My Navy Years 73-79

The Navy Years. Adventure at sea.

(Note: This page is a work in progress. It might take me as long as I was IN the Navy just to tell about them).

(Click on any picture for a larger version)

I entered the Navy in August of 1973, after graduating high school. I signed up for, and was admitted to the “Advanced

USS Charles F. Adams DDG-2 Portsmouth-1977

USS Charles F. Adams DDG-2 Portsmouth-1977

Electronics Field” program. I subsequently spent six years in the Navy. That time was fascinating, and highly enjoyable.

A lot of serendipity and “luck of the draw” accompanied my time in the Navy. I joined at just the right time, in just the right field, to get to do something both fun, and state of the art. I even ended up on my perfect idea of a ship – small and fast – a Destroyer.

I went to boot camp in August and September of 1973 at Orlando Florida – the home of the HOT. The two highlights of that – if there can be highlights in boot camp – were a Trip to Walt Disney World on our first liberty (week five), and getting to spend “service week” in the grounds keeping department. Not only was that a welcome break for extreme structure, but they always had munchies in the grounds keepers shed. Really, you can think Caddyshack…

After boot camp, I was selected as a Fire Controlman, Missile, and sent to Great Lakes, near Chicago, for “A” and “B” school. Serendipity is in full force.

Let me explain right here. A firecontrolman does NOT put out fires. Although that happened to be an important part of my job later on, a Firecontrolman directs the fire (or in this day & age, maintains and operates the computers, radars and electronics that direct the fire) of weapons. A Firecontrolman, Missile, does that for missile systems. In my case it was the Tartar Missile system, but I get ahead of myself.

“A” School for an FT is 12 weeks of basic electronics. Well, not only was my hobby electronics since before I could actually walk, but I had just completed 2 years of vocational school in electronics. I ALMOST “comped out”. Now comp out is a term used where you can take a test, well a number of tests, on the material, and if you pass, you can skip the school. Well, I got perfect marks on most everything except Trigonometry. Trig happens to be a very important part of aiming weapons. They had made sure I took Trig in High school before letting me in, but, they didn’t know, could not have known, that I slept through most of it. Drat, I’m in a hurry.

Fortunately, it was possible to take a separate course if you were weak in only one area, And, it just so happened a local college professor ran a course on Trigonometry right there on base in the evenings. Once again, serendipity threw me an easy catch. I signed up, and ended up in four weeks not only learning trig so well I could teach it, but I learned it from what was perhaps the finest teacher I had ever encountered. He managed to make it fun, and interesting, and no one even knew they were actually learning. Needless to say, I did not sleep through his classes, and four weeks later, I took the trig and math portion again, and aced it. On to “B” School.

“B” School was an “advanced course” that focused specifically on the things that you needed to understand for doing Fire Control. We learned about Gyroscopes, radar, microwave, optics, synchros, and all kinds of other cool stuff. We also spent a lot of time learning how to solve the “Fire control equation” – how to aim.

Graduating “B” school, serendipity kicked in again as I had graduated, and had high enough scores, to be selected for the Very First “C” school class on the latest and greatest Navy Missile system – Tartar, and specifically, the newest version of the SPG-51c/d Fire Control Radar. C School was in Mare Island (Vallejo) California – 40 miles from San Francisco, and lasted 50 weeks.

USS Charles F. Adams - DDG-2

USS Charles F. Adams – DDG-2

Upon graduation from “C” school, the Navy assigned the top two people from that class (of which I was one) to the first ship to be getting the new system. This was why, in January of 1975, I showed up at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to report to my new ship – The USS Charles F. Adams, DDG-2. This was just too cool. The Adams was just embarking on a complex overhaul that would take most of 1975.

During the overhaul, besides installing the newest Tartar missile system, an advanced gun fire control system was installed. It ends up that system, which was in the evaluation stage, was the reason the first SPG51 c/d was quickly put on this ship. The test program needed it’s capabilities. And I was there, which I would soon find out was a ticket to the Caribbean. Ahh serendipity.

I enjoyed the shipyard. Getting to help with installing and checking out the system I was to work on was invaluable. I also got to go to a two week Fire Fighting course (an ancillary duty), took a class in welding, and got to know the ship very well crawling around every nook and seam – mostly as a fire watch for the welders.

