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Steam in Cinema Part 2

Posted by Ritchie Ware on Feb 2, 2015 1:11:00 PM

Hollywood is notorious for factual inaccuracies in films, and in all reality, it simply comes with the territory. Heck, if they were to get everything correct down to the finest detail, the production cost would be so high that it would no longer be practical to finance movies. Besides that, the audience is often simply there to be entertained—who cares about some small details that don’t impact the story, right? The only time a factual error really raises a stir is when it seems so outlandish or impossible that it removes us from our immersion in the movie. Just think: if you saw a guy jump the Grand Canyon on a bicycle, wouldn’t your instinct tell you that what you were watching was a bit far-fetched? The mind can only take in so much before our “willful suspension of disbelief” is overruled by our logic.

For those of us who have chosen to establish our careers in the boiler industry, one movie that causes us to experience this phenomenon is Battleship. The 2012 Blockbuster starring famed singer, Rihanna, follows several Navy sailors that encounter an alien armada while running an international war games exercise in the Pacific Ocean. Ultimately our heroes return to Pearl Harbor and are forced to team up with some veterans to re-commission the USS Missouri, the last battleship ever produced by the USA, in order to fight the invaders. With a window of under 3 hours to stop the aliens before they trigger an event that would destroy any hope of success, they manage to get the vessel underway...that’s right, they supposedly are able to take a warship that was decommissioned and converted into a museum in 1992 and get it underway in THREE HOURS. Yeah, we don’t think so either.

WARE inc, rental boilersA quick bit of information about the behemoth known as the “Mighty Mo”: she served during World War II until the end of the Korean War, at which time she was placed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet awaiting decommissioning. Plans changed with President Reagan, and by 1986, the ship was refitted with modern missiles and defense systems. She would eventually see conflict in the Gulf War before being sent to Pearl Harbor for final decommissioning in 1992. Physically, this ship is imposing: she is almost two and a half football fields long and displaces 58,000 tons when fully loaded. Her nine main guns could fire 16” armor-piercing shells that weighed 2,700 pounds each, and she could hit targets 23 miles away. Moving such an enormous vessel was no easy feat, and required carrying 2.5 million gallons of fuel oil. This fueled eight, three story 600 psi Babcock & Wilcox boilers and gave steam to four GE turbines, which in turn delivered 212,000 shaft horsepower to four propellers (each propeller was more than 17’ wide!). How fast would that kind of power allow the ship to go? About 35 miles per hour (30 knots)—the ship is just that massive.

So back to the movie: it is hard to believe that a ship of that size could be taken from a decommissioned status to full operation if given a month, let alone a few hours. Even if they pumped in enough fuel and fresh water, brought the controls online, loaded the ammunition, and had the ~1500 crew it would take to fully operate the vessel, one thing that could not be done is to have the boilers online in such a short time. In its heyday, it’s possible that a well-trained crew could have had the USS Missouri moving in short order, but in this case they were trying to light off units that had not been fully maintained for the better part of a decade. When you consider the electrical & mechanical complexity of such a system, there are a host of problems that would likely surface during startup. Bringing 8 cold boilers online is not like starting up a car and then stomping on the gas pedal; getting any gas or oil-fueled boiler to capacity is a slow process which requires patience and normally takes several hours or even days, should problems arise.

Screen_Shot_2015-02-02_at_1.07.52_PMSimilarly in industrial applications, a rental or replacement boiler will take time to be set, connected to utilities and steam lines, fired up, and tuned. If your operation is at risk of having an emergency outage and you would need steam quickly, it would be prudent to have your connections already run to a convenient, easily accessible location. It is probably safe to assume that the US Navy doesn’t currently anticipate an alien invasion for which a battleship would need to immediately re-enter service; but for you, regular maintenance shutdowns can be anticipated, and outages can have planned contingencies. Estimate what size unit(s) you will need, how long it will take to hook the unit(s) up, and how long it will take to get online, and get a contingency plan in place. If you don’t know exactly what equipment or logistical considerations you would need, WARE can help you be prepared to fight off a crisis.

Fun facts: if you take “The Heart of The Missouri” tour, they will show you hands-on how one of the boilers is lit. Also, the main gun turrets were designed to sit on rollers instead of being fastened to the ship, so that if the vessel capsized, they would fall out and allow the ship to remain afloat; their massive weight kept them secured while the ship was upright.

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