Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt man the rails as the ship returns to its homeport of Naval Station Norfolk, Va., for the first time in four years after successfully completing sea trials. (Navy)
WASHINGTON — Four years to the day from when it was pushed across Hampton Roads, Va., to begin the biggest overhaul of its life, the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt returned to Norfolk Naval Base — reconditioned, refueled and overall much spiffier than before.
The ship returned to base Thursday following four days of sea trials to validate the work and redelivery to the Navy.
The $2.622 billion refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH), carried out about midway through the ship’s planned 50-year active lifespan, is the most comprehensive shipyard period an aircraft carrier will undergo. All of the ship’s major systems are replaced, upgraded or renewed, and both nuclear reactors are refueled. The upgrades give the ships another 23 years or more of active service.
Roosevelt is the fourth carrier to undergo the full RCOH process, each at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. — where all today’s U.S. aircraft carriers are built.
“The ship performed wonderfully. All the systems were operating well,” Chris Miner, the shipyard’s vice president of in-service aircraft carrier programs, said via satellite phone Thursday as Roosevelt headed back to Norfolk.
“The improved capabilities of the ship were shown to be operating properly,” he said. “At the end of the day, TR is [now] as capable as any carrier in the fleet.”
Unlike the previous three RCOHs, Roosevelt won’t be headed back to Newport News for another short shipyard period for work added on since the original work package was agreed to, or discovered during the overhaul.
“We moved a significant amount of work into the RCOH,” Miner explained, eliminating the need for a follow-on shipyard visit.
Completion of the RCOH was originally scheduled for February 2013, but was extended twice due to emergent work and additional modifications. The additional work, according to Naval Sea Systems Command, added about $153 million to the ship’s overall cost.
At peak, Newport News assigned about 4,000 employees to work on Roosevelt, Miner said. Those workers now have been transferred to other projects in the shipyard, including three other aircraft carriers:
■ The Abraham Lincoln arrived in late March to begin its RCOH, scheduled to be completed in late 2016.
■ The Gerald R. Ford, first of a new class of carriers, is under construction and scheduled to be launched this fall.
■ The Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear carrier, was towed to the shipyard in mid-June to undergo inactivation. When the work is complete, the ship will be towed around South America to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., for final dismantling.
Three carriers already have completed the RCOH process: Nimitz in June 2001; Dwight D. Eisenhower in March 2005; and Carl Vinson in July 2009.