USS Gerald R Ford visits Portsmouth

16/11/2022

In early November 2022, rumours started to circulate that Portsmouth would be getting a visit by a rather large ship capable of carrying in excess of 75 aircraft. Those rumours became a reality when local ship tour companies started selling tickets to get a closer look at this behemoth of a ship. 

When the date of the visit was confirmed, I saw it only fit to book a day off work and head to Portsmouth for the day. So, on Wednesday 16th November, that's exactly what I did! I set off early Wednesday morning to get to Portsmouth in time for my boat ride. 4 hours was surely going to be enough time to get there! Well, due to poor traffic almost all the way there, the seemingly 2-and-a-half-hour car journey was in jeopardy. Getting to Portsmouth at 09:45, we made a dash for the boat and luckily made it! The cruise set off at just gone 10am with a planned return time of 12pm. We headed out to the Solent, where the ship had dropped its anchor for the week. We went further and further out, surely it should be visible by now, it is the biggest aircraft carrier in the world, it's not something you could miss! And then it came into view, and the sounds of cameras clicking started as every spotter on board our cruise boat started taking photos. The boat got closer and closer, you certainly got a feel for the size of this beast! Police boats stayed alongside CVN-78 for its visit, ensuring that nobody got too close to it. An hour later, having made 2 circuits of the ship, we were on our way back to the Gosport Ferry Terminal. 

The USS Gerald R Ford is the flagship of Carrier Strike Group 12, responsible for Carrier Air Wing 8, which involves the below squadrons, all of which were present on the carrier deck:

Strike Fighter Squadron 31 (VFA-31) 'Tomcatters' - F/A-18E Super Hornet - NAS Oceana 

Strike Fighter Squadron 37 (VFA-37) 'Bulls' - F/A-18E Super Hornet - NAS Oceana

Strike Fighter Squadron 87 (VFA-87) 'Golden Warriors' - F/A-18E Super Hornet - NAS Oceana

Strike Fighter Squadron 213 (VFA-213) 'Black Lions' - F/A-18F Super Hornet - NAS Oceana

Electronic Attack Squadron 142 (VAQ-142) - 'Grey Wolves' - EA-18G Growler - NAS Whidbey Island

Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 124 (VAW-124) 'Bear Aces' - E-2C Hawkeye - NAS Norfolk

Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 40 (VRC-40) 'Rawhides' - C-2A Greyhound - NAS Norfolk

Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 9 (HSC-9) 'Tridents' - MH-60S Seahawk - NAS Norfolk

Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 70 (HSM-70) 'Spartans' - MH-60R Seahawk - NAS Jacksonville

The ship didn't make the Atlantic crossing alone and was joined by warships from various nations. 2 of these ships also spent the week in Portsmouth. 1 being the USS Thomas Hudner of the US Navy and the other the SPS Alvaro De Bazan of the Spanish Armada. Upon returning to the harbour, the cruise driver took us further into the dockyard due to still having around 15 minutes left of the trip, which allowed us to take a closer look at these ships. Sadly the helipads at the rear were empty, but having already seen so many different aircraft I didn't mind too much! Unfortunately, no British warships were visible. That was until the driver announced over the tannoy system that the British Warship HMS Duncan would be returning in the next 30 minutes. Having alighted the boat, we stood and waited for the ship. Tracking apps showed that it wasn't far out, and about 20 minutes later it came into view. HMS Duncan was featured on the Channel 5 documentary 'Warship: Life at Sea.' It is one of the most advanced warships in the world. The rear helideck was unfortunately empty. 

All in all, it was a fantastic trip that allowed a different photography opportunity to the norm. It certainly isn't something I'll be forgetting about in a hurry!