July 12 (UPI) -- Huntington Ingalls Industries installed the final piece of the flight deck on the new Ford-class John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier.
A gantry crane lifted the 780-ton, steel-structured section of the upper bow, which is known as a superlift, into place at Newport News Shipbuilding division, the company said in a news release Thursday. It took took 18 months to build the superlift.
HII utilized digital technology, including visual work instructions, to install piping in the upper bow on the final assembly platen on the nuclear-powered ship.
The flight deck's island house -- 588 tons, the 56 feet long and 3 feet wide -- was lowered onto the aircraft carrier on May 29. That date marks the 102nd birthday of the late president and the eight-year anniversary of when the carrier was officially announced.
"We are very pleased with the progress being made on Kennedy as we inch closer to christening the ship later this year," said Mike Butler, Newport News' program director for the Naval ship designated as CVN 79. "The upper bow is the last superlift that completes the ship's primary hull. This milestone is testament to the significant build strategy changes we have made -- and to the men and women of Newport News Shipbuilding who do what no one else in the world can do."
The flight deck will house the navigation bridge, primary flight control, radar and other systems.
"With the island landing, John F. Kennedy takes on that distinctive and unmistakable profile of an aircraft carrier," Rear Adm. Brian Antonio, program executive officer for Aircraft Carriers said at the ceremony in May. "It symbolizes nearing the end of structural work and the start of bringing the ship to life, transitioning steel and cable to a living ship and crew."
It is analogous to "stepping the mast" aboard a sailing ship or the topping out of a skyscraper.
HII expects the Kennedy to be built with considerably fewer man-hours than the first ship in its class, Gerald R. Ford. More than 3,200 shipbuilders and 2,000 suppliers support the construction of Kennedy, the company said.
The Navy plans to spend $43 billion on three new carriers -- the Kennedy, the Enterprise, which is under construction, and the unnamed CVN 81, for which plans are in progress.
The Ford has encountered cost over-runs and delays, including problems with its advanced weapons elevators. Only two of the Ford's 11 elevators are functional. They are run with electromagnetic, linear synchronous motors instead of Nimitz-class carrier elevators, which utilize cables.
The Ford is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in mid-October and deployed sometime next year. The ship was formally commissioned into the Navy on July 22, 2017.