The technology behind the most advanced aircraft carrier on Earth

The world's most cutting-edge aircraft carrier creates less waste, more efficiently launches aircraft and is stronger than ever. Here's why it's so smart.

The world's most cutting-edge aircraft carrier creates less waste, more efficiently launches aircraft and is stronger than ever.

The USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of the Ford class of aircraft carriers, is being built at the Northrop Grumman shipbuilding yard in Newport News, Va. It's only 15 percent complete, and is scheduled to sail in 2013 with final touches coming in 2015.

As part of his annual road trip across America, CNET staff writer Daniel Terdiman boarded the U.S. Navy vessel (officially CVN-78) this week to learn more about the technology that makes this greener, faster, smarter aircraft carrier tick.

Among his findings:

  • It replaces traditional steam catapults with an electromagnetic aircraft launch system. Along with advanced "jet blast deflectors," it more efficiently launches aircraft.
  • "Pit stop" fueling stations more quickly prepare aircraft for their next launch.
  • Its "plasma arc waste disposal system" reduces on-board waste.
  • It carries a new kind of propulsion plant.
  • It carries an improved structural design.
  • It's going to be big, to the tune of 1,080 feet long and 100 feet tall, with a flight deck that's 250 feet wide. (At the water line, it will be 134 feet wide.)
  • It will be made with 47,000 tons of steel.
  • The units are pieced together with the help of a the largest crane in the Western Hemisphere, which weighs in at 1,050 metric tons.

But it's not just the ship that's smarter; it's also the procedure for building it.

A "covered modular outfitting facility" has a retractable roof that allows shipbuilders to work in the shade but give them the ability to move pieces of the ship in and out of the building.

Even better, a collaborative three-dimensional visualization system called ROVR shows how the ships myriad parts fit together with color-coded parts, conveying to welders, pipe-fitters and construction managers an understanding of what impact a decision -- such as removing pipes for maintenance -- could have on the rest of the ship over the course of its 50-year lifecycle.

Best of all? These and other efficiencies add up to a cheaper manufacturing cost than the previous Nimitz class of carriers.

To read Terdiman's complete report from the field, head over to our sister site CNET. (Then follow his trip as it unfolds on Twitter.)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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