Rickover's NR-1 Returns Home
By Julia Bergman
June 24, 2015
Chief of Naval Operations U.S. Navy Adm. Jonathan Greenert celebrates after cutting the
ribbon at a dedication of an exhibit of artifacts from the submarine NR-1 on Wednesday,
June 24, 2015, at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton. Greenert served
as engineer aboard the NR-1 early in his Navy career. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
GROTON – The one-of-a-kind ship was developed just down the river and conducted many missions throughout the Cold War, some of which remain highly classified.
It searched for and recovered critical parts of the Space Shuttle Challenger, and searched for the Titanic, USS Monitor and USS Bonhomme Richard.
It changed the way the Navy views the undersea domain and on Wednesday, many, including some who served onboard, celebrated the return of the Navy's only nuclear-powered, deep-diving ocean engineering and research submarine.
"It kind of fundamentally changed my thoughts about where I would want to go in my career and what really the possibilities of such a vessel could do," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who served on the NR-1, said Wednesday morning. "It was way ahead of its time as I look at what we're doing today."
Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, known as the father of the nuclear Navy, who came up with the idea for the NR-1, was also ahead of his time, Greenert said during his keynote remarks at the unveiling of the NR-1 exhibit at the Submarine Force Library and Museum.
NR-1 was built by Electric Boat and was homeported at Naval Submarine Base New London.
The exhibit cost $200,000 to mount and was privately funded through donations to the Submarine Force Library and Museum Association.
Beyond realizing the need for a nuclear-powered research submarine, Rickover also saw the importance of figuring out what was happening in the depths of the ocean, which he saw at that time as a domain of the future.
"He saw it," Greenert said. "We sort of knew it, but we hadn't grasped it, I think, as a nation and as a Department of Defense."
The ship was 150 feet long and weighed 450 tons. It was propelled by twin screws and four thrusters and was equipped with sophisticated electronics and advanced sonar systems used to search the ocean floor, which it was designed to maneuver closely.
Edson "Tip" Brolin, who lives in Water Mill, N.Y., was Rickover's first project officer for the NR-1. He was responsible for the design and construction, and later, after it was operational, for support.
After the exhibit unveiling, Brolin explained how in the early discussions about the NR-1, Rickover and the others who worked for him didn't know how the ship would be accepted by the Navy.
"Originally the Navy, frankly, didn't know what do with it," Brolin recalled. "It didn't have any weapons."
Rickover told Brolin it would probably only be used for five years and to design it only for that period of time, which, Brolin said, "I ignored, of course."
"You can't design something like this for five years ... He was probably just kidding anyway," he continued.
Brolin was on the first sea-trials for the ship. On one of the trials, those onboard reached 3,000 feet down and once there, each had something do, Brolin said, "whether we were crew members or not, because there were only 13 people onboard."
Brolin said he was cycling an isolation valve for the hydraulic depth cage when he felt something drip on his head.
"I thought, I mean you sort of feel something instantaneously, you're a little disconcerted, and then you realize it can't be anything terribly serious or you'd be dead," he said, chuckling slightly and explaining that it was a minor hydraulic leak.
On one of the trials, a big bang similar to the sound of an explosion could be heard from inside the ship at about 1,500 feet underwater, Brolin said.
"And again, you don't hear anything else, so you realize it's not fatal," he continued. One of the incandescent lights on the exterior of the ship had imploded.
"There were lots of stories," Brolin said.
The NR-1 was in service for nearly 40 years, and was decommissioned in 2008. Greenert served as engineer officer on the ship earlier in his career, from September 1982 until November 1985.
Of the bright orange hull behind him, Greenert said to laughs, "Every time I see that orange hull, I think of Lean Cuisine."
"I still will not eat a TV dinner. I just won't do it," joked retired Navy captain Michael Riegel.
A former crew member, Riegel served on six submarines in 33 years, and commanded two nuclear submarines, but the NR-1 stands out.
He was one of the donors to the exhibit and was the executive director of the museum association when the NR-1 was decommissioned in 2008.
"I said we've got to get this submarine here as part of the museum. This is a one of a kind, always homeported here, built here, always operated here," he said after Wednesday's event. "(There's) no other like her anywhere else in the world. She's got to be here. Donating, that was easy."
After the decommissioning event for the NR-1 in 2008, Riegel and others "burnt up" the phone lines to the office of U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, the congressman said, "to make sure that this treasure did not just end up in a scrapyard, that it actually become part of the exhibit."
Language in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act allowed the exhibit to come to Groton.
In his remarks, Courtney said the sub base in Groton is like the "Sorbonne of the submarine fleet."
"If that's the Sorbonne," he continued, "then this museum in many respects is the Louvre. The collection of artifacts that's here is totally unique and unmatched anywhere in the world."
The NR-1 adds "another crown jewel to that amazing collection," Courtney said.
Rickover's vision would have remained just that if it weren't for industry partnerships, primarily with EB.
"Because of NR-1, because of what you see up and down this river, because of the corporation down the river and down south in Virginia and around, really, the world, your country and your Navy owns the undersea domain," Greenert said. "We go wherever we want to go today."