Undersea Warfare The Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force Fall 2003 U.S. Submarines… Because Stealth Matters Cover of Fall 2003 Issue
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NSWC Submarine Races Encourage Innovation

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Undersea Warfare 2002 CHINFO Merit Award
NSWC Submarine Races Encourage Innovation  & Teamwork
Photo caption follows
“Omer 5”, designed by Ecole de Technologie Superieure at the University of Quebec, won the award for Overall Performance, which included a $1,000 cash prize. The vessel also won for Best Use of Composites, Absolute Speed (6.814 kts), and Fastest Speed in the Two Person Propeller, Academic category.
"To design and complete a racing submarine is a very difficult challenge. Taking an idea from paper and classroom theory to actual practice in the water demands the very best minds and ultimately, experience and teamwork."

High-tech meets low-tech, and college engineers compete against outstanding high school students – fully submerged. It all happened in the International Submarine Races (ISR), the human-powered engineering design competition held at the world’s largest indoor test tank, the Naval Surface Warfare Center/Carderock Division’s David Taylor Model Basin, 23-27 June.

Drawing upon reserves of both brain and brawn, future engineers and design entrepreneurs spent up to two years designing, building, and testing miniature submarines ranging from the sublime to the surreal, all with the goal of conducting a submerged run on a 100-meter course, 20 feet deep, powered solely by humans in scuba gear. This year’s race was the seventh in a biennial series that has been capturing the imaginations of would-be submariners since 1989.

The competition featured 19 submarines from teams throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including entries from nine universities, two high schools, and several independents. More than 150 volunteers provided the resources required to conduct the trials, including U.S. Navy safety divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, Little Creek, Virginia, and technical experts from the Carderock Division staff.

The team chosen by the judges to receive the top award for overall performance came from the University of Quebec’s Ecole de Technologie Superieure in Montreal, Canada. “Omer 5,” the Quebec team’s remarkably sleek 16-foot submarine also won the Absolute Speed Award in the two-person, propeller-driven category, plus the prize for Best Use of Composites. The Overall Performance Award, sponsored by the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society, carries a cash prize of $1,000 and a trophy.

The prize for innovation went to independent contestant Bruce Plazyk of Wheaton, Illinois, who has been competing in the event since the very first race was held in the ocean at Singer Island, Florida. He created a one-person submarine called “Faux Fish” that actually looked like a mechanical fish, complete with a compartment for its pilot and an articulating tail and pumping system for propulsion. The Spirit of the Races Award went to the team from Florida Institute of Technology, whose submarine, “Miss FIT,” was a bright-red, 16-foot-long, six-sided torpedo-like design. This award recognizes overall spirit, gusto, fortitude, and support of other teams and is given in honor of the late ISR contestant Steve Barton of Spring Hill, Florida.

Judges awarded the prize for the best design outline and report to a team from the Sussex County Technical High School of Sparta, New Jersey, whose first-time entry, “Umptysquatch-1” was completely designed, built, and operated by high school students. Their 12-foot, two-person sub not only completed the course but achieved a speed of 2.52 knots with its twin propeller propulsion system. A new prize, the Smooth Operator Award, went to “Sirius” from the University of Washington. The award recognizes overall team efficiency in guiding their boat through the staging area, into the water, and below the surface.

This was the fourth time that the ISR event was staged in the 3,200-foot-long David Taylor Model Basin at the warfare center. The ISR was initiated in 1988 with an open invitation to inventors and entrepreneurs of all stripes, and the first race was held the following year. The competition moved to Carderock in 1995 and grew to include universities, colleges, corporations, research centers, high schools, and privately sponsored teams from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. Typical teams consist of student athlete/engineers, wearing scuba gear, who provide propulsion and navigation as their submarines compete against the clock along a fixed underwater course. The principal objective of the competition is education – to encourage innovation in the use of materials, hydrodynamic design, propulsion, and underwater life support. ISR officials note with pride that many participants over the 15-year history of the competition have gone on to professional engineering careers in the Navy and other ocean-technology organizations.

