sweeping up a foamy mess

There's more than one way to fight fires aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford. Here, sailors sweep massive amounts of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) out of the ship's hangar bay following a test of its sprinkler system on April 10, 2017.

The fluorinated surfactants in AFFF are especially effective against two-dimensional liquid fuel fires, but there are questions about its environmental safety.

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43 of 74 MCSN Gitte Schirrmacher

The Rainbow Sideboys

Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) Airman Dusten Pickell collects a bottle of kerosene-based JP-5 jet fuel, used in the carrier's aircraft, for testing.

Pickell and the rest of the flight deck crews of the PCU Gerald R. Ford wear color-coded uniforms associated with their specific duties. All aviation fuel handlers wear purple, for example, while aircraft handling officers wear yellow, crash and salvage crews wear red, and messengers or phone talkers wear blue.

Important visitors to the ship are greeted by the "Rainbow Sideboys," a lineup of two sailors of each color standing opposite each other.

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44 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Hull nears completion

This aerial photo shows the Gerald R. Ford in dry dock approximately seven years into the building process (2012).

It will return here for servicing after its first 25 years on the job.

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (45)

45 of 74 John Whalen for Huntington Ingalls Industries

And 200,000 gallons of paint later ...

As the famous old sailor adage goes: "If it moves, salute it; if it doesn't, paint it." And indeed, painting is a key part of the process at Newport News Shipbuilding, requiring between 120 and 170 workers to get the job done.

The new, self-healing coating on the Gerald R. Ford, shown here, is formulated to resist heat and UV rays.

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46 of 74 MC1 (SW/IDW) Joshua J. Wahl

That's one way to paint an anchor

In this photo, sailors apply a special coat of gold paint to the anchor of the Gerald R. Ford.

Only ships that have received the US Department of the Navy's Retention Excellence Award are allowed the honor.

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47 of 74 John Whalen for Huntington Ingalls Industries

The Newport News Shipbuilding yard

The USS Gerald R. Ford can be seen here in the foreground of the Newport News Shipbuilding yard.

The company employs approximately 20,000 people and is the only designer and builder of aircraft carriers in the United States.

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48 of 74 John Whalen for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Refueling a behemoth

Workers at Newport News Shipbuilding inactivate the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in the foreground of the photo. The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), meanwhile, can be seen undergoing refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) at a neighboring dock.

The new Ford carrier class will require 30 percent less maintenance than these older Nimitz design ships, resulting in long-term cost savings for the government.

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49 of 74 Ricky Thompson for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Sunrise over the Ford

The sun rises over a nearly finished USS Gerald R. Ford in 2015.

Roughly 1,600 sailors began working and living aboard the ship starting in August 2015 as part of the testing process.

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50 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Building the engine

Machinist Stuart Roes works on the main engine foundation for the John F. Kennedy.

It will take a team of approximately 5,000 people, Roes included, to build and assemble the carrier.

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51 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Final assembly platen

An assembled portion of the John F. Kennedy sits on the final assembly platform.

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52 of 74 MCSA Gitte Schirrmacher

Art inside the warship

You can't build a $13 billion warship without adding some character to it.

Here, Communications Specialist 1st Class Joshua Wall paints an octopus mural in the Ford's Media Department.

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53 of 74 MCSA Connor Loessin/US Navy

...one more coat of paint...

With roughly 97 percent of the ship's construction complete, deck department sailors work to sand and paint the inside of the Gerald R. Ford's forecastle.

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54 of 74 MC3 Kiana Raines/US Navy

The final prep work

Deck department sailors are now putting the finishing touches on the USS Gerald R. Ford, sanding the ship's anchor chain to prep it for painting.

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55 of 74 Chris Delano/US Navy

A trough of food

Culinary Specialist Seaman Antoria Major prepares a meal for sailors inside the galley of the Gerald R. Ford.

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56 of 74 MC1 (IDW/SW) Joshua J. Wahl/US Navy

Lunch is served

A group of first-class petty officers give the Gerald R. Ford galley staff the day off, serving lunch to sailors aboard the ship.

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57 of 74 Kiana Raines/US Navy

Shopping on the high seas

Sailors can obtain many of the comforts of home in the Gerald R. Ford ship store using their Navy Cash debit card.

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58 of 74 MCSN Cathrine Mae O. Campbell

Starbucks is on board!

It's not all hardship, sacrifice and trough-made meals aboard the Gerald R. Ford; sailors can still get their Starbucks fix at Mac's coffee shop, located inside the ship's store.

All revenue from the coffee shop goes to support the ship's sailors.

