The aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford has checked off flight deck certification.

F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, E-2D Hawkeyes, and MH-60S Nighthawks from Carrier Air Wing 8 completed over 400 day and night catapult launches and trap recoveries as part of the certification, the Navy said Tuesday. The ship is poised to get underway again this month for more testing to gear up for its scheduled deployment this fall.

“Flight deck certification is a significant milestone in preparation for our first deployment,” Capt. Paul Lanzilotta, Ford’s commanding officer, said in a Navy news release. “We have more tests and evaluations to complete during our next underway periods, and I have no doubt that our Sailors will rise to the challenge and accomplish the mission.”

The certification comes after the ship wrapped up a maintenance availability and sea trials last month for a sixth-month Planned Incremental Availability at Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Virginia.

Additionally, the ship reached initial operational capability in December, Capt. Brian Metcalf, the Ford program manager, said at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference Tuesday.

The carrier is expected to embark on an unconventional deployment later this year, according to the head of Naval Air Force Atlantic. Rear Adm. John Meier told sister publication Defense News in February that the carrier would deploy for a “service-retained early employment” period, instead of falling under the operational command of a regional combatant commander like standard deployments.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to demonstrate the new technology,” Meier said at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ Technology, Systems and Ships Symposium. “We will be working with partners, we will be working all over the place as 2nd Fleet takes charge of that carrier and operates with a wide variety of operations, up and down the coast, across the Atlantic, down to the Caribbean.”

The carrier was originally scheduled to deploy in 2018. It concluded its first crew certification in November 2021.

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