Mike Ault's thoughts on various topics, Oracle related and not. Note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are not contributing to the overall theme of the BLOG or are insulting or demeaning to anyone. The posts on this blog are provided “as is” with no warranties and confer no rights. The opinions expressed on this site are mine and mine alone, and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Atoms to Plowshears (Literally and figuratively)

I took a trip to Seattle, Washington (well, actually Bellevue) to attend PSOUG Oracle Days (Peugeot Sound Oracle Users Group) last week. The conference was fine, people seemed to get what they wanted from it (according to those I asked.) I wish more folks had come by the booth to ask about Texas Memory Systems SSD technology, but I guess you can’t have everything! I had about 20-30 folks in my presentation: “The New Tuning Universe of Oracle11g” and had some good questions and the audience was very interactive and showed interest.

After the conference I had some time to kill so I decided to visit Magnuson State Park. It wasn’t an arbitrary decision just selected at random from the Seattle area map, I had heard (and seen some pictures) of a sculpture there and decided to visit there if I could as a result. My first set of directions actually took me to the artist’s house, I didn’t stop in and say hi, but just backtracked and went to the park.

Partial Shot of Sculpture

In the picture shown above, if you are not sure what you are looking at, let me explain. From the 1950’s to the current date the USA has been building and using Nuclear Submarines, starting with the USS Nautilus, SSN 571 commissioned in 1954. Both search and destroy (fast attack) and stealth missile deployment (Ballistic Missiles) submarines utilize stern planes and sail planes (the “sail” is what landlubbers would call the conning tower.) The sail planes are also called the dive planes as they are used to cause the submarine to dive and surface when it is neutrally buoyant.
The sail planes have to be particularly ridged and strong as they needed to also withstand the incredible forces generated when a submarine is forced to break through the ice in polar regions, while still being relatively light weight. This strong but light structure for the sail planes was achieved by making them hollow and filling them with special high density foam. The high density foam makes them very difficult to melt down, so when the submarines are decommissioned and scrapped, the sail planes are usually set aside.
In 1998 John T. Young, a Seattle artist, asked the government for any stainless steel scraps he could use for doing sculptures and they gave him the sail planes from several decommissioned and scrapped submarines, he used them to create 2 sculptures, one in Seattle and one in Miami, the submarines used were:

Seattle Fins: SSN 669 Seahorse, SSBN 641 Simon Bolivar, SSN 652 Puffer, SSN 615 Gato, SSBN 620 John Adams, SSN 595 Plunger, SSN 638 Whale, SSN 667 Bergall, SSN 673 Flying Fish, SSN 597 Tullibee, SSN 650 Pargo, SSN 662 Gurnard.

Miami Fins: Sea Devil SSN 664, Pogy SSN 647, Sand Lance SSN 660, Pintado SSN 672, Trepang SSN 674, Billfish SSN 676, Archerfish SSN 678, Tunny SSN 682, Von Steuben SSBN 632, Sculpin SSN 590, Cavalla SSN 684.

I served on two nuclear submarines during the period 1976-1979, the USS John Adams, SSBN 620 and the USS Bergall, SSN 667, so you can see my interest in the Seattle sculpture. The SSBN on the Adams number means she was a ballistic missile boat, we carried up to 16 Poseidon missiles with MIRV warheads (multiple independent re-entry vehicle, meaning each missile of the Poseidon class could hit multiple targets) with the nuclear capability that exceeded the explosive power of all the munitions used in WWII. All this was used to carry out the MAD (mutually assured destruction) doctrine between the USA, USSR and at times Communist (Red) China, although the main targets were predominantly in the USSR. The SSN means the Bergall was a fast attack submarine used to hunt and kill other ships, including hostile submarines.

