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USS High Point made naval history in 1962

"Flying" above the surface of Puget Sound on July 5, 1963, the United States Navy's first patrol craft — hydrofoil, USS High Point (PCH-1), demonstrates the lift capability of her wholly submerged, wing-like foils.

U.S. NAVY

By JIMMY TOMLIN | The High Point Enterprise | Published: December 6, 2020

HIGH POINT, N.C. (Tribune News Service) —What would you call a military ship with underwater wings that allowed the ship to fly just above the water's surface — at a nifty 50-plus mph — as it chased enemy submarines?

Well, when such a ship was built for the U.S. Navy in 1962 — becoming the Navy's first hydrofoil patrol craft — they called it the USS High Point.

Yes, as in High Point, N.C., the ship's namesake. 

Nearly 60 years later, with the ship long since having been decommissioned, the USS High Point's military prowess is, shall we say, dead in the water now. But when the sleek vessel made its debut in August 1962, in the midst of the tension-filled Cold War, the Navy hyped the High Point not only as the largest hydrofoil in the world but also as a revolutionary, new high-tech weapon in the field of anti-submarine warfare.

"Equipped with electronic detection equipment, the vessel will be capable of covering a large area of ocean in a fraction of the time necessary for other ships," The High Point Enterprise wrote on Aug. 26, 1962.

"Once in operation, it will employ what the Navy calls the 'grasshopper technique.' The ship will 'fly' forward to a particular area, search the area thoroughly for submarines, then race on to another spot."

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The Navy even produced a short promotional film hyping the High Point, including actual footage of the 115-foot, 110-ton, aluminum ship "flying" on the waters of Puget Sound, where it was first launched. The 49-second, black-and-white film — which can be found on YouTube — described the ship as a "submarine stalker" that could operate at high speed in all kinds of weather.

What made the High Point unique among Navy vessels was its hydrofoil technology, a system of three steel foils, or wings, that could be extended or retracted beneath the ship's hull. When fully extended, the foils would lift the hull out of the water, thus decreasing drag and allowing the ship to skim just above the waves — like a low-flying seabird — at speeds of up to 50 knots (roughly 57 mph). With the hulls retracted, the operating speed was a mere 12 knots (about 14 mph).

For you historical trivia buffs out there, it's those foils that led to the ship being named the USS High Point.

"PC (patrol craft) vessels are named after American cities," an executive with The Boeing Co., which was contracted to build the ship, told The Enterprise in 1962. "High Point was chosen because a hydrofoil such as the one we are building ... rises out of the water to a 'high point' when it is in operation."

According to literature related to the High Point, the idea was to develop a high-speed ship that could detect and chase Soviet submarines, which were becoming faster and faster as the Cold War progressed. The High Point was also equipped with a pair of MK-32 torpedo launchers, a necessity for anti-submarine warfare.

Unfortunately, despite nearly a decade of testing and tinkering, the Navy's grandiose plans for the High Point never panned out during its years of service on the West Coast. For one thing, the ship was hampered by its sonar equipment — which didn't work well at the hydrofoil's high speeds — but the foils posed challenges, too.

"Testing revealed that the hydrofoil technology was not yet advanced enough to produce a reliable hydrofoil to join the fleet, and more research was needed," the Naval History and Heritage Command wrote about the USS High Point. "Still, much was learned through these tests."

There were a few highlights for the High Point. The ship was assigned a number of diplomatic deployments — including hosting King Juan Carlos of Spain when he was still a prince — and once participating in the rescue of a fishing vessel in distress. The ship also was chosen for the test-firing of Harpoon missiles in late 1973 and early 1974.

Alas, in 1975 the Navy transferred the High Point to the Coast Guard for possible use as a coastal patrol vessel. Budget constraints eventually cut that mission short, however, and the High Point finally was deactivated in 1985, a sad ending for a ship that once had held so much promise.

Today, the High Point Museum has only a few mementoes from the ship — a handful of photographs, a small plaque with the ship's insignia on it, and a USS High Point shirt donated by a former crew member. That's it.

Which brings us to the obvious question: Whatever happened to the USS High Point? Does the historic ship still even exist, or did it just slowly sink into oblivion?

The answer is yes, the High Point pretty much sank into oblivion. But she didn't die — and she may have a brighter future yet.

(c)2020 The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.)
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