Sept. 4 (UPI) -- Huntington Ingalls Industries' Newport News Shipbuilding division has reached the halfway point in the construction of the Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy.
The company announced on Friday that it has reached the milestone faster than expected because of changes to how it constructs the ship -- and is right now about 14 months ahead of schedule.
The component installed is a superlift that weighs nearly 1,000 tons. The unit is one of the heaviest of the planned steel structures, the superlift is located in the aft of the ship between the hangar bay and flight deck.
The superlift was largely assembled from 19 different parts before being installed in the carrier in Newport News using gigantic cranes weighing over 1,100 tons.
The modular construction design of the Ford-class will allow for cost-savings and faster construction, according to Newport News' vice president for the CVN 79 program, Lucas Hicks.
"This was a game changer for us," Hicks said in a press release. "Performing higher levels of pre-outfitting represents a significant improvement in aircraft carrier construction, allowing us to build larger structures than ever before and providing greater cost savings."
"This superlift represents the future build strategy for Ford-class carriers," said program director of CVN 79 Mike Butler.
"Not only did we build this superlift larger and with significantly more pre-outfitting, we managed much of the work on the deckplate with new digital project management tools as part of our Integrated Digital Shipbuilding initiative," Butler said. "The lessons we learned from this successful superlift will allow us to build even more similar superlifts on future ships in the Ford-class."
The Ford-class is the largest aircraft carrier ever built at over a 1,000 feet long and a displacement in excess of 100,000 tons. It has a standard crew of 4,539, including the air wing and staff, and can carry over 75 aircraft in a mix of fighter planes, helicopters, and support craft.
The vessel is powered by A1B nuclear reactors and can generate two-and-a-half times the electrical power of its Nimitz-class predecessor, giving it the capacity to mount future weapons and electronics like laser weapons. It also has an electromagnetic aircraft launch system, rather than standard steam-powered catapults.
The first in the class Ford-class was delivered in 2017 and is expected to serve for at least 50 years. The John F. Kennedy and Enterprise will be the next two to come online pending construction at a cost of over $13 billion per ship.
The Kennedy will be christened in late 2019 and is expected to be delivered to the Navy sometime in 2022.