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The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

Posted September 11, 2009 6:00 AM by Steve Melito

What do teeth-whitening treatments and an old diesel submarine have in common? How about wound disinfection and extended underwater operations? The answer is available at the Submarine Force Library & Museum in Groton, Connecticut. Located on the Thames River, this U.S. Navy facility bills itself as "the world's finest collection" of submarine-related materials. But you don't have to comb through old manuals for the answer to this submariner's riddle. Just step outside and take a look at the placard next to the Navy's first midget submarine.

What's in the Bottle?

Hydrogen peroxide, a powerful bleaching agent and antiseptic, has a great many uses. That brown bottle in your upstairs bathroom contains the same substance that is used as a rocket propellant. Before the U.S. Navy launched its first nuclear-powered submarine in 1955, hydrogen peroxide was used in the propulsion system of a non-commissioned experimental submersible. As a placard next to the USS X-1 (SSX-1, SS X-1) explains, "a unique engineering feature was a closed-loop hydrogen peroxide system that allowed the use of the diesel engine under the water independent from an external air source".

Oxygen and Energy

More specifically, this special hydrogen peroxide system generated the oxygen that the submarine's diesel engine needed while the ship was submerged. As with other internal combustion engines, diesel engines release energy in a series of explosions as diesel fuel reacts chemically with oxygen in air. (Older diesel engines were louder and dirtier than their modern-day successors, of course, but the basic principle of operation was the same.) When hydrogen peroxide decomposes exothermically, the result is water and oxygen gas. By using the oxygen that its closed-loop system provided, the USS X-1 could operate underwater for longer periods of time than conventional diesel-electric submarines and at greater speeds.

Tragedy Averted

Unfortunately, periodic problems with the submarine's propulsion system culminated in the explosion of a hydrogen peroxide storage cell in May 1957. The bow section of the ship was damaged, but no injuries occurred. Later, the U.S. Navy converted the USS X-1 to a diesel-electric drive and relegated it to conducting oceanographic research for the U.S. Naval Laboratory. Plans for a hydrogen-peroxide propelled submarine that could spend extended periods of time at sea went down the drain like so much mouthwash.

Additional Readings:

http://www.using-hydrogen-peroxide.com/ http://en.wikipedia.org

/wiki/Hydrogen_peroxide http://www.williammaloney.com/Aviation/SubmarineUSSNautilus/SSX1/index.htm

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#1

Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/11/2009 10:51 AM

Fascinating! I knew that hydrogen peroxide had many uses, but I wouldn't have thought that submarine propulsion systems would be one of them. Cool article

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#2
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Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/11/2009 10:48 PM

Years ago, there was a jetpack that someone developed. I believe it operated using hydrogen peroxide and a silver catalyst.

Hydrogen peroxide is also used extensively industrially for bleaching various materials including paper and hair.

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#17
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Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/14/2009 5:56 PM

In the late '70s a guy from Australia was working on a World land Speed Record car that used that same type of rocket power. He got killed when he went off the end of a drag strip and the rocket motor ended up in an exhibition car that later became the Revel Rocket exhibition car. I wired the original exhibition car. -- JHF

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#3

Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/11/2009 10:49 PM

I thought, quicklime, and just checked in a "say it isn't so!" moment. But quicklime changes through calcium bicarbonate to calcium carbonate when it soaks up CO2 so I think I am still part right! Brian

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#4

Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/11/2009 11:11 PM

The article is technically correct and while I had no clue that it could be used as discussed, it makes sense and for some entertaining reading.

However, it should be made clear that the hydrogen peroxide used for bleaching blonds and your teeth is no where near the concentration in the HP used to help launch the V2 rockets launched from White Sands, New Mexico in the 50's.

I remember one report where someone accidentally spilled some on a jeep. A loud explosion occured and when the dust settled, the jeep was gone! A handful of sawdust tossed casually into a partially bucket of Hydrogen Peroxide would level a building!

That is NOT the stuff of toothpaste, mouthwash or hair treatments which are likely to be less than 1% HP.

L.J.

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Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/12/2009 7:06 AM

Excellent point, Laughing Jaguar!

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#5

Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/12/2009 2:33 AM

The Germans had a neat little Rocket/Glider plane in WW2 powered by HP. I have forgotten the number it was given as a name, but if anyone wants more detail I will research it.

There is a video on YouTube somewhere of one taking off, dropping its wheels and going up vertically.

If the pilot made a bad landing, heavy I mean, he could break his back, several pilots did just that!!!

