Visit to USS Ford, US Navy's most advanced aircraft carrier

Navy Gerald Ford aircraft carrier
F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 31 launches from the flight deck of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).

On 20230807, we visited the latest american aircraft carrier USS Ford (USS Gerald R. Ford, CVN-78). This aircraft carrier is named after the 38th president of the United States of America, who served in the US Navy during the Second World War.

Gerald Rudolph Ford

Gerald R. Ford was the 38th president of the United States of America, from 1974 to 1976. He lived from 1913 until 2006 and during his service time in WorldWar 2, he served in the US Navy on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean.

Trip to the USS Ford

On August 08th, 2023, a group of aviation reporters gathered in the departure lounge at NAS Sigonella (ICAO code: LICZ) on the island of Sicily (Italy). With a Grumman C-2A ‘Greyhound’ (used for Carrier Onboard Delivery, COD), the group flew in some 45 minutes towards the USS Ford, sailing between Sicily and Greece.

Near the USS Ford, the C-2 entered the landing pattern and made a ‘controlled crash’ in the arresting wire on the flightdeck. After unboarding the C-2, the group went to the PAO office , where “Sage” the ship’s dog, was met for an ‘interview’.

Later the group got dressed for the flightdeck operations: wearing long sleeves, long trousers, a cranial with a visor, a white security vest, protective gloves.

During the first flightdeck session, 3 F/A-18s were launched as a ‘cycle 1 launch’ and the flightdeck was cleared. Every person of the group had a one-on-one flightdeck handler to prevent dangerous situations on deck After the launch, the flightdeck was prepared for the landing of the three F/A-18s that were launched earlier, ‘cycle 1 landing’.

That concluded the short trip onboard and the protective equipment was returned to the USS Ford PAO.
Everybody boarded the C-2 again and after half an hour, the C-2 was launched via the catapult for the 45 minute flight back to NAS Sigonella.

During this embankment, the USS Ford participated in the ‘Sage Wolverine’ exercise.

First impressions board

In comparison to the previous USS Nimitz aircraft-carrier class, the USS Ford class of aircraft-carriers has some visual differences.

- The deck is larger than the USS Nimitz-class decks, giving more opportunities to locate helicopters and aircraft. On the Nimitz-class carriers; the helicopters, the C-2s and the E-2s are normally located before or around the island. On the USS Ford these are located on other locations on the flightdeck.

- There are only two arresting cables in use, with one spare arresting installation.
On most Nimitz-class carriers, there are four wires across the deck (‘pilots are aiming for the third wire during landing’). The last carrier of the Nimitz-class, the USS Bush, only had three arresting cables across the deck.

- No steam. All previous US Navy aircraft carriers used steam catapults to launch their aircraft, resulting in clouds of steam crossing the deck during these launches. With the electric launch system (EMALS), there is no more steam on the deck.


Carrier Strike Group 12

Carrier Strike Group Twelve (CSG-12 or COMCARSTRKGRU 12) is one of four U.S. Navy carrier strike groups currently assigned to the United States Fleet Forces Command. Carrier strike groups gain and maintain sea control as well as project naval airpower ashore. USS Gerald R. Ford is the aircraft carrier assigned as the Carrier Strike Group Twelve flagship. Units currently assigned to Carrier Strike Group Twelve included Carrier Air Wing Eight; the Ticonderoga-class cruisers Vicksburg and Normandy; and Destroyer Squadron 2.

Carrier Strike Group Twelve is lead by Rear Admiral Erik J. Eslich, who started his command on May 24th, 2023; while the USS Ford anchored outside of Oslo, Norway.

USS Gerald R Ford

The USS Gerald R.Ford is the aircraft carrier of the United States Navy with number 78 and the nickname is ‘WARSHIP78’, which can be found on social media as ‘#WARSHIP78’ or ‘@WARSHIP_78’. As all US Navy carriers have their own callsign, the USS Ford uses the callsign ‘WOLVERINE’. The motto of the ship is “Integrity at the Helm”, which means “taking care of, and looking out for, our shipmates.”

The USS Gerald R. Ford adopted the 38th President’s name along with the words of the Ford Foundation’s motto, “Integrity at the Helm”.

