- USS Tucumcari (PGH-2)
The Tucumcari (PGH-2) was a
Boeing-built hydrofoil. Named after Tucumcari, New Mexico, it was the basis for the technology used in the subsequent "Pegasus"-class patrol boats and the Jetfoil ferries. Its unique feature was a waterjetpropulsion and a computer-controlled fully submerged foil configuration of one foil at the bow and foils on the port and starboard sides. The Tucumcari was one of two prototype boats contracted by the Navy for the purpose of evaluating the latest hydrofoil technology. The second boat was the rival Grummanbuilt USS "Flagstaff" (PGH-1).
Construction, operations in San Diego, and deployment to Vietnam
Tucumcari was built at a cost of $4 million at Boeing's Renton facility on
Lake Washington, along with later hydrofoils. Boeing's previous design was the USS "High Point" (PCH-1) which used propellers and an aft-mounted single foil and forward sides.
She was laid down on
1 September 1966at Seattle, Washingtonby the Marine Branch of the Boeing Company's Aerospace Group; launched on 15 July 1967; and delivered to the Navy on 7 March 1968. Placed "in service" on that day, the ship's first officer-in-charge was Lieutenant Marvin H. Mandles, USNR. "Tucumcari", an extremely fast, highly maneuverable, experimental hydrofoil gunboat designed to perform well even in heavy weather, represented the culmination of 10 years of hydrofoil development. The new gunboat arrived in San Diego, her home port, in July of 1968. She conducted operational evaluation tests With Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet, and participated in exercises. In addition, the craft conducted day and night operations with the Fleet with ships ranging from cruisers to patrol craft. During her tour of duty in San Diego, she performed a mission of mercy, rendezvousing with a Navy tugbeyond helicopterrange and receiving on board one of the tug's crewmen for transportation to San Diego for emergency leave. After a year of operations out of San Diego, "Tucumcari" was deployed to Vietnamese waters. She spent most of her six months in the combat zone assigned to " Operation Market Time," the inshore patrol established to stop the flow from the north of communist arms and infiltrators. While performing this duty, she logged 200 hours of foilborne operations including day and night, all-weather, and high sea-state missions. She also conducted underway replenishments with larger fleet units and vertical replenishment from helicopters. The latter even included medical evacuation operations and the transfer of cargo loads.
Return to San Diego and transfer to the Atlantic Fleet
"Tucumcari" returned to San Diego in March, 1970 and operated off the west coast until transferred to the Atlantic Fleet in August. After operating off the east coast into 1971, "Tucumcari" was slated to deploy to northern
Europeand to the Mediterraneanto demonstrate the capability of hydrofoil propulsion for other NATOnations. It was hoped that the demonstration would stimulate the development and production of a NATO guided missile hydrofoil. On 22 March 1971, "Tucumcari" was deck-loaded "piggyback" on board the USS "Wood County" (LST-1178), secured in a specially-constructed cradle on the main deck, at Little Creek, Virginiain preparation for a tour to promote the Navy's newest developments in hydrofoiltechnology. Three days later, the tank landing ship sailed from Little Creek, bound for the first stop on the special demonstration deployment. Arriving in Copenhagenon 5 April, Tucumcari was off-loaded on the 13th and readied for her first tests. While in Danish waters, the patrol craft participated in Exercise "Evil Edge," a joint West German, Danish, and American patrol boat exercise. During "Evil Edge," the gunboat made simulated attacks against West German destroyers.Over the ensuing months, "Wood County" and "Tucumcari" visited seven other NATO nations and 16 ports (including Copenhagenand Frederickshaven, Denmark): Kieland Olpenitz, Germany; Isle of Portlandand Portsmouth, England; Then, after a transit through the English Channel, she stopped at Rosyth, Scotlandreturning to the European mainland at Brest and Toulon, France; Naples, Brindisi, La Spezia, and Augusta, Italy; Athens, Greece; and Golcuk, Turkey. "Tucumcari" was demonstrated in hopes that NATO would develop a guided-missilehydrofoil weapons system. In addition to providing a base of operations and facilities for briefings and discussions between United States liaison officers and foreign representatives, "Wood County" provided logistics support, messing and berthing facilities, and engaged in numerous public relations efforts to promote international goodwill. Concluding the last of these tests on 25 September, "Wood County" (with "Tucumcari" safely nestled on board) sailed for Little Creek on 1 October. The performance of "Wood County" and "Tucumcari" both elicited praise from the Chief of Naval Operations; Commander Amphibious Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet; the United States NATO Mission; Commander in Chief, United States Naval Forces Europe, and others.
Damage to the vessel
Back home at Little Creek, Virginia, Tucumcari continued its mission of demonstrating hydrofoil technology. Deployments included coastal surveillance with the U.S. Coast Guard out of Woods Hole, Massachusetts and further V.I.P. demonstrations at Annapolis, Maryland and Washington, D.C. On 16 November, 1972, the Tucumcari suffered a serious accident. While participating in simulated combat operations with other amphibious forces off Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, she unexpectedly ran aground. Hitting a coral reef at 40+ knots, the Tuc' was stopped dead within the length of her hull, forcing the front strut aft and shearing off the port and starboard foils. Several crewmen were injured and two crewmen had to be air lifted by helicopter from the grounded vessel. Fortunately, all the crewmen recovered from their injuries.
The fate of Tucumcari was sealed during salvage operations. While attempting to blast the boat free from the coral reef using explosives, further damage was incurred. The damage was so severe that it was deemed uneconomical to repair. However, the Tucumcari had served its purpose. Accordingly, she was struck from the
Naval Vessel Registeron 7 November 1973and transferred to the Naval Ship and Research Development Center at Annapolis, Maryland. She was subsequently used as a test hulk for structural evaluation and fire containment tests into the mid-1970s. Her final fate is unknown.
The "Tucumcari" logged over 1500 "flying" hours during its brief but exemplary service. The waterjet propulsion proved highly reliable, compared to the propeller drive propulsion of the Flagstaff (PGH-1) sister boat.
List of patrol vessels of the United States Navy
* [http://www.foils.org/gallery/tucumcar.htm foils.org reference with pictures]
* [http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/1002.htm Navsource.org "Tucumcari" (PGH 2)]
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