The shipyard: A behind-the-scenes look at one of the area’s biggest employers

Sherry Hamilton and Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Jul 02, 2014 - 02:32 PM

Working for Newport News Shipbuilding is a livelihood that countless Gloucester and Mathews residents have relied on for well over a century. Last Thursday, the Gazette-Journal had an opportunity to take a comprehensive tour of the Huntington Ingalls-owned shipyard on the James River, led by its vice president of operations, Mathews resident Danny Hunley.

More than 900 Gloucester residents and nearly 100 Mathews residents, or 22 percent of all local residents who commute to Newport News for work, are employed at Newport News Shipbuilding.

The tour started inside Newport News Shipbuilding’s state-of-the-art Apprentice School. It continued through the revitalized neighborhood built to accommodate both students and the public, and on through the secured gates of the shipyard.

Inside, the yard’s 23,000 workers were hustling around performing their duties—some of them riding one of the 6,000 bicycles that Hunley said provide an easy form of transportation throughout the city-sized facility. The shipyard also has five miles of train tracks and maintains and operates its own locomotive.

The tour of the 550-acre yard included a first-hand look at many of the manufacturing facilities, including a dry dock spanning the distance of several football fields and a crane capable of lifting 1,050 metric tons of material. Hunley said that the shipyard performs over one million crane lifts a year with more than 600 cranes.

Next on the agenda was a tour along the shipyard’s two-and-a-half miles of waterfront via the tugboat Huntington, courtesy of Captain Allen Sutton of Mathews, the company’s docking pilot.

Out on the water, two of the largest warships built by the shipyard loomed over the landscape, perched side by side in dry docks. The USS Enterprise, the shipyard’s first nuclear-propelled aircraft carrier, which is in the process of being decommissioned, sat alongside the newest carrier, the 1,100-foot Gerald R. Ford, which is in its final stages of construction.

Hunley said only a handful of people in the world are able to move the huge Navy ships, and Sutton, “that old Mathews County boy,” is one of them.