Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pictures from the past - Generators large and larger.

I’ve been spending some time lately going through some old pictures and thinking about the enormity of the task of taking these photos and scanning them into my computer to preserve them. Not that I think 20 years from now we’ll be using compact discs or flash drives to store photos, but who knows.

I spent 20 years in the US Navy. Everyone knows what that is. I served in a smallish subset of the Navy called the Seabees, the Navy’s construction and humanitarian aid arm. There are about 12,000 Seabees on active duty these days – but there were over 300,000 of them during World War II, bulldozing their way through the Pacific theater, building bases, airstrips, docks, fuel depots, and generally supporting whatever efforts were needed to advance toward Tokyo. In between conflicts, the Seabees focus on humanitarian aid missions.

Of those 20 years, about half of it was spent in special program (only about 40 of us) within the Seabees called the Mobile Utilities Support Equipment (MUSE) Program. It’s purpose was to supply shore based utility services to Navy facilities world wide where there were shortages, for example, a naval base that didn’t have enough electrical capacity to provide power to ships when they were in port.

I’ve scanned in a few pictures from those days, which will serve as today’s “Photo Blog.”

Here are two 1000 kilowatt diesel generator sets that I installed (with a 4 person MUSE team) in Sasebo Japan in 1984. Each generator had an Alco Diesel engine of about 1400 horsepower. Alco was once the American Locomotive Company, and designed these engines for locomotive use, although they proved reliable in generator service as well. These generator sets, although attractive, were not particularly well made (by a contractor in Florida) and we usually spent several days working out the kinks during any new installation. These generators produce power at 4,160 volts, which was either bumped up for transmission, or transformed down for distribution. MUSE generators almost always produced power at that voltage, and were often accompanied by a portable MUSE electrical substation to provide the voltage shift.

The coolest and most technically intricate generators in the MUSE fleet were the generators driven by gas turbine engines. We had two very different models; a 750 KW generator set driven a Solar Gas Turbine engine, and this one, a 2000 KW generator driven by an Allison Gas Turbine engine. The engine in this generator set, a model we called the 501KB, was also used in turboprop aircraft such as the C-130 cargo plane (in which it had the model designation T-56). For our use, instead of driving the propeller, the front shaft went through a reduction gear-box and then spun a generator. It was a complex unit, using a small 150 hp gas turbine as the starting motor for the larger engine. These were built by Morrison – Knudson in North Carolina, who built many different MUSE generator plants, in the days before electronics ruled. Designed in the 1970’s, they required a complicated panel of over 50 relays and switches just for the starting sequence. This picture is from Christmas Day 1982, as a team of us were dispatched to Mare Island Shipyard to provide emergency power as the base had suffered damage to its electrical transmission tower during a storm.

Here is one of the three control panels for the generator. The generator included a fire suppression system. These generators were not what you would call fuel efficient, using 250 gallons of jet or diesel fuel per hour at full load. But that wasn’t the point – they were the most power-dense generator we had: 2,000 KW of power in a highway legal trailer. It could get almost anywhere very quickly.

Here is a shot of the engine. The starting system included a complicated sequence to avoid ‘compressor stall’, which can result in melted turbine blades, which is, ummm, not good.

Here is a picture of me and Barney Baker taken at Mare Island on Christmas 1982. Barney was a good friend and mentor.

One of my favorite deployments during my MUSE years was the trip to Key West Florida in early 1982. We took one of the 2000 gas turbine generator sets (same as above – we had 12 of the trailer mounted versions) and a MUSE substation to Florida, mounted it on a WW II era landing craft, and supported the ‘shock test’ of a new class of ship.

What is a ‘shock test’? It’s when you take a new class of ship, bring it a few miles off shore, and then detonate explosives underwater that are progressively larger and closer to see how the ship reacts. It’s a sort of stress test for ships. What made this test unique was that it was the first shock test performed on a nuclear powered surface vessel. We were there (don’t laugh) in case the reactor scrammed, and the emergency generators failed also. We were supposed to come alongside, run and connect cables into the ships electrical system, and provide power for the reactor emergency core cooling system (ECCS) and other critical systems. We practiced the drill a few times before the actual tests. It also meant that we had to be very nearby during the test, once we were closer than the ship to the explosives. Which meant all of our ‘stuff’ had to stay together too. Which it didn’t. Which is another story.

Well, we’re getting long here, so let’s call this generators part one. More next time.