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The parts they played: the people who built the new Alvin.

As Alvin's new sphere was being built and tested, more than 100 engineers and technicians at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution mustered to design, modify, build, and test an array of systems to accommodate the new sphere and make other substantial improvements to the sub. In the following pages, many of them tell us, in their own words, about their roles in the project.

The Frame

Timothy Kling


"This was titanium I was cutting, part of a frame piece on the Alvin. Almost every part for the sub starts out here. Everything that gets welded or machined I usually start, and then it goes to the welders or machine shop after I cut out the parts.

The water jet machine cuts with garnet, a semiprecious stone ground to 80 grit, particles of about 175 micrometers. It runs on 55,000 pounds per square inch of water pressure. The pressure and suction of the water going through the nozzle sucks the garnet through that hose, mixes it in a chamber, and then shoots it down through the material you're cutting. Basically anything you stick underneath there, it'll slice it right up, just like butter, from one-thirty-secondths of an inch of material up to eight inches of metal.

I'll tell you what, it eats the material, it doesn't really cut it. It's taking material away from the piece. Then the garnet grit goes down to the bottom of the tank--it's just mud.

This weekend we're going to take the whole machine apart and get in there and dig it out, because it's full of garnet. A full day's work.

The machine uses a computer program: I path it out, it comes up on the monitor, and you can see lines where it's cutting. As the machine cuts, it follows the lines on the program.

Its very precise. It has a tolerance of two-thousandths of an inch [on the cut line], A human hair is three-thousandths.

You really gotta know your materials. A lot of time I stand right by the machine because of the type of material it is; other times I can walk away while it runs, and I've had programs that take nine hours. I do, sometimes, upwards of 60 to 80 parts in a day. The last month I've been working ten-hour days, six days a week, trying to keep up.

All that over there is Alvin material: One-inch stainless steel, one-inch Delrin plastic, here's three-sixteenths-inch titanium, three-sixteenths urethane. When I use something, I have to write down what I'm doing, what kind of part, how much I used, and how much is left over. You've got to make sure you're doing it the right way--with Alvin, you're dealing with somebody's life.

My grandfather and uncle were machinists and welders. I started out machining and welding in my grandfather's garage when I was ten. Ah, it was great! I grew up in that garage.

I got an electronics degree, worked for my Dad's vending business for years, got a degree in machining and welding, and I've done that ever since. I put in an application here as a machinist and Bob McCabe hired me in 2007. I've spent about two years with the water jet. It's a machine I really enjoy running. I can pretty much build just about anything--it's what I like to do.

Like my grandfather taught me from a young age, 'Keep that tolerance.' That's the biggest thing for machining.

Paul Keith


"I'm bending a radius on that titanium part. It's like a weird-looking triangle, six or seven feet long and probably four or five feet wide. I think there was one on either side of the sub, port and starboard. It goes on top of the flotation foam and has long bolts go through it and the foam to keep the foam on. The curve lets it fit over the edge of the foam.

The machine is called a press brake. It bends metal. You put the piece of metal in there and the machine presses down on it, puts a bend in it along a straight line, like folding a piece of paper. But you can't make a sharp bend on a thick piece of titanium, because it'll break. If you want a curve, you make multiple small bends close together, so it gives an even sweep, so it's nice and round.

Then I use that wood template I made that's the actual shape they wanted. You hold that in there to judge that you're getting a round shape. As you rock that template back and forth, you can tell if there's a high spot or it's not quite bent right.

The secret is to creep up on it slowly. You can't bend too much, too fast. So you kind of hit it a little bit and get a little bit of a bend. Then you start working it back and forth. It's like rolling dough. If you try to hurry it and hit it real hard, you're all done. It's better to keep ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding. It should bend evenly. If it doesn't, tough luck. You know, there's no unbending--only bending.

If something turns out wrong, you have to start with a new piece. That didn't happen with these. Lucky! It depends on the tolerances, a lot of times. I always tell the designers, 'the bigger the tolerance, the better. If you make it too tight, we might be doing a lot of them.'

I've been at WHOI close to 10 years now, as a fabricator and welder, on different projects. I've been doing this since I was 21.1 like to build things that are one-of-a-kind.

This project has been pretty interesting. What I like is the different personalities. We have every mix of character.

Each person adds their little bit. Everybody says a lot about the new technology, but you know, it's a lot more tricky with the innovative

personalities mixed with the technology. Most people wouldn't realize what it takes to do something like the Alvin project--all the different people that have to work at it. Everybody thinks it's just somebody with a Ph.D.


Alvin's new personnel sphere is placed on the curved crosspieces of the vehicle's titanium frame. The frame is same one used on the old Alvin, but it was extensively modified to accommodate the new larger sphere and other improvements to the sub's electronics, propulsion, flotation, and other systems.

Loral O'Hara


"Here I was working with Tony Delane, a welder, to install " pressure housing racks in the aft bay. The aft bay takes up roughly the aft third of the vehicle. I designed the racks. They will hold most of Alvins pressure housings, the titanium bottles that house the electronics for propulsion and for controlling the vehicle, cameras and lighting, and data handling.

On the old Alvin, many of the power and data components were inside the personnel sphere. We freed up a lot of space inside the sphere by moving those components into pressure housings outside the sphere, but we also had to find a place to put all those housings. We had this big space in the aft bay, but there wasn't a lot of structure to mount things back there.

Instead of adding a lot of heavy structure to support the housings, we made the housings become part of the structure. This is the starboard rack. There's another one just like it on the port side. The bottles will fit in the large holes in the racks so they span across the vehicle from one rack to the other, so they are actually part of the structure.

A lot of what drove this design was that at sea, the crew has to be able to pull out the contents of the housings to service them. So you had to be able to access the ends of the bottles.

The racks are a solid, high-strength plastic called polyethylene. If we made them of titanium, we'd have to add an equivalent amount of foam or some other buoyancy to float it. This plastic floats itself. All of this was fabricated here. The plastic came in as a big sheet, and then Tim Kling cut out all the parts with the water jet.

I came to WHOI in 2009. I was only planning to stay here for a little while, because I had another job lined up. But then I started working on the Alvin project and got more involved in that. When it came time to leave, I decided to stay and finish the project. Three years later ... [laughs].

I'd love to go down in Alvin. Before I came here, I was studying rocket propulsion. The motivation for me is the same. I love exploration, particularly when it involves people. What I want to do with my life is build vehicles that let people work and live in places that are either inaccessible or accessible to only a few.

Geoffrey Ekblaw


"The changes made to upgrade Alvin also changed the sub's buoyancy. The engineers decided that to get the weight balance right, they had to move two cylindrical pressure cases--parts of the ballast system--from the back of Alvins frame closer to the front, underneath the personnel sphere.

The pressure cases are 10 to 12 inches in diameter, and the holes in the sub's frame weren't big enough to fit them. The ends of the holes had to be enlarged. They were talking about having a special hole-saw custom-made, which would take months.

It was taking too much time trying to figure out how to do it. And I said, 'Well, why don't we just carve it out, you know? Give me a jigsaw, there's no time, let's just get this done.' I've known Bob McCabe, my supervisor, for about 30 years, and he knows my capabilities. He knows I have a very varied back- ground in metals, and he was like, 'Yeah, go ahead.'

There was no easy way to do it. The only way was just all manually, very slow. You couldn't use a cutting torch, couldn't use a plasma cutter, because the titanium personnel sphere was right there next to me, and titanium becomes 'embrittled' above about 800 degrees Fahrenheit, if it isn't in a shielded gas environment.

We made steel templates for the hole enlargements and clamped them in place on the sub's frame. I cut around them with a jigsaw with a metal-cutting blade, a rough cut. Then I trimmed the titanium back to the steel templates with a grinder--little by little by little.

I worked on my knees for about a week doing each side.

In this picture, I'm on Alvins starboard side, working on the second hole of four, two on each side of the frame. If you go over to the sub and look, you could never tell that they were hand-done. When they were done, the holes looked kind of like a dog bone or barbell.

I work with my hands. I've been in metals since high school. I studied to be a sculptor, ended up as a blacksmith, from a blacksmith to a horseshoer, from a horseshoer to building bridges.

Then I got hurt building bridges and said, 'I'm going to work on something I really love,' and I built America's Cup yachts for 20 years. That's where I met Bob McCabe. The yachts were the old 12-meter ones, made of aluminum. Then the 12-meters had gone away, and all the boats were fiberglass or carbon fiber. Bob was at WHOI then and said, 'Hey, you want to go back and do metal again?' So I came here 17 years ago. It's never been dull. The great thing about working here is that you never do the same job twice, it seems like.

The Sphere

Chris Lathan


"The birdcage is an aluminum structure that is a replica of the framework on the interior of the Alvins actual personnel sphere. It holds equipment, primarily electrical and electronic gear. We used it as a skeleton to build the wiring harness--the collection of wires that interconnect equipment in the sub.

Using the birdcage, we were able to install and test most of the equipment before actually installing it in the sphere. It is far easier to find and fix problems before things are installed into the sphere. During this testing, we were running our maximum rated power through the wiring harness and all of the panels, so warning signs were set up to help people keep at a safe distance during the test. In this photo, I was attempting to troubleshoot a piece of equipment that we were using to log data for this test.

