P-MAN XIV Update #01 - Getting Ready

11 March 2012

It's that time of the year again. Winter (well, a simulation of it anyway) is still in full swing in Michigan so it must be time for us to go to Palau. The BentProp Project's P-MAN XIV is about to begin - another month-long investigation and search mission for World War Two MIAs in the Republic of Palau. We have exciting news to share already. This will be the smallest, and largest group of participants we've ever deployed. No, that's not a typo or a contradiction. Please read on.

First, Lessons Learned:

  1. You don't have to be an old guy to appreciate the sacrifices of our previous generations.
  2. Inventory lists of stuff stored in Palau are really handy, if you read them early enough.
  3. Deet bug repellent apparently does have a shelf life: when the sun goes supernova.
  4. Landlocked doesn't mean people don't recognize what an oar is.

This will be the smallest group of BentProppers in the field in a long time. This year's participants are:


Pat Scannon


Dan O'brien


Maj. Derek Abbey, USMC


Flip Colmer

But it's also the largest team we've fielded. Eight high school students, two faculty advisors, one college chaperone and three parental unit chaperones from Stockbridge, Michigan will be joining us.


First Row, L-R: Taylor Parks, Brianna Baldridge
Second Row, L-R: Wesley Havens, Cody Chadwick, Barb Lance
Third Row, L-R: Bob Richards, Faculty Advisor, Scott Watson, Buck Poszywak

We've met the students, seen the UROV and have met the parents and teachers from the school who are involved. Okay, the reality is that Stockbridge met us to check us out. After all, we're taking their kids half way around the world on a great adventure.

Now how did that happen? To make a long story short, and keep your attention, on my first day back home from last year's mission I saw an article in the local weekly paper about the Stockbridge High School's Underwater Robotics Team and how they took second place in a regional competition. Underwater? In the middle of Michigan farm country? As you know I'm not bashful. I called the Superintendent of Stockbridge's school system, got his voicemail and asked if he would be interested in "having a real world mission for the team instead of imaging pool drains." I didn't think I would hear back from him but two days later, Bob Richards the faculty advisor called and said "We're in! I don't know how we're going to do it, but we're in."

The kids (and that's a poor description of these young adults who are sophomores, juniors or seniors in high school) designed and have tested a purpose-built ROV for use in Palau. Pat Scannon gave them the overall criteria we needed for the bot and they built it. But this is much more than just eight students building a robot. The entire school system seems to be behind this effort. Science and history classes are studying Palau. Business classes are raising money and marketing the team. Journalism students are promoting the project and documenting it. They created a budget and raised the funds to build the robot and arranged to get the entire team to and from Palau: a two week mission for them. Although this P-MAN mission is from 15 March until 15 April, the ROV team will only be with us from 23 March until 6 April. They have a Facebook page so check them out here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Stockbridge-Advanced-Underwater-Robotics/148465301909424.

We asked them to build the bot so that it could swim down to look at some of the targets we've developed over the past few years using Side-Scanning Sonar (SSS). It has cameras, lights and a video feed system to a laptop that will be on the boat. It was built to go to 200 feet. Most of our targets are around 125 feet deep. Just yesterday we found out that a local firm, SeaView Systems in Dexter, Michigan, has donated a compact SSS unit that will be added to the ROV so that we can easily acquire our previously found targets. How did so much underwater activity grow up in landlocked Stockbridge and Dexter?

Our high-value target this year is the last remaining B-24 to be found in Palau. We're hoping that some of our SSS targets are part of the debris field from the shoot-down. If we can image a piece of an airplane....

As usual, I packed my gear bag and sent it off via the postal service so it should beat me to Palau. Heavily insured this year just to beat back Murphy. I left most of my jungle gear in Palau in a storage room so hopefully I've sent only the things to fill out my kit: more Deet, Starbucks coffee and a treat for Derek. One new item this year is a GoPro camera. Since my underwater camera did not come up from a dive last year (Not my fault this time. I can blame the Navy.) and since no one else has an underwater camera, I went ahead and purchased one. It will be wrist mounted, with a lock, safety strap and an alarm in case it falls off.

Dan O'Brien will arrive on March 14th. Pat Scannon on the 15th. I'll get there the 19th and Derek Abbey on the 30th. The UROV team arrives the 23rd.

I think we're going to have some great field reporting this year from varied participants. Hopefully, we'll get a few young guest writers for the BentProp website, but I would suspect that this group of high schoolers will be keeping the wall on their Facebook page very fresh and current. I'll have to take your word for it though. I'm a Facebook dropout.

- Flip Colmer
 

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