U.S. Navy’s 1st Hydrofoil Scrapped in Astoria

The former USS High Point being scrapped at the Hyak Tongue Point Shipyard in Astoria, Ore. in August, 2023. Photo: Peter Marsh.

Sixty years after the fanfare of its christening, the 116-foot former USS High Point hydrofoil was scrapped in August at the Hyak Tongue Point Shipyard in Astoria, Ore.

The event marked the end of the pioneering design of the U.S. Navy’s first full-size “Patrol Coastal Hydrofoil,” or PCH-1. It was the product of a decade of research and experimentation and was promoted as a potential submarine hunter during America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union. 

The Navy chose Boeing to build the revolutionary high-speed vessel with the ability to “fly” above the water on foils. The construction was sub-contracted to J.M. Martinac in Tacoma, 20 miles south of the Boeing plant in Seattle, and the lightweight aluminum hull was powered by a pair of marinized aero engines: Rolls Royce Proteus gas turbines, each producing over 3,000 hp.

Three inverted T-foils projected from the hull, one in the bow and two aft with horizontal trim like a plane, controlled by an auto pilot with the latest electronics. Propulsion was by an experimental system with a pair of streamlined nacelles at the center of the aft foils that housed a drive shaft with propellers at both ends—one pushing and one pulling.

This required two sets of 90-degree bevel gears between the turbines and nacelles. The specifications also required the complete foil/drive unit could be retracted into the hull to reduce draft from 17 feet to 6.5 feet for operation in shallow water.

With a beam of 32 feet and displacement about 125 long tons, PCH-1 had a top speed of around 50 knots foil-borne in protected waters and could maintain 30-40 knots in open water. There was no rudder—all steering was done by adjusting trim tabs.

However, this was not suitable for slow-speed operations especially when deploying sonar buoys, docking etc. This was accomplished with a standard Detroit diesel turning an azimuthing and canting stern drive set in the transom.

Just a month after the launch in August 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrated the need for high-speed coastal craft to deter Soviet expansion. The boat’s trials showed promise, but there were numerous technical issues to overcome in the next decade.

Many lessons were learned, most notably, all subsequent foilers were propelled by a single waterjet, which significantly increased the reliability and reduced downtime. The upgrade resulted in an order in 1976 for Boeing to deliver six 133-foot Pegasus class foilers, designated PHM (Patrol Hydrofoil Missile).

They remained in service in Florida until being retired in 1993. The High Point research program was deactivated in 1984 during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the boat returned to Boeing, although it soon ended Jetfoil production and sold the rights to Kawasaki.

The boat, minus the turbines, changed hands several times in the 1990s as a succession of over-enthusiastic owners failed to find the funds necessary for restoration. Around 2000, it was moved south to the Columbia River and spent the rest of its life upriver from Astoria.

It was advertised nationally again in 2019 and found its last owner in 2021. He paid to have High Point hauled out by WCT Marine at Tongue Point after the foils were dropped at the dockside and retrieved later. Once onshore, severe corrosion below the waterline was clearly visible, and thus ended the final rescue plan. There was no ceremony when the High Point was scrapped in August.