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USNS Range Recoverer (T-AGM 2) in 1962.
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Class: RANGE RECOVERER (AGM 2)
Design: Army FS Design 381 (176', steel)
Displacement (tons): 520 light, 940 full
Dimensions (feet): 177' oa, 172' wl x 33' e, 32' wl x 11'
Accommodations: 8 officers, 16 unlicensed
Speed (kts.): 10
Propulsion (HP): 1,000
Machinery: Geared diesel, 2 screws
|2||RANGE RECOVERER||22 Jun 60||Wheeler SB, Brooklyn||24 Apr 1943||ca Nov 1944||22 Jun 1960|
|2||RANGE RECOVERER||T||1974||15 May 1974||DISP||FATE||--|
In February 1956 the Air Force requested 11 picket ships to support the Snark and Atlas programs. A contract was awarded on 16 April 1956 to modify World War II surplus ships. In 1957-58 the Air Force took delivery of six FS ships (all Army FS Design 381) modified to recover reentry vehicles and collect telemetry and weather data on the portion of its Eastern Range between Antigua and Ascension. (The Air Force Eastern Test Range originated at Cape Canaveral, Florida.) Five of these were E-42-1834 ex FS 278 (the future RANGE RECOVERER), E-42-1835 ex FS 291, E-42-1836 ex FS 292, E-42-1837 ex FS 351, and E-42-1839 ex FS 529. The sixth was presumably E-42-1838, its identity and fate are unknown. They were not named but like other Eastern Range ships were given phonetic call signs: FS Echo (E-42-1836), FS Foxtrot, FS Golf, FS Hotel, FS India, and FS Kilo. (The later COASTAL CRUSADER was Whiskey, TWIN FALLS VICTORY was Uniform, and in 1963 AMERICAN MARINER became the second Kilo.) These FS ships were retired in November 1959. In the early 1960s four of them appeared in the merchant vessel registers as JOHN D. DEIHL (US) ex FS 291, JOANNE (Liberian) ex FS 292, J. FRANK JETT (US) ex FS 351, and JOHN ELLIOTT PILLSBURY (University of Miami) ex FS 529. [https://afspacemuseum.org/facilities/support-ships-on-the-eastern-range/]
On 22 April 1960 an Assistant SECNAV wrote to the Secretary of the Army that MSTS had a requirement for an Army FS type ship to meet a requirement in connection with support of Pacific Missile Range activities. He noted that five ships of this class, previously employed by the Air Force in similar operations in the Atlantic, had recently been returned to Army custody and were in idle status at Charleston, S.C. A preliminary survey by MSTS indicated that FS 278 wass best suited for speedy and economical modification for Pacific Missile Range employment and the Navy requested that the Army transfer the ship. The Army agreed on 24 May 1960. and the ship was transferred on 22 June 1960. On 12 July 1960 the former Army FS 278 was renamed RANGE RECOVERER and reclassified AG 161. She was converted by Pacific Ship Repair of San Francisco, placed in service on 18 July 1960, and was on range in August 1960. RANGE RECOVERER replaced KING COUNTY (AG 157) as an instrumentation and telemetry ship, the latter having outlived her usefullness and having been slated for disposal. On 12 September 1960 Commander MSTS alerted his staff that SECNAV Instruction 5030.1B of 25 August 1960 had established a new classification, AGM, with the meaning "Missile Range Instrumentation Ship, and that a change of the classification of AG 161 to T-AGM 2 was pending in OPNAV. On 27 October 1960 effective 27 Nov 1960 SECNAV approved the new classification AGM 2 for this ship, the name having been approved on 12 July 1960.
In March 1962 a devastating nor'easter ripped up most of the East Coast and wrecked the telemetry vans and tracking equipment that the NASA station on Wallops Island had lashed onto the decks of two small chartered tankers, DUMONT and WHITLOCK. NASA asked for a properly converted replacement and RANGE RECOVERER was selected, On 23 March 1962 she was transferred from the Pacific Missile Range to NASA and on 13 April 1962 came under the administrative control of MSTS Lant. She exchanged her MSTS Pac crew for a MSTS Lant crew and underwent a short repair period at New York before reporting to NASA in around late April 1962. She was to spend about half of her time at sea between Wallops Island and the impact area near Bermuda, tracking the missiles and relaying signals from them back to the ground station.
On 15 May 1972 USNS RANGE RECOVERER was transferred to NUSC, Newport, RI, and on 26 May 1972 effective 16 May 1972 (retroactively) CNO changed the classification of RANGE RECOVERER from T-AGM 2 to YFRT 524 and cancelled the name. A YFRT was a self-propelled covered lighter used as a range tender. By 1974, the Navy had disposed of the vessel, which was then renamed REEDVILLE and converted to a purse seiner by Omega Protein, a Menhaden fishing concern in Reedville Virginia that also acquired and similarly converted ex-SHEARWATER (AG 177). In 2013 Omega acquired two new purpose-built vessels to replace the well-worn World War II-era conversions and eventually donated Shearwater and REEDVILLE as artificial reefs. REEDVILLE was reefed on 14 August 2020 off southern Delaware at 38°40.423′N, 74°44.295′W.
|2||RANGE RECOVERER||(ex-AG 161 27 Nov 1960, ex USAF E-42-1834, ex Army FS 278). To YFRT 524 and name cancelled 16 May 1972.|
Compiled: 18 Oct 2021
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2021
Sources: DB, Maroon