Olympic Gold Medalists and ship sponsors Simone Biles (left) and Katie Ledecky (center) sign a piece of steel for a new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier. On right is Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin. Photo Courtesy Matt Hildreth/HII
Aug. 25 (UPI) -- Huntington Ingalls Industries has started advance construction work on the U.S. Navy's third Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier.
The company's Newport News Shipbuilding division kicked off the effort on Thursday with the ceremonial cutting of a 35-ton steel plate of the Enterprise, CVN 80, under an advance-fabrication contract awarded earlier in the year.
The Navy expects to make an award for the ship's detail design and construction next year.
"With this ship, we will 'boldly go where no one has gone before,'" Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin said in a news release. "She will be built using digital technology rather than traditional paper work packages and drawings. We will build more of this ship indoors, in new facilities so that our people have more opportunities to work under cover and out of the weather.
"CVN 80 will revolutionize how we build ships, just as her predecessor, CVN 65 -- the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier -- revolutionized our industry."
CVN 65 is the now-decommissioned USS Enterprise.
U.S. Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky participated in the steel-cutting ceremony.
Ford-class carriers, which will replace Nimitz-class vessels, feature new nuclear power plants, electromagnetic catapults, improved weapons movement and an enhanced flight-deck capabilities.
The second Ford-class carrier, John F. Kennedy, is currently under construction, with more than half of its structural units already erected, Newport News Shipbuilding said.