During Axis Alvin overhaul, the sphere and everything inside the sphere were brand new, so the birdcage had to be built from scratch. Once it was built, it helped us mock up the interior arrangement of all the panels and wiring inside the sphere. In this photo you can see the back side of the panels, the wiring harness, and other equipment, such as the gyroscope

(the gray box near me), and the touchscreen monitors used by Alvin pilots. We use the colorful wiring to help us identify particular wires on the panels or in the harness.

Once we were happy with everything, we removed all of the equipment, panels, and the wiring harness in order to install them into the version of the birdcage that's inside the sphere. The birdcage in the photo will be stored and re-used during our next scheduled overhaul. We'll use it to clean, service, and upgrade the wiring harness and other equipment.

On a personal note, I've wanted to work with manned submersibles since I was a kid. The manned submersible niche is extremely small, so I had all but given up hope of being involved until I came across a well-timed job posting. My ocean engineering degree and my previous job experiences, working for a Navy dive and salvage contractor and then helping design sidescan sonar systems, helped get me in the door. I'm now an electronics technician, and I've helped build and test some of the many electrical systems on the vehicle. I'm excited to be a part of the group and ultimately to take part in exploring uncharted waters with an American icon.

Brian Durante & Mike Skowronski


"Skowronski: I was an avid sailor since I was young, and I came across an article on [Alvin pilot] Pat Hickey with his more than 600 dives in Alvin, and I said, 'I can do that.' I came to WHOI in 2008, joined the Alvin Group, made pilot in 2010, and had 22 dives before the sub went in for the upgrade.

Durante: I was an auto mechanic and was an air crewman in the Navy. When I got out, I went to The Landing School of boat building and design in Maine. 1 love working on boats. I was lucky and got a job here, working as a marine mechanic.

Skowronski: As an Alvin pilot, I had a feeling for the equipment we wanted to put into the sphere and how much room it would take up. The ideal, of course, would be to put everything into the sphere in one piece, but everything had to fit through that 19-inch hatch hole.

Durante: The floor went in first, in three separate pieces. Everything came in in pieces and in sequence. Because once something was in, we couldn't get to it again from the outside.

I can tell you, the sphere got small in a hurry. When the wiring harness went in, 100 pounds of wires were dropped in. The sphere looked like the creature from the movie Alien had just run through it with wires hanging and branching out like a spider everywhere. We started calling it the cerebral cortex.

Skowronski: In our heads, everything looked like it would fit. But in the sphere ... We had drawings and fabricated a mockup sphere to test whether everything would fit. But the mockup will only get you so close.

Durante: Once we started putting in pieces of the structure, it was, 'That's crooked' and 'This won't fit.' It's a lot harder working inside a sphere than a square box. You really have no reference points to start with. There is no left or right until you make them. That's the challenge.

Skowronski: As we installed, we modified and adapted components. We had a summer intern, Logan Driscoll, who was doing CAD drawings on the sub's interior. We'd run into a problem and go to Logan and say, 'See what you can come up with on the computer,' and he'd come back, and say, 'Yes, that'll work,' or 'Adjust this.'

Durante: Or sometimes, the computer model said it won't fit, but we found a way. I did a lot of 12-hour days in that sphere. You tried not to go in and out to minimize any possible dam- age. We had a toolkit that stayed in the sphere. My social life went from 90 miles per hour to zero over the past two years.

Skowronski: By the time Alvin was finally finished, we were glad it was leaving. And also sad it was leaving. We had postpartum depression. It took a significant part of our lives.

Durante: We're proud of what we accomplished. There is no other sphere like it in the world.

Logan Driscoll


"I was just a freshman studying mechanical engineering at Tufts University, looking for a job to get some experience. I grew up in Falmouth and knew some people at WHOI. So I talked with some of the engineers, and they hired me as intern in the summer of 2011.

That summer, I did a lot of hands-on jobs, just getting familiar with systems. I knew nothing about Alvin going into this and nothing about oceanographic engineering, except some basic physics from freshman year. My first task was taking an inventory of implodable items on the outside of the sub, like lights and cameras. I was taught how to inspect them. My boss would say, 'Be careful with that, it's worth a quarter of a million dollars.' Eventually, I got more responsibility and helped the engineers with pressure-testing hundreds of blocks of syntactic foam for the sub.

I was hired back for the summer of 2012. That's when I got into some design work. Over the winter, Mike Skowronski and Brian Durante made a physical prototype of the birdcage. That's the framework for the internal arrangement of the all equipment to go inside the sphere. It was a close approximation, but not quite right. The actual birdcage, when it sits inside the sphere, is secured by studs in all directions, so it's evenly suspended. Their physical model sat on the ground, and it sort of did this egging thing, where it sank a little bit of its own weight and bulged out. So it looked like there was more room on the sides and less room on top. They needed a drawing that the machine shop could use to make the real birdcage that would go in the sphere.

So they had me start making a CAD [computer-assisted design] model. It was a really daunting task trying to fit all these complicated shapes into a sphere. There were hundreds of parts to work with--all connected to one another and only secured to a few studs on the frame. If one thing was off, it would cascade through the whole thing and not fit.

So many people were involved in this. Mike and Brian made the prototype, other electrical guys were doing their part. The pilots were interfacing throughout the whole process. A lot of people were teaching me and reviewing my work. The basic modeling I did helped produce drawings that the machine shop worked with to build things that other people were installing. Communication was critical for everyone involved, because there were a lot details, and if one got dropped, it was a problem.

I expected my first internship to be getting coffee and doing menial tasks to get a foot in the door and get some references. So when I was thrown into actually helping the engineers model the birdcage, it was a big surprise--and one of the most rewarding experiences for me. Working on Alvin is a rare opportunity. I'm looking for another cool opportunity like that, but it's going to hard to find one. I really lucked out.

Critical Components

Brian Pepin


"This is one of eight hard spheres, made out of titanium, used for ballasting Alvin. Water gets pumped into or out of six of them to adjust the sub's overall buoyancy. The other two store high-pressure air to ballast the sub at the surface. I was told these tanks were made in the 1970s, so they've seen lots of service. We're checking for damage, or any signs of wear and tear or fatigue.

First we clean the surface of the tanks to ensure there's no dirt or grease or oil that would get in the way of the testing. Then we put on what's called a fluorescent liquid penetrant.

It has capillary action that soaks and seeps into any cracks or seams. We let that soak in for 25 minutes. Then we shine a black light, basically an ultraviolet light, on it, and that allows us see if there are any imperfections in the tanks.

In the next step, we clean off any excess penetrant and put on a developer. It's a white powder--kind of like talcum powder, but finer--which draws out the penetrant from any flaws or defects where it may be hiding back onto the surface. And that allows us to see different types of defects with the black light.

Then we do ultrasonic testing. A transducer sends and receives sound waves that go through the metal. By analyzing the waves' travel time and the distance they travel and the material they're going through, we can detect flaws and defects. We directed the ultrasound from the top of the tanks and from the bottom and all the way around to verify that there were no defects.

This sort of testing goes a lot faster with two guys, so I came down here with Doug Mendes [at rear]. The testing took roughly two hours per tank. We did four tanks a day over two days. They were all still in perfect operational shape.

I got out of the Army about five and half years ago and got into the field of non-destructive testing. I work for the MITRAS Group, a worldwide company that does inspections and testing on parts and machinery prior to service, in service, or after service. We do testing for NASA, the military, the aerospace and petrochemical industries. We've done testing on missiles, cars, guns, all sorts of machinery.

A lot of the time, when I get a service call, I often don't know what sorts of parts or machinery I'm going to be testing.

I didn't really know about this job, but when I drove down here, I found out I was testing parts from something that went down and discovered Titanic. That's pretty cool.

Fran Elder & Christine Fornier


"Elder: Were sitting on the foam block that is the major piece of Alvin's rescue buoy. If you're entangled on the bottom, and you drop the emergency releases, and still can't get Alvin to float up, you release the rescue buoy, so the ship can find Alvin if it ever got stuck.

Fornier: There is acoustic equipment on the buoy that the ship can listen for.

Elder: The buoy is attached to a line and floats up far enough so that the ship can tow a detection instrument by and locate the buoy. Then they would send another vehicle down for the line and pull Alvin up.

Fornier: At the back end of the buoy, there's a bolt. To release it, pilots send an electrical signal to the bolt, and it breaks, which lets one end of the buoy go. At the other end is a bracket, like a little hook, and the buoy's buoyancy pulls it off that hook.

Elder: I did some of the design work on the brackets. It's definitely a team effort. A lot of people have worked on this.

Fornier: I did drawings for this. We do computer modeling to design components and systems, then put all that information on drawings. Fran worked on them, then I worked on them, and other people. And then Fran refined how everything fit, because we have to make components fit as we go along.

Elder: Like in a car, you have a certain amount of space, and everything has to fit and line up, and you build in tolerances. We were reusing part of the old Alvin frame that was ...

Fornier: ... built by hand!

