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Deep sea solo dives are something not many of us will ever get to do. This is probably a good thing, although a shortlist of people who might be good candidates for an ocean floor existence is being prepared (Osama and Timmy Mallet so far).
The abiding image of a lonely soul in a dark undersea world frantically working the claws, or hands, of their suit is a familiar one to readers of National Geographic, or for the fans of more populist entertainment, those who have seen the Abyss. Putting aside the extraordinary ability of Ed Harris and his crew to swim unaided and unprotected through the greatest depths by saturation diving, when work must be done at great depths an Atmospheric Diving Suit (or ADS) is yer only man. You might look like Bender from Futurama but who gives a crap at 600m? Anyway, saturation divers are the perverts of the sea, so there is really no alternative…
The chart below featured in National Geographic and the arrows indicate the relative depths we are talking about.
These suits are hardened shells built to withstand huge pressures while maintaining surface pressure on the diver in the suit. They have great manoeuvrability with their articulated limbs. Other considerations include communications, backup power and oxygen supplies, carbon dioxide disposal and emergency signal transmitters. They are mainly used for inspection and repairs on oil wells, but also for military recovery missions and to a much lesser extent scientific purposes. Currently the greatest operable (read: insurable by Lloyds) depth has been tested to 910m with a Hardsuit 2000. This suit’s normal use maximum depth has been set at 610m.
The advantages over submersibles are that an ADS requires less crew, is more manoeuvrable, cheaper and easily transported.
The paucity of these suits is a little baffling. On average, these suits cost around three million dollars but usually only one model is made.
The JIM Suit and The Wasp
Although the concept of a hardened diving suit, pressurised to one atmosphere has existed for over 200 years the ADS name did not gain common currency until the 1970s with the Jim suit (pictured above). The JIM suit was developed at this time by DHB Construction.
The WASP suit (pictured above) and the Jim suit share a provenance, with the wasp being a legless version of the Jim. But with thrusters, so you can pretend you are a spaceship while you fix the oilrig. The WASP is a hybrid construction of of glass-reinforced plastic, machined aluminium and a hardened acrylic viewing dome.
Phil Nuytten developed the Newtsuit (geddit? Nuytten… Nuyt…Newt… Wow, clever shit). It has since been refined and is now called the Hardsuit, and now has fully-articulated arms and legs and just enough room for the operator to pull his arms back into the body of the suit to operate interior controls.
There are currently 4 types of the Hardsuit: the original cast aluminium 300m-rated version (Hardsuit 1000); another rated to 364m; and a forged aluminium 600m-rated version (this is the US military on for submarine rescue work). Finally, there is a Hardsuit2500 which is at some point of development and will be rated to approximately 750m.
According to MachineDesign.com Phil Nuytten’s Exosuit Swimmable Atmospheric Diving Suit will let divers go down to 300m while breathing regular air at atmospheric pressure for up 8 hours on a shift but to 3 days as life support in an emergency.
A1 submersible classification requires the life-support systems to last at least 72 hours. Nuytco has surpassed this by 13 hours. Gas for the diver costs about $35/dive, and the suit itself costs less than $250,000.
Nuytco’s own website‘s information on the suit is quite different, in the underwhelming understanding of that phrase. Anyway it’s big thing is manoeuvrability – it can be swum instead of requiring propulsion. A submarine you can swim.
Underwater Atmospheric Systems Newtsuit page
Underwater Atmospheric Systems Newtsuit Illustrations
Michael A Thornton’s masters Thesis pdf – $23
The Rebreather Site
Wikipedia Entry on JIM suit
Diving Heritage Newtsuit page
The Scuba Site
Sub-Find – go rent yourself a suit!
Oceanworks – Hardsuit manufacturers
This article was posted by Ronan McDonnell on
Monday, April 27th, 2009 at
It is archived in Deepsea, Wild Places and tagged Deepsea, diving, Engineering, exploration, ocean, Science, underwater.
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