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Unmanned Vehicle Detachment works to recover Navy aircraft

SUBPAC Release

Release Date: 5/3/2004

By JOSN Cynthia R. Smith Public Affairs Center, San Diego

AT SEA ABOARD MV KELLLIE CHOUEST -- When the fast-attack submarine USS THRESHER was lost off the coast of Cape Cod in the early 1960s, with all hands aboard, the Navy took steps to ensure such a tragedy would never occur again. From that tragedy, the submarine rescue unit was formed which would later be known as Deep Submergence Unit (DSU). Today this one-of-a-kind unit uses deep submergence vehicles to rescue or retrieve downed submarines and aircraft. After DSU was established, the Unmanned Vehicles Detachment (UMV) became part of the unit in the mid 1970s, which is currently the only detachment in the Navy to specialize in unmanned vehicles.

The San Diego based detachment selected 18 qualified Navy submariners to depart Mon., April 26, from Naval Base San Diego aboard MV KELLIE CHOUEST, a 310-foot long civilian research and salvage vessel, to recover an F-14D Tomcat from Fighter Squadron 31 (VF 31) that went down recently, approximately two miles west of Point Loma, Calif.

According to Lt. Cmdr. Chuck McGuire, the officer in charge of UMV, the recovery is scheduled to take one week to complete and the use of their highly sophisticated unmanned vehicles should help speed up the process.

"We're using the TUWVS (Tethered Unmanned Work Vehicle System) Super Scorpio. It is the same type of vehicle that was used on the Titanic. An operator will use the arms of the TUWVS to maneuver and lift debris up to 500 pounds. The debris will be placed on the deck of the ship and then transferred for investigation," McGuire added.

When UMV was first established they used a side looking sonar system and navigation system to conduct search and survey operations in shallow water and near land. Later, as remote operated vehicles improved, UMV improved as well. As the detachment adapted to changing technology they began using the TUWVS Super Scorpio.

TUWVS is a state-of-the-art, remotely operated vehicle that provides an effective means of conducting ocean bottom searches, inspections, object recovery, and work operations to a depth of 5,000 feet for long periods of time. The primary operators of Scorpio are a pilot and co-pilot who remotely operate the vehicle from a control station aboard the ship. The pilot and co-pilot, however, are not alone. During the operation they receive support from navigation personnel who use global positioning system equipment, and other personnel to operate the 5,000-foot tether between the control station and the vehicle.

According to McGuire, even though the TUWVS is a complicated piece of machinery, his crew has received rigorous training from both Navy schooling and on-the-job training and is ready to complete the task at hand.

UMV and its crew were selected to recover the aircraft because they are uniquely able to get the job done while saving the Navy both time and money.

"Recovering a 47,000-pound airplane is very costly. It would cost the Navy more than $250,000 to recover the aircraft using divers, cranes and special ships. It would cost the Navy around $300,000 if they had contracted the job out to a civilian company. We have everything they need to recover the airplane and we can do it at about one third the price," McGuire said.

Members of UMV have demonstrated in the past their ability to assist in major salvage operations. In addition to other recoveries, such as, downed submarines and several helicopters, UMV assisted in the recovery of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 that crashed off the coast of California Jan. 31, 2000.

During the Alaska Airlines recovery UMV used their remotely operated vehicles and side-scanning sonar to provide the National Transportation Safety Board with a complete picture of the debris before any salvage efforts began. UMV's crew was also responsible for recovering the cockpit voice recorder, and the flight data recorder using the Scorpio.

According to Submarine Sonar Technician 2nd Class Brian Fields, a TUWVS pilot for UMV, having the opportunity to help recover the downed F-14 Tomcat gives him a great sense of job satisfaction and accomplishment.

"It actually feels good to know that the Navy is counting on us to get the job done. An investigation about the F-14 has to be completed, and we are helping in that process by recovering the aircraft," Fields added.

In recent years, the remote vehicles from UMV have been responsible for the recovery of more than $100 million worth of military and civilian hardware. UMV remains a flexible and potent asset, always continuing to evolve as new technology and equipment become available.

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