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Building New York: twenty-four tons of steel from the fallen World Center was used to cast a piece of the USS New York, the fifth in a new class of U.S. Navy warships.

When Neil Sweet moved from Omaha Neb. (pop. 390,000), to Amite, La. (pop. 4,000), in 2003, he was bracing himself for a transition to the quieter life of a small town. But, just months after he took over as president of AmeriCast Technologies' Amite Foundry and Machine, the casting facility was thrust into the national spotlight.

In January 2003, the U.S. Navy revealed that 24 tons of scrap steel from the fallen World Trade Center (WTC) towers would be used to produce the bow stem of the USS New York warship, and the piece would be cast at Amite Foundry and Machine. What followed was a hurricane of interviews with local and national media, facility tours for eager guests and the planning of the historic pouring event, which would bring together dignitaries from the U.S. Navy, shipbuilder Northrop Grumman, and state and local government. Even now, three years later, Sweet is fielding requests for tours and interviews as the ship nears completion.

"For me personally, I came to this little town from a much larger city, yet I was given this great opportunity," Sweet said. "It's something in your life you never thought you'd be a part of. It was one of the most awesome experiences of my life, and it never seems to quit."

Getting the Call

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, months were spent cleaning tip the Twin Towers' rubble, which included close to 200,000 tons of structural steel. Most of this steel was sold around the globe for regular steel mill and casting production, but the last piece of steel removed from the site--a chunk of I-beam--was set aside and eventually tagged to be used for the Navy ship.

Amite Foundry had produced castings for Northrop Grumman before. The OEM builds a wide range of defense systems for sea, land, air, space and cyberspace applications, and the Louisiana metalcasting facility had supplied castings for its marine contracts a number of times.

One of Northrop Grumman's current defense projects, which began in 1996, is the construction of a new class of amphibious transport dock (LPD) ships for the U.S. Navy. Named the San Antonio class (the first ship of this class is named the USS San Antonio), these ships are meant to replace four classes of older amphibious ships. When Northrop Grumman requested bids for a bow stem component for the fifth ship of the class (LPD 21), the job was just another happy contract for Amite Foundry, which was trying to bide its time through the slow years of the first part of the millennium without permanent scars.

Sweet did not find out about the WTC steel until three or four months before the casting was slated to be poured. By that time, the ship had been designated the USS New York to commemorate the disaster of 9/11. When the name was announced, then-Navy Secretary Gordy England said the ship would "project American power to the far corners of the Earth and support the cause of freedom well into the 21st century."

With the name, motto (Never Forget) and symbolic casting, the USS New York became a 9/11 monument that would fight back.

Remembering 9/11

The bow stem is the forward-most portion of a ship, breaking through the water to make way for the rest of the vessel. At 22,000 lbs. (9,979 kg), the casting is not the largest to be made at Amite Foundry (the facility can cast up to 50,000 lbs. [22, 679 kg]), but it has grabbed the most attention from the local community and instilled the most awe into the seasoned employees.

"The casting was a great experience for our metalcasting facility and for our small town in Louisiana," said Junior Chavers, plant operations manager. "The town was tickled. And the making of the mold and pouring of the casting was an all-out effort from everyone in the facility."

Unlike newcomer Sweet, Chavers was born in Amite and has worked for the town's metalcasting facility through 41 years of name changes and ownership overhauls. He's poured his share of castings and spent a lifetime "playing in the sand," as he calls it. But when the scrap steel was delivered for the bow stem casting for the USS New York, Chavers felt there was something different this time around.

"When the towers fell, I watched on TV all these people lose their lives for nothing. I'm a grown man, but I shed some tears that day," Chavers said. "So when this steel came in and I laid my hands on a piece of it, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. There was something present in the air."

Using scrap steel for casting is not a new concept for the nobake casting plant, which uses it daily in casting production. Usually the scrap is purchased through trade auction, but this time it was donated by the people of New York. When the metal was delivered, Sweet had the pile roped off so it wouldn't get confused with the rest of the casting facilities' metal charge. For this steel, the facility took a sample of the metal to check the grade (A757 grade C1Q) and then adjusted the charge materials to achieve the proper metallurgical balance.

On Sept. 9, 2003, local dignitaries, members of the media, U.S. Navy representatives, Secret Service personnel, Northrop Grumman associates and several sailors from New York City gathered at Amite Foundry for the historical pouring event. The ship's sponsor, Dotty England, wife of former Secretary of the Navy Gordon England, pulled the lever to start the tap for the heat coming out of the furnace, while Chavers and another Amite Foundry worker handled the actual pouring of the molten steel.

