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Unfamiliar Land

USS Plainview (AGEH-1)

Hungry Harbor, WA


The 1960s held a promise of nearly unlimited scientific advancement. The modern world was being invented through space travel, nuclear technology and computers. In the Navy, the USS Plainview was part of this vision. The ship was one of the Navy’s first experimental hydrofoils — made to skim across the water on three winglike fins, powered by twin turbojet engines.

At the time it was built the Plainview was the world’s largest hydrofoil. Popular Mechanics magazine deemed it “the biggest, fastest flying boat yet!” It was commissioned as a research ship, with design cues taken from advanced supersonic jet aircraft. The three foils on the Plainview’s sides and stern were kept folded in until the ship reached open water. When the foils were extended it could achieve speeds of over 50 knots, even in rough seas. The design allowed for additional upgrades which would have made upwards of 90 knots possible.

As the Cold War escalated, anti-submarine warfare was increasingly important. It was thought that hydrofoil tactics might give the U.S. Navy an advantage over Soviet nuclear subs.

The project faced budget overruns and delays from the beginning. The Plainview wasn’t delivered to the Navy until 1970, three years after it was scheduled to be completed. Although the ship performed well in trials, the Navy’s fascination with hydrofoils didn’t last long. In 1978 the Plainview was inactivated, and less than a year later it was stripped of its major components and sold for scrap.

The hull of the Plainview was purchased by a private party in 1979. The buyer owned a fleet of salmon fishing boats in Alaska, and intended to convert it into a floating fish processing plant. This retrofit never happened. The financial aspects of the plan turned out not to be feasible, and so the ship continued to sit.

Today the Plainview lies on the edge of the Columbia River, partially submerged in mud. It’s visible from the road, but not many people who drive by notice it or know of its significance.

Once a vision of the future, the USS Plainview has been forgotten and left to decay in the elements.

Additional reading and photos can be found at the International Hydrofoil Society and the December 1968 issue of Popular Mechanics.

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