PANAMA CITY — Jad Graves said he had always heard the stories about some of the older Navy saturation divers and their exploits hundreds of feet beneath the sea.
Graves was one of one six Naval Experimental Diving Unit divers that emerged from the Navy’s new Saturation Fly-Away Diving System (SAT FADS) Friday morning at NEDU’s pier.
“I’m glad I’m doing it,” Graves said, minutes after he was greeted by NEDU personnel after his 11 days in the SAT FADS.
The divers went into the diving system April 18, as part of a manned, pier side test of SAT FADS at a pressurized, simulated depth of 1,000 feet. SAT FADS is designed to help Navy saturation divers with salvage and rescue operations.
It can support six divers working on the ocean floor for up to 21 days, according to NEDU, with an additional nine days of decompression to support deep aircraft and ship recovery or salvage operations.
The 40-by-80-foot system includes a main deck decompression chamber, manned dive bell, bell handling system, command and control center, two auxiliary support equipment containers, and bulk helium and oxygen storage racks. Living quarters are located in the deck decompression chamber.
George Goehring, a NEDU technical department head, said the Navy currently has only one of the systems. He said the diving system would be used in situations like submarine rescue and lost airplane salvage.
Divers in teams of three can work up to eight hours a day from the SAT FADS during an operation, Goehring said, with another three-man team aboard the unit able to rotate in and continue work with minimal interruption until a job is completed.
“This is really no different than what the civilian oil drilling community does on a regular basis,” Goehring said.
The system can be mounted aboard a Navy vessel and employed anywhere, Goehring added.
Other divers aboard the SAT FADS during the test included Jeremiah Ruddell, Charles Bass, Jeremy Post, Somsack Phanthavong and Javier Lopez.
Lopez was the first to emerge from the diving system, which has been in development since 2006.
“Oh man, nice and bright out here,” Lopez said, as he squinted and shaded his eyes from the sun.
The system will replace two decommissioned Pigeon-class submarine rescue vessels, which allowed divers to operate at a maximum depth of 850 feet. Goehring said the Pigeon-class submarines were commissioned in 1974 and decommissioned in 1998 and 2000.
“This is really good because it gives the Navy a capability back, hardware-wise, that it had kind of lost,” Goehring said.
NEDU Commander Mark Matthews said the system operated in a near flawless manner during the extended test. Matthews said the test’s main purpose was to make sure the system was habitable down to 1,000 feet.
He said it had been 20 years since the Navy had certified a similar diving system.
“It’s good to see we can still do it,” Matthews said.
Goehring said the dive followed a successful 250-foot, manned, dry saturation dive conducted pier side April 8, and would be the last step prior to manned testing at sea.