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USS Gerald R. Ford Accepts Two Advanced Weapons Elevators.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- The Navy's newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), marked major milestones with the recent deliveries of its first two advanced weapons elevators (AWEs), setting the tone for more positive developments in the year ahead.

AWE Upper Stage No. 1 was turned over to the ship Dec. 21 following testing and certification by engineers at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS), where the ship is currently working through its post-shakedown availability (PSA). The second elevator, AWE Upper Stage No. 3, followed Feb. 14.

Ford is the flagship of the Navy's new class of aircraft carrier, the first new carrier design in more than 40 years. Unlike weapons elevators on Nimitz-class carriers, which use cables for movement, Ford-class elevators work via electromagnetic, linear synchronous motors, allowing for greater capacities and faster movement of weapons.

The new design will allow the ship to move up to 24,000 pounds of ordnance at 150 feet-per-minute. Nimitz-class elevators can move 10,500 pounds at up to 100 feet-per-minute.

"This will allow us to load more aircraft faster and, in the long run, increase our overall sortie generation rates," said Lt. Cmdr. Chabonnie Alexander, Ford's ordnance handling officer.

Beyond the new AWEs, the ship's design offers additional opportunities to streamline the overall movement and assembly of weapons. Ford features three upper-stage elevators that move ordnance between the main deck and flight deck, and seven lower-stage elevators that move ordnance between the main deck and lower levels of the ship.

An additional benefit of the ship's design is a separate utility elevator that can serve as a dedicated lift to move both ordnance and supplies, and also serve as a means to medically evacuate injured personnel from the flight deck to the hangar bay. This allows the 10 main AWEs and Ford's three aircraft elevators to be dedicated to their primary missions of ordnance and aircraft movement during real-world operations.

Though the first two elevators have been accepted, work still remains on the remaining nine. Acceptance of the AWEs offer an opportunity for Ford Sailors to become acquainted with the equipment during the PSA, said Cmdr. Joe Thompson, Ford's weapons officer.

"This gives us more time to learn and become subject matter experts," Thompson said. "All of us are learning on brand new systems and brand new concepts. This acceptance gives us the opportunity to have that 'run time' on the physical aspects of the elevator, but also in evaluating the technical manuals, and learning the maintenance required to keep them operational."

With two elevators in hand, Thompson explained that Sailors training on these new systems will be able to take the lessons learned from Upper Stage No. 1, and apply them to Upper Stage No. 3, thereby streamlining the learning process and lessening the learning curve.

"This is going to allow us to progress faster," he said. "As we get smarter on one, we move on to the next and apply the lessons learned not only with regard to elevator operation, but also in the testing and certification and maintenance processes."

"We are glad to be able to accept the second AWE," said Chief Machinist's Mate Franklin Pollydore, leading chief petty officer for G-4 division, the team currently training on the AWEs. "Having a second AWE will give us the opportunity to apply everything we have prepared for while allowing us to utilize all the experience gained since AWE Upper Stage No. 1 was turned over to the ship."

Upper Stage No. 3 is located in the ship's aft weapons handling area, giving the ship two upper stage elevators in each of its handling areas--Upper Stage No. 1 is in the forward handling area.

"This is a huge step for us," Thompson said. "With one forward, and now one aft--this brings us one step closer to being a truly lethal weapons department."

The dedicated weapons handling areas between the hangar bay and the flight deck are unique to the Ford-class and eliminate the need for a "bomb farm" like those of Nimitz-class carriers while reducing horizontal and vertical weapons movements to various staging and build-up locations. This ultimately offers a 75-percent reduction in the distance ordnance must travel from magazine to aircraft.

With more than two decades of weapons handling experience, Thompson explained that while the dedicated weapons handling areas offer advantages in speed and lethality, they also offer gains in the safe handling of ordnance.

"From a weapons safety perspective, this is a huge advantage," he said. "We have two dedicated locations that are not on the flight deck or in the hangar bay that have 24-7 overhead sprinkler coverage and the ability to jettison in the case of an emergency. To have these locations that allows us to operate without interfering with flight operations or in the hangar bay makes our ship that much safer."

Acceptance of the second elevator was accelerated due to a merging of the test programs between NNS and the Naval Surface Warfare Center, which removed redundant steps and moved certification up by 10 days. The team has identified other areas where redundancy can be removed to make the acceptance timelines more efficient.

For Ford Commanding Officer Capt. J.J. Cummings, the process improvement again showcases the talent of the collective team of professionals working to bring these elevators online and bring Ford closer to operational employment.

From USS Gerald R. Ford Public Affairs.

Caption: Machinist's Mate 2nd Class Shameka Judene, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford's (CVN 78) weapons department, operates Advanced Weapons Elevator (AWE) Upper Stage No. 3.

Caption: Electrician's Mate 3rd Class Mitchell McBride, also assigned to Ford's weapons department, observes AWE Upper Stage No. 3.

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Title Annotation:Airscoop
Author:Newman, Jeff
Publication:Naval Aviation News
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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