FLIP, the surprising marine research platform capable of “standing up” in the middle of the ocean

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Seen from afar, or even up close, FLIP looks like a ship sinking. No need to use imagination. Not putting in much effort either. This is probably how most people who don’t know what it is, how it is designed, or what the mission of this structure consists of would actually describe it: like a ship that has hit an iceberg and started to sink.

And yet FLIP has little to do with the remains of a shipwreck. Because it is not even a typical boat. Rather, it is a research platform. A peculiar one, of course, designed to go from the horizontal position that it uses during its movements to another vertical one, which it adopts during its scientific work and makes it such a surprising structure.

In its FLIP form, it is able to “stand up” in the ocean.

As? And above all, for what? To answer both questions, we must review the history and true objective of this peculiar platform designed to scrutinize oceanic secrets.

With 84% of its “length” submerged

FLIP, a curious name, but which actually stands for Floating Instrument Platform , is not a boat, but a structure of about 108 meters designed for research. Its peculiar design was actually drawn from the Scripps Marine Physics Laboratory and the structure is operated by Scripps Oceanography for the US Navy. Nor is it any groundbreaking or futuristic innovation. It was built in 1962 to provide valuable information in underwater warfare.

To move, FLIP needs to be towed out to sea in a horizontal position, like a conventional platform. Once it reaches its destination, at the point chosen for its investigations, it performs its most spectacular maneuver : it “turns up” 90 degrees so that most of its length, about 91 meters, ends up submerged under water. In these cases , only 17 meters appear above the sea , which includes, among other resources, cranes to handle scientific instruments.

Such an operation is completed thanks to a ballast system with water and pressurized air that allows it to change position and become a “mast buoy”, a peculiar, spiked structure that is more reminiscent of a capsizing ship than a scientific base. but which nevertheless offers two valuable advantages: stability and resistance to waves. According to UC San Diego , its mechanism allows it to go from the horizontal to the vertical position in just under half an hour.

The big question at this point is: Why? Why do you need to stand upright? The key is in the measurements it can make in this way, a peculiar pose that allows it to collect data on long-range sound propagation and valuable measurements in fields such as geophysics, meteorology or physical oceanography. For this purpose, it is equipped with special instruments, with a wide range of sensors and equipment, such as sonars.

His research team is made up of about 11 people and a crew of five. It is estimated that FLIP can undertake research operations of up to 30 days without resupply.

As Marine Insight explains, its horizontal position allows you to take accurate readings that would be more difficult in a horizontal position. To facilitate work on board, its creators designed it taking into account its change in position. The cabins, for example, have two doors designed for turning: one facilitates vertical movements and the other horizontally.

One of the objectives with which it was developed – explained from UC San Diego – was to provide a stable platform to measure sound wave fluctuations for the SUBROC (SubMarine ROCket) program of the US Navy. At first, the technicians opted for submarines, but they proved not to be an ideal option, so they opted for something different: “a manned buoy”, a design that would allow the tanks to be flooded using valves.

Not long after, in July 1962 , FLIP was already being tested in the Dabob Bay area of ​​Washington state, and a couple of months later it left for San Diego. Over the decades it has been towed to different parts of the Pacific and Atlantic to carry out research in fields as diverse as oceanography, meteorology, geophysics or biology.

Throughout the 90s and during the early 2000s it has undergone maintenance and updating work. On its website, UC Ssan Diego explains that it went through dry dock in 2013 and in the middle of that same year it took part in the 381st turn of its research career to celebrate its half-century of history. At least in 2015 he continued to surprise with his physiognomy.

And eliciting compliments of admiration for its ability to “incorporate” into the ocean.

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