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The Navy’s Perfect Ship


The Navy’s Perfect Ship

The Navy’s newest oceanographic survey vessel, USNS Bruce C. Heezen doesn’t use a steering wheel at all. Unlike with other naval vessels, Heezen’s crew can chart the ship’s course and steer it using a computer joystick. Heezen, a 5000-ton and 329-foot long ship, which was delivered in January and is undergoing sea trials, is the newest addition to the US Navy’s oceanographic and meteorological survey fleet.

Through a complex array of sensors, computer networks and communications equipment, Heezen is the equivalent of a floating computing and information processing center. An auto-tracking feature allows to follow a prescribed track line provided by the ship’s laboratory. The computer will factor in the drift and compensate for that so that the ship stays right on top of the set line. The ship’s helmsman uses the joystick to reduce the speed of the ship. When it stops, the helmsman pushes a button, recording the exact location of the ship. The ship’s computers will then hold that position even in 15- to 20-foot-high seas. Two radars feed data into the ship’s Automatic Radar Plotting Aid, which alerts the crew to any navigation hazards, such as other ships that may be crossing their path.

Federal Computer Week 31 July 2000, by Dan Verton  

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