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USS Norton Sound (AVM 1) photographed by her builder ca 1962.

USS Norton Sound (AVM 1) on 14 September 1956.
Click on this photograph for links to larger images of this class.

Design: Navy AV-7
Displacement (tons): 9,106 light, 15,092 max
Dimensions (feet): 540.4' oa x 69.25' e x 22.25' max
Armament: (1948) 2-5"/38 1-40mmQ 2-40mmT 2-20mmT; (1951) 1-5"/38 1-40mmQ 2-40mmT 2-20mmT; (1955) 1-40mmQ 2-40mmT 2-20T; (1959) none except experimental.

Accommodations: 565 as AV
Speed (kts.): 19.2
Propulsion (HP): 12,000
Machinery: Allis-Chalmers turbines, 2 screws

1NORTON SOUND18 Apr 1941Los Angeles SB & DD7 Sep 194228 Nov 19438 Jan 1945

AVMNameTDecommStrikeDisposalFateMA Sale
1NORTON SOUND11 Dec 198626 Jan 1987--MA/S20 Oct 1988

Class Notes:
The history through 1946 of this ship is given with the rest of the CURRITUCK (AV 7) class in the World War II section of this site.

USS NORTON SOUND (AV-11) was reassigned by CNO on 3 December 1947 to Commander Operational Development Force for employment as an "experimental rocket firing ship." BUSHIPS initially assumed that the amount and type of changes would approximate those made to MIDWAY (CVB 41) for Project Sandy (the launch from the carrier's deck of a German V-2 rocket). On 8 December 1947 CNO asked BUSHIPS to make detailed plans for alterations to NORTON SOUND to permit the firing of large guided missiles from the after deck and also asked that the Bureau study the feasibility of future alterations to the ship to enable the firing of smaller ship-to-air missiles from a forward position. On 12 December 1947 Op-57 (Assistant CNO for Guided Missiles) held a conference with BUSHIPS and others to discuss the necessary changes to the ship. It was explained that the immediate function of the conversion was to accomplish the launching of BUMPER (an Army combination of a V-2 and the WAC CORPORAL sounding rocket) and NEPTUNE (a Naval Research Laboratory V-2 derivative primarily for upper air research), to be followed by BUMBLEBEE (a ramjet missile developed to counter the V-1) and other missiles (LOON, a V-1 derivative, and LARK later being mentioned). NORTON SOUND was to retain her identity as an AV and was to be available for the trials by 1 April 1948. By 2 January 1948 it was expected that the ship would be engaged in guided missile development work for a period of four or five years. On 8 January 1948 CNO issued what amounted to characteristics for the "experimental rocket firing ship" conversion. The ship was to have structural strength on a main deck aft launching site to accommodate a 25-ton missile generating up to 50 tons thrust and its ancillary launching device. The aircraft crane, gun mounts, and other obstructions on the seaplane deck were to be removed. The ship was to have augmented fire fighting equipment in the launching area, insulation or sheathing of the deck at the launching site, an observation and control booth atop the hangar overlooking the seaplane deck, and a helicopter platform forward similar to those installed on sisters AV 7 and AV 12 for operation HIGHJUMP in Antarctica. The ship was to be ready by 1 August 1948. On 16 January 1948 BUSHIPS issued a SHIPALT and directive for NSY Philadelphia to "accomplish AV Improvement Program No. 2" as directed by CNO on 8 January 1948. NORTON SOUND was converted at NSY Philadelphia between February and August 1948. She determined the feasibility of launching SKYHOOK balloons in the Caribbean and off the coast of Southern California in October 1948 during her transit to the West Coast. Home ported at Port Hueneme since 30 November 1948, the ship moved to NSY Long Beach for the installation during February 1949 of launching equipment for the AEROBEE sounding rocket system (the name being a combination of AEROJET and BUMBLEBEE). AEROBEE superseded the WAC CORPORAL, which had been part of the Army's BUMPER. The ship launched two AEROBEE rockets on 17 and 22 March 1949 in Pacific waters on the geomagnetic equator for an APL team led by Dr. Van Allen to obtain data on cosmic radiation. On 1 July 1949 she left Port Hueneme and returned to the geomagnetic equator where she launched 17 instrumented SKYHOOK balloons and nine clusters of 20 smaller ballons for more research on cosmic radiation. During 1949 she also test fired at least one LOON, and following two more AEROBEE launches off Alaska in January 1950 she was fitted in February-March 1950 at NSY San Francisco with launch and control equipment for the larger (five-ton) VIKING (ex NEPTUNE, a V-2 follow-on) research rocket, which she launched on 11 May 1950, again for cosmic radiation research.