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59 of 74 MCSA Gitte Schirrmacher

A seaworthy dental chair

With the vast majority of the ship's construction finished, the dental office aboard the Gerald R. Ford is finally open for business and ready to serve its sailors.

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (60)

60 of 74 MCSA Joshua Murray/US Navy

Serving a higher power

Sailors, of course, have the opportunity to participate in regular religious services aboard the Gerald R. Ford.

An aircraft carrier may hold as many as 40 different religious services per week while at sea. Each chaplain-led service is tailored to the specific traditions of the many faiths aboard the ship.

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61 of 74 MC1(SW) Cory Rose/US Navy

Passover on the Ford

Here, sailors say a blessing during an observance of Passover 2017 aboard the ship.

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62 of 74 MC2 Ryan Litzenberger

A tradition that dates back to 1596

Sailors aboard the Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Gerald R. Ford man the rails as the ship returns to port on April 14, 2017.

Manning the rails is a centuries-old sailing tradition where the crew lines up in full uniform along the edges of the ship as a method of salute. The idea is to make the most impressive possible display of the ship's manpower.

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (63)

63 of 74 Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Trump visits the USS Ford for the first time

On March 2, 2017, President Donald Trump took a tour of the ship at Newport News Shipbuilding and announced plans to lift Obama-era limits on military spending and put more money into the over-budget program.

"After years of budget cuts that have impaired our defense, I am calling for one of the largest defense-spending increases in history," Trump said. "And by eliminating the sequester and the uncertainty it creates, we will make it easier for the Navy to plan for the future."

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64 of 74 Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

"Big, big trouble" for America's enemies

Trump toured the carrier with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

"This carrier and the new ships of the Ford Class will expand the ability of our nation to carry out vital missions on the oceans to project American power in distant lands," Trump said. "Hopefully, too, it is power we don't have to use, but if we do, they're in big, big trouble."

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65 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Christening the Ford

The ceremonial christening of sea vessels in the United States dates back to the launch of the Constitution (Old Ironsides) in 1797.

In those days, a bottle of fine Portuguese wine was broken on a vessel's bowsprit.

To christen the Gerald R. Ford, the President's daughter Susan broke a bottle of American-made sparkling wine on the ship's bow.

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (66)

66 of 74 John Whalen for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Flooding the drydock

With most construction on the aircraft carrier finished, Newport News Shipbuilding floods its dry dock in preparation for sending the ship out to sea.

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (67)

67 of 74 Zhang Jun/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Gerald R. Ford christening ceremony

"When USS Gerald R. Ford joins the Navy's fleet in 2016, she will reign as America's queen of the sea for 50 years," said Newport News Shipbuilding President Matt Mulherin during its 2013 christening ceremony.

"She will stand as a symbol of sovereign US territory wherever she sails. She will represent her namesake, a man who embodied integrity, honor and courage."

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (68)

68 of 74 Chris Oxley for Huntington Ingalls Industries

Welcome aboard!

Captain John F. Meier, Susan Ford Bales and Newport News Shipbuilding Vice President Rolf Bartschi make the inaugural cut into a 7-foot cake celebrating the crew's move aboard the Gerald R. Ford carrier.

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (69)

69 of 74 Photo by Matt Hildreth/Huntington Ingalls Industries

Fleeting fame?

The aircraft carrier pulls into Naval Station Norfolk for the first time in April 2017. It will soon be upstaged; the next Ford class ship, the John F. Kennedy, is due in 2020.

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70 of 74 MC2(SW) Andrew J Sneeringer/U.S. Navy

Manning the rails

Sailors man the rails of the aircraft carrier during its commissioning ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. in July 2017.

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71 of 74 Kristopher Ruiz

That is one huge chain

Sailors polish the capstone inside the ship's forecastle. That's the massive anchor chain in the foreground.

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (72)

72 of 74 U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ryan Litzenberger

2015 missile system test

Fire Controlman 2nd Class Shelby Edson and Fire Controlman 3rd Class Lawrence Batcheller test a rolling airframe missile launching system in 2015.

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (73)

73 of 74 Ricky Thompson

Royal wedding, or carrier christening?

How many people does it take to christen an aircraft carrier? Well: This many.

Meet the US Navy's new $13 billion aircraft carrier (74)

74 of 74 Photo By Ricky Thompson

USS Gerald R Ford CVN 78 Shaft Fitting in Machine Shop

A propeller and shaft for the aircraft carrier Gerald R Ford CVN 78 undergo fitting opertions at the Newport News Shipbuilding machine shop 5/22/2012.

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