ABOARD THE USS MINNESOTA (Florida Today) -- In a firm, confident voice, the pilot, joystick in hand, announces: "Last man down, hatch secure. Prepare to dive."
later, the USS Minnesota, the Navy's newest attack submarine, glides
550 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, about 50 miles off
Port Canaveral, showcasing some of its capabilities.
The USS Minnesota, scheduled for commissioning Sept. 7 in Norfolk, Va., is the Navy's 10th Virginia-class attack submarine.
a speed of 24 knots, a little more than 27 mph, the submarine makes a
fast turn to the right, then to the left while those on board not
accustomed to the maneuver hold on.
was our high-speed turn," said Cmdr. John Fancher, the commanding
officer of the submarine. "The Virginia class is very stable."
on the USS Minnesota began in February of 2008, and the ship was
delivered 11 months ahead of its scheduled delivery date of June 2014.
on," Fancher said as the nuclear-powered submarine dove from 200 feet
to 750 feet and back up, first at 20 degrees, then at 27 degrees. Some
of the submariners on board compensated by leaning into the angle of the
deck below their feet.
At 750 feet, he orders that the ship glide back up to 200 feet on automatic.
"We're going to let the computer take us back up to 200 feet," Fancher said. "We'll see what angle it takes us."
pilot punches several buttons on one of the large video screens and
takes his hand off the joystick that resembles ones used for video
games. The submarine climbs back at a 20 degree angle.
a Navy veteran of more than 20 years, is usually near the pilot while
in the control room. From that position, he can see over the shoulders
of the men monitoring some 40 screens showing advanced electronics,
sonar, GPS, depth, speed and an array of graphics and other information.
The area is lighted by little more than the glow from the screensfilled
with charts, numbers and symbols, most unintelligible to a visiting
A view from thephotonics mast - the 21st century equivalent of a
periscope-that scans the surroundings before and after surfacing can be
seen on a large screen.
When Fancher is not giving the step-by-step commands, duty officers - most younger than 30 - monitor information and guide the $2 billion submarine.
turns for six knots," Lt. j.g. Austin Van Olst calls out to the pilot.
"I told him to 'slow down to six knots,' " he explains to his civilian
as officer of the deck, Van Olst, 24, who has been on board the
Minnesota since November 2011, tells the pilot and copilot what speed,
depth and direction they are to head.
think you'd be hard-pressed to find a 24-year-old with this much
responsibility," he said. "It is something not a whole lot of people my
age get to do. It's a pretty unique job."
crew of 134 enlisted sailors and officers aboard the 377-foot submarine
must maintain proficiency, some in more than one role.
"It is such a small crew we have to know our jobs," said Petty Officer Christopher Miller.
Miller, 28, of Los Angeles, is an information systems technician who also helps with monitoring on-board navigation systems.
systems and equipment on the submarine remind some of the men of video
games they onceplayed, with the interactive screens, buttons and
joysticks, they said.
"It's like a spaceship," said Chief Petty Officer Richard Shamberger. "Everything is electronic."
Officer 1st Class Chaz Lewis said he wasat first unsure about the
high-tech gear on the Minnesota. He previously served on an older
submarine, the USS Hartford.
Los Angeles class is a lot more manual," said Lewis, of Moosup,
Conn.,referring to his previous duty. "At first I was apprehensive
because I had experience on my other boat."
who has been in the Navy for more than six years, enthusiastically
showed his visitors the torpedo tubes. A day earlier the USS Minnesota
had fired its four test torpedoes. The heavy door to the torpedo tube
opens automatically as opposed to manually on the older subs.
In firing simulations, the torpedo tubes were filled with water which
was then propelled out of the tube with blasts of compressed air that
normally launch torpedoes out of the submarine. The firings seemed to
change the air pressure throughout the ship and gives the sensation in
the ears of a airplane descending.
the men in the crew said they came to the submarine service not knowing
exactly what to expect. They said they relished the experience of
serving on a submarine, despite the hardships.
live for months at a time in a 377-foot long, three-story tube with no
windows and very limited view to the outside even when traveling on the
surface of the ocean.
is at a premium. "Berthing racks" - the seagoing equivalent of bunk
beds - are stacked with about 18 inches between them. A two-foot
passageway separates the stacks.
on a submarine, more than on any other kind of ship, takes teamwork,
discipline and highly specialized skills, crew members said.
j.g. Neal Greenlund, 27, of Pierson in Volusia County, graduated from
the University of Florida and joined an insurance company before he
realized he wanted to do something different.
didn't like selling insurance," he said. "I decided I wanted to become a
Naval officer. If you had told me a few years ago I would be on a
submarine, I would have said, 'No way.' "
He said some of his friends in his small town could not understand why he would join the submarine service.
"I get to drive something that costs $2.5 billion," said Greenlund, who is qualified as a pilot on the submarine.
Chief Petty Officer Mike Witsil was assigned to the USS Minnesota while it was still being built.
"I've been here since it was a chunk of metal," he said, "because as soon as it hit the water, we needed to know everything."
39, of St. Petersburg, said that large sections of the ship were put
together as he and others trained and prepared for their service aboard
"It was awe-inspiring seeing this submarine come together," he said.