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USS Hawkbill (SSN-666)
Completes SCICEX ’98

Compiled primarily from COMSUBPAC’s website at

PCU Connecticut (SSN-22)
Completes Sea Trials

Submitted by PEO (SUBS)

Bottom Time-Thirty Years With
Turtle and Sea Cliff

by David Reid, Northrop Grumann Oceanic Systems,
and Daniel Will,
Deep Submergence Systems Program Office


USS Hawkbill (SSN-666)
Completes SCICEX ’98
Compiled primarily from COMSUBPAC’s website at

Among the surprising discoveries of Submarine Science Expedition (SCICEX) ’98 was an apparent two-degree increase in the temperature of North Atlantic water entering the Arctic, compared to similar measurements made only a few years ago. “The upper ocean is warming,” said Dr. Robin Muench, senior scientist of the mission. “With the warming of the upper ocean is a slow change in sea level, because when you warm sea water it expands. You’re seeing a change on the order of a few centimeters a year,” Muench remarked, “but is this going to continue for 50 years and cause real problems, or is it going to end in five years? We don’t know, and that’s why we need to study it.” This is typical of the questions that the SCICEX series of scientific cruises is trying to answer about the oceanography of the Arctic basin. The fourth of five planned yearly expeditions ended on September 15, 1998, when USS Hawkbill (SSN-666) returned to Pearl Harbor from a three-month patrol that included 32 days beneath the Arctic ice cap.

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Santa Claus Greets Hawkbill's crew after they
arrive at the North Pole

Under the command of CDR Bob Perry, Hawkbill embarked two Navy and five civilian scientists – and a wide variety of experimental equipment and special measurement systems – for collecting data on the physical and chemical properties of Arctic sea water, mapping the ocean bottom, and measuring ice thickness. Departing Pearl Harbor on 1 June 1998, Hawkbill transited northward through the Bering Strait and passed under the polar ice cap for a series of scientific transects that incorporated geophysical surveys, water sampling, biological casts, and four surface stations, including one at the North Pole. Hawkbill’s crew were full participants in all aspects of the expedition, not only in meeting the difficult challenges of under-ice and cold-weather operations, but also in standing scientific watches, deploying and retrieving equipment at the surface stations, and collaborating with the civilian party in real-time planning and execution of the experimental program.

In addition to the ship’s standard equipment, several additional systems were taken on board to support SCICEX ’98. An upward-looking sidescan sonar and a video camera provided a detailed view of the ice canopy from underneath. For mapping the ocean bottom, Hawkbill carried a gravity measuring system, a sub-bottom profiler, and a swath bathymetry sonar. To monitor and record all the data from these systems, and to store supplies and support equipment, part of Hawkbill’s torpedo room was converted to a mini-laboratory by removing 12 torpedoes and fitting both electronic equipment and bench space for collecting and analyzing water samples.

During the expedition, Hawkbill surfaced four times, including one evolution at the North Pole through four-foot thick ice. It took seven attempts to shatter and break through the ice cover, but the crew was rewarded by a beautiful summer day with brilliant blue skies overhead and no wind. Despite the need to perform several science experiments at the Pole, the crew made the event a festive occasion. All on board were able to stretch their legs at the top of the world, with opportunities for football, golf, and photos with Santa Claus – all on solid ice, two miles above the ocean floor. What an unforgettable occasion for all hands!

At three “surface science stations,” Hawkbill sought out gaps in the ice where the ship could surface in open water and remain for several hours of measurements. Once on the surface, the crew erected a large prefabricated gantry aft of the sail from modules man-handled up from the torpedo room, and a small, heated deck enclosure was installed for the scientists to process water samples winched up from as much as a mile down. Despite having to set up and take down the experimental apparatus in bitter cold, biting Arctic winds, snow, and sleet, Hawkbill’s crew made each surface station a total success in gathering all the data required.

Represented in the civilian party were researchers from the University of Hawaii, Columbia University, the University of Texas, the University of Washington, the United Kingdom’s University of Southampton, and the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL) in San Diego. The SCICEX program was created in 1994 after a successful proof-of-concept cruise by USS Pargo (SSN-650) a year earlier. The overall goal has been to provide carefully selected Arctic oceanographers relatively unhindered access to one of the most inhospitable and least understood regions of the world ocean. Jeff Gossett, Director of Fleet Operations for ASL, notes that, “Since the program began, we have almost doubled the information we have on the Arctic.” The findings are equally useful for potential naval operations and civilian scientific purposes.

