Hail and Farewell: Carrier Ford changes command

The aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford departs Norfolk Naval Base for a year long stay at Newport News Shipyard, July 16. (photo by Mark D. Faram/Navy Times) But Friday’s change of command ceremony didn’t take place on the deck of the $12.9 billion flattop. That’s because the Gerald Ford is undergoing maintenance for the next year at Huntington Ingall’s Newport News shipyard.

Instead the carrier’s crew said farewell to Capt. Richard C. “Red Dog” McCormack from inside Norfolk’s Vista Point Catering and Conference Center, where he relinquished command of the most technologically advanced flattop ever sailed by the Navy to Capt. John J. “Yank” Cummings.

Cummings will preside over a first-in-class carrier undergoing extensive work designed to fix the glitches that have dogged the carrier since it was commissioned on July 22, 2017 and began its shakedown cruise.

The list includes propulsion problems and software bugs but the Ford is slated to return to sea in late 2019 and the Pentagon believes it will deploy overseas three years after that.

“The shakedown period was an opportunity for the Navy to run the ship through a rigorous set of operational tasks and assess her performance," McCormack told Navy Times in an interview. “We now enter a post-shakedown availability period to incorporate several design changes to correct performance deficiencies and complete the installation of other systems needed to ensure the ship, her embarked air wing and the strike group are ready.”

McCormack’s crew spent 81 days at sea testing the Ford, the newest class of American carriers in four decades. One of their most rewarding moments came when they discovered that the shipboard Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System — called “EMALS” — and its companion Advanced Arresting Gear worked well.

The electronic EMALs had drawn the ire of President Donald Trump, who decried the system as an example of military waste . He voiced his support for the old-fashioned steam-driven catapults.

Although commanders planned on only 400 launches and arrested aircraft landings during the Ford’s maiden year of operations, EMALs worked so well that they pushed testing far higher. The crew tallied 747 launches and recoveries, seven of them made by McCormack himself, a career F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter pilot.

“It’s shows your crew that you have confidence in them and in the equipment to have them shoot you off the bow and bring you back aboard from the stern,” said McCormack, a California native who also served as a test pilot.

“Sure, there’s a little disappointment about not going on deployment in this job because at heart, we’re all operators and we want to be on the tip of the spear,” McCormack said. “But there’s also a lot of pride in having been part of an organization that built, tested, shook down and developed the first totally new class of aircraft carrier in the past 40 years, too.”

Originally from Massachusetts, Cummings takes the helm of the Ford after leading the “Red Rippers” of Strike Fighter Squadron 11 and skippering the landing platform dock Anchorage. He also served as the executive […]

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