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John Ericsson (T-AO-194)

1990–

The fourth U.S. Navy ship named in honor of John Ericsson, a Swedish-born American engineer and inventor who perfected the screw propeller and constructed radically designed warships, notably the ironclad Monitor, but the first named John Ericsson.

Born in Långbanshyttan, Värmland Province, Sweden on 31 July 1803, Ericsson began work as an iron miner but showed an aptitude for machinery construction, drafting, and engraving. After working as a surveyor on the Göta Ship Canal, he became an army topographic officer in 1820.

In 1826 Ericsson journeyed to London, where he worked mainly on engines, locomotives and screw propulsion for boats, receiving 14 patents. English railroad builders kept him profitably at work. His most lucrative invention was a steam fire engine. To improve marine engines and keep propulsion apparatus underwater, he designed a screw propeller that was more efficient than a paddle wheel, ensured better engine performance, and made larger ships possible. In 1836 the speed of his model vessel exceeded 9 knots. His screw-propelled ships were used on English rivers, and some were taken to the United States; yet the British navy rejected his designs. In 1839 he migrated to the U.S. to build naval vessels.

Ericsson won a prize in 1840 for the best designed steam fire engine. He adapted twin screw propellers to a vessel, and by 1844 there were 25 such boats on American waters. That same year, he completed the 1,000-ton iron frigate Princeton, the first screw-propelled warship and the first with engines and boilers below the waterline and out of firing range. She was a coal burner with a self-adjusting gunlock to compensate for roll and was pronounced a shipbuilding marvel. However on a trial run the 12-inch wrought-iron gun, which was not designed by Ericsson, exploded and killed the Secretaries of State and Navy along with four others. This tragedy stigmatized Ericsson and delayed the building of American steam naval ships.

Ericsson regained prominence with Monitor. Although France’s Napoleon III had rejected his model ironclad warship in 1854, a U.S. Navy board reluctantly granted him a contract to construct the craft for Union use during the Civil War. Monitor was launched on 30 January 1862. She arrived in Hampton Roads, Va. on 9 March in time to fight the Confederate ironclad Virginia to a draw. That first historic battle between steam-driven ironclads proved a turning point in naval technology. For the remainder of the war, Ericsson designed and built ironclads.

After the war Ericsson built monitors for other nations and gunboats for Spain. By 1878 his torpedo boat, Destroyer, was complete. She could outrun ironclads, could partially submerge and fired a dynamite torpedo projectile underwater. During Ericsson's lifetime the U.S. Navy displayed no interest in it.

Although none of his inventions created any large industries, he is regarded as one of the most influential mechanical engineers of all time. Ericsson died on 8 March 1889 in New York City on the anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads. His remains were transported from the United States to Stockholm by Baltimore (Cruiser No. 3) and he was interred at Filipstad, Sweden.

(T-AO-194: displacement 9,500; length 677'; beam 97'; draft 35'; speed 20 knots; complement 103; armament 1 .50-caliber machine gun, 2 20 millimeter Phalanx close in weapon systems (CIWS); class Henry J. Kaiser)

John Ericsson (T-AO-194) was laid down on 15 March 1989 at Chester, Pa., by Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; launched on 21 April 1990; and sponsored by Mrs. Doris M. Iklé, wife of sociologist and defense expert Fred C. Iklé. She entered non-commissioned U.S. Navy service under the control of the Military Sealift Command (MSC) with a primarily civilian crew on 18 March 1991. She serves in the United States Pacific Fleet.

On 14 July 2010, John Ericsson rescued five Filipino fishermen from the South China Sea 10 miles off the coast of Luzon, Philippines, nine hours after their boat capsized in rough seas as Typhoon Conson passed over the island of Luzon. John Ericsson had sortied from Subic Bay the previous day in order to avoid the storm and was returning when Able Bodied Seaman Charles Wright spotted the fishermen at 1310 clinging to their overturned banca boat and waving a yellow flag. At 1333, John Ericsson lowered her rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) into the sea, and 10 minutes later all five men were safe on the ship’s deck where a physician examined them. A few hours after their rescue, the fishermen were ashore and handed over to the care of the Philippine Coast Guard.

In March of 2014, John Ericsson was sent to help with refueling and logistics connected with Pinckney's (DDG-91) role assisting in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The Boeing 777-200ER was a scheduled international passenger flight that disappeared on 8 March while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China. Pinckney was diverted from a training mission in the South China Sea in order to search for signs of the missing aircraft. Her MH-60R Seahawks are designed for search and rescue, can fly a maximum of 180 knots with a ceiling of 13,000 feet and have a maximum range of 245 nautical miles. John Ericsson ensured that Pinckney and her helicopters could maximize their time on station.

Detailed history under construction.

Paul J. Marcello

8 December 2015

Published: Mon Dec 14 14:20:04 EST 2015