Elder: It's definitely a one-off thing, so some trimming is needed. For example, they had to drill a really, really long hole through the buoy, for a tie rod that goes all the way through. And you can model it, and say, 'This hole's gonna come out the other end in the perfect spot.' But when you drill a hole that long, with a really long drill bit, there's just no way it's going to be perfect.

So it came out a little to one side, and we had to slot the hole a tiny bit in order to center the brackets, so everything else would work. You know, in the model you can do something that, in the real world, you may or may not be able to.

Fornier: I've been here four years. I have my associates' degree in engineering, and a bachelor's in art history--completely unrelated! I had done administrative and library work, so I'm doing document management, making sure drawings have the right information. But I've also been drafting and modeling. Whoever needs me to do stuff, I've just been there, doing it.

Elder: I've been working with Alvin since January 2012. I got my four-year engineering degree just after I got hired and was promoted to engineer. I was hired for drafting but ended up doing design work. That's what I like--do something creative, solve some problems. Christine's got the discipline and organization! I think between the two of us we've worked on just about every system on Alvin.

Jefferson Grau


"The new Alvin has five windows. It has three up toward the front that are 7 inches across on the inside (and 17 inches across outside), and two smaller ones off to either side that are 5 inches in diameter on the inside (and 12 inches across outside). These are considerably larger than the windows we had before.

The larger sides of the windows face out to the ocean, so that as Alvin goes deeper and is subjected to greater pressure, the windows will be forced inward against the titanium hull. That strengthens the seal between the window and hull.

The windows are acrylic, a type of plastic. At a test facility in Texas, the windows were subjected to a test pressure of over 12,000 pounds per square inch. This translates to about 680 tons of force on the small windows, and over 1,300 tons on the larger ones. That is almost twice the pressure Alvin will experience at its current maximum operating depth of 4,500 meters (about 15,000 feet). Eventually, Alvin will be rated for dives to 6,500 meters, or a little over 21,000 feet.

When we receive each window from the manufacturer via the test facility, we check its dimensions to make sure that the window has not changed shape under all that pressure. We also perform a visual inspection on the windows to make sure there are no inclusions (like particles or foreign objects) or voids (like bubbles) that might have crept into the acrylic during manufacture, and which could compromise the integrity of the windows under pressure.

In this photo, I am performing a visual inspection on one of our smaller windows. Working in the dark with a bright, handheld light placed at different positions and angles allows us to see the quality of the window in detail throughout its thickness. Fortunately, this window passed inspection and will soon be keeping the observers and pilots inside Alvin safe and sound, while giving them an enlarged and crystal-clear view of the ocean depths around them.

I joined the Alvin Group in May of 2011, after the submarine had begun the current overhaul and upgrade process. As a mechanical technician, I work to rebuild, test, and integrate the components of all of Alvins various mechanical systems--the variable ballast system that modulates the submarine's weight during a dive, the hydraulic system that drives our manipulators and tools, the thrusters that we use to move around the terrain of the ocean floor, and so on. It's a lengthy process that involves a lot of rebuilding, testing, and installing components like relief valves, check valves, pipes, hoses, solenoids ... and oh yeah, windows.

Once the upgraded Alvin was fully reassembled and under way again, I officially moved into the pilot-in-training program and began the process of becoming an Alvin pilot. All of which is, to be honest, already a dream come true.

Ben Pietro


"That piece is what they call the sail. It extends the height of the dry area around the hatch while the sub is on the surface, to protect the hatch from waves. It's also a good high spot for mounting navigation equipment.

The sail is made of carbon fiber, which is very strong and light so it doesn't add a lot to the vehicle's weight. In previous overhauls, they've used a red. They wanted to go with international orange this year to make it as visible as possible on the surface of the ocean.

We're inside the paint booth up in Clark South. We try to keep all the dust down as much as possible. There's air that comes in through the intake and pushes out through the vents at the back. We bring the garden hose in and spray down the floor and the lower part of the wall to keep the dust down. With a showcase piece like the Alvin sail, we wanted to eliminate all possibilities of anything coming in and disrupting the paint.

If there's dust flying around, some of it would stick on the wet paint and the sail wouldn't shine like it shines right now.

The paint is called AwlGrip. It's a two-part epoxy paint. It's nasty--it's not stuff that you want to be inhaling a lot. You wear a full-face respiratory mask, your gloves, your paint suit.

We did three coats on this. The first one you put on is kind of spotty. The second coat, you fill everything in and make sure it's uniform. Then the third coat is the one that you gotta make sure it goes on perfect. You want to put it on sort of robotic-like, and paint every area with the same amount of paint. If you put too much paint on something, it'll open up and it'll become a big, round 'fish eye.'

We actually had to paint this twice because the first time we did it, it didn't come out perfect. So we had to sand it all back down again and then re-do it.

I work for UOP [the Upper Ocean Processes group]. I do mostly mechanical work--build, fabricate, design moorings.

I've just always been able to work with my hands, and my father taught me at an early age that 'we've got to fix cars, so get out there and help me do it.' It never left me. I always enjoyed it.

I've been doing a lot of painting since I started here, but I'm learning as I go--I don't have a degree in painting or anything like that. [WHOI mechanic] Victor Miller helped me a great deal with this. He taught me how to control the paint through different series of thinning it and testing the material, so you don't get drips. He taught me more in the week I worked with him doing this than I learned in the four years that I've worked here.

It was a great experience and a privilege to do this for Alvin. I was honored to be asked to do it, and I'm really proud of the piece.

Hugh Popenoe & Rob Lewis


"Popenoe: We're getting ready to do pressure tests on an optical penetrator. Alvin has fourteen electrical penetrators and six optical penetrators in the hull.

Lewis: Fiber-optic penetrators bring in the fiber-optic lines from outside the sub to the inside. Electrical penetrators are almost the same, except that it's all electrical wires.

Popenoe: All the electronic and optical data is housed outside the sphere, and all that information has to come through these penetrators to the pilot in the sphere. All the commands from the pilot to the thrusters and instruments also travel out through the penetrators. They mount to holes in the personnel sphere.

Lewis: The penetrators plug the holes, and that's why we're testing, to make sure they don't leak when they're at depth.

Popenoe: They have to be able to withstand the same pressure as the sphere, at depths down to 6,500 meters, or just over 4 miles. Right now Alvin is being certified to go to 4,500 meters, but in a few years when we try to certify it to go deeper, the penetrators will already be cleared for that depth and we won't have to re-test them. Each penetrator has two O-ring seals to it. An O-ring leak or structural failure would potentially doom the lives of the occupants inside. In the pressure testing, we try to defeat one seal at a time. The idea is that each seal individually can hold that pressure, but there's a second seal that can also do it. One of the requirements for Alvin is that there's a backup for everything.

Lewis: There's a pressure gauge on the chamber, and when we run the tests, we monitor that to make sure the pressure doesn't drop.

Popenoe: If a seal fails, water would be coming out through the hole in the end cap of the test chamber where the penetrator is mounted.

Lewis: We also test the optical fibers and confirm that they're still working under pressure. We've got a light meter that measures the amount of light loss down each fiber.

Popenoe: With electrical penetrators, we monitor the functionality of the wires.

Lewis: In this picture, I'm controlling the overhead hoist, and we're lowering the end cap of the test chamber. The fiber-optic lines in the chamber are about eight meters long. They're in a tube that hangs down from the penetrator.

Popenoe: The chamber is about four feet deep.

Lewis: We're spinning the end cap to make the tube coil into the chamber.

Popenoe: Then we'll seal the chamber and pressurize it to 14,700 pounds per square inch. The whole series of tests takes a full day to complete. Fortunately, we didn't see any failures at all. Every implodable component on the sub had to be pressure-tested to a defined depth, even the cameras and lights. Rob and I spent about four months just testing the penetrators.

Popenoe: I just got my ten-year certificate at WHOI. My background is in electrical engineering. I do a lot of different projects, but they're always a variation of the same thing--data and power for vehicles and instruments.

Lewis: I started here in the beginning of November.

Popenoe: Really? That's it?

Lewis: Yeah, I'm the new guy. Pretty much thrown right into assembling and testing the penetrators. My background is in electronics. I worked over at the Marine Biological Lab for just shy of 12 years. I've done a lot of different things over at MBL, but this is my first time working on a submarine.



Not quite a six pack of titanium "bottles" on Alvin's frame contain electronic components for the sub. The hoses contain copper and fiber-optic cables that connect the bottles to equipment inside the sub's personnel sphere. During dives, the hoses are filled with oil to prevent them from collapsing under extreme pressure.

Rick Sanger


"These are chassis, the structures that hold the electronics for Alvin. They slide inside a pressure housing made of titanium, which we call a bottle.

I was involved in the design process and programming for the electronics for three kinds of bottles--for imaging and illumination, data, and power. There's two of each kind on the vehicle, and we have a spare of each one, so that the vehicle can be brought back to operational capability quickly if one of these were to flood or have serious damage.