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Photo caption below
The University of Maryland’s “RSR Fourier” took First Place for Fastest Speed in the One Person Propeller, Academic Category, clocking in at 4.916 knots. Sussex County Technical High School in Sparta, New Jersey was awarded Best Design Outline for “Umptysquatch-1”.
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Photo caption below
“Faux Fish”, designed by Bruce Plazyk of Wheaton, Illinois won in the Innovation category. The One Person Propeller, Independent Category prize went to “Scooba Doo” from Wheaton Submarine Works, with a speed of 4.875 kts.

Safety is a key concern. Navy divers line the course, ready to help extricate the crews in case of trouble. Each sub is built with a quick-release hatch, easily pulled free to allow crew members to escape if necessary. During the week, the teams went through safety and engineering examinations. Each team was required to make a 20-minute verbal presentation to the panel of judges explaining all aspects of their projects, from design to completion. Most entrants passed their examinations and made successful runs over the entire course. Some did not and withdrew.

Competition began early Monday morning of race week with a pleasant surprise: The first submarine in the water ready for safety checks – ahead of the more experienced college teams – was “Sublime II” from Springstead High School in Spring Hill, Florida. Although the Florida team was first to make it to the starting gate, however, they ran out of air and could not complete the course. But they were soon back in the race and accomplished a number of successful runs.

A common challenge to all designers is achieving neutral buoyancy so that the vehicle starts its run in a stable condition. At the ISR, propellers break, shear pins snap, hatches float off, guidance fins sometimes don’t work, and control mechanisms malfunction. Crashing into the sides of the tank is not uncommon, and in particular, Florida Tech’s sleek submarine, “Miss FIT,” veered sharply on one of its runs and shattered its nosecone against the wall. In the light-hearted spirit of the races, however, other teams came forward with offers of help, and after a few repairs, the boat was back and running again within hours. These typical mishaps are all learning experiences as the designs progress from classroom, laboratory, or backyard garage concepts to the unforgiving underwater environment of the test tank.

Race director Jerry Rovner said the ISR operations team conducted 189 individual submarine runs during the five-day event. “It’s to be expected that submarines will have breakdowns. That’s the nature of building a complex machine and trying to make it work underwater. We’re pleased to note that our safety record remains 100 percent intact,” he added. Mr. Rovner manages all race operations including diving, safety, emergency procedures, course lighting, underwater video, and timing, “This was the smoothest operation we’ve ever run. We owe a huge debt of thanks to the Navy, to our volunteers, and to the submarine teams,” he said.

Team Omer from Montreal, which holds the world’s record for speed in both one- and two-person submarines, brought a brand new submarine – “Omer 5” – to the race this year. “Omer 5” is an incredibly sleek, two-person vehicle fitted with sophisticated, computer-driven speed-control and navigation aids and a breakthrough propulsion system that enables both occupants to provide human power. Due to computer problems, the Canadian team was unable to make its first run until Thursday, but then achieved a blistering speed of 6.814 knots. Team officials had hoped to shatter the eight-knot barrier, but technical issues with their computerized control system got in the way.

“As teams learn from year to year, they get better. We’ve seen some excellent designs from the student teams,” said chief judge Claude Brancart, a retired expert in autonomous underwater vehicles from Draper Laboratories. “We anticipated lively competition, and that’s exactly what we got. Many teams experience common problems from too little practice in the water, and little-to-no experience in the 60-degree temperatures of the test tank. It is gratifying to see them react, respond, repair, and get back into the competition.”

“The increasing interest among students to compete in the educational arena of human-powered submarines is gratifying,” said Nancy Hussey, chairman of the Foundation for Underwater Research and Education, parent organization of the ISR. “To design and complete a racing submarine is a very difficult challenge. Taking an idea from paper and classroom theory to actual practice in the water demands the very best minds and ultimately, experience and teamwork. We look forward to our next competition in 2005 and are delighted at the success of our partnership with the U.S. Navy here at Carderock.”

CAPT Steven Petri, Carderock Division Commander, echoed Hussey’s sentiment. “The Naval Surface Warfare Center has been proud to host the 2003 International Submarine Races at its David Taylor Model Basin,” he said. “We are pleased to be able to continue our support of such an outstanding educational and engineering endeavor.”

Lionel S. Johns was Associate Director for Technology, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Assistant Director of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. He serves as an ISR judge.

John Hussey, a Trustee of the Foundation for Underwater Research and Education, was the first Director of the U.S. Senate National Ocean Policy Study Committee, and a journalist and public relations executive.