Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) has ceremonially laid the keel for the US Navy’s third Gerald R Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 80).

The keel-laying ceremony was held at the company’s Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) division in Virginia, US, on 27 August.

It was attended by Congressional representatives, local dignitaries and other US Navy officials including Navy’s Under Secretary Erik K Raven.

The aircraft carrier is co-sponsored by Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky. Biles participated in the ceremony virtually, while Ledecky attended it in-person. 

During the event, initials of both the ship’s sponsors were etched onto the respective steel plates, which were then affixed to CVN 80’s keel.

After welders affixed the plates, Ledecky gave command to NNS crane operator Charlie Holloway to lower the 688tn keel unit into the dry dock.

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This section will support USS Enterprise’s forward half, once the aircraft carrier’s assembling is complete.

US Navy programme executive officer aircraft carriers (PEO CV) rear admiral James P Downey said: “This is a significant milestone for ship and class.

“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 best practices of Integrated Digital Shipbuilding into process, and that enables efficiencies, both in terms of cost and schedule.”

The 1,092ft-long third Gerald R Ford-class aircraft carrier CVN 80 has a displacement of around 100,000tn and can operate at a speed of over 30 knots.

The Ford-class aircraft carriers have been designed to replace the US Navy’s Nimitz-class ships.

Once the construction, which started in August 2017, is complete, USS Enterprise will replace USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN 69), which is expected to decommission in 2029.