After the delivery to the US Navy in 2017, the USS Ford suffered for some serious ‘teething problems’ with the armament elevators and the electric launching system (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, EMALS). Using state-of-the-art new technologies meant that only rigorous testing in real-life environments would prove that the proposed solution could work and could be repaired.
This caused some delays until the ship was fully operational in September 2022. In order to weed-out the last details, a small shake-down cruise was held in October and November 2022, which brought the 
USS Ford to the Atlantic Ocean and European seas.

The first full-blown maiden cruise of the USS Ford started in May 2023 followed by a transfer to the US Navy 6th Fleet with headquarters in Napoli, Italy. The 6th Fleet has an Area Of Responsibility (AOR) of the European and African continents, servicing the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S Africa Command (USAFRICOM). During the maiden cruise, the ports of Oslo (Norway) and Split (Croatia) were visited for some Rest and Recreation of the crew onboard.



Squadron name





Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 9


MH-60S Seahawk



Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 70


MH-60R Seahawk



Electronic Attack Squadron 142

Gray Wolves

EA-18G Growler



Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 124

Bear Aces

E-2D Advanced Hawkeye (with refueling probe)



Strike Fighter Squadron 31


F/A-18E Super Hornet



Strike Fighter Squadron 37

Ragin’ Bulls

F/A-18E Super Hornet



Strike Fighter Squadron 87

Golden Warriors

F/A-18E Super Hornet



Strike Fighter Squadron 213

Black Lions

F/A-18F Super Hornet



Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 40 Det. 2


C-2A Greyhound


Sage, the onboard Labrador Retriever

Next to the fact that the USS Gerald R. Ford is used as a modern weapons platform; it also has a different crew member. The carrier has a service dog onboard with the name Sage. The dog is a three year female Labrador retriever, and she is the first dog to deploy with a ship’s crew through a pilot program. This program is meant to address mental health and resiliency. The dog has been trained for at least 120 hours in the United States since Sage was just eight weeks old. The dog will comfort sailors onboard of the carrier and is trained to help them to reduce their operational stress. The dog is raised by the non-profit company Mutts. The company was founded in 2008 to train service dogs for wounded warriors with PTSD and mobility disabilities. The organization in 2019 expanded its mission to train dogs for law enforcement and first responders. In the summer of 2022, the group sent dogs to the George H.W. Bush carrier ahead of its deployment to Europe. The group has also sent dogs to visit crews in ship repair yards and other stressful environments as part of this morale-boosting effort. Before the deployment of the USS Ford was started, the dog was sent already to the ship several times to let the dog getting used to the life onboard of an aircraft carrier. 

The Navy will evaluate the effectiveness of this program during the USS Ford’s deployment and determine whether future carriers or other ships might deploy with dogs of their own. This evaluation will consider the number of interactions between sailors and Sage, whether she increases their morale and willingness to seek out help, and how well she adjusts to life at sea. The dog will be scheduled daily onboard to meet the sailors of the vessel. Also mental boosting sessions will be organized on the ship where Sage is present. The whole goal is to boost the mental health of the sailors at sea. Sage is already a beloved member of the crew since the ship left for the cruise on May 2, 2023.

AirDefender 2023 exercise

In June 2023, a large exercise was held in northern Germany, with many US Air National Guard fighter jets at the airbases of Hohn (ICAO: ETNH) and Schleswig-Jagel (ICAO: ETNS). A detachment of the USS Ford CVW-8 participated in this exercise from Hohn AB, with F/A-18 E/F/Gs.


Navy Gerald Ford aircraft carrier

Navy Gerald Ford aircraft carrier

Navy Gerald Ford aircraft carrier

Navy Gerald Ford aircraft carrier

Navy Gerald Ford aircraft carrier

Navy Gerald Ford aircraft carrier

Navy Gerald Ford aircraft carrier

Navy Gerald Ford aircraft carrier

Navy Gerald Ford aircraft carrier

Navy Gerald Ford aircraft carrier


Text and photos by Joris van Boven and Alex van Noye
Video by Alex van Noye

No comments

All comments related to the contents of our articles are welcome. It is not allowed to post promotional messages, links to external sites, or references to activities not related to this blog.

Powered by Blogger.