RP FLIP, the Strangest Ship in the World
Amusing Planet Kaushik Saturday, May 19, 2012
The U.S. Office of Naval Research owns a very strange piece of oceanographic equipment. It’s called the FLoating Instrument Platform (FLIP), conceived and developed by the Marine Physical Laboratory (MPL) at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California. FLIP isn't a ship, even though researchers live and work on it for weeks at a time while they conduct scientific studies in the open ocean. It is actually a huge specialized buoy. The most unusual thing about this ship is it really flips.
FLIP is 355 feet (108 meters) long with small quarters at the front and a long hollow ballast at the end. When the tanks are filled with air, FLIP floats in its horizontal position. But when they are filled with seawater the lower 300 feet of FLIP sinks under the water and the lighter end rises. When flipped, most of the buoyancy for the platform is provided by water at depths below the influence of surface waves, hence FLIP is a stable platform mostly immune to wave action. At the end of a mission, compressed air is pumped into the ballast tanks in the flooded section and the vessel returns to its horizontal position so it can be towed to a new location.
FLIP is designed to study wave height, acoustic signals, water temperature and density, and for the collection of meteorological data. Because of the potential interference with the acoustic instruments, FLIP has no engines or other means of propulsion. It must be towed to open water, where it drifts freely or is anchored. In tow, FLIP can reach speeds of 7–10 knots.
FLIP is 700 gross tons. It carries a crew of five, plus up to eleven scientists. It is capable of operating independently during month-long missions without resupply. It can be operated around the world, although the normal area is off the west coast of the United States. The ship has specially designed interiors. Some fixtures, such as the toilet seats, can flip 90°. The lights are on the ceiling and also on a wall that becomes the ceiling after the flip. Also, the shower heads are curved 90°. The vessel operates out of a home base at Scripps' Nimitz Marine Facility in San Diego, California.