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It turns out that there are actually three classification levels of nuclear submarine propellers in the spares inventory, depending upon their condition. The highest level is A, or ready for issue. This group consists of screws that are coated with a white, plastic-like protective surface, fitted with edge guards, and boxed with their accessories. These are ready to be shipped out and mounted on a submarine immediately. The second level is F, or used propellers from ships that need work of various sorts before being ready for use. The third group is H, consisting of those examples that are beyond economic repair.

It is probably not appropriate here to speculate upon exactly how submarine propellers achieve H status. For that group, the classified blades are cut off and their hubs are melted down and recycled. The repository contains a pile of classified blades awaiting meltdown, as soon as a facility is located capable of handling such classified material. To the best of my knowledge at the time of this writing, they are still looking for such an operation. While I could visit the repository and see the current inventory, under no circumstances would I—or anyone else—be permitted to take a photograph of classified materials, and it was this aspect of my original request that had sounded an alarm. However, our contact offered to try to obtain a photo from an active ship in port, or a blade drawing from appropriate sources within the Navy.

Time was tightening, so I had to widen the net and play a trump card.

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It's amazing what sorts of things you can find in storage at museums. One of USS Seawolf's (SSN 575) propellers, out at the Naval Undersea Museum at Keyport, Washington, is covered with a protective white coating and edge guards. Photo by the author.

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