Saturday, December 13, 2014

Surface Effect Ship

A surface effect ship is also known as a "rigid sidewall hovercraft". There are flexible curtains at the bow and stern to contain an air cushion.

The Navy's experiments culminated in the 1980s with the SES-200:

During the mid-`80s, it was based at Pax River NAS. Quite a few tests were run in the Atlantic, including operations in higher sea states (keeping in mind that, at 200 tons, it wasn't a large ship).

The ride characteristics were different. Going into oncoming seas, the SES-200 tended to knife through smaller waves. But if it encountered a larger wave, the wave would slam against the flat bottom (or the ceiling of the air box, if you prefer). The result was like the ship was punched straight up.

The ship was built and equipped to commercial standards. The radar was a LN-66. Operations were, by necessity, informal enough to drive a tin-can trained officer to drink. There were no gyro repeaters for shooting bearings, so you buoy-hopped and took radar-range cuts to get a position. But when it was riding on its air cushion, it only drew about 5' of water, which is less than a lot of sailboats, so it was harder to get into trouble with it.

There usually were two officers assigned to the ship. It wasn't considered an afloat command, so the boss's designation was "officer in charge". Both officers were post-sea tour warfare-qualified lieutenants (and this was classified as shore duty). If the ship was going out for more than a few days, the commander of the testing operation tried to borrow a qualified officer from another command so that the OODs would be in three sections.

SES-200 was likely the first naval sea-going command to have a female commander, but I don't recollect anyone making a big deal of it at the time.

A few small surface-effect ship test craft were built to conduct research for a 3,000 ton surface effect warship which was thought to be a possible replacement for the Knox class. The SES-3000 program was probably too large of a technological leap, given at the time, not even the SES-200 had been built and the program was axed 35 years ago. One of the 100 ton SES craft fired a SM-2(MR) missile while traveling at over 60 knots.

The Soviet/Russian navy built a couple of 1,000 ton SES warships. That they only built two says something. The Norwegian navy is the only one that has recently built operational SES combat craft.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Movie That Saved a Warfare Community

As a prelude, a story about the Smith & Wesson Model 29:

The Model 29 and the Remington .44 Magnum cartridge were introduced in 1955. A number of handgun experts had been hot-rodding .44 Specials, so S&W and Remington thought they might have a winner.

They really didn't, not at first. A lot of guys bought the gun, fired a cylinder of 240gr magnum loads through it and then sold the gun at a loss. The demand for the gun was so low that S&W only made the revolver in periodic production runs.

That all changed in 1971:

Thanks to Dirty Harry, Model 29s flew off the shelves. The smarter dealers immediately marked them up. Model 29s sold at premium prices for a very long time.

So now over to the Navy: In the post-Vietnam War era, the Navy was struggling to fill the need for new officers in all of its warfare communities. The Navy was nearly twice the size back then compared to today. If you graduated from college, any college, with a C+ average, there was room for you as a naval officer, somewhere. If you proved out to be a complete fuckup, there would be a place found for you to serve out your obligated service.

Naval Air was about the hardest hit. Submarines were viewed as a way to get a specialty technical education that would easily translate into a lucrative civilian career.[1] Surface ships were viewed as a way to do the traditional "see the world".[2] Naval aviation was viewed as a really good way to get killed in peacetime.

It got so bad that the airdale admirals persuaded the rest of the Navy to go along with a plan to recruit young JGs and lieutenants to switch over to Naval Air. It was sort of a "free trial offer", in that if you passed the physical you could switch to aviation, go through the training and, if at any time you didn't like it, all you had to do was quit and you would be taken back into your former warfare community with no penalty. And a fair number did do that.[3]

Things changed in 1986 when some puny white dude wearing shoe lifts starred in a movie about Navy fighter pilots.

The recruiting stations were flooded with young men who wanted to fly Navy jets. Most of them weren't qualified to do that, but quite a number of them were encouraged to enlist for other things.[4]

To my knowledge, the Navy has never hurted for pilots since then. Just as Smith & Wesson has been able to sell all of the Model 29s they make.
[1] They were still building nuclear power plants back then.
[2] Which you did, if you kept in mind that most of the Earth's surface is covered by water.
[3] And a fair number quit, once they found out how much fun it was to land a SLUF at night on a carrier.
[4] Such as chipping paint on an AOR out of Norfolk.