NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WVEC) -- Huntington Ingalls Industries hosted a ceremonial first-cut-of-steel to kick off the construction of the new aircraft carrier, Enterprise, on Thursday.

The ceremony began at 2:30 p.m. at Newport News Shipbuilding.

Two of the ship's sponsors, and Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky participated in the event.

"Much like U.S. athletes who represent the United States around the world displaying patriotism, pride and strength, so do the ships of our nation," Biles said. "My father served in the U.S. Air Force for over 21 years and taught me discipline determination and dedication to achieve my goals, and these same values are on display as these advanced ships are built here."

Biles and Ledecky gave the order to cut the steel during a ceremony, marking the first construction milestone in the life of the Enterprise.

“We really, truly would not be able to compete at the level that we do without the freedom that we have, and that’s something we promise we will never take for granted,” Ledecky said. “We’re excited to cut this steel today and start this process.”

The Enterprise is the third ship of the Gerald R. Ford class, which is expected to replace the Nimitz-class carriers.

The Ford features a new nuclear power plant, a redesigned island, electromagnetic catapults, improved weapons movement, an enhanced flight deck capable of increased aircraft sortie rates, and growth margin for future technologies.

Each Ford-class ship will operate with a smaller crew than a Nimitz-class carrier and will provide $4 billion in total ownership cost savings for the Navy.