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A tale of two subs: Virginia Tech succeeds at ISR in Carderock

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

Veteran members of the Virginia Tech Human-Powered Submarine team remember the last time they were at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division and are back with a vengeance.

The Hokies participated in the 14th International Human-Powered Submarine Races two years ago, failing to place in any of the categories. This year, Virginia Tech has returned to Carderock with a revamped version of their Phantom series submarine and added a second submarine to their team, making them the only college team with two boats in the competition. Phantom 8 and Trident are the results of two years of hard work for the Hokies.

“For Phantom 8, it was a lot of redoing other people’s work because as a multiple year project, it was started before we were on the team,” said Curtis Mussen, the team’s president. “With Trident, we didn’t really have anything built so that allowed us to do what we wanted but it was a lot more work in terms of planning, manufacturing and it cost more, too.”

While extra time and money is a natural concern for any project, Virginia Tech knew it was a price they were willing to pay to upgrade their output. They also included personnel development as part of the team’s improvement plan in the new submarines’ design cycles.

“One of the biggest issues was team members not being trained on a lot of different things, so we took scuba-diving training, as well as welding and composite training,” Mussen said. “We spent about six months getting various certifications, and I think it’s really shown this year with how much smoother the operation is going.”

Bringing two vessels to the competition has proved beneficial so far for Virginia Tech. Phantom 8 has required the team’s attention for adjustments during much of the competition, but has been offset by the Trident’s successful runs.

“Phantom 8 is actually one of the submarines that went into the competition with very little in-water experience, so putting it in the water and trying to race it for the first time, a lot of systems failed,” said design team head Rykley Cooper. “For Trident, we decided to put a lot of emphasis on our testing, so it’s been in the water a lot over the past semester to make sure the systems work.

Nevertheless, the Hokies enjoy the experience of each trip to the ISR. Being one of the relatively local teams in the races makes the journey to Carderock a little easier, but that also comes with added pressure to be competitive.

“Once we’re here we get more pressure because we meet alumni from our school and they’ll ask us how we’re doing. This year, we can say we’re doing great,” Mussen said.

Building for the future remains the main objective for Virginia Tech. According to Mussen, coming back to the 16th ISR in 2021 without having to revamp this year’s work will be the greatest indicator of success.