The UK had a full large scale submarine (Commissioned) that was lost with all hands sometime in the 50s, powered ONLY by HP.....again, I cannot remember the name (other than HMS "something beginning with a T I think!!)....

They mixed HP with seawater and used the steam derived to drive a turbine if I remember correctly.

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#6
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Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/12/2009 3:12 AM

Wow! I had no idea the brits had a go!

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Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/12/2009 8:38 AM

Andy, the German Luftwaffe fighter/glider aircraft that you were trying to describe was the Messerschmitt ME-163 Komet, or Comet in English. Some of the fighter units also called them "Killer Fleas". Only about 300 hundred of the Killer Fleas were built. They were quite ineffective against Allied bombers and fighter escorts due to their extremely limited flight range, although they could reach a max airspeed of approximately 700 MPH, enough for one or two strafing passes against the bomber formations.

Actually, the rocket powered Komet used two fuels for propulsion: C-Stoff and T-Stoff. C-Stoff was the fuel and comprised of 57% Methanol, 30% Hydrazine and 13% water. T-Stoff on the otherhand was a Hypergolic Oxidizer and was comprised of 80% Hydrogen Peroxide and 20% Oxyquinoline.

Needless to say, the mixture of these two compounds was extremely explosive.

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#10
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Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/12/2009 12:29 PM

I could not have put it better myself! Many thanks Moose.

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Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/12/2009 2:51 PM

I'm told by aviation historians that both the pilots and the fuelers of the rocket plane had to wear rubber coated coveralls for fear of their skin being exposed to the hydrazine.

One report from a tech inspector at an NHRA drag racing event told of an incident at an event in the 60's where some intrepid competitor added hydrazine to the fuel tank of a competing machine and then he and a member of his pit crew proceeded to stand on the rear of the car, and jump up and down to mix the chemistry.

The fuel mix didn't like being disturbed that way at all and announced its displeasure by blowing up and lifting the rear of the car and it's two "astronauts" near vertically.

No deaths were reported that I can recall but I'm sure that the car and the two surprised men didn't enjoy the landings one bit!

Not surprisingly, NHRA is reported to have immediately banned the use of volatile catalyzers from competition.

I wonder why?

While on the subject of exotic fuels, Burt Rutan's rocket ship, the one that won the X-prize (?) with Mike Melville at the controls, is said to be fueled by powdered rubber and Nitrous Oxide. I laughed when I heard that!

(Sorry, I simply couldn't resist that!)

L.J.

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#7

Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/12/2009 3:13 AM

So many uses for HP, including stink bombs :D

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#11
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Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/12/2009 12:36 PM

Andy, you're very welcome! Glad I was able to assist!!!

Signed, Da Moosie ===>>>> not to be confused with Moose, the Engineering Guru...I'm just a "newbie" here. *GRINZ*

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Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/12/2009 1:46 PM

OH!!

My mistake.....but the thankyou to you was still correct!!!

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Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/12/2009 12:38 PM

The sub(s) appear to have been captured from the Germany according to one site, but were not lost due to HTP, but HMS Sidon was, due to an HTP Torpedo!!

Sorry that I mixed the two up!!!!

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#14

Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/12/2009 2:50 PM

Good article, I did not know the US Navy built this sub. A complete hydrogen peroxide propulsion full size attack submarine was design by the Germans in 1939. Because Hitler concentrated on Canoes (27 man sub's) and Mine-Laying submarines, the hydrogen peroxide unit was never built by them. The British Navy in 1952-53 using the original German design built one unit, the sub did 12 knots submerged and 22 knots surfaced, an astonishing speed for a conventional and non-conventional sub's. The age of Nuke submarines was about to dawn and the hydrogen peroxide sub faded away to scrap metal.

The German H.P. sub was written up in a 1957-58 book about German U-Boats, part of the title was "Wolf Packs" which I read in 1958-59. The book also covers their western Atlantic operations which started on the night of Jan 23, 1942 in the shipping lanes off NYC, they were so close the U-Boat Captain could see auto traffic head lights. German operations were to start on Jan 24, but the Captain disobeyed his orders, too many target opportunities that night. I only bring this up because they just reported (Sept 2009) finding a torpedoed US Navy patrol ship/boat that sunk off North Carolina in 1942.

Thank you for the flash-back.

John J Kline

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#16

Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

09/13/2009 11:20 AM

Both have ULTRA SONICS in common.

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#18

Re: The Submarine Force Museum: The USS X-1

10/06/2009 12:43 PM

Hydrogen peroxide has not gone away, it is still used to today by the Russians. They had the following wonderful experience with it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_submarine_Kursk_explosion

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