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First, our Navy liaison had to redirect his energies to other aspects of our joint venture. Around the same time, the individual who had volunteered to try get a photograph of a working fast attack propeller reported failure, despite repeated and persistent attempts. Cameras simply are not permitted on submarine bases, and I ran again into problems of time, as well as the issue of declassification vs. public release. However, he had managed to locate an unclassified photograph of the stern of a Sturgeon-class submarine, and he enlarged it enough to produce a sketch of its screw. Then I asked an illustrator to re-draft the sketch, smoothing out the rough edges and refining the outline. I also undertook a search for my subject on the web, with somewhat mixed results. Anyway, now I had a marketing tool but no propeller. I had to resort to my original fallback plan—trying to obtain a propeller model, instead of the real, full-sized item. Now, however, I was armed with new knowledge.

Because of that, the rest fell into place very smoothly. I contacted the appropriate office at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (yes, that's correct!), identified myself, asked the right questions and received an appointment almost immediately. Although they too were unaccustomed to questions from the outside such as mine, they would be delighted to help out. In fact, they bent over backwards to provide an actual Sturgeon-class propeller model that had been used in high-speed experiments in the mid-1960s. It was identical to the real thing, except for its size. So now it occupies its own case in the Power and Propulsion section of our new exhibit, "FAST ATTACKS AND BOOMERS: Submarines in the Cold War," where this piece of technology—never before seen in public—can be viewed by anyone who walks by. There is only one restriction: we had to mount it in a very specific way to allow it to be removed quickly, should it need to be returned for use by the Navy.

There are two bits of irony connected with this story. During the course of this propeller research, I learned that a book written by submarine expert Norman Friedman and published by the Naval Institute Press, an affiliate of the Navy, had actually published a pretty detailed photograph of a classified Los Angeles-class propeller at Holy Loch, Scotland in 1993! The second occurred during one of our visits to a boomer, when we spotted a large Toshiba television in one of the recreational spaces for the enlisted crew. This was the last thing I would have expected to see on an American submarine, given the company's history. I asked the Executive Officer about it and he only smiled, indicating he knew why I was asking. Maybe Toshiba was the low bidder?

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This sketch of a 637-class fast attack submarine was traced from an enlarged photograph. Courtesy of J. Fuchs.

The elevation sketch was cleaned up by an illustrator, but at that point we didn't know much about the blade shape, so that aspect of the original sketch was eliminated. Courtesy of T.G. Ormsby.

Available on the web, this drawing of the stern of a 637-class fast attack is from Chapter 561 (Submarine Steering and Diving Systems) of the January 1992 edition of the Naval Ships' Technical Manual. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Working model of a 637-class fast attack screw, now on exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Photo by the author; object courtesy of the Hydromechanics Directorate, David Taylor Model Basin, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock, Maryland.

The stern of a Los Angeles-class (SSN 688) submarine at Holy Loch, Scotland, showing a mid-1970s propeller with edge guards; it probably was being installed when this photo was taken. Most of this class remains in service. Courtesy of Norman Friedman.


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