Friday, November 18, 2005


USS Monitor Replica Turret Set for Duty

By Mark St. John Erickson
November 16, 2005

Northrop Grumman employees fit a turret on the replica of the USS Monitor
at the Mariners' Museum.

A landmark replica of one of the world's best-known ships takes shape outside the sprawling form of the new USS Monitor Center.

NEWPORT NEWS -- Construction on the $30 million USS Monitor Center produced an indelible public landmark Tuesday when shipyard apprentices mated a full-size replica of the historic warship's revolving gun turret with a nearly completed re-creation of its hull.

Lifted into place by Hampton Roads Crane and Rigging, the massive steel cylinder is the newly welded twin of the ironclad original, which clashed with the CSS Virginia - also known as the Merrimack - in the Civil War Battle of Hampton Roads more than 143 years ago.It also looked eerily familiar to spectators who had taken part in the multiyear series of underwater archaeological expeditions that finally rescued the pioneering naval innovation from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 2002.

"It really does seem déjà vu in a backwards sort of way," said retired Navy Capt. Bobbie Scholley, commander of the 2001 and 2002 recovery missions, as she watched the replica rise into the air.

"But it's not upside down this time - and it's a little cleaner.

"The first part to be completed - called the keel unit - weighed 18 tons and loomed as large as a railroad car when it was dedicated outside the rising shell of the Monitor Center in March 2004.

Every other piece has been assembled in place to create a massive new landmark - one that will be visible to motorists on nearby Warwick Boulevard when the center opens in March 2007.

Northrop Grumman Newport News Apprentice School built the hull and turret using surplus steel donated by the Navy.

"We've been using the same systems and procedures that we use when we're building an aircraft carrier - only on a smaller scale," said Larry Koeck, training administrator for the Apprentice School.

"It's an excellent training exercise. We have people who've been so involved that they've been coming here to work on their off hours. We've also got engineers coming down and asking why we can't do some of the things we've done here on a real ship."

The shipyard's contributions reach back to 1998, when its workers fabricated an 8,600-gallon conservation tank for treating the Monitor's newly recovered propeller and propulsion shaft, which weighed an estimated 5,000 pounds. Since then, it has played an indispensable role in the ongoing, industrial-sized effort to save such hallmark features as the steam engine and turret, constructing many more, often much larger tanks as well as providing crucial engineering and rigging help.

"The Apprentice School and the shipyard have done so much for this project that I can't thank them enough," Mariners' Museum president and CEO John C. Hightower told the spectators who gathered to watch the event.

"There isn't another museum in the country that could have undertaken something this large and ambitious - and that's because they don't have the shipyard next door."

Underwater archaeologist John Broadwater, who served as chief scientist for the rescue expeditions mounted by the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, commended the shipyard and its shipbuilders, too.

"When people get the chance to stand on that deck, it's going to make the hair stand up on the back of their necks," said Broadwater, who recently relinquished his role as manager of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary to become head of NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program.

"It really does give you a great idea of what it must have been like to stand on the deck of the Monitor."


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