Aviation History

The day a polar bear tried to eat the rudder of USS Connecticut fast attack Seawolf class nuclear submarine

Rear rudders of US submarines aren’t designed as snacks, but the bear had to find this out for himself.

On Apr. 27, 2003 a US nuclear submarine took on some unusual damage during maneuvers.

On that day the fast attack Seawolf class sub USS Connecticut (SSN-22) surfaced in the ice pack between the North Pole and Alaska where a polar bear chomped on its rudder, then began to lick and paw the exposed rudder to determine if it was worth eating.

The bear eventually decided he was not in the mood for a sub and wandered off.

The Connecticut was only partly surfaced, with its sail and rudder sticking through the ice.

“When an officer looked outside through the periscope, he was surprised to find a curious polar bear stalking around the vessel,” Petty Officer Jennifer Gray reported on a Navy broadcast.

According to ABCNews, Mark Barnoff, a scientist with Pennsylvania State University’s Applied Research Laboratory, had been working on a sonar experiment in the area, and was touring the Connecticut when the polar bear struck.

He said the polar bear’s action caught the attention of the submarine’s crew. “To watch the experienced sailors watch this, especially the older ones, was interesting,” he said.

Barnoff took a series of pictures captured with the periscope showing the bear chewing on the rudder and then batting it around.

The bear stalked the submarine for around a half-hour, said Barnoff. “It wasn’t in a rush to do anything. It was on its own schedule,” he said.

Barnoff said by the time officers on the boat gave the all-clear, he was glad to leave. “It was a beautiful day,” he said.

The Navy reported the damage to the Connecticut was minor. “Rear rudders of U.S. submarines aren’t designed as snacks, but [the bear] had to find this out for himself,” Gray said.

The USS Connecticut (SSN-22) is a Seawolf-class nuclear powered fast attack submarine operated by the US Navy.

Commissioned on Jul. 19, 1997, USS Seawolf-class (SSN 21) submarines are exceptionally quiet, fast, well-armed, and equipped with advanced sensors. Though lacking vertical launch system (VLS), the Seawolf class has eight torpedo tubes and can hold up to 50 weapons in its torpedo room. The third ship of the class, USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23), has a 100-foot hull extension called the multi-mission platform. This hull section provides for additional payloads to accommodate advanced technology used to carry out classified research and development and for enhanced warfighting capabilities.

On Oct. 2, 2021, Connecticut was damaged after she collided with a seamount while maneuvering in the South China Sea. About eleven sailors sustained injuries, though none were reported to be life threatening. The submarine’s propulsion system was said to be operating normally. After an investigation, the commanding officer, his executive officer, and the chief of the boat were all relieved of duty.

The US Navy intends to repair the submarine, with work to begin in 2023.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy via U.S. Naval Institute Facebook Page

USS Connecticut attacked by polar bear.
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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