NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – With the words, “I hereby declare the keel of the United States Ship Enterprise truly and fairly laid,” Olympians Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky chalked their initials on respective steel plates, which were then embossed by skilled welders and affixed to the keel of the future USS Enterprise (CVN 80), Saturday at the HII-Newport News Shipyard (NNS), in Newport News, VA.
Ledecky attended the historic keel laying ceremony for the nation’s most advanced aircraft carrier in person, while Biles participated via a pre-recorded message from the World Champions Center in Spring, Texas. Five years earlier, on Aug. 24, 2017, Biles and Ledecky attended CVN 80’s First Cut of Steel ceremony, marking the initial major construction milestone for the Enterprise—the third ship in the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78)-class of aircraft carriers.
On Saturday, after NNS welders Ephony King and Jonathan Rishor finished welding the athletes’ initials on small, steel plates, NNS Lead Rigger, Mike “Chile” Williams, passed a radio to Ledecky, who gave the command for NNS Crane Operator Charlie Holloway to lower the 688-ton keel unit into the dry-dock. This section of the ship will support the forward half of the Enterprise, when the CVN 80 is fully assembled. The ceremonial plates will be affixed permanently to the ship’s keel.
Work on the Enterprise has been progressing on schedule, since NNS loaded the Enterprise’s keel unit during the ship’s first “super-lift,” on April 5th, 2022. With the first main structural member in place, workers have continued erecting the aircraft carrier in the dry dock by joining together a series of pre-outfitted modules.
“This is a significant milestone for the ship and the class,” said Rear Adm. James P. Downey, program executive officer for aircraft carriers (PEO CV). “The shipyard has taken lessons from building USS Gerald R. Ford and John F. Kennedy and applied them directly to constructing Enterprise. Our industry partners are applying the best practices of Integrated Digital Shipbuilding into the process, and that enables efficiencies, both in terms of cost and schedule.”
Capt. Brian Metcalf, who leads the Gerald R. Ford-Class New Construction Program Office, offered examples of the ship’s many construction efficiencies. “Procuring CVN 80 and CVN 81 as part of a two-ship buy has already allowed us to realize efficiencies in the early construction process. And building the aircraft carrier with fewer, but larger, pre-outfitted super-lifts has been a major improvement that contributes to streamlining the construction of CVN 80 over previous Ford-class hulls.”
CVN 80’s dry-dock erection program, for example, comprises 131 such super-lifts. In comparison, crews erected USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) by means of 162 super-lifts, and the Future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) with 155.
Future USS Enterprise will be the ninth U.S. Navy warship to bear the name, with the first being a sloop-of-war, commissioned in 1775, after her capture from the British during the American War of Independence. The last Enterprise (CVN 65), served as the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier from 1961–2017, and is currently moored nearby in the shipyard awaiting the results of an environmental impact statement and a Navy decision on disposal options.
The Enterprise Legacy
On hand to honor the legacy that unites builders and sailors during the keel laying celebration was 99-year-old, retired Chief Petty Officer Bill Norberg, who served as chief yeoman on board USS Enterprise (CV 6) during the entirety of World War II. Norberg witnessed, firsthand, countless pivotal moments during the War in the Pacific, including the Doolittle Raid launched from the USS Hornet (CV 8) and the Battle of Midway. Norberg’s ‘Enterprise’ was the seventh combatant to carry the name.
Kevin Cormier, acting executive director for PEO Aircraft Carriers, noted that Norberg represents the link between CV 6 and CVN 80. “Shipbuilding and maintenance is a tough, enduring business. And the task of readying combatants that serve the sailor and meet the challenge of the seas is more critical than ever.”
Cormier added, “Chief Norberg’s service and his consummate humility is what our business is all about—a chain that endures because of the efforts of sailors and our ship designers and builders to construct, sustain, and support the nation’s aircraft carrier fleet throughout a ship’s entire service life, from design and construction to inactivation and disposal.” In his dual-hatted role, Cormier also serves as deputy program manager for the Gerald R. Ford-Class New Construction Program Office.
Under Secretary of the Navy Erik K. Raven delivered the keynote address and spoke poignantly on the significance of the occasion. “The power of this ceremony—at this shipyard, in our country, on this day—is to mark another ship’s life being started to serve more generations of Americans, service members, friends, families, leaders, partners, and allies.”
