U.S.S. Norton Sound AVM 1 (Seaplane Tender)
U.S.S. Norton Sound was built by Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Drydock Company and commissioned in January 1945. By April of that year, it was providing services in the advanced areas of the Pacific campaign, operating in Saipan.
During the Second World War, seaplane tenders deployed to the Pacific to provide air reconnaissance capabilities, as well as air and sea rescue operations, without the need to build airbases. The seaplane tender could support long-range air reconnaissance well ahead of land-based aircraft being operational as the Americans advanced across the Pacific.
As the war ended, Norton Sound continued to operate aircraft out of Okinawa, Sasebo, Japan and Tsingtao, China. Occupation duties included routine air patrols as well as interdiction of smuggling and other black market activities.
Returning to the United States for an overhaul in 1946, Norton Sound served with the Atlantic fleet for a short time, returning to the Pacific in 1947.
Norton Sound was converted in 1948 to serve as a missile test and development platform, aiding in the Navy’s development of its shipborne missile programs. These duties occupied the ship until 1962, testing Terrier, Tartar, and other ship launched missiles and their associated fire control and launch equipment. In 1958, Norton Sound launched three separate missiles carrying atomic warheads for detonation in the atmosphere in a project called Operation Argus. The data resulting from the successful test was instrumental in the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt.
In 1962 the ship relocated to the east coast of the United States. Overhauled in Baltimore, the ship then commenced operations in the Chesapeake Bay evaluating and developing the Typhoon missile system. In 1965 the ship began testing of the Sea Sparrow weapons system as well.
In 1966 all Typhoon equipment was removed and the ship began a period as a test bed missile countermeasure systems and tactics.
In 1973 Norton Sound received the first shipboard installation of the Aegis weapons system, designed to track multiple airborne, surface and submerged targets simultaneously. Aegis became the principal weapons systems onboard US Navy cruisers and destroyers during the 1970s and 1980s.
Norton Sound continued its support of the Aegis program until 1986, when the over forty-year-old vessel was decommissioned, having played a part in the development and deployment of nearly every shipborne missile system to that date. The ship was eventually scrapped.
Asbestos Exposure on U.S.S. Norton Sound
Over the course of its more than forty years of service, Norton Sound had major overhauls and reconfigurations accomplished numerous times, to support its changing mission. Each of these yard periods exposed the ship and crew potentially hazardous exposure to asbestos.
When the ship was built, numerous items containing asbestos were part of its fabric. The ships engine rooms contained asbestos in boiler liners and seals, turbine gears, clutches and brake linings, deck tile and in gaskets, seals, cements, and muds.
Asbestos lagging covered pipes which ran throughout the ship, including berthing and dining spaces. Asbestos could be found in electrical panels and wiring insulations, bulkhead and deck fireproofing and in many other materials and applications. Damage to any of these materials, whether accidental or caused by routine maintenance, or by the installation of new systems, would have released asbestos fibers into the atmosphere, where they could be dispersed throughout the ship via the ventilation system.