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Approximately 300 guests stood on the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) flight deck to witness the January 26 island landing ceremony – the latest construction milestone for the first ship in a new class of nuclearpowered aircraft carriers.
Rolf Bartschi, vice president of CVN 78 construction, opened the program that included remarks by Newport News Shipbuilding President Matt Mulherin; Prospective Commanding Officer Capt. John Meier; Rear Adm. Ted Branch, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic; and Ship’s Sponsor Susan Ford Bales, the daughter of the late President Gerald R. Ford and Betty Ford. Ford Bales, who had arrived a day earlier to tour the ship and have lunch with shipbuilders, praised the CVN 78 craftsmen. "Shipbuilders – thank you for your extraordinary work," she said. "You are a national treasure. Thank you very much." When it was time to move the island, Lead Crane Rigger Curtis Eley handed his radio to Ford Bales so she could signal for the lift to begin. “Lift and move the island,” Ford Bales said through the radio to “Big Blue’s” Crane Operator, Dave Rushing.
“This is the sixth carrier I’ve built,” said Eley. “I’m happy to have had a role in today’s ceremony. I can’t wait to sit down with my grandkids to tell them all about this exciting day.” During the 20 minutes it took to position the 555-metric-ton island on the flight deck, Eley was in constant communication with Rushing and the rigger team. Inches before the island was to touch down, Eley signaled the crane operator to stop for the last part of the ceremony. Mulherin, Meier, Branch and Ford Bales took turns placing commemorative items that included coins and aviator wings under the island. This tradition, also known as a mast-stepping, dates back to ancient Rome where coins were put under the mast of a ship to ensure safe passage and good luck. Ford Bales placed under the island a piece of sandstone embedded with a unique coin she designed for this occasion, as well as five official seals representing her father's service to the
(Turn next page to continue reading) The 60-foot-long, 30-foot-wide island was the 149th superlift of the 162 total superlifts needed to complete the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78). The ship is about 90 percent structurally complete. Photos by Ricky Thompson