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Reclaiming an Icon—and an Identity

Friday, November 11, 2011

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It took more than 10 years, hundreds of man-hours, 250 gallons of primer, and 260 gallons of paint over 33,000 square feet—but Big Blue has regained its beloved old face.
 
And tens of thousands of shipbuilding families are smiling.

Proud History

Since 1976, Big Blue—the largest Goliath gantry crane in the Western Hemisphere—has dominated the sky over Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. The structure spans the drydock where the company assembles Navy aircraft carriers, lifting massive assemblies into place.

 Big Blue gantry crane, Newport News Shipbulding

 Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.

Repainting Big Blue took six months and hundreds of man hours. The name is 18 feet tall and 360 feet long; the logos, 28 feet tall.

Soaring 233 feet tall, with a 540-foot span from leg to leg, Big Blue has been used to build every U.S. aircraft carrier since the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). The crane was built by the German company Krupp for the shipbuilder’s North Yard expansion project

Until 2001, the 1,050-metric-ton crane sported the company’s century-old name: Newport News Shipbuilding. The crane and name became as cherished a part of the local landscape as the James River that flows far below.

Visible for miles, the crane and sign were part of the fabric of the town and its thousands of shipbuilding families, many of which date back generations.

The Grumman Years

Then came defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which acquired the shipbuilder in 2001, changed its name to Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding Newport News—and abruptly painted over the old name with its own.

 Northrop Grumman
Removing the 10-year-old Northrop Grumman name was a priority for the shipyard’s new owners this year.

That was the situation until March of this year, when Northrop Grumman spun off the shipbuilding business to its shareholders and new local owner Huntington Ingalls Industries. HII also own Ingalls Shipbuilding, based in Pascagoula, MS.

The new owner’s first order of business: Restore the old name—all 360 feet of it, in letters 18 feet tall.

Team Effort

Unfortunately, because the crane is being used to build the Navy’s next aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, it could not be taken out of service immediately, or for long.

During the delay, Huntingdon Ingalls set to stripping the Grumman name from everything else on site, replacing it with either HII’s new logo or NNS’s old one.

In the end, the job took about six months, 250 gallons of primer and 260 gallons of paint. Extensive planning and preparation whittled the actual painting time to a minimum.

Shipbuilders from the yard’s Facilities and Waterfront Support group and painting contractors contributed hundreds of man-hours to the project. Shipbuilders provided all the planning and support activities, including installing the paint scaffolding hundreds of feet in the air—a project that took several weeks.

Snap Contracting of Hampton, VA, repainted the crane girder in its traditional “Northyard Crane Blue.”

Sign Media of Hampton painted the logos and lettering, which included 96 paper templates to lay out the artwork. The Newport News Shipbuilding name, 360 feet long, is painted in “Blueblood.”

The crane also includes the NNS spear and gear and the HII logos—all 28 feet tall in the colors Blueblood and Honeycomb.

‘Reinforces Our Heritage’

The result: “A proud moment—not only for the 20,000 shipbuilders at Newport News Shipbuilding, but for the community we’ve been a part of for the last 125 years,” said Matt Mulherin, corporate vice president and NNS president.

 USS Birmingham, launched March 20, 1942

 US Navy

The USS Birmingham is launched from the Newport News shipyard on March 20, 1942. Newport News Shipbuilding was the nation’s largest privately owned shipyard before Northrop Grumman bought it in 2001. In March 2011, the yard and Northrop Grumman’s shipbuilding sector were spun off to form a new company, Huntington Ingalls Industries.

“Returning to the Newport News Shipbuilding name and logo under Huntington Ingalls Industries reinforces our heritage and our continued commitment to quality, customer focus and building the world’s best military ships.”

The shipyard’s 20,000+ employees welcome the new, old look.

“A lot of people are really proud to see the old name come back up,” Brian Jones, a shipyard engineering manager, told the Newport News Daily Press. “There’s not someone in California owning us anymore. It’s all local—it’s all right here.”

   

Tagged categories: Cranes; Painters; Primers; Scaffolding; Shipyards

Comment from MIKE LEARNED, (11/15/2011, 8:58 AM)

Thanks for remembering BIG BLUE----my Dad survived a fall from the sister crane in Quincy MA shipyard in '40 while painting it.


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