Design For Ship Gets A Patent

December 22, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

Michael Manning envisions a ship that's part PT boat, part fighter plane, part Transformer toy that can adeptly maneuver in shallow waters while carrying a regiment of troops.

The high-speed craft would come with a variable draft hull equipped with two pontoon-like pods to hold the craft at different depths on the high and low seas.

The 40-year-old Wilde Lake village resident obtained a patent -- his first -- from the U.S. Patent Office for the concept last summer.

"There's no real research being done on this now," said Mr. Manning, a researcher at the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Montgomery County. "But I think the possibilities are enormous."

What makes the achievement even more impressive is that it came from a man who spent several weeks in a coma, lost a large part of his memory and was partially paralyzed from a bout of encephalitis in the early 1980s.

Mr. Manning, a Bronx, N.Y., native, spent 3 1/2 years in the U.S. Air Force and then entered the U.S. Navy, where he served in the submarine force for six years.

It was 1980, and Mr. Manning was serving on the submarine USS Gato, when he was stung by a mosquito that brought on encephalitis, an illness that causes swelling in the brain.

Mr. Manning was taken to Bethesda Hospital, where he spent three weeks in a coma. When he recovered, he said, he had lost so much memory that he couldn't read the hospital forms.

He spent the next two years in rehabilitation, with the help of tutors and the support of relatives and friends. He said he's fine now, although he noted that he still has a problem with his short-term memory.

The illness ended Mr. Manning's dreams of a career in the military, but it gave him a new direction. "I guess I'm still working for the country," he said.

The Navy sent Mr. Manning to Howard Community College in Columbia, where he received associate degrees in biomedical engineering in 1986 and electronics in 1988.

.5l Mr. Manning got the job at the naval center, the Navy's testing and research facility along the Potomac River, through a professor at the college who once worked at the center.

As an engineering technician, Mr. Manning works in the Ship Electromagnetic Signatures Department. He studies the "tracks" left by ships and submarines as they travel to develop ways to make the crafts less detectable to the enemy.

Mr. Manning said he got the idea for his craft when he and his co-workers were talking about the USS Stark tragedy, in which 37 sailors were killed when the frigate was struck by two Iraqi missiles while patrolling in the Persian Gulf in May 1987.

The inventor believes the Stark could have been spared had there been smaller ships -- such as the one he designed -- around it to serve as a buffer for protection.

"The idea that I had just came from everything, from things that I knew were possible," Mr. Manning said.

Mr. Manning envisions a craft that would be about 40 feet long and could be launched from the side of a larger ship. The craft would be powered by turbines, instead of underwater propellers, so it could travel in just 6 feet of water.

The ship would have a flat, slightly rounded hull, instead of the typical V-shaped or U-shaped hulls, Mr. Manning said. Two pods would be attached to each side of the hull by two extended arms. Each pod would have stabilizers to keep the ship from capsizing.

The angles of the pods could be changed by filling them with water or air to determine how much of the ship sits in the water, depending on the water's depth, Mr. Manning said. The pods also would be used to keep the ship level during turns.

He received the patent, which is assigned to the Navy, on Aug. 23, two days before his 40th birthday. He had a duplicate of the patent certificate put on a T-shirt, with the saying "many more to come."

Mr. Manning said he feels fortunate that he could overcome his illness to achieve his accomplishments, but he says he couldn't have done it without his co-workers or his experience at Howard Community College.

"It's pretty lucky, I would say," he said. "I call it blessed."

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