Shipbuilders Go All In for “Big Blue” Repair

Published May 4, 2021

A rare winter lightning strike is believed to have caused damage to “Big Blue,” Newport News Shipbuilding’s 1,050-metric-ton crane, earlier this year. It threatened to disrupt planned lifts for the Carrier New Construction, Virginia-Class Submarine and Columbia-Class Submarine programs.

Adding to the urgency was the fact that the crane was due to be out of service for a month for its annual certification and biennial load testing in February. Once certification expires, the crane is unusable until it is inspected, inspection discrepancies are resolved and preventative maintenance is performed.

However, a group of shipbuilders from O48, O43 and X36 worked around the clock in unfavorable weather conditions to figure out the issue and get the crane back in service within days.

“Our most important asset was down – at one of the worst times for it to be down – and a small group of shipbuilders worked long hours in bad weather using their knowledge, experience and determination, all the time with a great attitude, to get that asset back up and running,” said O48 Manager Ryan Lewis.

Sometime overnight on Feb. 15 or in the early morning hours of Feb. 16, “Big Blue” and a nearby 200-metric-ton crane sustained damage. An assessment on Feb. 16 found a blown fuse. However, after a replacement fuse blew right away, shipbuilders found a burnt control board and a bad motor.

The next day, shipbuilders installed new equipment and continued troubleshooting. X36 General Foreman Jeff Schultz is in charge of the crew that operates “Big Blue” and the mobile crane team that removed the bad motor and transported the replacement. He said both crews were “all in” and knew the repair was vital.

“We controlled our own destiny by making it a pretty speedy repair,” Schultz said. “The quicker we got it back online, the sooner we could get back to work.”

“Big Blue” returned to service before noon on Feb. 18. “It was extremely encouraging to see how hard the team was working in the background to do everything they could to get that crane back up and running,” said Final Assembly Superintendent Sam Carper. “There was a can-do attitude the whole time. Everybody understood the importance and really leaned in.”

While he praised shipbuilders’ fast work, constant communication and coordination, Carper also was glad safety remained a priority when ice formed on the top of the crane. “They were going as fast as they possibly could, but when the conditions were not safe, they stopped, regrouped and waited for the ice to melt,” he said.

Shipbuilders involved in the repair included Mark May (O48), Vernon MtCastle (O43), Brian Boone (O43), Bill Russell (O43), Austin Kemp (O48) and Eric Troshin (O48), Brad Sullivan (X36), Michael Williams (X36), Justin Belvin (X36), Calvin Atkins (X36), Charlie Holloway (X36), Mario Harris (X36), Charles George (X36), Louis Onore (X36), David Dales (X36) and Marshall Hearst (O43).

“Those gentlemen gave effort above and beyond normal expectations, and I cannot thank any of them enough,” Lewis said.