Pioneer Work Class ROVs (CURV-I) – Part 1
ROVs are one of the mainstays of deepwater E&P in the oil and gas industry and extensively used in deepwater scientific research, they are also key equipment in any form of deepwater search & rescue operation, but not many people know the history behind ROV development. In this series we’ll take a look at the historical timeline of ROV development up to the present day and also an outlook to the future.
The Cable-controlled Undersea Recovery Vehicle (CURV) was the first operational Work Class ROV, developed in the early 1960's by the former Pasadena Annex of the Naval Ordnance Test Station, one of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific’s (SSC Pacific) parent laboratories. At the time, the U.S. navy needed a system that could find and retrieve torpedoes it used in tests and training, from the seafloor. The U.S. Navy, under a contract awarded to VARE Industries of Roselle, New Jersey, developed a maneuverable underwater camera system. The original VARE vehicle, named XN-3 was delivered to Pasadena Naval Ordnance Test Station in 1961, and it was from this first generation observation ROV that the CURV was developed. The CURV-I was the first prototype Work Class ROV and a pioneer in remote controlled subsea vehicle operations.
It became famous in 1966 when used to recover the hydrogen bomb lost in the Mediterranean Sea off the town of Palomares, Spain. Under development by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center San Diego (SPAWAR) in 1961, it was initially upgraded to recover test ordnance lost off San Clemente Island at depths as great as 2,000 feet (610 m). In the Palomares incident of 17 January 1966, a hydrogen bomb was lost in the Mediterranean Sea when a B-52 bomber collided with a KC-135 tanker over Palomares. The bomb was located, at a depth of 2,900 feet (880 m), by the US Navy’s manned submersible DSV Alvin after a 2 ½ month search. After Alvin was unsuccessful in recovering the bomb, the Navy brought in the latest version of CURV-I, which was successful in attaching grapnel hooks to the bomb but became entangled in the bomb’s parachute lines. The entangled bomb, parachute, and CURV-I were successfully raised together to the surface 81 days after the original incident.
Sources: The ROV Manual, by Robert D Christ, Robert L. Wernli Sr,
Space Naval Warfare Systems Center San Diego (SPAWAR)
The Bombs of Palomares, by Tad Szulc.