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HISTORY OF USS NORTON SOUND
There are very few ships in the world that can lay claim to as diverse and interesting a history as the USS Norton Sound. Launched and christened on November 28, 1943, she was commissioned on January 8th, 1945 the ship has seen almost 40 years of active service and was still going strong up to 1986, named after the largest bay in Alaska, the Norton Sound is 540 feet long and displaces 15,000 tons when fully loaded.
Originally built as a Seaplane Tender, the Norton Sound saw action in the closing campaigns of World War II. after World War II, she was selected for conversion to a Guided Missile Test Ship. At the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, provisions were made for the launching, fueling, and servicing of rockets, various equipment that had been utilized during her days as a Seaplane Tender was removed and a helicopter platform was added. This set the stage for many historic events in the years to follow.
In her new capacity, she served as a floating laboratory and launching platform for several high priority missile projects, including the Upper Air Research and Cosmic Ray programs. The Norton Sound has been fulfilling the Navy's need for a floating proving ground for the development and test of guided missiles since 1948.
During the next few years, the USS Norton Sound did not spend much time in her home port of Port Hueneme, California. She made several trips to the coast of South America and to the Gulf of Alaska for additional research in Cosmic Radiation.
After being reclassified as a Guided Missile Ship (AVM-1) on August 8th, 1951, she was fitted with a Terrier Missile Launcher and conducted Terrier and TARTER Missile tests through 1962. In 1958, she steamed to the South Atlantic, near the Falkland Islands, where she launched 3 rockets and then detonated them at an altitude of 300 miles. The ensuing observations contributed directly to the discovery of the Van Allen Radiation Belt.
Upon completion of this most successful and highly important mission, she returned to Port Hueneme for more missile test firings.
In 1965, she began tests of the Sea Sparrow Missile, used to provide short-range defense for U.S. Warships. The Norton Sound was involved in testing missile countermeasures, electronic warfare, and infrared search systems. This continued until 1966, when the ship entered Long Beach Naval shipyard for overhaul.
In 1968, the ship's versatility was again demonstrated when the lightweight Mark 45 5-inch gun was installed for evaluation along with the related Mark 86 Gunfire Control System.
In 1974, the Norton Sound was fitted with the AEGIS Radar Weapons Control System, including one "Face" of the SPY-1 Phased Array Radar. The Mark 26 Launcher and Magazine were added Aft, along with the associated control Radar's.
The power and effectiveness of AEGIS was demonstrated on May 17, 1974. The Mark 7 Weapon System, manned by the crew of the Norton Sound, successfully detected, tracked, engaged, and intercepted a BQM-34A Target on the Pacific Missile Test Range with the first firing of the Standard One Missile. Later, a second non-warhead Standard One Missile was fired, physically intercepted and destroyed the target at a range of 15 miles.
Rear Admiral Wayne E. Meyer, AEGIS/SM-2/AEGIS Ship Acquisition Manager termed this performance "A 7 league advance in our Navy's ability to go once more in harms way".
On December 9th, 1976, another milestone was achieved when the first Standard Missile Two was launched from the ship. But this was only the beginning. The pinnacle was finally reached on April 17th, 1977. On this historic day, referred to as "Super Sunday" by Radm. Meyer, the fire power demonstration was nothing short of phenomenal. never before had 2 missiles been flown in configuration and under simultaneous electronic control. The nearest target was destroyed by the first missile and the second missile passed well within lethal range of a different target at the longest intercept range ever achieved at sea with the Standard Two Missile.
In the Spring of 1981, the pre-production model of the Vertical Launcher was installed at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi. During the next two years, the VLS under went extensive testing and observation. The USS Norton Sound was the only AT-SEA Testing Platform for the AEGIS Weapon System, the success of which has resulted in the production of the new Ticonderoga Class Cruisers. The summer of 1983 saw the installation of an advanced VLS which went under test and observation until the Norton Sound's final days of active service.
The many missile systems tested aboard the USS Norton Sound have made a significant contribution to the U.S. Navy. We, whom served aboard, can all be proud to have served aboard a ship with such a distinctive history.