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Bizarre 'flipping' research ship turns 50

Launched in 1962, the Floating Instrument Platform (FLIP) can sink itself on purpose and withstand heavy seas in a vertical position.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

You'd think a ship designed after a baseball bat would go over like a foul ball when it comes to seaworthiness, but research ship FLIP has been a hit since its launch 50 years ago.

The bizarre research vessel can go from a horizontal to vertical position while staying afloat and stable in heavy seas, even in 80-foot waves. That allows it to perform oceanographic research measurements with great accuracy.

"A ship rolls with storm waves, but FLIP is so stable it is almost immobile," Scripps Institute of Oceanography engineer Eric Slater has said in recalling FLIP riding out a hurricane. "Waves hit it like a brick wall. We were literally thrown out of our chairs inside FLIP when the big waves hit."

Operated by Scripps and owned by the U.S. Navy, the 355-foot FLIP was designed by Phillip Rudnick, Fred H. Fisher, and Fred N. Spiess, and first tested in July 1962 as part of an anti-submarine rocket program. It was recently shown off in the Pacific for its birthday.

It can pump 700 tons of seawater into the fat end of the baseball bat, submerging that part, while the other end rises. It takes some 20 minutes to flip.

The vessel ends up standing in the sea like a buoy that's five stories tall. It has often been mistaken for a capsized ship.

Inside the crew areas is a strange Escher-like world of doors in floors, portholes in ceilings, and tables bolted to walls. It's more than slightly disorienting.

Beds, sinks, and everything else aboard serving its crew of five and team of 11 researchers is either doubled for horizontal and vertical, can swing either way, or gets repositioned manually.

FLIP lacks its own propulsion, so it must be towed by a Navy tug to various locations to perform research in fields such as acoustics, meteorology, and laser propagation.

Check out FLIP flipping in the vid below, from about two minutes in. You'll only feel seasick if you're aboard.

(Via BBC News)