NORTON SOUND was soon reassigned to the critical function of developing air defense systems for the fleet. On 1 August 1950 she began a four month overhaul at NSY San Francisco during which she received new handling, launching, stowage, and guidance equipment for what became the TERRIER anti-aircraft missile system. A Mk-37 gun director with a Mk-25 Mod-6 radar that provided the beam for the TERRIER missiles to ride took the place of her after starboard 5"/38 gun mount. She was reclassified as a Guided Missile Ship (AVM 1) on 8 August 1951. By November 1952 she had also launched an early version of the REGULUS I surface-to-surface missile. Two additional major TERRIER alterations then followed, including the installation of a prototype TERRIER twin-arm missile launcher aft in late 1952 and the addition of an AN/SPQ-5 guidance radar over the bridge and other TERRIER equipment by 1956. In 9-13 October 1956 she also participated in operation RIFF-RAFF by launching two REGULUS I guided missiles to a range of 500 miles. The helicopter platform forward was removed in 1957, helo ops being shifted aft. In 1958 the TERRIER launcher was temporarily removed so she could be the launch ship for Project ARGUS, a secret operation off the Falkland Islands in which NORTON SOUND in July-September 1958 (just before the atmospheric test ban took effect) launched four test X-17a rockets from her after deck followed by three more X-17a's carrying low yield (1- to 2-KT) nuclear warheads which were detonated high in the Earth's upper atmosphere to see if they would create high altitude radiation belts with military implications. (These tests contributed to the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt.) Development of the smaller TARTAR missile began in 1958, and when NORTON SOUND returned to San Diego in June 1959 she resumed tests of both TERRIER and TARTAR, which ended with the firing of a TARTAR RIM-24B in May 1962.

To counter the threat from mass raids of Soviet aircraft armed with stand-off antiship missiles the Navy in May 1957 initiated a major study by the Applied Physics Laboratory of systems requirements for antiair warfare from 1957 to 1967. The result was the TYPHON Weapon Control System, which in contrast to the existing TALOS, TERRIER, and TARTAR surface-to-air missile systems combined one massive radar (the AN/SPG-59), one weapon direction system, and two complementary missile types (one long range and one medium range) into a single integrated fleet air defense system. Linked to the Naval Tactical Data System (NTDS), TYPHON was intended to provide ships with a defense against any air threat developed during the next couple of decades. Although the total TYPHON system would be exceedingly expensive, it was hoped that a single TYPHON “frigate” (DLGN) could provide air defense for an entire carrier task force. On 30 August 1961 CNO made funding available for the hardware and installation of the prototype TYPHON Weapon Control System in NORTON SOUND without a prior test period ashore and to permit at-sea missile testing to commence early in calendar year 1964. He also directed that NORTON SOUND was to transfer from the Pacific Fleet to the Atlantic Fleet during July 1962 and was then to proceed to an East Coast Naval Shipyard for preliminary conversion work and then to a private yard in the Baltimore area for the installation of the prototype system. The ship was to be in "in commission, in reserve" status from her arrival at the East Coast Naval Shipyard until the installation of the prototype system was completed around December 1963. The inclusion of a TYPHON DLG(N) in the FY 1963 budget was approved by SECDEF in October 1961. Approved characteristics for a 9,900-ton DLG(N) with the TYPHON system (one twin-arm long-range and two single-arm medium range missile launchers and a SPG-59 radar with 3,400 radiating elements), SCB Project No. 227, were promulgated on 1 January 1962. (A larger SPG-59 variant for cruisers had 10,200 elements.) Approved characteristics for the conversion of NORTON SOUND, SCB Project No. 233, were promulgated on 18 December 1961 and updated for FY 1963 on 12 April 1963 with a single change on 16 April 1964. In June 1962 NORTON SOUND proceeded to Norfolk, Va., where she was placed out of commission (not ICIR) on 10 August 1962. She was then towed to Maryland SB/DD at Baltimore and commenced conversion there on 21 November 1962 under a contract dated 9 November 1962. Another deck level (the 05) and TYPHON's conical phased array radar on top of a tall cylindrical base were added to the superstructure. However in the early 1960s the transistor was still in its infancy, printed circuit boards were just beginning to gain acceptance, and chip circuits had not yet been invented, laying the groundwork for technological disappointment. By November 1962 SECNAV had received permission from Congress to cancel the FY 1963 TYPHON ship and reprogram the funds to help correct deficiencies in the earlier "3-T" SAM systems. The DLG(N) was revived for the FY 1965 program as SCB 240.65, for which approved characteristics were promulgated on 9 August 1963. Installation of the prototype TYPHON 3,400-element radar and weapon control system on NORTON SOUND began in March 1963 at Maryland SB/DD, but it soon became evident that the technical advances being attempted in TYPHON were too great. On 27 November 1963 SECDEF terminated the TYPHON program and on a Navy recommendation instituted the NORTON SOUND Engineering Test Program with funding through FY 1965 with the objective of evaluating the advanced technology in the SPG-59 radar and the associated the weapons direction equipment and other components to contribute to the design and development of future surface missile systems. NORTON SOUND completed her TYPHON conversion on 13 June 1964, recommissioned on 20 June 1964, and completed shakedown in Chesapeake Bay including initial TYPHON operations on 14 October 1964. By the end of 1964 it was apparent that it was possible to design planar phased array radars weighing and costing four to five times less than the SPG-59 spherical array. NORTON SOUND ship returned to Port Hueneme, Calif., on 7 July 1965, and the radar was evaluated there beginning on 31 July 1965. As of April 1965 the objectives of these trials, now with FY 1966 funding, were to evaluate the operational capabilities (including dependability) of the AN/SPG-59 radar and the ability of primarily Navy personnel to operate and maintain the system. The performance of the TYPHON radar was not encouraging, and in December 1965 a review panel terminated that test program. All TYPHON equipment was removed from the ship at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard between 15 July and 30 September 1966, although the new 05 level remained.

