NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- May marks six months since the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) moved from pier 14 of Naval Station Norfolk to dry dock 11 of Northrop Grumman Newport News (NGNN) shipyard to begin its refueling complex overhaul (RCOH).
The RCOH is an extensive yard period that all Nimitz-class aircraft carriers go through approximately halfway through their 50-year life cycle. During RCOH, Carl Vinson's nuclear fuel is being replenished and the ship's services and infrastructure are being upgraded to make her the most state-of-the-art aircraft carrier in service and prepare her for another 25 years or more of service.
With nearly one-third of the dry docking portion of the RCOH complete, the "Gold Eagle," in partnership with NGNN, is well on her way to adding that 25 years or more of service to Carl Vinson.
"This has been hands-down the best relationship between ship's force and a shipyard project team," said NGNN's RCOH Program Director for Carl Vinson, Jim Hughes. "It's been phenomenal."
The Carl Vinson team had a clear vision of how to approach the relationship between Gold Eagle Sailors and NGNN, said Hughes.
"The Vinson team knew how to adjust to the differences between a warfighting environment and an industrial environment. It was clear from the top down that teamwork and cooperation were very important. Because of that, we have an extraordinary working relationship between ship's force and the project team," said Hughes.
The Carl Vinson's RCOH is on track or ahead of schedule in most critical areas, said Carl Vinson Chief Engineer Cmdr. Maria Kinnunen.
"The RCOH is a massive undertaking," said Kinnunen. "There have been cuts made in the whole ship from top to bottom, the island structure is being reconfigured, the ship's combat and self-protection systems are being upgraded, and that's just the beginning. We have completed a great deal of this ahead of schedule and are moving ahead."
The refueling component of the RCOH, the installation of new fuel for the aircraft carrier's two nuclear reactors, is also proceeding according to plan, said Carl Vinson's Reactor Officer Cmdr. Kevin Terry.
"We've been working in coordination with Newport News on the refueling long before we arrived here in November," said Terry. "I have to say, the excellent coordination between Newport News and Carl Vinson is truly a 'Team Carl Vinson' that is working out very well. We continue to improve on the RCOH processes every day."
Much of the work being done aboard Carl Vinson is refurbishing some of the ship's most basic systems. Kinnunen said much of this "non-glamorous" work goes far beyond expectations.
"We're outfitting the ship for 25 more years of service," said Kinnunen. "This is a great opportunity to upgrade things like piping, air-conditioning systems and electrical distribution systems. We have also made massive cuts in order to remove the catapults and arresting gear so they could be refurbished, and our paint teams are working ahead of schedule as nearly half of the freeboard is currently completed."
The RCOH is currently in its "rip-out" phase, where shipboard materials that interfere with RCOH operations are removed from the ship.
"The rip-out really sets the stage for success in the re-installation, testing and certifications phases in the future," added Hughes.
Task-specialized working teams of Sailors from all departments have come together to augment and expedite work being done by the NGNN team. Ship's crew is currently scheduled to contribute 1.3 million man-hours towards the maintenance and refurbishment of the Gold Eagle.
"We asked Sailors to become experts very quickly in skill sets entirely new to them. Tile removal and ventilation are just two examples, and across the board, they've met or exceeded the expectations," said Carl Vinson Maintenance Officer Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Feehan.
Feehan said the work being accomplished by the crew members will allow the ship to exit the shipyard in even better condition than originally expected.
The huge scope of work that it will take to make Carl Vinson ready for another 25 years of service is only part of what occupies the crew of the Gold Eagle, however.
Carl Vinson's Training Department is spearheading the ship's other primary mission during RCOH, maintaining the readiness of her crew as Sailors and warfighters.
A three-and-a-half-year RCOH creates two significant problems in maintaining the readiness of the crew to go to sea: retention and training. During Carl Vinson's time in RCOH, the majority of the crew will have ended their tour aboard, taking with them their irreplaceable experience. Add to that the difficulty in conducting realistic training for the crew in an industrial environment. It's these challenges that keep the training department busy.
According to Carl Vinson's Training Officer, Lt. Mark Woods, the first "pathway" is combat training. Crew members are maintaining qualifications required to operate in their fields of expertise by attending schools, in-house training, and through temporary duty assignments to other commands to keep their skills sharp.
The next pathway is professional training. To further the professional development of Carl Vinson Sailors, a combination of schools, such as Navy "C" schools, as well as locally offered courses, are being used.
Third, Sailors are offered training in life skills, topics that will help them maintain and improve their morale, health and social skills during the extended shipyard period. This training includes topics such as money management, coping with stress, and fitness training.
All the training has a tangible, immediate benefit, according to Woods.
"It will allow us to get out of the shipyard ahead of schedule and under budget," he said. "If we keep training percentages up and sustain our corporate knowledge, our turnover will go much smoother, thereby allowing a smooth transition into the operation environment."
For related news, visit the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn70/.