The imaging and illumination bottles are responsible for interfacing to the cameras and providing light. The power chassis look similar, but they're a little bit bigger. They interface the battery to anything else in the vehicle that needs power, so there's lots of different channels there. The data chassis are for reading the instruments on the outside of the vehicle that record sonar, temperature, salinity, altitude.

The two yellow wires are the fiber-optics. There's one per bottle. All the data in and out of the bottles, all the commands to tell these chassis how to behave, go through the fibers. Those commands would be things like, 'Turn on the camera,' 'Pan left,' 'Tilt up,' all of that.

There's between sixteen and twenty microcontrollers in each bottle that communicate with the computers in the sphere.

In this photo, I was using the oscilloscope to try to diagnose a fault in that communication.

The assembly of the chassis got subcontracted to a couple of companies. When you have something built that way, you're going to get exactly what's on your schematics. Whereas, if you build it yourself, you know what you meant on the schematic. There are some things that are subject to interpretation by a third party that isn't familiar with what you're doing. So there was a little bit of troubleshooting that was necessary to correct a few things on each one of these.

I've been an employee here for just over a year. Before that I worked on this project for several months as a subcontractor. When I got here, there were preliminary designs on paper, but not all of the components had been designed yet. So a processor board that controls switching of a light, for instance, would be represented as a square where a signal comes in and a signal goes out. But what was in that square hadn't been defined. Some of my early tasks were turning that square into a real piece that had the functionality required and would actually fit within the space allocated and draw the appropriate amount of power.

The power, data, and imaging bottles are completely brand-new. Electrical components are constantly improving, and older components are being obsoleted and become very hard to get. A major overhaul on a vehicle like this is an excellent opportunity to make sure that you are using components that you're going to be able to get in the future, so that the service life of the vehicle is what you expect it to be.

Will Sellers


These are radiators called 'CoolPlugs" This cap fits onto titanium bottles that contain the sub's electronics. Inside these pipes are heat pipes--copper tubes partially filled with an alcohol-water mixture that goes through two holes in the cap and then into the electronics bottles. The bottles ride outside the personnel sphere, mostly in the very back of Alvin.

You've got a lot of things going against you here. Titanium is such a great metal to use for one thing and lousy for another. It is a horrible heat-transfer material. It doesn't like to transfer heat. So it can get really warm inside that electronics bottle.

All the heat that's generated by the electronics gets run out into these radiators. The alcohol-water mixture absorbs the heat and evaporates. The vapors travel to the CoolPlug[TM] radiators, which have cold seawater surrounding them. That condenses the vapor back into a liquid, releasing the heat. So it keeps everything inside the electronics bottles nice and cool.

A lot of the overheating occurs while the sub's on deck. You've got to fire it up and test it, and run it on deck. But subsea, you're going to be working those electronics really hard.

[The blue goop in the tube on the right] is Aqua-Lube. Every screw that's exposed to salt water has got Aqua-Lube on it. Every time. It prevents galling. You're putting stainless steel screws into a titanium end-cap, and if the threads aren't exactly right, galling is when they get so hot that they actually become one. You'll never get them undone after that. The Aqua-Lube prevents that from happening.

And then on other parts, there's LocTite [in the small red tube on the left]. LocTite is normally used for parts that really aren't going to see salt water. You put it on threads so that once you drive the screw home, it dries and it locks the threads in place. But this is a removable thread-locker, so you can take a wrench and back it out. But that screw is not going to back out by itself.

Electro-mechanical is my specialty. The Alvin project has kept me busy since December. This is the fourth Alvin overhaul I've been involved in. I started here in '82 as a technician, became an Alvin pilot, and then after about five years, I went over to the group operating the remotely operated vehicle Jason and was chief pilot/expedition leader for 22 years.

All the vehicles are on the same basic principle. Because you're bringing things out to sea, it's all the KISS principle-Keep It Simple, Stupid. If you make it too complicated, if something goes wrong out there, you're not going to fix it like that [snaps fingers] and get right back in the water. But, there's certain things that can't help but be complicated. Like Jasons telemetry system, or fiber=optics. You need some good people out there with you.

Robert Waters


"Why use a microscope? Because I'm old! No, really, I use it all the time. The components are all surface-mounted parts on a circuit board, and they're small parts.

In this picture I was working on the propulsion control box for Alvin, using a soldering iron to do some modifications to the circuitry inside there.

The propulsion control box is the interface between the pilot's joystick controls, the sub's computer, and the motor controllers that drive the thrusters. This is a part taken from the old sub that we updated for the new sub.

In the old sub, everything was manual, and there was no 'automatic' setting. The new sub has a closed-loop control system, meaning the computers can automatically maintain a position, for example, or drive in a perfectly straight line. That's one of several various automatic operating modes a pi- lot will now be able to choose in the new sub. This box selects those modes.

It's about having backup control methods for the thrusters, in case there's ever a problem in the system. Say, for instance, you lose one of the lateral thrusters. In the new sub, you can switch over into what's called 'differential mode,' meaning you can drive the port and starboard aft thrusters in opposing directions, and use that opposing thrust to turn the sub.

The pilot also uses this box to select where the controls come from. The pilot can control the sub from the joystick inside the sphere or can dial in to activate particular vertical or lateral thrusters. Or you can also control Alvin from its sail--above the hatch in the little conning tower. That's so the pilot can stand up in there and drive the sub like a boat. We use that when we do sea trials. You can use the sail controls to drive the sub around behind the ship. You couldn't drive the sub from below and know where you're going, because we don't have a periscope!

I started at WHOI in 1996. I just saw an ad to work here in a magazine. So I put in for the job. I didn't hear anything for a year. Then out of the blue, they called me up and said, 'Can you start next week?' So I did.

I made Alvin pilot in two years and piloted for the next three. Then I was a pilot for the remotely operated vehicle Jason for 12 years or so. I came back here last April as a full-time Alvin pilot. I maintain the main schematic of the submarine-- kind of the 'maintained of the overall electrical drawing.

Anthony Tarantino


"I joined the Alvin Group on Jan. 2, 2000, to kick off the new millennium. Barrie Walden offered to let me go to the ship and try it out before I committed to such a life-changing decision, and I remember saying, 'No, that's OK. I've made up my mind, let's just do it.' I joined Atlantis before ever setting eyes on the ship, or the sub, or meeting any of the people I eventually worked and lived with for the next few years!

I completed my Alvin pilot training and eventually did more than 130 dives in Alvin. I became responsible for all of the vehicle's electrical systems and participated in two Alvin overhauls in 2001 and 2006. Then I left because I was getting committed in a relationship and wanted to transition to a land- based position. But as the upgrade ramped up, an assistant project manager position opened up. I got the job and came back to WHOI in 2007.

Besides my project management role, I got to contribute to the overall design of the vehicle. The new Alvins electrical system is [WHOI engineer] Lane Abrams' brainchild, but it's near and dear to me because I got to influence some design features. A key aspect of the old Alvins electrical architecture that made it so reliable was redundancy. It had multiple layers of backup systems, so if we had minor technical problems, the pilots could continue their work and not have to cancel a dive.

We applied that approach throughout the design of the new sub's electrical system. Lane devised a parallel 'port and starboard architecture.' There are two of everything: two batteries, two power bottles, two data bottles, two imaging- and-illumination bottles, two main junction boxes, two disconnect boxes, and on and on. This provides nearly com- plete redundancy by having two separate, symmetrical sets of equipment. If you drew a line down the middle of the sub, the left side essentially mirrors what's on the right side. That increases reliability and safety.

We also consolidated all of our penetrators. Those are the connectors between the personnel sphere and the electronics, which are housed outside the sphere in titanium pressure housings. All the power, commands, and data are transmitted through them.

In the old sub, the penetrators were located around each of four viewports. In the new Alvin, the penetrators were moved away from the windows and consolidated onto two penetrator plates located in the upper port and starboard aft sections of the sphere. This gets them out of the observers' way, protects them from damage, and makes them a lot easier to maintain.

Our final challenge was to introduce optical fiber penetrators, in addition to the usual copper wires. This required countless hours of testing but finally allowed us to get more bandwidth and pass much more data through the sphere.

That enabled some of the biggest improvements, including high-definition video recording and automation of vehicle functions.

The project was a huge challenge for our entire team, but it was a lot of fun to be a part of and has been hugely rewarding for all of us.

Syntactic Foam

Vic Miller & Joe Harvey


Miller: This is a 30-year-old piece of Alvin syntactic foam. The foam is the buoyancy for Alvin. Were cutting and getting it ready to re-glue. This piece here had some damage in the center of it.

Harvey: Normal wear and tear. We've been doing a lot of repairs on the old foam, and shaping the new foam, and drilling and modifying it as needed.

Miller: The majority of the foam on the rebuild is new.

Harvey: We add inserts for cameras or this or that. Or you get the new foam in and it doesn't exactly fit right, so you've got to modify it, fit it again, bring it back, modify it, fit it again.

Miller: Tell how bad it is.

Harvey: Just dusty. Dirty. When we're cutting the heavy foam, it's everywhere.

Miller: The foam is basically an epoxy with glass spheres. We re sanding and cutting epoxy and glass. It's just dirty work. You don' t want to be doing it long-term without protection.

