U.S.S. Requin vs. Pittsburgh.
U.S.S. Requin vs. Pittsburgh.

U.S.S. Requin, Cold War Sub

Field review by the editors.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

"This is the best submarine in Pittsburgh," wisecracked Art Mueller, retired Navy guy and one of several guides aboard the U.S.S. Requin, which floats in the Ohio River as part of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center. "There's a lot of history in this old bucket."

Tour guide shortcut in the conning tower.
Tour guide shortcut in the conning tower.

We've toured submarines before. But we always forget that the smooth side is the outside, while the inside is a claustrophobic small intestine of pipes, knobs, switches, levers, dials, and control wheels; perfect camouflage for a xenomorph Alien (which we try not to think about). Invariably we bang a head, shoulder, or knee against something projecting and hard. But we can't complain. Imagine what a shin-basher this sub was when it had a full crew of 81 men.

"This job keeps you limber," said Art, "but I'm 70 and I feel it, believe me."

Forward torpedo room. Fish ready.
Forward torpedo room. Fish ready.

Through no fault of its own, the Requin is not a noble battle submarine; it was launched in 1945 and about to sail into Run Silent, Run Deep combat when the Japanese surrendered. The Requin was then turned into a stealthy Cold War sub: spying, tracking enemy ships and planes, "playing games" as Art put it. The impressive conning tower, said Art, is mostly a fiberglass shell, designed to fool the Commies into thinking the Requin was a nuclear submarine, which it most definitely was not.

Head valves make us nervous.
Head valves make us nervous.

Still, life aboard the Requin had its perks, and it was definitely a step up from the World War II subs that preceded it. The ship's mess has its own movie projector and rockin' jukebox, stocked with Elvis, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis. "Submariners had the best food in the entire military," said Art, and to reinforce this point the galley cooktop is accented with tasty-looking (plastic) steaks, cheeseburgers, and fried eggs. A grate in the floor reveals shelves stacked with canned goods: beans, apricots, apple sauce. The officer's ward room showcases a fancy serving set of real china and silver. Art said that the Navy's typical steel serving trays would have made too much noise aboard a spy sub.

We scrambled after Art up into the conning tower, a part of the submarine that's usually only open during special "Tech Tours." The tower is cramped and a haven for occasional wasps, but it's worth it to peer through the periscope at sitting-duck target downtown Pittsburgh.

Art enthusiastically demonstrated the Requin's 1945 state-of-the-art conning tower mechanical computer, which calculated torpedo range, speed, and depth by spinning a series of metal discs. "All steel, very robust," said Art. "This was absolutely Top Secret stuff."

Galley counter doubles as a movie projector perch.
Galley counter doubles as a movie projector perch.

Art said that many visitors to the Requin have had their ideas of what a submarine is like shaped by Hollywood, in movies such as Hunt For Red October and U-571, although his personal favorite is Das Boot (And he also expressed a guilty fondness for Battleship). We asked him if there was one thing that submarine movies always got wrong.

"You know the part where the sub is hit by a depth charge and water pours into the light bulbs?" Art asked. "That don't happen."

U.S.S. Requin, Cold War Sub

Address:
One Allegheny Ave., Pittsburgh, PA
Directions:
Docked in the river behind the Carnegie Science Center. North side of the city, along the riverfront. I-279 northbound exit 1B. Merge onto Reedsdale St., then quickly turn left at the stoplight onto Allegheny Ave. You'll see the Science Center ahead on the right.
Hours:
Daily 10-4:30, weather permitting. (Call to verify)
Phone:
412-237-3400
Admission:
Adults $19. (included in Science Center admission)
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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