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A participating SCICEX scientist prepares to gather a deepwater
sample at one of Hawkbill's Arctic "surface science stations"

All of the SCICEXs have been hosted on USS Sturgeon (SSN-637)-class submarines, with the first three aboard USS Cavalla (SSN-684), USS Pogy (SSN-647), and USS Archerfish (SSN-678) in 1995, 1996, and 1997, respectively. Hawkbill, CDR Perry, and his crew will repeat their role next year in hosting the last of the SCICEXs in this series. “The Sturgeon-class submarine was built especially to work under the ice caps of the polar regions, hunting Russian subs during the Cold War,” said Perry. Improved 688- and Seawolf-class submarines retain this under-ice capability for the Submarine Force.

In addition to their pride in the remarkable scientific achievements of Hawkbill on SCICEX ’98, the submarine’s crew came away with a tremendous feeling of confidence and accomplishment. For several months, they operated in one of the most remote and environmentally hostile regions on earth – thousands of miles from the nearest support – without a single major equipment problem. For most of the crew, this was their first experience of submarine Arctic operations, and their exposure to the engineering challenges of extremely cold water and unique Arctic effects on sensors, navigation, and communication has been invaluable. Additionally, the specific demands of the scientific program took the ship’s control party into parts of the maneuvering envelope they had never explored before, and the result has been much greater understanding of what the ship can do. Hawkbill’s superb accomplishments on SCICEX ’98 are a great tribute to the ability of the crew and the civilian party to function at the top of their form, not only as individuals, but as a finely coordinated team. And just wait until next year!!


PCU Connecticut (SSN-22)
Completes Sea Trials
Submitted by PEO (SUBS)

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PCU Connecticut steams toward sea trials.

Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Connecticut (SSN-22), the second of the Seawolf (SSN-21) class, has successfully completed initial sea trials. The Alpha Sea Trials consisted of operating the propulsion plant at full power and diving to 77 percent of test depth. Connecticut was able to complete this evolution ahead of schedule and returned to port early. Admiral Frank “Skip” Bowman, Director of Nuclear Propulsion, was on hand for these first tests and was thoroughly impressed by Connecticut’s performance. Next, the Bravo Sea Trials required diving to test depth and checking all major hull, machinery, and electrical equipment. On Connecticut, the Charlie Sea Trial, which includes builder’s noise surveys and certification of the combat system and sonar installation, was combined with the Bravo tests.

This consolidation of the Bravo and Charlie trials was based on high confidence that the Connecticut’s systems would operate well and prior experience with the first-of-class USS Seawolf (SSN-21). To accomplish a task of this magnitude and risk, Connecticut’s crew and shipyard workers tested combat systems pierside while correcting minor material deficiencies identified from the Alpha Sea Trials. Although a compacted schedule of this type had never been attempted before, Connecticut’s crew and General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Corporation worked closely together to carry it off superbly. “The key to success during the combined Bravo/Charlie Trials was continued close cooperation between the ship and the shipyard. As was true during the entire construction period, the crew and Electric Boat personnel worked together as an effective team, and everything came out right,” said CAPT Larry Davis, Commanding Officer of PCU Connecticut. The effort saved more than two weeks in the testing schedule and generated almost one million dollars in cost avoidance. PCU Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) will also incorporate this approach into its trial plan.

LCDR Brad Buswell, Executive Officer, gave particular credit to TMC (SS) Pete Hoffacker, Leading Petty Officer of the Torpedo Division, for performing the weapons handling and delivery system tests safely in less than half the allotted time. Having studied the lessons learned from the Seawolf’s launcher trials, the well-organized Torpedo Division was able to take advantage of open periods in the ship’s trial schedule to complete the weapons handling and delivery system test with outstanding proficiency.

Connecticut continued with a Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) trial to certify the ship’s material readiness condition prior to her delivery in November. Commissioning will take place in December, and the Principal Speaker will be Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT). The ship’s sponsor will be Connecticut’s First Lady, Patricia L. Rowland, wife of Governor John G. Rowland. The ceremony will take place at the Naval Submarine Base Groton, Connecticut, which will also be the ship’s homeport.


Bottom Time-Thirty Years With
Turtle and Sea Cliff

by David Reid, Northrop Grumann Oceanic Systems, and Daniel Will,
Deep Submergence Systems Program Office

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DSV support ship Laney Chouset and Sea Cliff

Turtle to surface: “Departing bottom.” It is late August 1997, and the U.S. Navy’s Deep Submergence Vehicle Turtle (DSV-3) is about to make its long ascent from the ocean floor. Although this has been a routine dive, it takes on historic significance. This is the last time that Turtle will make its way up through the water column, because after surfacing, it will be retired from active service. Thirty years earlier, work had just begun on building Turtle and its sister submersible Sea Cliff (DSV-4). During their careers, they participated in deep-sea search and recovery, oceanographic research, and underwater archaeology.