Harvey: I'm a mechanic. I've been at WHOI for about a year and a half. My family has the marina right across the street, Woods Hole Marine, and I found my way over here.

Miller: I've been here four or five years. Before 1 came here, I worked in a body shop for over 20 years, with the shaping of the plastic and the fiberglass repair on the Corvettes or other types of vehicles.

Harvey: Cars, submarines--he's expanded. Planes next!

Miller: I have a shop at my house. I do a lot of car service work, and I still do some bodywork. I restore old cars as a hobby.

Harvey: It's more than a hobby. People from all over come to him.

Miller: Cars, foam, it's all bodywork. The shaping, knowing the grits of the sandpaper and the finish, the priming and painting and such. It's very, very similar.

Harvey: I haven't worked with syntactic foam before. I started in the shops, and then when the foam projects came in, that's what Vic and I have been put to, kind of our specialty.

Miller: We make a good team. I'm a little more experienced in some of the bodywork, but Joe picks up on it very quickly.

It's nice. If you get in with the wrong people, it doesn't work. We know what we need to do and we get in there and make it happen. It's just overwhelming what it really takes to build something. Whatever you think it takes, double it. And maybe double it one more time after that.

Harvey: There's bad days with it. It's tough, it's just been every day for five months.

Miller: And it's dusty, dirty, dirty work. It takes its toll.

Harvey: It beats up on you a little bit. But at the end of the day, when you leave, you say, 'You know what, that was a good day. We didn't make any huge mistakes, and it's a really cool project.'

Miller: It's rewarding. You know, the guys need it done, they appreciate it. They know we take it very serious and we do the best we can, and we're competent.

Harvey: It's great being involved with Alvin. It's really a big, historic thing and to be part of it is really special.

Miller: Big time.

Rod Catanach


We use syntactic foam on many of our deep-sea vehicles.

It's the white material on the outside of Alvin. The titanium sphere and frame are Alvins structural backbone. The foam isn't structural; it's for flotation. It's made of tiny, hollow, glass microspheres mixed with epoxy to make hard blocks. The microspheres are so small they look like talcum powder. When they are packed tightly together with minimum amounts of epoxy, they can withstand high compression and are buoyant in water. The material is put into molds, like a big bread pan, and mixed and allowed to cure, to make blocks of foam.

The new sub is bigger and has a heavier sphere, and it is designed eventually to dive to 6,500 meters. Because this is a manned submersible, we have a greater safety factor and needed the foam to go beyond 6,500 meters. So we had to get stronger foam that could go deeper, but we didn't want it to be heavier.

We worked with two different companies because the development and production were critical, and we could not afford to have one company fail to produce. They extensively tested their foam, including bringing it to the point of destruction, which is more than 14,515 psi [pounds per square inch]. That is 1.5 times the pressure at 6,500 meters, or 9,677 psi.

Instead of the usual procedure of testing small samples from random blocks, we tested all of the foam in a pressure test chamber to a minimum of 12,100 psi, which is 1.25 times 9,677 psi. We used transducers that were built to monitor microcracking on structures like bridges to 'listen' for small implosions or microcracking in the foam that would indicate that it was failing. As long as we didn't hear it start cracking, we knew it was strong enough. One hundred percent of our foam was tested, and we have great confidence in it.

We also tested the foam to ensure that it did not soak up water over time. We weighed twenty percent of the blocks, put them through a 24-hour soak under pressure, and then weighed them again to make sure that the weight gain of water was less than one percent.

These blocks were then bonded together into larger shapes. They were machined flat at joining surfaces, so that only a minimum amount of adhesive was needed to bond them. The more adhesive, the heavier the blocks get, and we also wanted to eliminate any air to get a good bond joint. Prior to this, we did bonding tests to prove both adhesive and technique. We did tension tests, where we tried to pull two blocks apart, and shear tests, where we pushed sideways on them.

The bonded blocks were then machined to make the shapes we needed. And finally, in certain areas, we added on a protective layer of fiberglass and paint. Here we are installing the upper forebody blocks of syntactic foam. The inside edges of these blocks have been shaped with a spherical curve to fit around the personnel sphere. The foam is buoyant and light in water, but in air, these pieces are 1,390 pounds each.


Members of the Alvin team fit a "cheek piece" of syntactic foam to the personnel sphere. Every piece of foam on the sphere was carefully shaped to line up with bolt holes, attachment brackets, and viewports. They calculated gaps of specific sizes to accommodate differential expansion and contraction of metal and foam when exposed to changes of temperature and pressure during a dive.

Phil Santos


"I'm an engineer assistant. I started here October first last year, about the time the new frame for Alvin arrived. That's when the sub started getting assembled. Here, I was assisting engineer Rod Catanach, doing a lot of test fitting of components and equipment. I'm attaching a lift strap to move around a block of syntactic foam, which provides flotation for the sub. This block goes on the top of the frame on the starboard side, behind the personnel sphere. It surrounds the top half of the variable ballast spheres.

We had fit issues, because the frame was modified. It's not completely new, but portions of it are. If everything's new, it's a lot easier to build something. But if you're using old parts and new parts, it's a little tougher to get them to all match up.

We try to keep gaps between the foam and the sphere. You want to have something that's going to give a little, like the suspension in your car, between the body and the frame. Especially on a vehicle like this, where you have different parts made of different materials that contract and expand at different rates. You want the parts to have space for that expansion and contraction.

Some of the gaps are pathways for plumbing or electrical wires. You want to have some avenues for things to go through. The size of the gap varies depending on what you're going to be running through there.

The block forward of this one on the sub acts as the mount for the starboard vertical thruster that moves the sub up or down. That thruster has to be releasable. If anything was to get caught in it or they wanted to make the sub lighter to rise in the water, the pilot can actually release the thruster from inside the sub. So the other thing we were doing was fitting the thruster to the foam and then making sure it could fall away and clear everything when they wanted to jettison it.

There are many talented, brilliant people here. I'm learning a lot from these guys that have been doing it a long time, and from the new engineers as well. When you're working on Alvin up close like that, sometimes it's good to have someone standing back seeing the big picture and saying, 'Whoops, you just put the right shoe on the left foot.'

My training was in aircraft maintenance. There are many similarities to subs. You have weight and balance issues, metal fabricating, electronics, hydraulics, and pneumatics, things like that.

Years ago, back in '83-'84,1 was a volunteer at WHOI, as a safety diver. I did two cruises with scientists Larry Madin and Rich Harbison, scuba diving to do bluewater collections of plankton. I just love being under water. Any part of nature is good for me. Under sea is inner space, it's a whole different realm, and this place is like the NASA of inner space. I'm just happy to be a part of it.

Megan Carroll & Kaitlyn McCartney


Carroll: For the new Alvin, we reused previously existing syntactic foam, but we also needed new foam pieces shaped specifically for this upgrade. I worked on designing the pieces, and also worked with the machine shops that machined raw foam blocks into the final shapes for the new sub.

Once we had final designs for the shapes we needed, we sent drawings to a machine shop, which bonded raw blocks of syntactic foam together and machined them into final shapes.

McCartney: And then we finalized how to attach the foam to the sub's frame. That's when I got involved working with Megan, looking at the attachments and brackets.

Carroll: When a foam piece comes back from the manufacturers, we check its dimensions. Then you fit it onto where it's supposed to sit on the vehicle, make sure that there aren't any interferences and that the clearances you allowed for are there. That's called 'fitting it up' with the vehicle.

These particular blocks--one port and one starboard-are referred to as the "cheek blocks." We were making sure the opening of the foam over Alvins viewport was pretty well centered, and marking its final location. The cheek blocks fit around the sphere, with an inside curvature around the sphere and an outside curvature from top to bottom and fore to aft, so there are two different profiles to fine-machine.

McCartney: Every piece of foam had its weight taken--in air and 'wet,' or in water. We had to prove that the brackets would hold the foam on the vehicle by withstanding stresses caused when they transition from water to air. Every piece of bracketry and long tie rods that tie foam pieces together and to the frame, all had to be individually analyzed ...

Carroll: ... under various operational and emergency conditions.

McCartney: Say if the submarine was transiting along the bottom and unexpectedly impacted something--is that force enough to cause a bracket to fail and release a piece of foam?

Carroll: Because the foam is required for the vehicle to re-surface. We analyzed sixteen foam pieces, the brackets, the bolt sizes and materials, the shape of the brackets, and the hole locations--things like, 'What's the spacing between the hole and the edge of the material? Where might it fail?'

McCartney: You know, 'Will a force take that bolt and rip it through that piece?' Then we did another analysis for the forces various inserts could withstand before pulling out of the foam. We started the analysis in August and submitted it initially in December. It ended up just under 200 pages of calculations when printed.

Carroll: I've been here since fall 1999, and I got involved with the Alvin upgrade project probably the end of 2009.