The MAD concept was that the SSBN type submarines, being undetectable, would be unstoppable launch platforms that would be used to respond to any nuclear aggression from anywhere in the world. Thus assuring we could utterly destroy Russian civilization should they launch a first attack that succeeded in taking out our land based missile systems. The Russians spent a great deal of time, money and resources trying to find ways to beat the SSBN submarines, in no small part they were one of the key technologies that kept the Russians and Chinese from launching a first strike during the worst part of the cold war.

ComSubLAnt (Commander Submarine Atlantic) could communicate with us using radio and LFT (Low Frequency Transmissions.) They kept the encrypted traffic going 24X7 replacing any actual command traffic with 15 word family grams, news and other items to not allow the Russians the ability to sense something was happening by seeing increased communications traffic. Each sailor was only allowed a limited number of family grams per patrol, no reverse communication, from the sailors back to the families was allowed. A patrol lasted 3 months with most of that spent underwater on patrol and the balance in such sun-fun spots as Holy Loch, Scotland repairing what the other crew broke on their patrol. The SSBNs had two crews, the Golds and Blues, I was on the gold crew. You usually spent about 70-80 days underwater with no fresh air, no outside views and no females! Your biggest enemies where boredom and doing qualifications, you didn’t think about the hundreds of pounds per square inch of pressure that were striving to snuff out your life every second of every day while you were on patrol or you would go mad.

We were the warriors of the cold war. The cold war was officially over (at least most felt it was) when the Berlin wall was taken down in 1989, the submarine fleet was as much responsible for that as any president. We were away 3 months out of every 6 from our families, for these patrols, I did 5 patrols and a DASO run for a total of 18 months out of the 33 I spent on the Adams. At just about any time during those 18 months a worn seal, a broken valve, a busted pipe could have killed us all, as it did for the sailors on the two nuclear submarines that didn’t come back, the USS Thresher, SSN 593 and the USS Scorpion, SSN 589. Believe me, listening to the pings and squeals as we went to test and one time to crush depth was a bit unnerving when you realized how much pressure it took to do that to several inches of stainless steel pressure hull. The Russians lost several submarines during that time as well and now most of their fleet lies in ruins silently rusting away at the piers in Vladivostok and other Russian ports.

As I stood there and placed my hand against the only surviving part of the submarine that had guarded my (and your) life both directly when I was aboard her and indirectly through the MAD concept when I wasn’t I couldn’t help but feel a bit nostalgic and melancholy that such a fine ship met such an ignoble end as becoming feed stock for John Deere tractors except for one sail plane in this sculpture garden. Of course the transition from a ship of war to farm implements maybe has greater cosmic import that I realize. The Bergall had both of her sail planes here, but since I only spent a few months and never went to sea on her, I didn’t feel the connection I did with the Adams.

As I wandered the sculpture garden taking pictures I heard and watched a group of children playing on a nearby hill. Later from that same hill I watched them walk down through the sculpture garden toward the beach and right past the last intact piece of the USS John Adams. I wondered if any of them truly understood what that piece of steel really meant? Of course maybe it’s true purpose was so that they never again would have to live under the threat of nuclear annihilation of the entire planet. I hope someone explains it to them, so that the meaning is not forgotten.

The Author beside the USS John Adams SSBN 620 Sail Plane


LarchOye said...

Man, I really like the way you write... hehe

This is a great story, that I hope many people will read.

Richard said...

Hi Mike - The cold war was, of course, a big deal, yet has rapidly begun to be forgotten - which is, I think, all wrong. Why not write a book about your time in the Nuclear Navy? True-life accounts like that are always interesting.

Joel Garry said...

NIKE base LA-73 next to my high school never really gave me the warm and fuzzies, especially after all those drop drills in elementary school.

But I can appreciate cool hardware like this, good post.

Dave Doty said...

I was on the Pargo from 1986 to 1989, some of the best years of my life. I did not know about the fairwater planes being used as art, I will put that a list of things to see now. We had a swim call in the carribean with the Navy seals running shark watch while we jumped off the sail planes.