FLIP, the US Navy ship capable of getting into a perpendicular position on the high seas

For nearly six decades, a ship like no other has been sailing and conducting research in the Pacific. Is about FLIP, acronym in English FLoating Instrument Platform or Floating Instrument Platform, a name that is also a nod to what distinguished it from any other vessel. FLIP was a ship capable of both navigating normally, in a horizontal position, and operate in a perpendicular position in the sea and with most of its 108 meter length submerged.

FLIP, although it sailed, was not so much a ship as a floating ocean research platform that operated between 1962 and 2021 and was dismantled in 2023. It lacked engines to propel itself and was designed to be towed at sea in a horizontal positionlike any ship, and once it reached its destination It was partially flooded and turned 90 degrees. The operation, which was carried out with the crew and scientists on board, lasted a few 20 minutes.

Property of the Office of Naval Researcha branch of technological research and development under the United States Navyand operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, this floating structure was conceived to contribute to underwater research as part of the SUBROC submarine program. Initially, submarines and ships were used for these tasks, but stability problems caused by wave action caused errors and inaccuracies in the data they collected.

FLIP being towed in its horizontal position. Office of Naval Research.

The researchers of Scripps Marine Physics Laboratory They looked for an alternative under two fundamental premises: it had to reach the maximum possible depth for data collection and offer a minimum level of disturbance caused by waves, currents and tides. This is how FLIP was born, as a combination of boat and SPAR structure. This is a type of floating structure used in the oil and gas industry for offshore extraction and offers great stability.

FLIP had shape similar to a spoonwith just the bow, of something more than 15 meterswith the traditional shape of a boat while the rest was a tubular structure of about 93 meters that was submerged when it turned over. The interior of the FLIP also had an equally particular design. Each room had two doors to be able to enter and exit in both the horizontal and vertical positions, the instruments They were located so that they could be operated in the latter position and had sinks in both orientations.

FLIP rotating its axis 90 degrees to become vertical.
FLIP rotating its axis 90 degrees to become vertical. Office of Naval Research.

To carry out the turning, he filled his tanks with 700 tons of water which was then expelled by pumping air through compressors located in the bow and thus regaining horizontality.

Its first flip was carried out on July 23, 1962 in a fjord in Washington state. After demonstrating her performance in a series of tests, she was towed to San Diego to begin operations in September 1962. The platform It spent much of its service life in the Pacific, although it also had a deployment in the Atlantic.

FLIP test performed on August 7, 1962.
FLIP test carried out on August 7, 1962.National Museum of the US Navy.

FLIP was used for almost 60 years to collect observations and data on oceanic and atmospheric phenomena. One of his specialties was acoustic research and helped discover many of the ways that sound waves are influenced by variations in the ocean, such as changes in temperature or salinity. It also helped scientists learn about the depth to which whales dive and the properties of the Earth’s crust and conduct studies on waves, ocean water chemistry, temperatures and pressures, underwater topology, bathymetric studies, underwater magnetometry and electrostatics, and meteorological.

FLIP fell victim to cuts of government spending in the wake of the pandemic and the resulting global economic downturn in 2021. ‘It would cost about $8 million to make FLIP usable for another five to ten years, but those funds could be better used elsewhere. We came up with a lot of creative ideas, but there wasn’t enough inertia or financing to keep it going‘, he pointed Rob Sparrocka program officer with the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, in 2021 to Sea Power Magazine.

FLIP.Office of Naval Research.

When the FLIP made its last trip in 2023 to be dismantled, Margaret Leinendirector of Oceanography at Scripps, stated that ‘It was an engineering marvel. built during a major phase of new technology for ocean exploration after World War II. FLIP’s many discoveries helped to lay the foundation for ongoing cutting-edge science to understand our ocean‘.