McCartney: I've been at WHOI since the start of 2011 and was brought into the Alvin project at the end of 2011. I worked on a lot of designs and calculations. It was nice to see the vehicle coming together. It's cool to see it on the computer screen, eight inches big every day, and then go and see it in person, and it's like, 'Wow,'--because you lose the scale sometimes. I know I do. A

Weighing & Documenting

Don Peters


I got involved in managing the overall mechanical design of the new sub. I worked with [Alvin Operations Group leader] Barrie Walden on the initial structural scheme for the sub's frame and on interfacing it with the new sphere. Then we came up with an overall vehicle envelope--the shape and size of the syntactic flotation and getting everything to fit on the frame.

You have a lot of individual people working on things individually. Changes in one thing, you know, can throw a money wrench into the work of other things. So, it's important to have somebody who's kind of got the overall design in mind.

We developed what we called the VAP, or Vehicle Assembly Plan, talking with individual engineers and talking through the actual sequence of events: How do we put it all together? How do we put together the interior components of the sphere on the birdcage and test them, and then how do we move them into the actual sphere and test them there? We walked through all the sequences of putting the variable ballast system on the vehicle, putting the foam on the vehicle, etc.

Historically, the sub had been a known quantity. You took it apart during an overhaul and put it all back together, but it still weighed the same, and it still floated the same. This time, about two-thirds of the sub was new. With a bigger, heavier sphere, the sub balances differently. It changes the trim and the lift point. One of our bigger challenges was that we really didn't have a handle on weight and buoyancy of the whole new system.

There's a database of all the weights, volumes, and locations of all the components that go into the vehicle. You add all that stuff up, and you end up with a total vehicle weight and the location of the center of gravity, and where it should be picked up, how it's going to hang, how it'll float and balance, how much reserve buoyancy it's got, and many other factors. All that is ultimately proved by weighing the vehicle when it's all together, and putting it in the water, and seeing how it floats.

In this photo, I suspect we were weighing the vehicle. It's always a little bit of a nail-biter, 'cause you've put a lot of work into making sure it all fits and works. Verification of that effort makes for pretty stressful days.

Here, we were actually using a scale that was old and a little out of whack, and it wasn't giving us the number we expected. So Pat [Hickey, Alvin Expedition Leader] and I might have been a little more concerned than we wanted to be. Subsequently we got the scale recalibrated and re-weighed the vehicle, and we were within half a percent on the expected weight, which is a little more how you want it to be. You want to be down there in the sub-one percent kind of error-bar region.

Kakani Katija Young


In designing Alvin, the sub has to meet basic requirements to function and to ensure it'll come back when you put it in the water. It has to be buoyant in the water, not weigh too much, and to balance--not tip up, down, or to the side.

There are some 450 components that went into the new Alvin--many of them never used before. Based on the weight, buoyancy, and position in the sub of all the components, we can figure out the vehicle's buoyancy, center of gravity, and stability.

I came here as a postdoctoral investigator, studying the fluid dynamics of swimming jellyfish, but my undergraduate degree was in aerospace engineering. I had done systems engineering on spacecraft design projects, including the International Space Station, at NASA Ames Research Center. Loral O'Hara, an engineer on the Alvin project, is also an aerospace engineer and was aware of what I had done, and I was brought into the project to conduct weight and stability analyses for Alvin.

As the design progressed, engineers gave me information on the weight, volume, compressibility, and exact position of each part. Using these and engineering equations, I wrote algorithms--using a computer program called MATLAB--that informed us, at each stage in the design, what the sub looked like in terms of weight and buoyancy, and whether we needed to redesign or rearrange placements of items on the vehicle to meet weight and stability requirements. Another challenge was that, because seawater density and pressure increase with depth, the sub's buoyancy also changes with depth.

This is systems engineering. You're taking information from different subsystems, compiling it, and figuring out if the sub is stable in a variety of operating conditions. With the algorithm I developed, I predicted trim--how far you pitch forward or backward--and heel--how far you pitch to one side or another. And I calculated freeboard, the distance from the water line to the top of the sail. That's important, because the air intake is on the sail; if the intake is below the water line, you're in trouble.

In April, we weighed the vehicle. We predicted it to weigh 29,541 pounds, and the weight was 29,690--only 150 pounds different! A very small percent of the total, so we were pleased. Then we measured the free lift angle--how much it pitched up when you lift it--at 2.5 degrees. Based on the code, we had predicted 2.1 degrees--the measurement was really close! We were celebrating when that happened, because the code accurately predicted what we found. So we could trust the computer program and use it effectively to guide design and construction of Alvin, and for future vehicles.

These equations aren't new. They've been used for marine engineering, gosh, ever since we started designing boats. They're based on mass, weight, buoyancy, and a lot of geometry, calculating what happens to the center of gravity as you change the design.

You know, you always assume that physics and math work. But to have gone through this rather complicated stuff, using geometry and physics, and predict a number, and then to have it be extremely close, was almost a revelation. It affirms your faith in science and math. A

Jeff McDonald


"This list is my tracking mechanism for how we progressed through the assembly and the testing of every system on the submarine. There are probably over 1,000 line items on it that detail the receipt inspection, assembly, installation, and testing for every penetrator, window, piece of foam, parts of the frame, the ballast system, life-support system--every certified component on the vehicle.

If we went down to the floor and walked around the vehicle, you could actually point to any component on Alvin, and this list would let you know where it stood.

We compiled design packages for the Alvin upgrade and sent them to the Navy. They reviewed our designs, and they gave us comments--sometimes as few as seven, sometimes as many as a hundred, depending on the system. And we have to address every one of those.

Then the Navy comes in and does an on-site inspection to validate that the guys down on the floor in the Alvin high bay are building the vehicle in accordance with the approved drawings, and that they used the right parts and the right techniques.

The whole point of my job, the whole point of Navy certification, is to get the maximum reasonable assurance of safety for the three occupants and the vehicle. We certify the design, operation, and maintenance of the vehicle to ensure that safe operations for Alvin continue into the future.

I have a degree in ocean engineering from Virginia Tech. I started working for Woods Hole in 2007, sailed with the Alvin Group for three years, and then I came ashore in 2011. Before WHOI, I spent eight years as a Navy officer on submarines. So I have a Navy background, understanding the rules and intricacies of that world; and having operated as an Alvin tech and trained to be an Alvin pilot, I also have a unique understanding of that world.

Very rarely do I get the opportunity these days to go down to the assembly floor. It's unfortunate, because that's what I used to love to do. I used to get to turn the wrenches.

Now my job is to know all the designs of the submarine, pass all the engineering data back and forth, and coordinate with the Navy to ensure all their questions are answered. I can tell you every bolt and nut. I can tell you where all the metal for our hull was mined.

Building a submarine, it's all in the details.

Lisa Smith


"These are the Alvin records going back for decades. We have to keep every piece of correspondence with the Navy. The Navy certifies us--they have to give the OK on all certified items before we can dive.

Each binder is one system on the sub. So for instance, there's one for emergency batteries. Everything to do with them is in there--all of the documentation, all of the drawings, the schematics, the different revisions. We'll submit the original designs and any changes for each system, and the Navy may come back with comments asking for changes, so then we'll submit a revision. We have to track everything. All of this has to be kept forever, so that we have traceability on anything to do with the emergency batteries.

Sometimes our engineers get a new idea for how to do something. They create a drawing, they actually build that system, and then it's, 'You know, that didn't quite work out as we thought it would. Let's tweak it.' But in order to do that, you need to submit a revision to the Navy.

One thing that we have worked on for quite a while is a hazard analysis, which is basically looking at the vehicle and seeing where there's a potential for anything that could go wrong. Here's one, 'Submersible launched in excessive water depth.' That's a hazard, because Alvin is only certified to 4,500 meters. The form shows how we prevent it from happening.

We are working right now on the Alvin operations manual. It has already been through many revisions. This is the manual that tells you, step by step, what to do, every day you're out there. This has everything in it. We're actually required to keep this in the submarine.

I've been at WHOI and working with the Alvin Group since 2011. The whole time since I arrived, they were here, working on the upgrade. It's really different when they go to sea. Then I book their travel, submit timecards, basically take care of anything they aren't able to do while at sea. It's been great with them here onshore--to get to know them so well.

I'm just sad that they go out to sea again.

Alvin in Action

Phil Forte


"The life support system is all very similar to what was used on the old Alvin. We know that it works. It's very safe and reliable. It supplies oxygen and gets rid of C[O.sub.2]. You're in a sealed sphere, so obviously, you need to provide oxygen and scrub out exhaled C[O.sub.2]. The system also keeps the atmospheric pressure in the sphere the same as at sea level, so we don't need to decompress when we come to the surface.

All the life support has redundancy built into it. But what comes before the redundancy is the simplicity. The oxygen supply is totally manual. That was done specifically to avoid computer control. It's the pilot's responsibility to maintain the correct oxygen and C[O.sub.2] levels.

We used to have three big cylinders of oxygen. This time the American Bureau of Shipping required us to go to smaller bottles, so if one of them accidentally released, it wouldn't raise the oxygen level to a point where it would be a fire hazard. So now we have 12 small bottles. Each holds 22 cubic feet of pure oxygen, at 2215 psi. We can't use any run-of-the-mill oxygen; we have to use aviator grade. It's very close to breathing oxygen for medical use.