All the Way to 20K
Turtle and Sea Cliff are classified as manned, non-combatant, untethered submersibles. Each vehicle consists of a 7-foot diameter spherical pressure hull mounted on a metal frame. Inside the hull are the control electronics for navigation, lighting and video, and a life support system capable of supporting a crew of three for 72 hours. Located externally on the frame are the battery and hydraulic, ballast, trim, and propulsion systems. There are also two manipulators that allow the vehicles’ crews to handle and retrieve items on the seafloor.

The vehicles were launched on 11 December 1968 and accepted by the Navy in 1970. In keeping with the Navy’s submersible tradition, they are named for towns in the United States whose names are reminiscent of the ocean or sea life. Turtle was named after Turtletown, Tennessee, while Sea Cliff’s namesake is Sea Cliff, New York.

Both submersibles were initially rated for a depth of 6,500 feet but received upgrades in the early 1980s. Turtle reached a depth of 10,000 feet on 3 October 1980, and Sea Cliff made it to 20,000 feet on 10 March 1985. At that depth, Sea Cliff was capable of reaching 98 percent of the world’s ocean floor, an area roughly six times that of the surface of the moon. As a result, Sea Cliff enjoyed the distinction of being named flagship for the “Year of the Ocean” in 1985.

Retrieval from the Deep
The two vehicles were always ready to meet the challenges of search and recovery in the deep ocean and were involved in several unique deep-sea salvage operations. In 1982, Turtle assisted in recovering a pipe bundle at 4,000 feet off Hawaii. The bundle, consisting of three 4-foot diameter, 2,250-foot long pipes, was used for the Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Project. Turtle located the bundle on the bottom and attached cable cutters to its mooring, so that when it was released from the ocean floor it could be recovered intact.

Sea Cliff and Turtle were often called upon to locate and recover Navy equipment that was lost at sea. During its 20,000 foot sea trials, Sea Cliff was ordered to the site of a downed Marine Corps Sea Stallion helicopter. Operating at 1,500 feet, Sea Cliff used its manipulators both to retrieve pieces of the aircraft directly and to attach lift lines to other parts. Sections as heavy as 10,000 pounds were recovered. Overall, 61 dives were made, and 80 percent of the aircraft was retrieved. Most importantly, Sea Cliff found and recovered the remains of the aircraft’s four crew members for family burial. Similarly, in 1995, when a Navy swimmer delivery vehicle (SDV) was lost in 814 feet of water off Hawaii, Turtle found and retrieved it in an operation many thought was impossible.

In 1989, United Airlines Flight 811 experienced an explosive decompression while en route from Hawaii to Australia. The aircraft made an emergency landing but lost nine passengers and suffered extensive damage due to the loss of a cargo door. Using data from a Navy radar system that tracked the door from the aircraft to the ocean surface, Sea Cliff located the door at a depth of 14,200 feet and recovered both the upper and lower sections.

Whale Bones and Brittlestars
Both Turtle and Sea Cliff have made significant contributions to marine science and archaeaology:

• In 1988, Turtle conducted a series of dives with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) remotely operated vehicle Jason as part of the Jason IV Project. Video from these dives was beamed around the world so school children could experience ocean science and exploration firsthand.
• Turtle conducted an expedition to the East Pacific Rise off Baja California in 1990 and used an experimental sonar to image hydrothermal vent plumes. The first three-dimensional representation of a vent plume was developed from these data.
• Also in 1990, Sea Cliff located the wreck of the Navy dirigible USS Macon at a depth of 1,450 feet. The submersible also found the four Sparrowhawk scouting airplanes that Macon was carrying when she crashed at sea in 1935.
• Sea Cliff photographed many of the warships that sank during the Guadalcanal campaign on the 50th anniversary of the battle. This 1992 expedition was later featured in a National Geographic television special.
• In 1995, Turtle helped observe and collect samples of a deep-sea starfish known as the Brittlestar. This provided marine biologists with their first accurate information on the characteristics and behavior of this deep-ocean species.
• On another occasion in 1995, Turtle explored whale graveyards in the Catalina Basin to assess the impact of the changing environment on ocean species. During that operation, a tubeworm was discovered living in a whale skeleton, the first tubeworm found outside a hydro-thermal vent field.

A Final Surfacing
A victim of post-Cold War budget reductions and technical advancements in remotely operated vehicles, Turtle was retired in the manner it served: without fanfare or celebration. The submersible is being readied for loan to the Mystic Aquarium, Institute for Exploration, where it will be placed on permanent display. Meanwhile, Sea Cliff has been turned over to the Office of Naval Research and is currently being stored at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute while its future is debated.

Turtle and Sea Cliff will always be remembered by those who designed, maintained, and served aboard them. They were not just Navy submersibles; they were national assets.

Fair Winds and Following Seas, Turtle and Sea Cliff!