After more than 2 ½ years spent undergoing its midlife nuclear refueling, hull number “73” glows again on board the aircraft carrier George Washington.

The 244 light bulbs on the island’s port and starboard sides were flipped on during a ceremony Wednesday at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding in Hampton Roads.

It was the first time CVN-73′s hull number had shone from the island since it began its refueling and complex overhaul in 2017.

“We’re proud of the progress being made on George Washington,” Todd West, the George Washington program director for Newport News, said in a statement.

“This is a significant milestone in the ship’s overhaul that brings us closer to delivering the ship to the fleet, where the hull lights will be one of the most recognizable and enduring symbols of our freedom for the next 25 years.”

The island lights of aircraft carrier George Washington were relit during a ceremony Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020

George Washington is the sixth Nimitz-class carrier to go through the mid-life maintenance session, known as a Refueling and Complex Overhaul.

That’s when a carrier’s nuclear reactors are refueled and the flattop undergoes significant repairs and upgrades that are expected to breathe another 25 years of life into the warship.

The carrier’s overhaul is about 70 percent completed and now is going through outfitting and testing, the shipyard said.

“Having the ship’s crew and our shipyard counterparts on hand to observe this ceremony is symbolic of the teamwork required to make an event like this a success,” added Capt. Kenneth Strong, George Washington’s commanding officer, in a statement released by the carrier.

“It is a powerful visual reminder that George Washington is coming back to life and is well on her way to returning back to the fleet.”

The relighting was the latest in a series of celebrations on board the Nimitz-class carrier.

A Feb. 3 ceremony in the carrier’s forecastle celebrated the return of the deck crew to the warship.

On Feb. 22, the crew gathered on the flight deck to celebrate the birthday of the carrier’s famous namesake, ship spokesperson Lt. Tyler Barker told Navy Times in an email.

Newport News Shipbuilding also announced this week that the first of 2,700 compartments on board the future aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy have been turned over to the ship’s crew, which will allow them to begin training.

The second Ford-class carrier, Kennedy was christened in December.

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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