If I may digress -
One duty that most everyone experiences during a shipyard visit was called a firewatch. There are dozens of welders swarming throughout the ship at any one time. Each one of those welders has a member of the ships crew with them to watch for, and deal with, fires. You could tell the firewatch because he was lugging his 50lb CO2 extinguisher behind him. Many of the welding needs to be done deep in the bowels of the ship, often in tanks with one or two small manholes for access, and a maze of baffles, pipes and cables inside. Firewatch was a unique opportunity to see just about every nook and cranny of the ship following your welder around. Of course, as it would happen, the firewatch also tends to end up being the welder’s helper. Much could also be learned about welding while sitting in a dim tank clutching your fire bottle. Helping the welders is also what prompted me to go to welding school in my spare time.

After leaving the Philadelphia naval shipyard in January of 1976, the Adams returned to it’s regular homeport of Mayport Florida. We then proceeded to check everything, test and qualify everything, and basically make sure the ship, and it’s crew were ready. We spent April and May in Guantanimo Bay Cuba at the Fleet training center, where we went through refresher training. – basically everyone learning how to do their job, correctly.

And then, during the second half of 1976, we went to the Caribbean. Based out of Naval Station Roosevelt Roads Puerto Rico, we commenced on a detailed test and evaluation of the Gunnery Improvement Program.

During that program we had lots of civilian “tech reps” on board. They didn’t have a place to sleep, so for the next few months we would get underway at 7am, spend the day doing all kinds of testing, and shooting many, many 5 inch /54 rounds at Vieques island. Then every evening we would head back to port and tie up around 7pm. Now, while a destroyer is fairly small, in Navy terms, it is still a big ship. Getting underway and coming back in required a lot of effort, however we were motivated – at least coming back in – and got very good at doing it.

And, often Friday nights were “Special”. Since civilians don’t work on the weekends, we had weekends free. Often the Captain would take a sort of “straw poll” and pick a destination (Another Island). After dropping everyone off, we would again get underway that evening and steam to our “weekend” choice overnight. We spent the weekend in many Caribbean Islands, but, by far the favorite and most visited was Fredricksted, St. Croix. The locals got to know the Adams gang pretty well, and we all got along really great. We had a 4000 ton gray yacht. It was cool, but we worked long hours and quite hard to get those weekends.

Well, after all that, the Navy decided the Gunnery Improvement Program lived up to it’s initials (GIP), and it was not to be pursued. The increased accuracy was neither needed or worth the cost. We returned to Mayport, in time for the Holidays and started preparing for a Med Cruise.

After local ops, certifications and training over the winter, we got underway for the Mediterranean with several other ships on March 30, 1977. Almost immediately we learned about the power of the ocean as we encountered a VERY nasty Atlantic storm. Many of the other ships were damaged significantly. It was definitely an experience. The Adams lost many of it’s life lines and railings, but, after arriving in Rota Spain, it only took a few days to repair the damage, and go join the 6th fleet.

Now, not only was a DDG a very impressive, powerful and capable ship, and not only was it a great experience to be part of it, but being relatively small was a huge advantage. Not only could we visit many more ports than the larger vessels, but we could sail right in, and tie up to the dock in most of them. An Aircraft carrier, say, would rarely visit a port, and then, it would have to anchor out in the harbor. In the vernacular I was already a confirmed “Destroyerman”.

We visited many countries and ports during that six plus months in the Med. Part of the purpose was to “show the flag”, and most places we got to stay a few days. While everyone had to stand duty (Stay on the ship) every third day, there was still plenty of time to get out and explore. And, thanks to a recent regulation change, we could wear our civilian clothes. So Nobody knew we were US Navy sailors. Right, nobody…

I have included the details of that Med cruise. Where we went, what we saw and did, in a separate page called – ta da – Med Cruise 1977…/mediterranean-cruise-1977/

We arrived back at Mayport on October 31, to a rousing welcome from, well, the base cafeteria. But we were home, and worn out. While it sounds like a whole bunch of fun, and much of it was, a Med Cruise is also a lot of hard work and long hours. Although we visited many ports, we still spent over 90% of our time those six months underway 24/7.

