The Navy will christen the USNS Richard E. Byrd at 7:30 p.m. PDT on May 15. The launching ceremony for the newest ship in the Lewis and Clark class of underway replenishment ships will be held at General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, San Diego.
The ship honors Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd (1888-1957), an explorer famous for his Antarctic expeditions and for leading the first expedition to fly over the North Pole. Like the legendary explorers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, for whom the first ship of the class was named, Byrd bravely volunteered to explore one of the most remote and harshest places on earth. Due to his unquenchable thirst for exploration, he provided substantial contributions to the world's understanding of the Antarctic.
Following his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1912, Byrd became a naval aviator and pioneered many techniques for navigating airplanes over the open ocean including drift indicators and bubble sextants. His expertise in this area resulted in his appointment to plan the flight path for the U.S. Navy's 1919 transatlantic crossing.
On May 9, 1926, Byrd and naval aviator Floyd Bennett attempted to fly over the North Pole. For this extraordinary heroic achievement, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by a special act of Congress.
Byrd departed the United States on Aug. 28, 1928, on his first Antarctic expedition. After World War II, he continued his exploration and led the largest Antarctic Expedition to date, Operation Highjump. This expedition involved 13 ships and 4,700 men who explored much of the little-known continent. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Byrd as officer-in-charge of U.S. Antarctic programs to command Operation Deep Freeze.
Rear Adm. Robert D. Reilly Jr., commander of Military Sealift Command, will deliver the ceremony’s principal address. Bolling Byrd Clark will serve as sponsor of the ship named for her father. The launching ceremony will be highlighted in the time-honored Navy tradition when the sponsor breaks a bottle of champagne across the bow to formally christen the ship “Richard E. Byrd.”
The USNS Richard E. Byrd is the fourth ship in the Navy’s new 11-ship T-AKE 1 class. T-AKE is a combat logistics force vessel that will replace the current capability of the T-AE 26 Kilauea class ammunition ships, T-AFS 1 Mars class and T-AFS 8 Sirius class combat stores ships, and when operating with T-AO 187 Henry J. Kaiser class oiler ships, the T-AKE will replace the AOE 1 Sacramento class fast combat support ships. To conduct vertical replenishment, the ship can carry and support two helicopters.
Designed to operate independently for extended periods at sea while providing replenishment services to U.S., NATO and allied ships, the USNS Richard E. Byrd will directly contribute to the ability of the Navy to maintain a worldwide forward presence. Ships such as the USNS Richard E. Byrd provide logistic lift from sources of supply either in port or at sea from specially equipped merchant ships. The ship will transfer cargo, such as ammunition, food, limited quantities of fuel, repair parts, ship store items, and expendable supplies and material, to ships and other naval warfare forces at sea.
The USNS Richard E. Byrd is 689 feet in length, has an overall beam of 106 feet, a navigational draft of 30 feet and displaces about 42,000 tons with a full load. Powered by a single-shaft diesel-electric propulsion system, the ship can reach a speed of 20 knots. As part of the Military Sealift Command’s Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force, the ship will be designated as a U.S. naval ship and will be crewed by 124 civil service mariners. The ship will also have a military detachment of 11 sailors to provide operational support and supply coordination, and when needed, the ship will carry a helicopter detachment of 39 military personnel.
For additional information about the commissioning ceremony, contact Navy public affairs at (703) 697-5342.