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America's most-cutting edge aircraft carrier comes to life (pictures)

Years in the making, the USS Gerald R. Ford is the first of its class, an all-new carrier designed to be far more efficient and more technologically advanced.

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Daniel Terdiman
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USS Gerald R. Ford

This Saturday, the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of its class, and the first all-new American aircraft carrier design since the Nimitz, will be christened during a ceremony in Newport News, Va. The Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is the Navy's most cutting-edge aircraft carrier ever, built using a 3D product model, and designed to boost the number of planes it can launch and recover by 25 percent.
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CVN 78

An artist's rendering of the Gerald R. Ford shows some of the giant first-in-its-class aircraft carrier's new features.
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Under construction

The USS Gerald R. Ford, seen at Newport News Shipbuilding on February 5, 2013. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is expected to be commissioned in 2016.
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Bow unit in place

The USS Gerald R. Ford's lower bow unit is lifted into place on May 24, 2013.
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787 metric tons

Weighing in at 787 metric tons, the Gerald R. Ford's upper bow is added on April 9, 2013.
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In dry dock

The Gerald R. Ford is seen in dry dock at Newport News Shipbuilding on June 30, 2013.
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Pump room visualization

The Gerald R. Ford is the world's first aircraft carrier to be built from designs first made using a 3D collaborative visualization tool known as ROVR.

The software is particularly useful to the U.S. Navy and to the shipbuilder because it allows every stakeholder in the carrier's construction -- the Navy, the shipbuilder, welders, pipefitters, contractors, and others -- to see the plans in 3D before construction. That makes it possible for the first time to eliminate many inefficient designs that traditionally slow down ship construction. That's because each stakeholder can weigh in in advance on how others' plans will affect their work. For instance, a stakeholder might inform another that their piping plans are a problem because they would make it difficult to take out parts for maintenance without needing to cut holes in the ceiling. Previously, that hole most likely would've been cut. Now though, they avoid that problem altogether. It's hoped that by the end of construction, this process will have saved 2 million man-hours of labor.

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Color coded

Different colors in the ROVR imagery indicate different stakeholders' elements in, for example, the pump room. The system allows for seeing how many systems can be incorporated into a physical space in advance, and how different systems can be made to work in conjunction with the others, avoiding major inefficiencies in the process.
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Propeller shaft tail cap

Using a torque wrench, three workers tighten a stud for the propeller shaft's tail cap.
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Lifting the island

On January 26, 2013, the shipyard's "Big Blue" crane, which can handle loads of up to 1,050 metric tons -- lifts the USS Gerald R. Ford's island into the air in preparation for lowering it onto the carrier's flight deck.
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Lowering the island onto the flight deck

On January 26, 2013, the carrier's island, which weighs in at a hefty 555 metric tons -- is carefully lowered onto the ship's flight deck.
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Dry dock

The USS Gerald R. Ford, with its lower bow unit protruding from the carrier, is seen in dry dock.
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Lifting the upper bow unit

On April 9, 2013, the Gerald R. Ford's upper bow unit was lifted into place at Newport News Shipbuilding. Weighing in at 787 metric tons, the unit contains 19 steel sections and structurally completed the carrier's flight deck.
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CVN 78 under construction

The USS Gerald R. Ford is seen during construction at Newport News Shipbuilding on January 25, 2012. The first-in-its-class aircraft carrier is being christened today.
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Final tour before flooding the dry dock

A final tour of the dry dock before it was flooded in preparation for this weekend's christening of the USS Gerald R. Ford.
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Gerald R. Ford at night

The USS Gerald R. Ford is seen under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding at night on March 20, 2013.
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Ending three years of structural work

Three years of structural erection work came to an end on May 8, 2013, when the shipyard's 1,050-metric ton gantry crane lifted the forward end of one of the Gerald R. Ford's (CVN 78) catapults into place.
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At sea

A computer-generated image of the USS Gerald R. Ford at sea.

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