Monday, November 24, 2003

Not All Underwater Gliders Classified

Years ago a novel came out that revolved around a manned high-tech underwater glider. I've forgotten the name. I suspected then it was like Clancy using the stealth bombers in a novel years before the Pentagon was ready to reveal them.

The fledgling technology, barely a decade old, has produced robotic submarine gliders that move slowly, with the nimbleness of a blimp. Now next-generation gliders are being developed to fly just as gracefully as their airborne counterparts, diving and climbing on broad wings that slice not air but water.

The gliders are as efficient as they are stealthy, which has drawn the interest and backing of the U.S. Navy. Potential military applications include mine detection, surveillance and patrol, Navy officials said.

"What they bring to the table is a persistence, a long-term deployment capability," said Thomas Swean, team leader for ocean engineering and marine systems at the Office of Naval Research.

The aerodynamic principles that guide ocean gliders are the same that apply to airborne gliders, except the underwater versions can climb every bit as effortlessly as they dive.

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