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By Ann P. Schreiber

A yellow submarine teaches students how teamwork is vital to achieving innovative design and manufacturing success

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Doubtless determination, dedication and drive turned engineering technology students into award-winning submarine builders.

A nine-member team designed and built a 12-foot, 250-pound, yellow submarine, christened the Umptysquatch-1.

“Their teamwork skills were outstanding. If they weren’t, it wouldn’t have been completed,” says their teacher and SkillsUSA advisor, Chris Land, of Sussex County Technical School in Sparta, N.J.

“This was not the average project. Nothing about it was easy. Everything came together in the end on this one,” Land adds. “This was truly a project in which all the hard work paid off, and it allowed us to meet a monumental task.”

For the International Submarine Race, sponsored by the Foundation for Underwater Research and Education, Land’s students traveled to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Maryland and operated their human-powered submarine in the world’s largest indoor tank. The competition included 16 colleges and universities, an academy and another high school.

Yet the team earned first prize in one event, Best Design Outline and Report, and took third place in another, Two-Person Dual-Propeller Academic Speed. One contest sponsor, Sea Technology magazine, put the students on its cover.

The students elected to compete two years ago after learning of the competition through the Internet. Land, a former officer on a Trident submarine, told them he wasn’t keen on the idea, because no one would believe the students came up with it on their own. they did. During the first year of a two-year project, Land’s senior class designed the sub, then turned it over to the next year’s seniors, who built it. Most of the machining was done by another of Land’s classes.

“There were real deadlines,” he explains. “There was a long extended schedule that they had to come up with — not because the teacher made them do it, but because they weren’t going to make it if they didn’t make some of these deadlines.”

But getting into true engineering and manufacturing was a big motivator for the students, Land says. “I think they got a real feel of what it’s like to work in a design/build atmosphere where it’s not ‘We can make that or can we do that,’ it’s ‘Do we have enough time?’ They had design conversations, and they were coming up with answers and changes to designs that were smart.”

The instructor calls the project “an extremely rewarding experience in all of our lives. Everything about this project, from the smallest detail to the largest manufactured part, represented a true engineering design/build challenge. There were no ‘How to Build a Human-Powered Submarine’ books. We simply used our solid academic and hands-on skills and applied them to a truly monumental challenge.“When it was all over, we were at a restaurant having our victory meal. The amazing thing was that after all that, the only thing discussed at dinner among everybody was, ‘What do we change for the next one?’ ” End of story

How’d they do that?

After reviewing the different design categories of the Seventh International Submarine Race, the Sussex County students chose to design a two-person propeller-driven submarine. The team felt that with two crewmen, they could maximize the realized propulsion force. They figured the first thing a single pilot would do if he lost depth control or veered of course would be to slow down his pedaling. Using the two-person design allowed the peddler to focus on propulsion, providing uninterrupted maximum propulsion under all conditions.

With the category design chosen, Chris Land broke his class into teams to take on this monumental task: hull, ship’s control [depth control and maneuvering], emergency systems and air breathing, and propulsion. Each worked independently, but they had to meet regularly so no one would design anything incompatible with another group’s work.

“We made everything. We machined the propeller blades. We machined the gears. We stuck out from the competition that way,” Land explains.

Using a mold constructed by the students, the hull was made out of raw fiberglass donated by a local boat manufacturer.

“We had one kid tracking the design as everyone was building their individual components,” Land says. “He was tracking the weight and the center of gravity and the buoyancy, and he was probably within 90 percent when we went to test the thing the first time.”

If they had just winged it, "well, that would have been a feat,” he adds. “But if we had put it in the pool and had no idea about the buoyancy, it would have sunk to bottom like a rock. It really came together. We met our target date of June 1 to have the thing ready to test.”

Everyone involved had to be scuba certified. That meant hitting 40-degree water in November to attain their open water certification.

“The first test was in the school pool,” Land says. “Then we took [the submarine] to the quarry where we were scuba certified, and that didn’t go so well. There were logistics problems, and we ended up having to peddle it about half a mile on the surface to get to the place where we could submerge it. Then the place where we were told we could do it was bad, and we ended up losing it. It slid down this incline to about 50 feet below the surface, so we had to salvage it. That wasn’t the best of days.

“The kids thought it was funny, and I was ready to strangle them all. It looked like a submarine that had been lost at sea down there on the bottom. We salvaged it, and we fixed the problem.”

Or fixed the “fixed buoyancy” problem, to be exact. “The fixed buoyancy that we had installed wasn’t enough and it was too heavy,” Land explains. “We didn’t think it was that flexible, but when you get down 20 to 30 to 40 feet below the surface, it compresses like raisins, and we lost our buoyancy. Luckily, no one was in the sub when it went that deep.” End of story

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SkillsUSA Champions | Winter 2004 | Volume 38, No. 2
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