Hughes Glomar Explorer and Deepwater

Posted on Posted in Leonard's Posts

The basic story of the Hughes Glomar Explorer is known by many, but even though the details have slowly been released for the last decade, perhaps not many of us have given proper appreciation to the engineering that developed this vessel. And whether you agree with the politics involved in the clandestine operation, I believe you must give the engineering is due praise.

A year ago, the Maritime Executive published a two part story about the Grand Finale for Infamous Glomar Explorer , its original mission, its eventual transformation into the drillship GSF Explorer and recently its demise to the scrap yard. With only a small effort, and an internet search engine, it is possible to get even further details of this story, including details of the engineering from a published paper by the ASME; Hughes Glomar Explorer, An ASME Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark.

This Paper gives some interesting insights into the vessel and systems designs that were developed for the original specialized mission. It seems that much of the equipment has been lost, scrapped or bequeathed. There are still some interesting relics of this feat on display in various places, some of which are in the CIAs own museum.

Glomar Explorer Pipe Joint

The picture above is the actual pipe joint designed for lifting the heavy load of the original mission. The pipe was designed to lift loads from 17,000 feet below sea level, there were 579 joints of 30 feet length each. The pipe was 15.5 inches OD with a joint OD of 28 inches. The joint is a one piece forging; Trepanned Bore, the steel is 150 Ksi Gun Barrel Steel. If nothing else, it is impressive to view! This show piece is still intact and preserved today. I believe it is in possession of the CIA.

The Hughes Glomar Explorer started and completed its original mission in 1974, then was officially laid up in 1976 until 1997. In the beginning of 1998 she was converted to a deepwater drill ship for Global Marine Drilling,¬† and had an active career of drilling globally until 2015, another 18 years. This says something about the original design, the US Navy’s ability to properly lay up assets, and the maintenance practices of Global Marine Drilling, Global Sante Fe Corporation and Transocean. All of first class quality.

The GSF Explorer passing under the Bay Bridge in San Fransisco

Of course there are many other supporting stakeholders in this story, not the least of which is the American Bureau of Shipping, otherwise known to us as ABS.  The ABS has been around since 1861 with a long and interesting maritime history. They have been involved in many historical ventures as experts in safety, marine engineering, engineering design and naval architecture. As such one of their stories includes assisting with the Hughes Glomar Explorer original design and lifetime classification.

A clandestine story, maritime story and drilling story. If you have more to add to the story, I am sure myself and others would love to hear from you. If I was remiss in presenting any of the facts, please feel free to correct me for the history’s sake.

Leonard Hale PMP

GC Energy Services

3 thoughts on “Hughes Glomar Explorer and Deepwater

  1. Your picture of this ship under the bridge is actually the Bay bridge in SF bay, likely 1996. Getting ready for the conversion. Either way, definitely not the Bosporus in 2005 or 2006 when she was there. The white hull and all the other junk in deck give that away, plus there are no lifeboats.

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