Diving into Naval Science:  The Requin

by Mark Petruzzini

Moored beside Carnegie Science Center on the Ohio River, you might think the Requin looks out of place - a World War II submarine, antique in Navy years, set against the backdrop of a modern skyline and the Science Center's high-tech architecture. But consider what a good match the Science Center and Requin are for each other: a waterside science center with a strong focus on education and technology, and a submarine - a veritable floating museum - brimming with Naval science and learning opportunities. And what better city is there than Pittsburgh for a steel giant like the Requin?

Since its arrival in Pittsburgh in 1990, the Requin has been a major success. Maintaining it and running its educational programs is a labor of love for some 60 staff and volunteers, two of whom actually served on the sub. About 80 percent of all staff and volunteers have naval or military experience. This dedication to Requin's maintenance, expansion, and educational quality has helped bring over 700,000 visitors from all over the country to see one of the most complete World War II submarines on display.

Today there are fewer than 15 museum submarines in the United States. Former submariner James L. Winokur, a Carnegie Institute Trustee, was a driving force in bringing Requin to Pittsburgh. Requin is very different from ships which only commemorate history. No barriers separate visitors from the Requin's equipment, and visitors are accompanied by a guide who interprets scientific subjects and helps people understand what life onboard a World War II submarine was like.

Each year the educational focus of the tour changes, which guarantees the public an interesting return visit. In seven years, Requin visitors have learned about sonar, the psychological aspects of claustrophobia and life underwater, and engineering systems - a broad area that encompassed everything from heat exchangers to propulsion. This year's focus is on navigation systems.

While Requin's World War II technology differs from that of newer submarines, the same basic principles apply. For example, the Requin was powered by four 1,600-horsepower diesel engines which created electricity, turning the propeller like a giant electric fan. Today's nuclear submarines run on electricity too,  but use a nuclear reactor to produce their electric power. The new technology is much more economical when you consider that all four of the Requin's engines running simultaneously would burn 1,000 gallons of fuel per hour. Requin's total fuel capacity was 113,510 gallons with a nominal traveling range of 11,000 miles.

While Requin was never damaged by a torpedo or depth charge, wear and tear occurs with a submarine's regular usage. Each time a submarine dives underwater, its hull is compressed and then will expand again as it surfaces. Sailors would tie a string across the galley and tie a cup in the middle, and would watch it drop as many as three or four inches as the hull of the submarine was compressed as it dove, sometimes to a depth of over 400 feet below the surface. This process, says submarine manager Scott Kleinschnitz, is like bending a spoon - if it's done enough times, the metal will fatigue and the spoon will break. Other systems, like Requin's 14 miles of electrical cable, eventually wear down and may have to be repaired or replaced.

Education on the Requin appeals to many local schools. One submarine-related geography project developed at Linton Middle School in Penn Hills, "Where in the world is the USS Pittsburgh?" is scheduled to become national. The current in-service submarine USS Pittsburgh is a 12-year-old Los Angles Class Fast Attack Submarine, which carries the city's name all over the world. Plans are for the USS Pittsburgh and the school to exchange e-mail that will teach students in an interactive way about global geography. The program should go national with ships that have locality names, such as (for Pennsylvania) the cruisers USS Lake Erie and USS Gettysburg, and the submarines USS Pennsylvania, USS Philadelphia, and USS Scranton, among others.

Today the Requin is a living science display. This summer you can find out about open ocean navigation techniques such as reading charts, finding your way by using the stars, taking depth soundings, reading light house signals, and measuring the speed of a vessel with a "pit sword," a blade that extends beneath the hull of the vessel. Where else in Pittsburgh can you dive so deeply into naval science and history, and learn to use your "seaman's eye" to find out how close your ship is to land?

Mark Petruzzini is the electronic editor of Carnegie Magazine.

This summer, Requin is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"Overnighters" on the Requin

Scout groups and other youth groups sign up to spend a night onboard the submarine - sleeping in the same bunks the sailors used. Up to 30 people can be accommodated. For more information call the Overnighter Registrar at 237-3367.


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