Virgin Oceanic sub has entered the manned test phase with the first free, off the hook testing.
For the last two weeks the Oceanic team has been testing and improving launch and recovery and pulling together the details. The first manned test by Chief Pilot Chris Welsh was brief; life support was good, and launch and recovery went well. In the water, they powered forward on the surface but had small programming issues in the fly by wire programming; this was to be expected as the system needs fine tuning that can only be fully tested under load. In parallel to new aircraft testing, this was the equivalent of high speed taxiing.
The next step will be getting back in the water next week with the software tuned up for first dives. It has three ballast states, Descent (negative 500 lbs), Flight (neutral +/-), and Ascent (500 lbs buoyant). Testing in the next week will be first in Ascent mode, then Flight, and the first actual dives will be powering down in Flight mode. Fully ballasted Descent mode will not take place until all other aspects of the sub are sorted.
For those curious about safety and recovery of resources, the team has fitted a buoy and a high strength line on a buoy that trails the sub. This allows the surface boats to know positively where the sub is at all times, and the line is strong enough to use to recover the sub if needed. A primary and standby diver are on hand and operations are conducted in shallow water within easy diver depth, i.e. 80 feet or less. The steel ballast weights (total 1,000 pounds) and hardware are about $1,500 per set, so floats and a retrieval line are used so they can be recovered as well.
Subsea World News Staff , May 14, 2012; Image: Virgin Oceanic