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USS Francis Scott Key

Navy Unit Commendation

September 1978 - October 1979

First Trident I missile launched from the USS Francis Scott Key.

 This is a movie of the launch of two Trident I missiles from the Key.  The Key Blue and Gold Crews were  awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for the launch and subsequent refitting of the Key to Trident I missiles   The Key also became the first submarine to go on deterrent patrol with a full compliment of Trident I missiles.

Click to watch movie.  Give it a minute to load.  You must have a movie viewer software such as Windows Media Player to view the movie.  






A montage of seven views showing parts of the launching of a Trident I C-4 missile from the submerged nuclear-powered strategic missile submarine USS FRANCIS SCOTT KEY (SSBN-657) courtesy of US Navy and Lockheed Martin.  

Photos: U.S. Navy Photo: Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space
This was followed by the firing of 7 PEMs (Performance Evaluation Missiles versus Production Evaluation Missiles) from the SSBN-657 during the period 10 April 1979 through 31 July 1979. PEM-1 had a first stage motor failure but PEMs 2 through 7 were successful. It was this successful flight test program that lead to SECNAV James Woolsey to comment in January 1980 that TRIDENT I (C4) was "the most successful submarine launched ballistic missile development program to date."

Bill. Kaczmarek was a missile tech on the Key during the first Trident launch.  This is the e-mail we received from Bill describing that launch.

The Key was chosen to execute the first submerged launch of a Trident missile back in 1979 and we steamed from our home port of Charleston, SC to Cape Canaveral loaded with ballast in our missile tubes.  When we got there, we outfitted the boat with a telemetry mast and then loaded two trident D-1 test missiles (picture 1, 2) with the idea of doing two shots.  

When the boat was finally rigged, we proceeded out to the test range where we launched the first bird.  About three seconds into the launch, the status reports stopped being read and after a few more minutes we found out that the missile failed and was destroyed as it hit the ocean about a mile away from us.  I remember the ship rocking as the shock wave hit us and the collision alarm going off.  It was at his point that I also met Vice Admiral Carr, head-on.   When the collision alarm sounded, I came around the port side missile compartment, upper level corner to secure the W/T door at about flank speed and ran smack dab into him as he was approaching the corner.  Those stars on his collar looked huge and I thought I'd get in trouble for running over an Admiral but he was scrambling to get out of my way and told me to carry on.  
At that point, the ship was recalled to port and an investigation was started to determine what happened.  Later, back in port, I was given a photo taken from the USS Range Sentinel that showed why the missile failed.  (I wish I could find that image today!)  

After the unsuccessful launch attempt, we returned to port and turned around the fired tube (Picture 1, 2).  We then found ourselves in the position of not having a mission to execute and a whole patrol cycle to do it, so COMSUBLANT sent us to Annapolis to show the middies what a real live submarine looked like and try to recruit some of them for the pirating life.   I actually met a kid from my home town who was a midshipman (I knew his father) at the time.  

This Picture the underwater video cameras in position over the tubes that we were to fire.  If you watch some of the submarine shows on the Discovery or History Channels once and a while, you can make out the Keys' missile hatches as they're opened for the launch.  Ours weren't painted like billiard balls (ours had stars) so they're pretty distinctive.

end of e-mail