Research Vessels: Surface Vessels - R/V FLIP
R/V FLIP (Office of Naval Research photo)
Imagine sailing across a calm blue sea. A black dot appears on the horizon. As you draw closer, the dot begins to take on the shape of a boat. Well, the front end of a boat sticking out of the water, that is. No, you are not seeing things. Chances are you just had a FLIP encounter.
FLIP, short for Floating Instrument Platform, is a 355-foot (108-meter)
spoon-shaped buoy. As a buoy, or float, FLIP needs another ship
to pull it to a research site. Once in place, FLIP flips. The long
tube-like end, or spoon handle, has special tanks, called ballast
tanks. These tanks are flooded with 700 tons of seawater, causing
them to sink. As this end of FLIP sinks, the other end, kept afloat
with air tanks, rises out of the water. Crew members and scientists,
on board while FLIP flips, simply step up onto the walls as the
walls become decks. In just 20 minutes, FLIP is in a straight up-and-down,
or vertical, position, with 300 feet (91 meters) of the ship underwater
and 55 feet (17 meters) out of water.
For FLIP to flip back to a horizontal position, air compressed
into eight tanks is used to push the seawater out of the ballast
tanks. The submerged end of FLIP rises until the buoy is one again
level with the water.
Scientific instruments are built sideways into the walls.
As FLIP flips, so do the instruments. That means they will be in a
normal, usable position when FLIP becomes vertical. Most rooms on
FLIP have two doors. One to use when FLIP is horizontal, and one to
use when FLIP is vertical. Things like bunk beds, toilets and stoves
are built on swivels and gimbals, so they will turn along with FLIP.
Other things that would not rotate so
well, like sinks, are built both horizontally and vertically in each
out FLIP for yourself from "Worlds of Wonder"! [MPEG
(9.1 MB) | Text Only]
R/V FLIP (U.S. Navy Photo)
Two scientists designed and built FLIP in 1962 (40 years ago!)
Why do you think scientists would want a ship that could flip? In
a vertical position, FLIP is much more stable. Normal ships float
on top of the water, going up and down with the rolling waves. This
up-and-down motion can interfere with scientists' experiments. Since
FLIP has 300 feet underwater, it does not move so much with the
waves. A 30-foot (9-meter) wave will only make FLIP move up or down
three feet (1 meter).
FLIP has enough room to house five crew members and 11 researchers
at a time. FLIP can stay in position for up to 30 days. If supplies
are replenished, stays can be up to 45 days.
FLIP is owned by the Office of Naval Research and is operated by
the Marine Physical Laboratory of the Scripps
Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.