During our time in the Med, we got most all of our fuel and supplies sea during an important evolution called an underway replenishment, done, not in port, but at sea. Every three to four days we had to take on fuel from

Navy Underway Replenishment

Navy Underway Replenishment

an oiler, and about every two weeks we got food and supplies from a supply ship. This was all transferred by an intense procedure, know as one of the most dangerous things a Navy sailor does – Underway Replenishment. Basically, your ship steams at 15 knots, pulls up beside and about 150 yards from the supply ship, a large metal cable is strung between the two, and fuel hoses, and/or pallets are transferred. Everyone had a job, and no one messed around. Underway replenishment (somewhat like air to air refueling of our aircraft) is an essential part of what enables the US Navy to operate wherever it wants, and not dependent on any country or port.

We made a second Med Cruise in 1978. That one had quite a few interesting things happen, including an entire month in the Winter North Atlantic (Just to prove it could be done). Here is a page describing that trip:

Here is a video I made as a “tribute” to the Adams.


But, what did YOU do?
I made this a separate section to explain what I did, and the systems I maintained while on the USS Charles F. Adams.

Live Tartar missile on the rail - ready to launch.

Live Tartar missile on the rail – ready to launch.

SPG-51 Missile Radar Directors

SPG-51 Missile Radar Directors

My primary responsibility was the maintenance and operation of the AN/SPG-51c/d digital Fire control radar. This comprised both the radars, and the directors that the dishes were mounted on. This was known as my Primary NEC, and this radar system is what I spent those 12 months in “C” school learning about – how it works, how to fix it, and how to use it. The radar system was comprised of the two directors and dishes you see in the pictures. Below those and stretching through the entire rear superstructure was the radar room, known as 51 radar. That series of compartments housed the various radar transmitters, the receiving equipment, the electronics that controlled the director, and the operator’s consoles. In addition to those, we had large machines called Amplidynes that were mounted in the shaft alleys, far below. These were used as part of the director drive system. We also had an extensive liquid cooling system for the radar transmitters. Most of that was in the after engine room. We also had a motor generator set next to after diesel that supplied the 400 cycle power.

Tartar Missile System Block Diagram - DDG-2

Tartar Missile System Block Diagram – DDG-2

Integral to the radar and directors was the computer complex. The computers were housed in Missile plot which was nearly in the bottom of the ship between the propeller shafts. While the computers themselves were considered a different job and NEC, they were necessary to operate the 51 radar. I eventually moved down to the computer room for a while, and earned another NEC on the MK 152 Digital Computer Complex.

Here is a drawing I made showing how all of this stuff went together: —->>

But first let me take a moment to talk about radars. Most people are familiar with the big antenna that goes round and round, with little “pips” appearing on the screen as the beam sweeps the sky. That is called a search radar. And, no they do not go beep, beep – except in the movies. A search radar, especially modern ones, can give you a pretty good idea of where something is, but not nearly precisely enough to shoot something at it. That precise measurement is the job of fire control radars, of which the SPG51 c/d is one. A fire control radar will only track one target at a time, but it does so with extreme precision. These radars have a dish that looks like a satellite dish, and it is mounted on an assembly called a director. The director moves the dish in elevation and azimuth to keep it pointed at the target. Based upon error signals coming from the receiver. Of course, there is a tremendous amount more to it, but that is the general idea. The very accurate train, elevation, range, and target speed measurements are then used to aim the weapon itself. In the case of the Tartar missile, it is what is called a beam rider. The missile is launched in the general (but appropriate) direction. The fire control director has another radar beam, that “illuminates” the target. The missile then follows this microwave beam.

Here’s a few pictures of the different parts of the system…

Back of the Mk 73 director. radar dish in front.

Back of the Mk 73 missile director. radar dish in front.

The SPG51 Radar operators consoles

The SPG51 Radar operators consoles


51 Radar Looking Aft - SPG51

51 Radar Looking Aft – SPG51


51 Radar room looking to port.

51 Radar room looking to port.


Tsam (Training Surface to air missile)

Tsam (Training Surface to air missile)

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