"In ancient times, warriors traveled to the ends of the earth in search of the best metals for their swords," said acting Secretary of the Navy Hansford Johnson at the ceremony. "They sought out those regions which produced metal with strength, agility and endurance. We did not have to go far to find the precious steel that gives our ship the same qualities. We found our mettle in New York."

Nearing Completion

The molten steel was poured into a mold 138 in. wide, 327 in. long and 88 in. tall. The metal was allowed to cool to a certain temperature before it was removed from the mold and heat treated to achieve the specified properties. Because of its application, the casting underwent rigorous inspection to ensure the quality of the casting. These inspections included visual, ultrasonic, radiographic and die penitrant.

"This casting had a little bit of a tighter spec on it, so there was more testing involved," Chavers said. Once the casting made its way through the cleaning room, it was transported to the shipyard in Avondale, La. But before it was shipped out, several local citizens requested and received the opportunity to see the casting. For many, it was an eye-opening experience about the city fixture. Originally a steel mill, the casting facility was still considered as much by many people in town. "It was neat to show them what we actually do. But they still refer to us as The Mill," Sweet deadpanned.

The keel of the ship was laid September 2004. This August, the bow stem was welded to the ship. Now, the USS New York is nearly 50% finished, with an expected completion date in mid-2007. After it's commissioned, the ship's homeport will be Norfolk, Va.

Return to Normalcy

Since the pouring of the casting in 2003, work has shifted into a higher gear for Amite Foundry. Improved economics has boosted the casting facility from 130 employees in 2003 to 220 employees currently. The firm pours 35 clean tons per day compared to 18 tons three years ago.

"Every customer's volumes have gone up," Sweet said. Caterpillar, its biggest customer, is ordering six 400-ton trucks a month, compared to two, and six 992 trucks a week, compared to 11-12 per month. "Even with the added capacity, we still cannot meet demand."

Although it's been years since the casting of the USS New York bow stem, people are still seeking out Amite Foundry to hear its story. A month ago, Sweet fielded a phone call from a woman who was trying to document where all the scrap steel went after the disaster site was cleared. She requested a short visit. The short visit turned into an hour and a half interview, and eventually, Sweet found himself in front of two TV cameras The footage and interview will be used in a video memorial that will be shown at the planned World Trade Center Memorial and Museum at the WTC site.

For the most part, work has gone back to normal for Sweet and Amite Foundry and Machine, but the experience, like the events of 9/11, will not be forgotten easily by this crew.

"We were given this opportunity to be a part of something that took that which was destroyed, melted it down and made it into something that will protect the country," Sweet said. "What a fulfilling chance to be part of the whole thing."

What's in a Name?

The naming of the USS New York broke conventional guidelines for U.S. Navy vessels. Normally, state names are reserved for naval submarines. Special consideration was taken for the amphibious transport dock (LPD) 21, however, after New York Gov. George Pataki requested the ship be named for the state of New York to commemorate the events of 9/11. Normally, warships are named after U.S. cities.

Future ships in the San Antonio class of LPDs also will be named in honor of those killed during the terrorist strike. LPD 24 and LPD 25 will be the USS Arlington and the USS Somerset for the attack on the Pentagon and the thwarted terrorist attack that ended in the fields of the Pennsylvania town.

The USS Now York File

The USS New York will be part of the San Antonio class of amphibious transport dock (LPD) vessels. The warships in this new class will replace more than 41 older ships and provide the Navy and Marine Corps with more modern platforms to aid in embarking, transporting and landing elements for a variety of expeditionary warfare missions. Technological and design advances provide enhanced survivability, state-of-the-art command and control capability, modernized weapons stations and enhanced ergonomics to improve the quality of life at sea for the sailors and Marines.

Following are the general characteristics for this class of LPDs:

Propulsion: Four sequentially turbocharged marine Colt-Pielstick diesels, two shafts, 41,600 shaft horsepower.

Length: 684 ft.

Beam: 105 ft.

Displacement: Approximately 24,900 long tons full load.

Speed: In excess of 22 knots.

Crew: Ship's company: 360 (28 officers, 332 enlisted); Embarked Landing Force: 699 (66 officers, 633 enlisted); surge capacity to 800.

Armament: Two Bushmaster II 30 mm close-in guns, fore and aft; two Rolling Airframe missile launchers, fore and aft.

Aircraft: Launch or land two CH53E Super Stallion helicopters or two MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft or up to four CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, AH-1 or UH-1 helicopters.

Landing/Attack Craft: Two LCACs or one LCU and 14 expeditionary fighting vehicles.

Photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Bob Houlihan, U.S. Navy.

Shannon Kruse Assistant Editor
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Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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