Stealth ship with a feminine touch to join fleet
JAMES O. CLIFFORD
Sep. 06, 1997
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A Navy ship armed with more computers than guns joins the fleet today, bringing with it the latest in stealth technology _ and a decidedly feminine touch.
In addition to being only the second Navy ship ever named for a woman, the sleek, 500-foot-long destroyer USS Hopper is one of the first ships designed from the keel up with female sailors in mind.
Affectionately called ``Amazing Grace'' by the crew, the ship is named for Rear Adm. Grace Murray Hopper, a computer pioneer credited with coining the term ``bug'' when she found a moth in a switching contact.
The first ship to carry a woman's name was the World War II destroyer USS Higbee, named for a World War I Navy nurse.
Both ships were built in Bath, Maine, and the Hopper will be stationed in Hawaii. So why will Saturday's commissioning ceremony be held on the San Francisco waterfront?
Because it's near Silicon Valley, which owes a great deal to Hopper, who died in 1992 after serving the Navy for more than 40 years, said Lt. Randy Britton, the ship's spokesman.
``In a way, this is a homecoming,'' he said.
Hopper's field was programming and her first computer was the Mark 1, which she used to compute firing tables for weapons. She developed programming language based on a series of commands instead of elaborate mathematical codes, a breakthrough that cleared the way for modern computing.
Hopper's and the computer industry's handiwork is everywhere aboard the vessel.
The control panel has a helm that looks more like the wheel of a car, making it resemble a video game. There's no engine telegraph nearby to flash orders to the engine room, just a throttle.
The ship's hull and superstructure can trace its lineage to nearby Redwood City, where Lockheed secretly developed the Sea Shadow, an experimental ship with slanted sides to deflect radar.
The Navy calls the Hopper ``one of the most capable warships ever built.'' It foresees the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer operating ``deep into the 21st century.''
The Hopper's silhouette seems right out of that century, with those defining slanted sides dominating.
``There's not a right angle aboard the Hopper,'' said Britton.
In addition to all the high-tech gear, the Hopper has something else older Navy ships never had: women. There are 45 women in the crew of 340. Until 1994, women weren't allowed on combat ships.
Only a few adjustments were needed to accommodate female sailors, said Petty Officer First Class Harry Hummer, who reported to the Hopper while it was still being built.
The living quarters are about the same, just separate.
Hummer's boss is Lt. Mary Mankin, whose responsibilities include the ship's missiles.
She said the new Navy uses brain more than brawn, but conceded sailors _ male and female _ still needed to be strong.
``You've got to be able to pull yourself through an escape scuttle,'' she said, pointing to a ladder and hatch.