Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Tuesday, 10 June 2008 13:03 UK

Nuclear sub joins shipwreck hunt

Nuclear submarine
The NR 1 was launched in 1969 and has a long record of being used in search operations on the sea bed

The US naval fleet's smallest nuclear-powered submarine is to attempt to locate the wreck of a ship which sank off the Yorkshire coast in 1779.

The Bonhomme Richard - captained by Scottish-born sailor John Paul Jones - went down off Flamborough Head.

Jones is widely regarded as the founder of the modern day US navy.

History experts now hope to use modern technology to find the wreck, which has been the subject of a number of discovery attempts in recent years.

The 150ft-long nuclear-powered NR 1 submarine was first used in 1969.

Despite its small dimensions it can carry a crew of seven, including two scientists.

Nuclear submarine
The US Navy attempt is the latest in a long line of bids to find the wreck

Following the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, it was used to recover parts of the craft from the sea bed.

It also played a part in studying the wreckage of the Titanic's sister ship, the Britannic, off the coast of Greece.

The Bonhomme Richard search later this year is likely to be one of its last missions as it is due to cease operation in September.

According to Dr Robert Neyland, of the US Navy Historical Research Centre, the small submarine is ideally suited for the venture.

"It has video, it has sonar capabilities, it also has a manipulator arm," he said.

"It can run 24 hours so it is capable of surveying a very broad area of the ocean floor.

"We won't be impaired by surface conditions or limited ship time on the surface."

If the submarine does discover any trace of the wreck it could be used to carry out further investigations.

Fledgling navy

The US team hopes to find evidence which can conclusively prove that it has discovered the elusive vessel.

John Paul Jones was born at Arbigland in Dumfries and Galloway in 1747.

He travelled to America as a teenager and later joined its fledgling navy.

In 1779, aboard the Bonhomme Richard, he fought the British navy and, as his own ship was sinking, he boarded a British frigate and captured it.

Jones died in France in 1792, but in 1905 the US brought his remains back for burial in the crypt of its naval academy chapel.

Naval history experts now hope to finally identify the site where the wreck of his most famous vessel is to be found.

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