The George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier (photo courtesy U.S. Navy)
WASHINGTON -- For the first time, the Navy has designed an aircraft carrier with women in mind. Gerald R. Ford-class carriers will have gender-neutral berthing and heads without urinals, differentiating them from all previous carriers.
These design details, provided only to Navy Times, give an early look at the amenities planned for the new carrier class, the first of which will hit the fleet in 2015.
Gender-neutral berthing is just one part of a broader plan intended to ensure comfort aboard the carriers, Navy officials said. All berthing areas will be connected to a toilet and shower, and there will be no more crew living spaces with 200-plus sailors, according to Rear Adm. Thomas Moore, program executive officer for aircraft carriers.
Carriers have deployed with women since 1994, but every one built since then has included urinals. By using just toilets, any head quickly switch from male to female.
Giving every berthing area a connected toilet and shower - another carrier first - means sailors won't have to get dressed if they wake up in the middle of the night to use the head.
Engineers have completely scrapped quarters designed to hold 200-plus enlisted sailors. While that's probably good news for sailors, the design also reduces the number of smaller quarters that hold 20 or fewer sailors.
In their stead are more medium-sized living areas.
Specifically, enlisted sailors will be spread among 86 different berthing spaces. Of those, 83 will hold between 20 and 83 sailors; the remaining three will hold 19 or fewer. In comparison, Nimitz-class carriers had 33 spaces with 19 or fewer sailors and three with more than 200 sailors.
An exact layout of every berthing space was not available. But a Ford floor plan for a 36-sailor living area shows three-high stacks of racks, one locker per person plus two dirty clothes lockers and smaller lockers for sailors who do not have storage space underneath their mattress. Directly connected to the berthing areas are three toilets, three sinks and two showers.
Officers may find themselves in larger berthing areas with more racks. The number of staterooms - quarters that accommodate one to three sailors - is dropping from 68 percent of total officer living quarters on Nimitz-class flattops to 52 percent on Ford. Meanwhile, the number of bunkrooms - quarters that accommodate four or more officers - went from 32 percent of officer berthing on Nimitz-class carriers to 48 on Ford. On the upside, Nimitz-class carriers have as many as eight officers per bunkroom while Ford maxes out at six.
All officers will have adjoining bathrooms on Ford. On George H.W. Bush, the last Nimitz-class carrier, only senior officers had them.
Ford-class carriers won't have modular "sit-up" berths, which allow more headroom in the racks. The Navy is sticking with the traditional racks stacked in twos or threes for enlisted and ones or twos for officers.
Sailors contacted by Navy Times about the changes were largely optimistic. Unauthorized to speak on the subject, they spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
Several sailors were glad to hear urinals were going away, mainly because they're harder to clean than toilets and they easily break down. One less toilet fixture also means fewer parts to have to store.
Ford will use a vacuum-powered septic system like Bush, which experienced widespread toilet failures during its first deployment that were due, in part, to narrow pipes. Bush's skipper, Capt. Brian Luther, said he planned to encourage the Navy to make changes to Ford to prevent toilet outages.
There are clear advantages to connecting berthing space to the bathrooms, said a chief petty officer at an aviation training unit.
Many sailors like to sleep in little clothing, he said. On Ford, they won't have to bother with putting on more appropriate clothing before hitting the head.
A corpsman said he has seen sailors relieving themselves into bottles in their rack rather than having to get dressed in the middle of the night.
Sailors also said adjoining bathrooms will likely reduce the harassment sometimes faced by sailors wearing robes or towels in the passageways.
There is one downside, the corpsman noted: If a toilet backs up, it means the smell will drift into the berthing area.
The smaller the crew in the berthing space, the better, added an electronics technician on the carrier Enterprise.
"I live in a 27-person berthing, where we are a tight-knit group," he said. "It is very easy for us to address issues with individual sailors that violate living standards and fix the issue quickly. Some of my colleagues don't have that luxury."