RP FLIP: An Ocean Research Platform That Looks Like A Sinking Ship

Appearances are deceptive.

rp flip ocean research platform
Image: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Even today, we don’t know enough about what lies in the bottomless depths of Earth’s vast oceans. The underwater world is a territory more than 80% of which is still unexplored and hence intrigues many people. This curiosity has often led to marine engineers developing unique water transport to better navigate and explore the blue frontier. One such incredible engineering marvel is the RP FLIP.

Think about a mobile ocean research platform that can be set up on any strategically important point in the ocean. That’s pretty much what the RP FLIP is all about. The FLoating Instrument Platform (FLIP) can seamlessly switch from a horizontal position to a vertical position and transition into an ocean research base anywhere. As a matter of fact, sailors often mistake the platform for a sinking ship.

While the idea of a research outpost that flips into position is tantalizing, it’s much better to see it on video. Here’s a clip of the RP FLIP securing its spot in the ocean.

RP FLIP origins and purpose

In mid-1962, the FLIP came into existence as part of a U.S. Navy program to study undersea sound waves. It was developed by Fred Fisher and Fred Spiess of U.S.-based Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The structure features a baseball bat-like shape and is apparently engineered after the spar buoys found floating in the waters.

At present, the Office of Naval Research owns the FLIP and uses it for various oceanic research purposes. From physical oceanography to ocean acoustics, it is a suitable platform for carrying out various military and scientific projects. Being such an important asset comes at the cost of $US 600,000.

How does the FLIP work?

While the FLIP is as ingenious as described above, it can’t work without a towing ship. Due to the lack of propellers, the 355-feet structure needs to be towed, while horizontal, to the destination.

flip at dusk
Image: scripps.ucsd.edu

Once it reaches the spot, the crew begins the flipping procedure that takes half an hour. During this, the ballast tanks on the FLIP start trapping water, which results in the structure going from horizontal to vertical. By the time the process finishes, 300 feet of the structure is under the water. It reverts to the original position by using compressed air to push out the previously stored water from the ballast tanks.

What happens to the crew onboard when the FLIP flips?

Although the idea of being inside the FLIP during the flipping process might seem scary, the crew endures it rather conveniently. Each member of the FLIP’s crew has a lifeguard jacket that helps them stay afloat as the structure changes position. Since the ballast tank fills at a slow pace, the effect of the positional change is not that noticeable until the final few minutes.

As soon as the platform is upright, the crew can start making the most of the FLIP’s lab, command area, bunks, etc. Interestingly, almost everything inside the FLIP, such as the doors and even the showerhead, is fixed in a way that allows them to be used in both horizontal and vertical orientations.

Do you find the RP FLIP’s flipping technique amazing? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Speaking of amazing, here are some underwater repair tools that share this quality.

Priye Rai

Priye Rai

Priye is a tech writer who writes about anything remotely related to tech, including gaming, smartphones, social media, etc. He prefers to be called a "video game journalist" and grimaces when he doesn't get to be "Player 1." If you want to share feedback or talk about games, reach out to @priyeakapj on Twitter.
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