The aircraft carrier USS George Washington is undergoing more trials after six years of maintenance in Hampton Roads.

The carrier was at sea starting Thursday. The USS Washington entered its mid-life refueling and maintenance at Newport News in 2017. Delayed by COVID-19 and an overall maintenance backlog among Navy ships, the carrier and crew left the shipyard in May.

The crew has turned over nearly three times since the maintenance cycles began six years ago. Roughly 85% of the carrier’s crew had not been to sea before the ship left the yard.

Capt. William Mathis, the ship’s executive officer, says morale improved dramatically in just a few months, now that the ship is underway again.

“Now we’ve been out to sea at least three or four times. We’ve demonstrated we can operate the aircraft carrier. The confidence of the crew has increased a lot. Still a long way to go, but we’ve come a long, long way.”

The Navy launched an investigation after three sailors committed suicide in just over a week in April 2022, uncovering poor living conditions at the shipyards. 

At the moment, the Washington is the only carrier operating at sea along the East Coast. It was operating off the coast of Florida late last week, to avoid the higher waves caused by Hurricane Lee. 

The carrier will continue to gear up through the end of the year, including training with an air wing from Naval Air Station Oceana.

After that, it will leave Hampton Roads for San Diego, going around Cape Horn in South America. In San Diego, the carrier will finish its pre-deployment qualifications before taking the place of the USS Ronald Reagan in Japan.