COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (April 2, 1996) -- Tennessee Technological University's submarine team is at it again.
The student submariners arrive in San Diego, Calif., late Tuesday (April 2) for the World Submarine Invitational (WSI), a six-day event already underway in an offshore model basin in Escondido. By Wednesday afternoon, the students will have their 12-foot sub, Torpedo III, in the water in competition. They will compete again Thursday morning, the final day of the event.
This is the first year Tennessee Tech has taken part in the invitational, or WSI for short. Unlike the East Coast-based International Submarine Races, which judge subs on speed, innovation and design, the only measure that matters at the WSI is speed.
In December, Tennessee Tech's team won the "Best Absolute Speed" prize and first place for fastest speed by a two-person, propeller-driven sub (academic class) at the International Submarine Races, but the students left knowing the real challenge awaited them at the WSI.
The event underway in California holds greater stakes for several reasons. All speeds are being established under the watchful eyes of Guinness Book of World Records officials, and last year's WSI resulted in a new world speed record. That record was set by Tennessee Tech's long-time rival, Florida Atlantic University, which skipped December's sub races in favor of this year's WSI, meaning FAU is primed to give Tennessee Tech a run for the money. The WSI also features a larger field than the students encountered in December, meaning a greater number of challengers for top speed.
But the biggest challenge came Saturday, when "SubStandard," a small quicksilver sub designed and raced by two brothers from Northridge, Calif., achieved a speed that took everyone's breath away. Since the sub races began, competitors have been inching toward a "6-knot barrier." Most racers expected to see that barrier shattered at this year's WSI, with record speeds set in the low 6-knot range. On the first day of the WSI, SubStandard achieved a blistering 6.4 knots in a one-person run; 6.7 knots in a two-person run.
That left Tennessee Tech's students and many other competitors scrambling to reassess their capabilities. Carbon fiber blades molded by the students especially for the WSI were optimized for performance at 6.2 knots. With news of the 6.7 knot speed arriving over the weekend and their scheduled competition today, the students had no time to construct new blades. But they did have access to computers, and using computer simulations, they determined their blades can achieve high 6-knot speeds ... with one big if: If the student whose legs and lungs power the sub -- propulser John Gore -- can sustain an output of between .75 and 1 horsepower for 15 seconds. A powerful Category II cyclist on land, Gore will face his ultimate challenge under water, clad in a wetsuit and dependent upon scuba gear for the oxygen he needs to perform at optimal levels.
Since January, Tennessee Tech students have honed design and performance aspects of the submarine with particular attention to the support and air supply Gore needs to excel. At the event today and tomorrow, Gore will provide the power as Tennessee Tech's team competes in both one- and two-person categories. The students know they will set speeds above 6 knots, but how far above remains to be seen.
Twenty-three experimental human-powered submarine teams from across North America, largely from colleges and universities, are participating in the event. The WSI aims to inspire innovation in ocean engineering and technology in an event that features challenge, fun and education. This year's event is sponsored by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography of the University of California, San Diego and sanctioned by both Guinness and the International Human Powered Vehicle Association.
ON THE WEB
Readers can explore more about the WSI and human-powered submarines through two sites on the World Wide Web. Tennessee Tech's sub team maintains a wide range of information, images and even Quicktime and MPEG movies. Scripps Institution is providing regular event updates at the WSI site. Watch for updates.
You can also catch up on the sub team's performance at the International Submarine Races, held in December 1995, by exploring some of our earlier press releases.