The rooster tail
Posted by Phil on November 11th, 2008
ABOARD THE FREEDOM, Lake Michigan – "As I write this, the ship is traveling at 40.7 knots; I can hear the gas turbines singing through the bulkhead to my right. I know how fast the ship is traveling because a few minutes ago I was standing on the bridge with the captain, Cmdr. Don Gabrielson, who pointed out the central ship-control station that displays our course, speed, and GPS-fixed navigation.
“Isn’t it cool?” he asked. I agreed. I offered that I had never been aboard any ship that traveled close to this fast.
“I know!” he said. “Let’s see if we can get it to go faster.”
Gabrielson and the ship’s engineering team are using every opportunity they can to test out the Freedom’s novel combined diesel and gas turbine powerplant, which drives an equally novel set of water pumpjets that propel the ship. Earlier today, after the ship crept away from the makeshift dock at Milwaukee’s Veteran’s Park, Gabrielson ordered the officer of the deck to take the Freedom in a total 360-degree circle, to see how the complex propulsion plant would handle the job. And a few minutes ago, after we’d gotten up to full speed, she took the ship in a swift circular turn, slowing from 40 to about 30 knots, to demonstrate how the Freedom leans into its turns “because we’re more like a boat,” he said. “A ship leans out of its turns.” We bumped over our own wake, straightened out, and resumed full speed.
I walked aft to the helicopter hangar to look for the Freedom’s now-famous 25-knot rooster tail, which rockets spray into the air higher and faster than a waterpark ride. Each of the Freedom’s waterjets pump more than 12 million gallons of water per minute, enough to drain an Olympic-sized swimming pool in six seconds, according to Lt. Jeff Hurley, the combat systems officer. I stood on the flight deck for only a few moments before returning to the bridge; the roar and the spray were frightening.
The XO, Cmdr. Kris Doyle, promised earlier that the Freedom ran smooth at its high speed, and Gabrielson mentioned the same thing, boasting that you could set down a coffee cup at 40 knots and walk away. Pentagon planners hope the ship’s high sprint speed and stability will enable it to dash into an area where it suspects there are mines or an enemy submarine, launch its unmanned vehicles, and dash out again, minimizing the amount of time the Freedom spends in harm’s way.
Gabrielson took off his “scrambled eggs” captain’s hat and laid it on his chair, and then told me to lay down my cap as well. He walked to the starboard bridge wing and struggled open the hatch. I followed him out to the wing and we were punched in the face by a deathly cold 60 knot headwind, barreling like a freight train over the ship’s bow. White spray from the Freedom’s massive bow wave splashed up onto our faces, and after less than a minute in the gale, I followed Gabrielson back into the bridge.
“Whew!” we agreed.
We put on our caps and he poured himself a cup of coffee from the carafe on the port side of the bridge. Then Gabrielson walked over and set it down onto a metal box underneath the bridge windows. The liquid was steady as the British pound. He took his hands away like a magician who had just performed a flawless sleight of hand. Then he picked up the cup.
'I can’t leave it there because the [officer of the deck] will yell at me for setting down an un-covered coffee cup,' he said."