Aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) left Naval Station Norfolk, Va., on Thursday for a brief shakedown cruise after completing a maintenance period that lasted a year longer than expected.
“Ike is currently conducting sea trials off the coast of Virginia alongside engineers and shipyard employees from Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), running through a checklist of evolutions, including conducting small-boat operations, testing countermeasure washdown systems, executing high-speed turns, and testing catapults,” reads a Thursday statement from the Navy.
The planned incremental availability for the 41-year-old carrier began in August of 2017 and was originally scheduled to end by February 2018.
“A disciplined and thoughtful approach to the basics brought us here,” ship commander Capt. Kyle Higgins said in a statement. “We’ve been training for this for quite some time and invested a tremendous amount of sweat along the way. The hard work every sailor put in over the past year and a half demonstrates we have the grit, knowledge, and drive to get this fine warship back to sea where she belongs.”
Without giving specifics, the Navy and ship’s commander cited Ike’s age for partial blame for the delays that tripled the length of the availability.
In a now-deleted September post on the ship’s Facebook page, Higgins compared the work on the carrier to that of a classic car.
“As happens on older cars, more things pop up… There’s some rework, even more things are discovered that have to be addressed – and then you notice something else, and the list of repairs grows,” he wrote.
“This is the situation we’re in here on IKE: second- and third-order effects that we did not anticipate put us in a position where we need to requalify our Reactor Sailors for their watch stations in the plants.”
In November, Ike was moved from Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., across the James River to Naval Station Norfolk to complete the last four months of the availability pier-side at the naval base. The move made way for USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) to enter the shipyard for its own drydock maintenance period.
When Ike returns from trials, it will begin the basic training phase of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, which will prepare the carrier, its strike group and its air wing to be ready for an upcoming deployment.
The strike group includes “the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers USS Monterey (CG-61), USS San Jacinto (CG-56), and USS Vella Gulf (CG-72); the ships and staff of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 26; and the squadrons and staff of Carrier Air Wing 3,” the Navy said in a statement.
Ike has been among the most heavily used carriers in the fleet. Over the last ten years, the carrier has deployed five times. From 2013 to 2015 the carrier deployed four times with only a single maintenance availability in between, which was blamed for a previous Ike maintenance availability stretching from a planned 14 months to 24 months.