Despite pandemic, USS Gerald R. Ford crew has next milestone in sight

Flight Ops
Posted at 2:06 PM, May 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-15 18:31:00-04

NORFOLK, Va. - The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't slowed down the crew of the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford.

Commanding Officer Captain J.J. Cummings talked to News 3 anchor Todd Corillo from the warship while underway Friday.

Already during this underway the carrier has qualified VAW-117, the "Wallbangers," as the squadron transitions from the E-2C Hawkeye to the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.

This is the second round of carrier qualifications for the Ford after the ship completed Flight Deck Certification and Carrier Air Traffic Control Center Certification in March.

"We’re currently carrier qualifying about 17 pilots [from VFA-106, the Super Hornet Fleet Replacement Squadron], several will go to the fleet as young Lieutenants. We also have about four or five future Commanding Officers aboard our ship right now carrier qualifying day and night. We hope to have them finished ideally tonight," Captain Cummings told Corillo.

The Ford is then expected to head south and pick up student naval aviators who need to qualify landing on a carrier before they can earn their wings of gold. That will precede the next major milestone for the ship.

"Big event of this underway will be embarking Carrier Air Wing 8. About 1, 200 Sailors and Officers to come onboard our ship for about a two-week underway. The ship’s first ever carrier-air wing integration."

All of this is happening as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed every facet of life.

"It’s been crazy. We were underway mid-March when it all broke out. We left when it was a pseudo-normal society, it broke while we were underway for a month," Cummings said. "We pulled in on Easter to a new society. So it was quite a transition for us to go from normal operations to now the COVID world."

The Ford was able to compile lessons learned from other carriers and Navy commands to develop a game plan for keeping the crew healthy. That has included screening everyone who comes onboard, frequent sanitizing on the ship and use of face coverings.

"Even underway we are using the same measures. We wear masks around the ship when we can, we social distance when we can. We have closed down our barbershop, our coffee shop is closed. We’ve minimized meetings when we can," Cummings explained.

The precautions seem to be working.

"So far we’re approaching seven days with our crew embarked and we’ve had not even a single influenza-like illness, not even a fever onboard our ship. We are completely healthy and we attribute that to the hard work of our Sailors doing these measures and making sure we’re enforcing them throughout the ship."

Work is also continuing on the much-talked about Advanced Weapons Elevators.

"Next big event for us is delivery of Lower-Stage Five. This is our first lower-stage Advanced Weapons Elevator that will bring the weapon up from the magazine up to the flight deck. We’re hoping to demonstrate that capability in a few weeks when Air Wing 8 embarks."

All 11 weapons elevators are expected to be fully delivered and operation before fall of next year.

The Ford is currently in the Post-Delivery Test and Trials period, scheduled to continue through mid-2021.

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