NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — One might well understand if Caroline Kennedy finds the ceremony today at Virginia’s largest shipyard a little surreal.
The “keel-laying” for the Navy’s second Gerald R. Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy, is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, 09-05 at Newport News Shipbuilding, and there will be a live webcast.
A celebration of the start of construction, the event comes a little more than a half-century after the keel-laying for the first carrier to bear her father’s name — in October 1964, in the same shipyard — for which she was the sponsor.
Now 57 and the nation’s ambassador to Japan, Kennedy will sponsor the new carrier, too, participating by video.
Other members of the Kennedy family and their friends will be on hand, including U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D-Mass., grandson of Sen. Robert Kennedy.
“Throughout her decades sailing our seas, the USS John F. Kennedy embodied President Kennedy’s love for our country and our Navy,” the congressman said in an email Friday.
“With new technology and capabilities, but the same name and spirit, the new USS John F. Kennedy and the thousands of sailors who will serve on her will continue to carry on his legacy. I’m truly honored to participate in the keel laying of this ship and look forward to its launching in the coming years.”
He’ll be joined by about 1,500 others, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Reps. Randy Forbes and Bobby Scott, and top officials from the Pentagon, the Navy and the shipyard.
On Friday, the stage was set under “Big Blue,” the monster crane that towers over the shipyard, visible for miles, with “Newport News Shipbuilding” emblazoned across it.
Directly behind the stage: a 960-metric-ton mass of yellow and green metal.
Because carriers are built in modules — assembled component by component, like big Lego pieces — it won’t actually be the Kennedy’s keel that is hoisted by the crane and moved into the adjacent dry dock.
It will be that yellow and green mass of metal, part of one of two engine rooms on the carrier.
Retired Rear Adm. Earl Yates, 91, the first commanding officer of the first Kennedy carrier, will give the order to the crane operator. That would be David Rushing, who has worked at the shipyard for 39 years, 20 of them as Big Blue’s operator.
Perched 200 feet up, in a yellow, 8-by-10-foot cab at the top of the crane, Rushing is no stranger to events like today’s: It will be his fifth carrier keel-laying, after those for the John C. Stennis, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Gerald R. Ford.
“It’s a big milestone for us, and we’re excited about it, but it’s what we do every day,” he said.
“It’s a near-capacity lift,” he added, citing the crane’s ability to move more than 1,000 tons.
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