You generally use two bottles for a nine-hour dive, and there's a third one that's a spare, because we're required to have 150 percent for the dive. We're also required to have 72 hours of reserve life support, and that's why we have the other nine bottles. I think there was only one time when a dive ran long, and they had to use some of the reserve oxygen.

Over in the corner on the right is the C[O.sub.2] scrubber. It's a fan that constantly draws the air in the sphere through C[O.sub.2]-absorbent material. We carry three canisters of that material for a dive, and normally use one or two.

There are two monitors that measure the oxygen and C[O.sub.2] in the sub. The pilot checks them and all the other systems every half hour, and calls the surface. If you don't call them, they call you!

Behind my left arm is the emergency breathing apparatus, or EBA. There's one EBA mask for each occupant, and a spare. The EBA delivers oxygen and scrubs out C[O.sub.2]. Any time you have a question about the integrity of the air in the sphere, you put on the EBAs.

In my early 20s I took a scuba diving class and did a lot of diving on shipwrecks in Lake Superior. Then in 1986, every scuba diver who ever dived on a wreck knew about Alvin and the Titanic. That's what led me here to WHOI. By '97 I had an engineering degree, and I started here in '98.

Last year I got re-certified as an Alvin pilot during sea trials of the sub. I had several dives in it and the view out of the larger viewports is absolutely spectacular!

Bruce Strickrott & Susan Humphris


Humphris: The diameter of the new sphere is 6.5 feet, rather than 6 feet, which provides 18 percent more interior space. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it makes a big difference.

Strickrott: I couldn't stand up straight in the old Alvin when the hatch was shut.

Humphris: There's more space for seating. In the old Alvin, we sat on the floor, except for the pilot, who sat on a metal box.

But now I'm sitting on a curved bench with foam padding.

This is quite comfortable, and it allows observers many more positions. They can sit with their legs into the sphere and look either through a side viewport or through one of the two new forward-looking viewports. Or they can lie down and look out a forward-looking viewport. Before, there was only one forward-looking viewport, for the pilot.

The additional forward viewports allow pilots and observers to see the same thing at the same time. Imagine in the past, me looking through a viewport on the side, and the pilot looking forward, and neither of us could see what each other was seeing. There's none of this, 'Could you turn the sub around so I can see something again?' or 'Could you let me crawl in your seat and show you what I want to sample?'

I spent part of my first dive in the new Alvin looking out the side viewports to try to remember what it used to be like in the old sub. I couldn't believe I've done so many other dives just peering out the side viewports and not being able to see out the front of the vehicle, not being able to see what the pilot sees. It's going to change the whole way we're going to use the vehicle.

Strickrott: The new forward viewport windows are 7 inches wide. The old one was 5 inches wide. You couldn't share a window before, because they were too small. Now I can even look over and see out of Susan's viewport, without actually having to cram my face into her window, so we can see things together.

We paid a lot of attention to ergonomics. It was a collaborative effort. We brought in scientists to sit in the sphere and tell us what they thought. The pilots expressed their concerns and recommended what could be done better.

Humphris: You've got three bodies, three heads, six shoulders at the forward part of the sub for up to eight hours. You can imagine that could get a bit too cozy. But the seating arrangement has made it comfortable for three people to work together easily. It's really a team effort down here to get all the observations and work you want done.

Strickrott: All the thought that went into the layout is paying off. There's now a reasonable amount of room so folks can move around a little. Things are not right up in your face but are still within easy reach. We even got a real seat to replace our old metal box.

Bruce Strickrott


"One of the coolest things to do is to show Alvin to kids and watch their reactions. It's almost always, 'Wow!' When I was a kid, I definitely was dreaming about playing with things like Alvin. Next thing I knew, I was in it.

I joined the Navy when I was 20. Mostly I was an electronic technician and operator. I learned a lot about diagnosing problems and fixing things and learned a lot about life at sea and long work hours with early starts.

After a six-year hitch, I went back to college for a degree in ocean engineering. I was looking for a job and found an ad online seeking Alvin pilots. When I went to Woods Hole for the interview, I saw the research vessel Atlantis II. Then I saw Alvin. And at that moment I said, 'Man, I want this job.' I've been a pilot since 1996 with more than 300 dives. Now I am Alvin Group manager, with this brand-new sub.

The new Alvin has a lot of new features. For example, the old Alvin had only one forward-looking viewport--for the pilot. You can see that in the upgraded Alvin, we added two new forward-looking viewports. But that meant we had to do something about the sub's two manipulator arms--because they would be directly in front of those two new viewports. There's no sense in having windows there if you're going to be staring at a manipulator the whole time.

So we put a little more swing in the arms. Their bases, instead of being fixed, can rotate. We gave them more flexibility at their shoulder joints, so they could swing farther out and get out of the way. A byproduct of that redesign is that we've extended the arms' reach forward from 93 to 118 inches and expanded their coverage area from about a 100-degree to a 140-degree arc.

We also made the sub's payload basket bigger and sturdier. That's the basket in front that holds scientists' instruments that we bring down and the samples of rocks, or sediment cores, or organisms that we bring up from the bottom of sea. The basket used to be three by four feet. Now it's four by four.

On top, we added a lateral thruster, which allows the sub to move way more nimbly going sideways. Before, we had to do sort of a K-turn: back up a little, turn a little, then scootch forward a little, again and again. The first time [Alvin pilot] Bob Waters and I used that new thruster, we had big grins on our faces.

We had conversations about all these upgrades for years, but everything was conceptual. We dreamed about having them in Alvin. Now that they are all here, it's awesome. It's a great machine.

Chris German


Since the new Alvin would be equipped with fiber-optic cables, we wanted to take advantage of that expanded bandwidth and upgrade our imaging systems. When I started on the project in 2006, the 'big new thing' was high-definition video, which we thought would be great, allowing us to shoot video and also collect two-megapixel still images from the same camera. But by 2010, two-megapixel still images were old hat. The latest 'big new thing' becoming available were underwater digital SLR cameras that could take ten-megapixel still images and also shoot HD video. We chose that option for the new Alvin.

We still had to put the cameras into housings that could withstand deep-sea pressure to pass the stringent safety requirements for use with Alvin. The optimal housing would use a clear glass 'dome' end-cap for optimal clarity and light transmission. But a higher priority was to guarantee that the housing will not implode, endangering the sub.

Glass presents a problem because, as a randomly ordered, fine-grained material, its properties are not easily quantifiable. Our next-best options were an acrylic that could be machined into a hemisphere, but lacked the clarity of glass; or sapphire, a mineral with hardness close to diamond and excellent optical characteristics, but which was only available as a flat plate, not a dome. It was a tradeoff, and we decided to go with the sapphire window option. It would provide good optical clarity, with just a little distortion in the outer regions of each image, which we could accommodate.

The new sub has five high-def cameras--one above each observer's forward viewport to record exactly what they can see; two cameras higher up on Alvins brow that provide a better overview of the seafloor 'landscape'; and the new hybrid digital SLR/HDTV camera, initially mounted to point downward beneath Alvins basket to collect photos of the seafloor we pass over, which can be merged into photomosaics.

We also added a host of low-power LED lightpacks that can be directed to match each camera's field of view and don't put a huge drain on Alvins battery capacities. We were keen to see how the cameras and lights would work together at the seafloor when we finally dove in the new Alvin and were thrilled right off the bat. The imagery was immediately better than before, but we wanted to coax the very best out of the systems.

For subsequent dives, we added extra lights on each side of the sub beneath the viewports, but the piece de resistance was adding a light on one manipulator arm. After dark, we turned on all the sub's lights to see exactly where the pools of light were landing. I ended up dancing around on the deck, sticking my foot wherever I though a future observer might see a starfish or vent or whatever--just to make sure that same area would get lit up brightly on all future dives.

Eventually, we will try putting the SLR camera on Alvins arm, to get exquisite still images and video closeups, which Alvin has never had before. For that, we have to work on a breakaway for the fiber-optic cable connecting the camera to the sub, in case we ever had to jettison that arm in an emergency, to ensure that one cable couldn't cause a safety hazard. That's coming. ?

Jonathan Howland


It was completely possible to dive in the old submarine and never turn a computer on. Everything could be controlled by the pilots with analog controls and simple mechanical switches, including the driving.

Most of the work I've done at the Deep Submergence Lab at WHOI over the past 24 years has been on Jason, Nereus, and other remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs. For those, there's nobody down there to flip a switch. Commands are relayed from the surface via fiber-optic cables. When the idea of WHOI doing the new submarine came up, they came to some of us at DSL and said, 'We'd like you to offer Alvin pilots the same kind of automation you have provided for ROVs.'

Louis Whitcomb, a colleague at DSL and The Johns Hopkins University, had already added the capability to navigate the old submarine using a program called DVLNav and a sensor called a Doppler Velocity Log, or DVL. It measures the Doppler frequency shifts of sound transmitted and reflected off the seafloor to automatically calculate the sub's speed.

We wrote some new software that integrates DVL information with data from all the other sensors on the sub--for example, the gyroscope that tells what direction the sub's pointed in, pressure-based depth sensors, and altitude sensors that tell how far above the seafloor the sub is. The software integrates all this information and continually calculates the sub's position.