Raven added, “Fittingly, in the presence of the previous Big E, we now lay the keel of the next Enterprise—the newest future naval warship, CVN 80.”
Raven also noted that 2022 marks 100 years of carrier-based aviation. He said that while the USS Langley (CV 1) began on 20 March 1922 as an experimental platform, it soon “proved to be the catalyst of a revolution, changing the way we fought at sea and expanding the Navy’s reach. The aircraft carrier became an icon and is recognized world-wide as a beacon of both strength and hope and an undeniable representation of U.S. diplomacy. And the future Enterprise will be another sure symbol of our commitment to protecting freedom on the oceans and around the world.”
Raven assumed the responsibilities of the Under Secretary of the Navy on April 13, 2022. He serves as the Department of Navy’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Management Officer.
Adm. Daryl Caudle, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, explained during his remarks that “Enterprise will be key to advancing the idea of integrated deterrence through its enhanced capabilities, including its unmatched mobility and range; advanced combat and control and communication systems; it’s life-of-ship nuclear power plant; and, perhaps most important, its ability to deliver the most robust and lethal next-generation strike aircraft at unprecedented pace and persistency.”
Other distinguished visitors included Congressional Representatives Rob Wittman, (R-VA, 1st District); Elaine Luria (D-VA, 2nd District); and Bobby Scott, (D-VA, 3rd District).
The Navy-Industry team on hand to commemorate Enterprise’s keel-laying included Jennifer Boykin, president, Newport News Shipbuilding; RADM John Meier, Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic; RADM James P. Downey, PEO CV; and Capt. Hannah Kriewaldt, Commanding Officer, Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Newport News.
Boykin, who served as master of ceremonies, recognized members of the audience, including HII President and CEO Chris Kastner, Newport News Mayor, McKinley Price; Ann Zumwalt, representing
the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy; suppliers from the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition (ACIBC); as well as veterans who served aboard previous Enterprise ships.
The ship’s sponsors are internationally renowned. Ledecky is a three-time Olympian, participating in the 2012, 2016, 2020 Games, earning 10 medals. Her seven Olympic Gold medals and 15 World Championship Gold medals are the most for any female swimmer. Ledecky has broken 14 World Records and 37 American Records during her career. And in June, Ledecky made history when she became the first swimmer to win five consecutive world championship titles in an individual event.
Biles is the most decorated U.S. women's gymnast, with 32 World/Olympic medals. She competed in two Olympic Games, 2016 and 2020, earning seven Olympic medals—the most won by a U.S. gymnast. Biles received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on July 7, 2022 for her work as an advocate for mental health awareness.
With Ledecky’s parents, David and Mary Gen (Hagan) Ledecky, in the audience, the world champion swimmer spoke about everyday workers as the nation’s real heroes: “often unrecognized…who work in very difficult and all-consuming jobs, where things are created and built…and where our health, our society, and our freedoms are protected.” Ledecky thanked the shipyard workers, and said, “By helping to keep our military strong, you are helping to keep our country safe.”
Ledecky also reflected on the service of her late grandfather, Edward Jordan Hagan, M.D., who served with the 1st Marine Division as a combat surgeon “in some of the worst battles” in the Pacific during World War II, and recognized the sacrifices of the shipbuilders, service members, and their families.
She talked about the importance of endurance, fortitude, and consistency in swimming and in life, traits reflected in her favorite training mantras: “Take the lead, keep the lead”; and “No shortcuts.”
Ledecky said, “It’s apparent to me that even as these shipbuilders work with great efficiency—another key in swimming, to complete each task, no shortcuts are being taken to ensure that the “Big E” lives up to its great reputation.” Ledecky encouraged the “Big E” family to “keep the end-goal in mind while celebrating the small victories of your teammates …and encourage each other along the way.”
Co-ship sponsor Simone Biles, speaking in a taped message from her home gym in Spring, Texas, said she was proud to be part of the Enterprise legacy and to celebrate the next big milestone on the ship’s way toward christening and delivery.
The Gerald R. Ford-class
Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers displace approximately 100,000 tons and are 1,092 feet in length, with a beam of 124 feet; and can operate at more than 30 knots. Designed to be operated by a smaller crew than previous aircraft carrier, each Ford-class ship will afford significant savings in total ownership costs during a 50-year service life, when compared to the Nimitz-class ships they are designed to replace.
The future USS Enterprise is scheduled to replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), which is currently slated for inactivation in 2029.