During 1965 NORTON SOUND received the additional assignment of testing the SEA SPARROW basic point defense surface missile system (BPDSMS), and she performed the first successful launch of its missile on 13 September 1965. (Another experimental installation at this time was in USS BRADLEY, DE 1041.) After the removal of TYPHON in 1966 NORTON SOUND completed 51 firing tests of the SEA SPARROW and also tested a digital controlled launcher, the PHOENIX infrared search radar, infrared countermeasures, an active ECM system using the ZUNI rocket, the AN/SPS-58 doppler radar, and a ring-laser triad gyro system. On 20 March 1968 she fired a HYDRA-IRIS rocket (a distant relative of AEROBEE) southwest of Port Hueneme from a floating launcher to an altitude of about 150 miles to take ultraviolet photographs of stellar constellations. The ship entered NSY Long Beach on 13 June 1968 for a regular overhaul during which she received a Mk-45 lightweight 5"/54 gun and its Mk-86 gun fire control system with its AN/APQ-9 radar in a small dome over the bridge for evaluation. Testing of the BPDSMS continued through 25 September 1970 and tests of the Mk-86 GFCS with the Mk-45 gun continued until April 1971. On 18 November 1971 she launched a HYDRA-SANDHAWK rocket in a repeat of the 1968 HYDRA-IRIS launch.

In 1972 NORTON SOUND entered NSY Long Beach to receive the engineering development model (EDM-1) of the AEGIS weapon system. The Mk-45 gun was removed, the AEGIS Deckhouse Mk-20 was installed on the 06 level with one “face” of the AN/SPY-1A phased-array radar to starboard and a dummy array to port, and a Mk-26 guided missile launching system (twin-arm launcher and magazine) for STANDARD-series antiaircraft missiles was installed aft. This work was completed on 20 July 1973 and in October 1973 blast testing of the Mk-26 launcher was conducted off Port Hueneme. The ship returned to NSY Long Beach in November 1973 to receiving the remaining AEGIS elements from the test site. The prototype AEGIS system in NORTON SOUND became operational in March 1974. On 16 May 1974 NORTON SOUND, again off Port Hueneme, fired her first naval missile since the TARTAR test in May 1962, a STANDARD medium range SM-1 missile against a FIREBEE drone. System integration continued throughout the remainder of 1974 and an active pace of missile firings began in February 1975, with STANDARD-MR SM-2 firings beginning in December 1976. A May 1979 brochure stated that "only recently has the know-how in computers reached a level where a system of this magnitude is feasible." During an extended yard period at NSY Long Beach the ship received modifications for Vertical Launch System (VLS) installation. The VLS itself was installed on the forecastle in the summer of 1981 during a ten-week availability at Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Miss. This former seaplane tender thus tested most of the major combat systems that entered the Navy's surface fleet between the 1950s and the 1980s before she decommissioned for the last time in December 1986.

Ship Notes:
1NORTON SOUNDBuilder's yard became Todd San Pedro (new contract 10 Jul 1944). To AVM 1 8 Aug 1951. Out of commission 10 Aug 1962 - 20 Jun 1964 for TYPHON conversion under FY 1963. Fitted with AEGIS 1972-1974.

Page Notes:
Compiled: 1 May 2024
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2024
Special sources: NARA: RG 19 Entry P 62 Box 58 (1947-48); Entry UD 1024-S, Box 1 (SCB 233); Milton Gussow and Edward C. Prettyman, "Typhon: A Weapon System Ahead of Its Time," Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest, Vol. 13, No. 1 (1992), pp. 82-89.