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FLIP Ship: An Unusual Research Vessel

written by: Raunekk • edited by: KennethSleight • updated: 6/8/2009

Can a ship perform a somersault when at sea? No, we are not talking about a recreational mode of entertainment but an unusual oceanographic instrument that converts into a buoy by Flipping Itself in the middle of the sea! Yes, you heard it right! It FLIPS!

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    About a Research Ship: What is FLIP?

    In our previous articles we have seen many different types of ships and now we will study about what is called the FLIP ship. FLIP stands for Floating Instrument Platform, a research ship used by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography to perform various research and scientific studies in the ocean. Manufactured by the Gunderson Brothers Engineering, FLIP was initially used by the US Navy to capture unknown sound waves in the sea. But looking at its precise efficiency and amazing stability it was later decided to use it as a full fledged conventional research vessel.It is the only ship in the world that can flip from horizontal to vertical position when at sea.

    Technically speaking, FLIP is not a ship because it doesn't have a propulsion system of its own. It is a research vessel that can be towed to the desired location where it flips itself to get converted into a buoy that performs functions such as measuring wave heights, water density, temperature, acoustic waves and signals and also meteorological informations.

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    Construction and Design

    FLIP is a 108 meter long ship that resembles a baseball bat. One end of the vessel comprises of the living and working areas and the rest of the part accommodates special ballast tanks. These tanks covers almost 300 feet of the entire vessel. One of the most salient features of the vessel is its stability. This huge vessel perfectly aligns itself in a horizontal position, unaffected by the waves. This is quite amazing keeping the fact in mind that the vessel doesn't have any kind of propulsion system.

    In order to get that extra buoyancy for the structure above the waterline, special air tanks are provided below the accommodation and working station. But how does the crew and instruments inside the working space survive the flip? The design of the vessel is so done that all the instruments can be made usable even after the vessel flips.

    Almost all the furniture and instruments are bolted to the bulkhead so that when the vessels flips, they automatically come it the usable position. Things such as tables, beds, stoves etc are built on swivels so that they can be turned when the structure moves. But the things that cannot be rotated easily, e.g doors, sinks, showers etc, are made in pairs,i.e one on the bulkhead and one on the floor.

    Power is provided on the platform with the help of two 150 Kw generators and one 40 Kw emergency generator. It is also equipped with the various navigational equipments, including radars and GPS systems.

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    How Does It Flip?

    When at the desired location, 700 tons of sea water in pumped into the ballast tanks, which submerges the 300 feet long part of the vessel into the sea. The whole process takes around 28 minutes to convert the horizontal vessel into a vertical buoy. The structure when in vertical position, stands almost equal in height to that of a five-storey building.

    The ballasting process is done by opening the flooding doors and allowing the ballast tanks to flood automatically. All these doors are hydraulically operated and are controlled and monitored from the control room. For the deballasting process, upto 3000 cu ft. of compressed air, stored at 250 psi is forced into the ballast tanks, which pushes the water out through the flood openings.

    To increase the stability, 3 anchors weighing a total of 9 tons are suspended with the help of chains and nylon lines on all the sides of the vessel. In addition to that, small hydraulically operated thrusters are also provided in order to maintain an optimum heading.

    The stability quotient of FLIP is so high that even a 30 ft wave causes only 3 ft of vertical movement in the vessel. Flip can withststand waves as high as 80 ft without any difficulties.

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    Image credits

    Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego

    http://www.ship-technology.com