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Meet the Team: University of Washington

By Benjamin McKnight III, NSWCCD Public Affairs | July 1, 2019

Everyone loves a good underdog story and the University of Washington’s Human-Powered Submarine Team is no different. Although the Huskies are a familiar name to the International Human-Powered Submarine Races as participants since the very first race, it was almost a no-brainer that the team name their submarine The Underdawg as they geared up for this year’s competition.

“We were soliciting suggestions from people, and then we voted as a group. People liked The Underdawg for a number of reasons,” said Ahrif McKee, Washington’s drive-train lead.

At the last ISR in 2017, Washington placed second in the innovation category for using a wooden hull in collaboration with the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock, Washington, and first in the two-person submarine category. While those two achievements are impressive, the team knew that they could accomplish greater in their return to Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, even if it meant a little more work on their end.

“This year’s sub is a one-person submarine, because with the two-person sub, although theoretically you can go faster because you have twice as much manpower, it’s twice as complicated,” said Lucas Campbell, a member of Washington’s controls team. The Huskies also chose to leave the wooden hull concept in 2017, citing a desire to bring the hull construction back in house while learning as they go.

“A number of the team leaders decided that the amount of knowledge we could gain from building the hull ourselves is just tremendous,” he said.

Another team focus this year was not making the submarine so small that they could not fit the necessary systems inside, and at the same time, not so large that they lose speed in the process.

“The marriage of those two things was difficult because the bigger your sub is, the more room you have, but then the more water you have to move and the more drag you’re going to have,” McKee said.

Controlling the entire submarine building process for The Underdawg has given the Huskies a boosted sense of pride coming into the 2019 competition. Both Campbell and McKee are longtime members of the submarine team, joining as freshmen after receiving email blasts about possible clubs to join on campus. Years later, the fruits of their labor are visible not only in the ISR, but in the industry as well.

“Being on this team for the past four years, nearly every professional opportunity that I have gotten has either been directly or indirectly linked to the experience I gained on this team,” said Campbell, to which McKee agreed.

Staff advisor Ryland Bryant noticed that even in the spirit of competition, there is a unique sense of comradery displayed among the teams, whether it is sharing equipment or applauding other squads as they finish a run.

“Whenever a team completes their first run, everyone in the basin is cheering. It’s a really special event,” McKee said.

“That’s why I keep coming back,” Campbell said.