Welders involved in the recent Columbia milestone.

Columbia Program Celebrates Milestone

Published April 5, 2022

The Columbia (SSBN 826) team at Newport News Shipbuilding is celebrating another successful milestone in the construction of the first-in-class submarine.

NNS is a major subcontractor and shipbuilding partner in Columbia-class submarines with General Dynamics Electric Boat.

Recently, the NNS Columbia team worked to land, fit and weld the hemi-head on the submarine’s pressure hull. Radiographic testing (RT) revealed a 99% pass rate of the c-seam weld. Frenandez Lee (X18) and Anthony Williams (X18) are among the welders who worked on the project. They both previously worked on Virginia-class submarines and said the larger size of Columbia-class submarines is an advantage.

“It was actually easier than Virginia class because everything is more open,” Lee said.

Williams said first-time quality was maintained, even with welders from different shifts working on the same job. “It makes you feel good as a welder,” he said. “You have to love what you do.”

Radiography crew involved in the recent Columbia milestone.

Nathan McInnis, a Nondestructive Testing (O38) manager who is currently on loan to the Columbia Program as a construction supervisor, said the team overcame challenges and “knocked it out of the park.”

“At the end of the day, the important thing was letting the deckplate experts do what they do best,” he said. “You’ve got a team of welders over here who are invested in the work they do.”

Once the welding was complete, shipbuilders from O38 – including Tim Depow and Keon Smith – stepped in to test the welds. They were given a two-week timeframe. However, they finished their work in less than four days on 12-hour shifts.

Depow was the lead operator for the RT crew. Logistical differences meant the team couldn’t test the Columbia hemi-head the same way it does for VCS boats. They developed a plan that allowed them to capture the images they needed while blocking off a significantly smaller area and not disrupting other work taking place nearby.

“Now that we have all these footnotes and techniques down, we know exactly what we need to do next time. We can get over there and probably knock it out even quicker,” Depow said. “I couldn’t ask for a better crew – everybody from the top down.”

As the safety lead, Smith was responsible for ensuring the job was conducted safely. “It becomes second nature to us, but we cannot be complacent,” he said. “Safety is always the No. 1 priority. You can’t get anything done without safety being a priority.”

Lee, Williams, McInnis, Depow and Smith all agreed having a hand in the construction of a new class of submarines that will serve the nation for decades to come is an honor.

“Together between the construction teams – X11, X18 and O68 – and O38, the Columbia Program is further positioned to continue to meet and exceed the high standards of quality required by our Navy,” said Mark McKain of the Columbia Program Office.