Navy Subs Get Ready For Racing

Team, Looking To Repeat, Tests Pair Of Tiny Vessels

April 22, 1991|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

The two pedal-powered submarines didn't exactly travel far in the Naval Academy's giant tow tank.

But even though the day had a few surprises, Saturday was far from wasted for a team of midshipmen learning the ropes to become repeat champions in an upcoming international race.

The commander of the group of young engineers hopes mistakes madeat the test tank will save the team from losing the race in Florida.

"We at the Naval Academy will make mistakes, but we won't make mistakes twice," said Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Poole, the crew leader and a naval systems engineering professor. "The goal is to teach young engineering midshipmen the successes and failures of building some type of engineering device."

Poole said the students will make the necessary repairs to solve technical problems that cropped up during six hours of testing Saturday and then try again. Saturday was the first time the eight midshipmen were inside while the two small subs were immersed.

The contest will be conducted in Riviera Beach, Fla., in June and could attract universities and businesses from throughout the world.

In 1989, the first year of the race, the Naval Academy earned the overall performance award with the Squid, which Poole said set the industry standard. At full speed, the subs can go about 4.5 mph.

This year, the academy is entering two submarines -- the Squid anda new updated model called Subdue. Saturday was the first day Subdue entered the water to race.

Both subs are small, about 9 feet long and 30 inches wide. The team member steering the craft lies on the bottom, while the person pedaling lies on top -- strapped into the hatch. They breathe through oxygen tanks attached to the sides of the subs.

The space is small, cramped and dangerous. During the actual race, the conditions get tougher, because the sub will be submerged in 20 feet of water in the Atlantic Ocean.

"It's a different feeling," said Dave Hopkins, a midshipman 2nd class and the driver of the Squid. "We don't have any communication with the outside. If somethinggoes wrong, it's hard for others to know what is going on."

The test was carried out in a pool 380 feet long and about 25 feet wide. The subs were attached to guide wires for safety and had a team of four divers in the water, in case something went wrong. The divers got into the sub after it was immersed.

But that proved to be a tough task.

Hopkins and Tim Hill, also a midshipman 2nd class, spent about two hours trying to fit into the Squid. The top seat prevented Hillfrom fitting snugly inside, making it hard to shut the top door and nearly impossible for him to pedal.

The sub had to be taken out ofthe water and the seat cut away before trying it again after lunch. But this time the chain came off the gears. Hill also was having a tough time with the pedals, which require 50 pounds of push from each leg to make them turn in the water.

"That's a considerable amount of work," Poole said. "When I got in there the first time, I said, 'Whoa.' That's why we have the young healthy guys do it."

Poole thendecided to try out Subdue. That craft is a little shorter and wider than Squid but uses a different propulsion system -- a submerged paddle wheel and no external fins.

Like the Squid, Subdue is made fromlightweight foam-fiberglass laminate. Designers hope Subdue's new design will be easier to maneuver and keep under water.

But this time, a pin came out of the axle connecting the two pedals, scratching the test for the day.

But Poole wasn't disappointed, saying the technical mistakes won't be repeated in Florida. "Dependability was whatwon it for us," he said. "We were always ready. When they said go, we could go. Nine out of 10 boats down there couldn't go."

He said everything worked fine in testing at dry dock, but water is needed for the real thing.

"Whatever you are doing, if it's not done in water, it isn't right. Everything looks good in the air. I'm still anxious to see it go full steam."

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