Secret sub with wheels to retire

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Secret sub with wheels to retire

The Navy are to retire a secret nuclear powered sub that was unique.

NORFOLK, Va. — Its oven was actually a toaster taken out of a P-3 Orion. It had no shower, and there were four racks for 11 sailors. The officer in charge slept on the deck behind the conn. And since the Nixon administration, the elite crew of the NR-1 could live on the bottom of the ocean for up to a month at a time.

National Geographic magazine called it “The Navy’s Inner Space Shuttle,” and in many ways, the now retired nuclear-powered, deep-submergence boat capable of 3,000-foot dives was just that.

“I’ve been in it for a month, and it gets a little ripe,” said Robert Ballard, sea explorer and former Navy man who, among scores of other finds, discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985 and John F. Kennedy’s PT 109 in 2003.

Although he didn’t use the NR-1 for those missions, he was aboard for countless explorations, and with its deactivation Nov. 21, he said he hates to see this one-of-a-kind ship retire.

“We’ve lost an asset, and it’s too bad,” Ballard told Navy Times.

Launched in Groton, Conn., in January 1969, for years NR-1 was a secret submersible built to dive so deep it had wheels for moving along the ocean floor. Because of its nuclear reactor, its dwell time was not limited by batteries like other submersibles. But it was not fast, managing a little more than 3 knots submerged.

“That’s more than fast enough to operate near the ocean floor,” said Cmdr. John McGrath, NR-1’s final officer in charge. “I’m a big fan of the ship. I think it’s an incredible chapter in Navy history.”

In its nearly 40-year career, the NR-1 was called for countless missions — from searching for wrecked and sunken naval aircraft to finding debris from the space shuttle Challenger after its loss in 1986.

On its final deployments, McGrath said, the NR-1 was still conducting “highly classified military missions.”

The real loss with the passing of the NR-1, according to Ballard, will be its highly advanced sonar. Unlike the system on an attack submarine, which is directed at the entire water column, NR-1’s sonar was pointed downward and could, as McGrath put it, detect an “empty soda can buried in the sand a mile away.”

In addition to having wheels, NR-1 was also unique in that it had three portholes and 29 external lights to illuminate the depths, along with 13 cameras, hooks, grips and a robotic arm.

It could dive deep because it was built with a very rigid hull and narrow hips — its beam was only 12½ feet. And unlike a combat submarine, it had very few “mechanical hull penetrations,” so while that made it stout, the ship could not discharge such things as wastewater while submerged.

“The limiting factor is the capacity of the toilet tank,” McGrath said. “Living conditions were a little primitive.”

Refueled once in its service life, the NR-1 still had some years left on the clock, but “it reached the end of its service life,” McGrath said. “A lot of our suppliers and logistic sources have long since gone out of business.”

 http://www.navytimes.com/ne...

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By netchicken: posted on 1-12-2008








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