STEM students visit Dahlgren

Seventh-grade students from Culpeper and Floyd T. Binns middle schools visit the Naval Surface Warfare Center. The students did STEM activities and toured Dahlgren Division.

DAHLGREN—Culpeper seventh-grade students recently visited the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities. On a special tour, they were exposed to a century of history of naval invention, engineering and scientific breakthroughs.

The Navy treated students from Culpeper and Floyd T. Binns middle schools participating in the Academically Challenging Education (ACE) program to a centennial tour of the command on Nov. 7.

First, the Culpeper County Public Schools students engaged in STEM demonstrations at the naval base’s STEM laboratory, Dahlgren said in a statement.

Then, Joseph Fordham, a centennial organizer, narrated the students’ tour of Dahlgren, which was established as a naval proving ground on Oct. 16, 1918, when it test-fired a World War I-era tractor-mounted artillery piece.

As the students toured NSWCDD, they learned how the Navy’s innovative warfare systems and development solutions have evolved over the past 100 years.

“This tour enables the students to really grasp the full meaning of the work accomplished at Dahlgren, how it relates to the Navy, how the mission here dovetailed with the most challenging conflicts our country has faced, and how Dahlgren remains unique and relevant through response, reinvention, and innovation,” Fordham said. “The significance of the Dahlgren Centennial Historic Station Tour stops rests in the preserved legacy of buildings, artifacts, guns and landscape that the public—even those who work on base, in some cases—know little of.”

The students were briefed at a Parade Field Tour Stop, discovering the USS New Jersey gun at the attraction. Manufactured at the U.S. Naval Gun Factory in Washington, D.C., this 16-inch, 50-caliber battleship gun was shipped to Dahlgren for proof testing before being installed on USS New Jersey (BB 62) in the center of the Number Two turret.

The gun was first fired on July 23, 1943, and was used during both World War II and the Korean War. The gun was removed from USS New Jersey and returned to Dahlgren in 1969, and was used for test firings until 1991.

Students learned more at the Range Table Tour stop. In 1918, Dahlgren was chosen to be the Navy’s new proving ground because its Potomac River position made the site ideal for test firing of long-range projectiles.

The Navy has authority to use the Potomac for more than 50 miles downriver, but most tests today extend only five to 15 miles downriver.

The bronze range table was designed for plotting gun fire trajectories. Its map’s triangles signify range stations and other geodetically surveyed sites where instruments monitor and record the test data. Observers in downriver range stations would spot projectile splash points and inform Main Range personnel using triangulation to plot the projectiles’ precise landing locations.

“The base would not exist had it not been for the Main Range chosen for its ideal testing distance of more than 50 miles all the way to the Chesapeake over water,” Fordham said. “Today, you can visit the bronze map table fabricated in 1922, which used to sit inside one of the range buildings, for which trajectories were evaluated with the vector lines engraved in the bronze from one end of the map to the others.

“Rubbings were taken with large trace paper and thick rectangular lead pencils to mark the locations of ordnance splash-down,” he added. “Surrounding the map table are several significant pieces of ordnance that were tested at Main Range with their size, weight and girth for the visitor to view. It is a great place to be oriented to the rest of the base, and was historically the heart of operations for the base.”

Another tour feature was Building 492, a special 40-foot by 100-foot windowless, prefabricated “Butler” hut. In 1949, the building was assembled at Dahlgren to support the top-secret work of the Elsie Project, which is a part of the Plate Fuze Battery portion of the tour.

By Aug. 4, 1941, fuze work had exceeded the capacity of the main Plate Battery’s personnel and equipment. A Small Fuze Battery was added in February 1942 and by March 1944, rockets were tested at the Plate Fuze Battery until that work required its own facility.

The Administration Building, completed in 1920, was the first permanent brick structure on the base. It is the most photographed and prestigious, considering that it has always housed the offices of base commanders and their staff.

Currently, the host command—Naval Support Activity, South Potomac—uses the building. During this stop, tour participants also get a history lesson about the base’s railroad station—which not only provided the means to transport large equipment during World War II, but offered employees a more convenient way to commute between Fredericksburg and Dahlgren.

Moving on, the Culpeper students viewed the admiral’s quarters as seen from the home’s front vista by the flag pole in front of Building 101. As one of the first buildings to be constructed at Dahlgren, the quarters garnered unwarranted attention for government spending in 1917 because of the cost of its construction. This led to a congressional inquiry.

Building 101, the Administration Building constructed in 1920, has always been the command headquarters of the base. Like the admiral’s quarters, the building was designed in the neoclassical style.

Finally, students visited the Railroad Station completed in 1943, which is unique to Dahlgren and a great place to talk about employees’ commutes to Dahlgren. Many of them traversed rough and muddy roads. Others came by ferry, and some walked.

Rail service to the base started in the WWII era and ended by 1957. The railroad was removed in 1991.

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