It distributes the information to the pilots in real time and also makes it possible to automatically control the sub's thrusters.

That allowed us to add a variety of automatic functions similar to those we had been using on the ROVs. So a pilot, for instance, can dial in that he wants the sub to maintain its position over a certain spot to collect a sample, even in a strong current. Or head the sub in a particular direction, or go to a certain altitude above the seafloor. The pilot can say, 'I want to spin on one spot' and command the sub computers to make it happen.

All of these maneuvers require an awful lot of concentration on the part of the pilot to do without computer assistance. If you let the computer do it, it takes a lot of workload off the pilot. That's completely new on the submarine.

We also added computing systems in Alvin that do what we call 'housekeeping' functions. These continuously monitor the sub's electrical systems and check for ground faults or leaks, and turn things on and off.

Of course, the pilots also have a regular system of checks that they do to make sure things are functioning well. That's a key difference between an ROV and an HOV, a human-occupied vehicle. We've added automation, but without jeopardizing human safety. Even though we have software and computers, there are still mechanical switches that the pilot can flip and know unambiguously that things are either on or off. He can still drive the submarine and return to the surface with no computing whatsoever. You can turn off all the computers, and you can still get home.

Adapting Atlantis

Dutch Wegman


That big old rope you see there is the lift line for Alvin. The line is 86 feet long, with a three-foot eye, or loop, on one end.

It goes around the 'T' on the submarine. It's a big T-shaped piece of titanium that stands up vertically on the submarine. The rope comes down and the swimmers lay that loop around the T. Then the winch on the A-frame on the ship's stern lifts the submarine up. A metal latch hooks onto the T and then the A-frame travels the arc from over the water to over the ship and lowers the submarine down and sets it onto the cradle on deck.

The lift line is the dividing point between responsibilities of the Alvin Group and the Port Office. Below that is the submarine, and above that is our responsibility.

We and the Alvin Group were both doing our own thing-- they're making the sub and we're picking it up--but we had to work together.

I ran into [Alvin senior engineer] Don Peters in town one day and another guy there said, 'You two know each other?' and I said, 'I'm desperately trying to fix a piece of equipment to pick up his sub.' And Don said, 'I'm desperately trying to finish a sub to go onto his A-frame!'

Upgrading the lift line was a long process. We had it made by Samson Rope. This is five-inch diameter line, made of polyester. It weighs 788 pounds for every 100 feet. It's the largest rope they make.

It has these intersecting braids all the way through it--braid inside of braid inside of braid. It's wonderfully soft. You can

take this and pick it up and push it--you see how it's expanded right there? It's like one of those Chinese finger things. So it's actually very nice and soft and sweet to work with.

It's very, very strong for its size. The Navy requires a seven-to-one safety factor in lift lines for manned lifts. That means it has to be able to hold seven times the weight of the sub, or about 350,000 pounds.

We have no way of testing this line, so we ordered one very long piece, which Samson cut up into three sections. Two were like this one, and the final section was forty-some feet long with an eye on each end. They sent that one out to another company that break-tested it and got us the ultimate strength of the line. It went up to 651,000 pounds before it broke.

The blue structure behind me is one of the uprights of the A-frame, the part that is bolted to the deck. That round piece at the far left is the pin assembly that the whole A-frame pivots on.

The ladder steps go all the way up to the top of the A-frame. There's weekly maintenance that you have to climb up there and do--greasing and check on the brakes and that type of thing.

I came to WHOI in 1976 and to the Port Office in 1989. 1 started out as third engineer on the research vessel Knorr, and finally got to be chief engineer on Oceanus. I was on the Atlantis when the original A-frame got delivered in 1983. This huge barge was backing up to us and I remember thinking, 'What is that thing? That's not going to fit on here!'

Al Suchy


"Behind me, at the stern of the Atlantis, is the Alvin Launch and Recovery System, or LARS. We call it the A-frame. The original thinking by some was that nothing would have to be done to the LARS with the new submarine. And if there was, it was going to be very, very minor. But it turned out to be a significant project for a number of reasons.

The original A-frame was rated to 40,000 pounds and the old Alvin weighed approximately 36,000 pounds. We didn't know at the start how heavy the new Alvin was going to be. It's not a fair question to ask the Alvin project team for a final exact weight before their design and manufacturing process is complete. But how do you modify the ship to take on something that hasn't been built yet or even finally designed yet?

So we said, 'there are various levels--45-, 50-, 55-, 60,000 pounds--we could design the LARS to. We can reasonably go to 50,000 pounds. Can you build a submarine that is within 50,000 pounds?' And they said yes. And they did. If we had waited to know what the final weight was, we would have just started in May 2013.

The upgrade involved new safety and performance requirements that had not been imposed when the system was built back in 1983. It is likely that even if the new sub came in under 40,000 pounds, we were still going to have to do some modifications because of new certification requirements. These mainly had to do with accelerations of the load. Moving the A-frame in a confused seaway, where now you get a wave, now you pitch, then you roll, and the ship shakes, and you're trying to handle the submarine in this dynamic environment--that kind of 'shock-loading' was a big concern.

The A-frame part of the system was overhauled in early 2011 at BAE Shipyard in Florida. We beefed up the structure at the lower part of the A-frame--thicker steel plate sections, with more reinforcements--and we put in new cylinders that move the A-frame out over the water. In late 2011 the swinging beam was sent to Caley Ocean Systems in Scotland for upgrade. We got this gargantuan lift winch, which is much larger than the previous one, installed along with many other changes. It did not return until mid-2012.

The pipes along the outside of the A-frame carry hydraulic fluid. We upgraded the main hydraulic power unit, which is down a deck below this. Two huge electric motors drive two pumps that provide the hydraulic flow to move all the components within the system.

The sheer size and complexity of this system increase the cost of operating Atlantis. There is no comparison to the Alvin LARS within the entire U.S. research fleet.

My normal responsibilities are all things pertaining to all WHOI ships--crewing, budgets, ensuring that we're doing everything safely and affordably. So to get the A-frame upgrade and certification all done, too, it was pretty much working sixteen- to eighteen-hour days, week after week after week.

I came to this job at WHOI in March of 2003. I had been in the Coast Guard for 26 years and at Intel Corporation for three years prior to that. It's been an interesting 10 years, that's for sure. A.

Patrick Hennessy


What we've got going on in this photograph is that we're testing the A-frame on the research vessel Atlantis after the A-frame's reassembly. The physical structure and the hydraulics have been upgraded to lift the upgraded, heavier Alvin. We're trying to simulate the weight of the submarine and test the integrity of the A-frame and all its functions.

We're using weights and a spreader bar [the yellow tube]. Actually, the spreader bar is called the yellow submarine.' It's an engineered piece of steel where we can apply weights at various areas and try to balance the distribution of the load longitudinally, as if it was the submarine.

I'm down the lower lefthand corner. I'm the eyes. I'm just watching everything, to make sure all these functions work.

I'm talking with Chief Engineer Christopher Morgan up in the doghouse [the windows above and behind the yellow submarine], That's where the operator is for the A-frame during launch and recovery.

We're testing the main lift line and we're testing the hook. On launch and recovery, when the A-frame goes in and out, the hook gets inserted into a "T" on the submarine, and that actually holds the weight.

We're also looking at the strain on the A-frame. Over to the right [out of view] there's a gentleman and a rack of computers, and along the starboard leg of the A-frame are all these sensors called strain gauges. What they're measuring is the strain on the A-frame as the weight was exercised on it.

The ship was in drydock at Detyens Shipyard in Charleston, South Carolina, for cleaning and painting, and to complete the rebuild of the A-frame. At the shipyard, they test a lot of different crane systems, so they have all these various certified weights, so when you say, 'We need this amount of weight,' they can get all these together and you get the weight you want.

In this photo there's about 46,000 pounds. We estimated that the new Alvin was going to be approximately 46-47,000 pounds. We started from zero weight so we could see the strain the A-frame went under when there's no weight on it, just going back and forth. Then we slowly added weights in 25,000-pound increments, until we were up to 100,000 pounds. That's about double the weight of the submarine, so what you're doing is building in a factor of safety. The testing went on for at least five days.

I went to school for chemistry and I have a lot of physics, and that helps me in my job. Working at sea, there's a lot of dynamics involved, especially working instruments over the side, doing moorings, doing submarine work, launching boats. I've been working for WHOI going on 20 years now. I started working on the Eagle Mar, and I slowly worked my way up, what they call 'through the hawsepipe.'

I was born and raised in this town, and I'm very proud to be working for WHOI and to be involved with this project. I'd like to see it be very successful.


The massive A-frame on the research vessel Atlantis hoists the 20-ton Alvin from its cradle on deck and swings it over the stern, where it will be lowered into the ocean to begin a dive.
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Title Annotation:The People
Author:Lippsett, Lonny; Madin, Kate; Winner, Cherie
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2014
Previous Article:Getting 'the ball' rolling: Alvin's new personnel sphere (A.K.A. 'The Ball') is one-of-a-kind.
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