Ships in the Navy were designed as closely similar as possible, not because they didn’t want to spend time and effort creating new designs and concepts but because it would be easier to train the crew on the systems if they were all similar. You know, you taught one, and you practically taught about the rest. Plus, it’ll be more practical to produce a design in bulk, rather than custom-making each of them. Just imagine the cost, time, and effort that would take. However, there would be missions and necessities that require the unique and out-of-the-cake-mold design of ships from time to time. Here are three instances.
USS Supply – The Camel Corp’s Cargo Carrier
In 1855, Congress finally approved the Secretary of War Jefferson Davis’s plan to import camels and use them as pack animals for the US Army assigned in the American Southwest. The idea was that these animals would be used as a long-range mounted force that could shoo “hostile Indians out of the country.” These camels, of course, had to be shipped to their designated location, thus the USS Supply. The ship was renovated to add special hatches, stables, hoists, and a “camel car” so that they could be loaded and transported. The first batch was obtained in North Africa, and the USS Supply even had to make some modifications to fit in the camels’ humps. They had to cut away portions of the main deck. They were safely and successfully delivered to Texas, and their potential was acknowledged, although the plan didn’t push through because of the Civil War. As for the camels, they were sold to zoos and circuses, while a few were thankfully sent back into the wild.
Lockheed Martin’s Sea Shadow (IX-529)
This experimental ship was built in the 1980s by Lockheed Martin and aimed to test the same stealth technology that the F-117 Nighthawk was using. If you’re going to look at them, they kind of looked similar, with the Sea Shadow being the shy sister of the stealth attack aircraft that flapped its wings down. In the two photos below, you can see their similarities.
According to the 2003 Navy news release, “In the early 1980s, the vessel was built modularly under tight secrecy by different manufacturers and assembled inside the Hughes Mining Barge (HMB), at Redwood City, California.
The idea was that the sharp angles of the unique ship would make it appear smaller on the radar, but as DARPA wrote,
The Sea Shadow’s first trials in 1981 proved greatly disappointing because the ship’s wake was unexpectedly huge and detectable with sonar and from the air. After discovering that the problem was due the motor propellers, which had been installed backwards, the project moved forward. The vessel was completed in 1984 and underwent night trials in 1985 and 1986. Even so, the Sea Shadow never made it beyond the testing phase, though engineers applied lessons learned in such applications as submarine periscopes and some newer Navy destroyers, including the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class ships.
It was eventually scrapped in 2006.
This FLoating Instrument Platform is an open ocean research platform of the US Office of Naval Research developed in the early 1960s. The 355-foot FLIP is towed to its research location horizontally, you know, like a normal ship. Not until it takes on around 700 tons of seawater, partially flooding the ship and flipping it backward at 90 degrees, so only the front 55 feet of the platform is now visible and pointing up towards heaven, with almost the size of a football field submerged underwater. The whole process takes about 20 minutes. The water provides most of the ballast for the platform through the influence of surface waves at the depths below, making FLIP stable.
The ship is designed to function horizontally and vertically, and as ONR said, “Most rooms on FLIP have two doors. One to use when FLIP is horizontal, and one to use when FLIP is vertical. Things like bunk beds, toilets, and stoves are built on swivels and gimbals, so they will turn along with FLIP.”
Usually, research activities done here were meteorology, geophysics, physical oceanography, marine mammal research, non-acoustic ASW, and laser propagation experiments. The ship is flipped back horizontally when their mission is done by pumping compressed air into the ballast tanks submerged in the water and then towed to a new location. This ship is still operational up to this day.