Today in Transportation History – 1960: The Smallest Nuclear-Powered Sub is Launched by the US Navy

The USS Tullibee, the smallest nuclear-powered attack submarine in the US fleet was launched in Groton, Connecticut.

Small, in this case, is relative: Tullibee was 273 feet (83.2m) long and displaced 2300 tons at the surface. In comparison, the other notable nuclear-powered sub of the time, the USS Nautilus, was 320 feet (97.5m) and displaced 3520 tons.

Tullibee’s small size enabled her to be used as a testing vessel for new technology – including the first use of a nuclear turboelectric propulsion system, the SC2 prototype. This reactor provided steam to two turbines driving a turboelectric powerplant. This system allowed Tullibee to run very quietly which was important for her mission as a “Hunter-Killer” designed to detect, engage and destroy enemy submarines

The sub was unique in other ways, too. Her design grew out of a report from Project Nobska, a 1956 study by the Chief of Naval Operations that called for the development of an ultraquiet platform using long-range sonar. When Tullibee was built, this new sonar took up most of the space in her bow and necessitated another new innovation: angled torpedo tubes placed amidships.

Tullibee took a shakedown cruise in 1961 and evaluated the sonar and submarine operations during tactical exercises out of New London, Connecticut through 1963.

She remained on active duty and saw ten commanding officers through 28 years of service. She was finally decommissioned and recycled in 1988.

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