What looks like a cross between a hang glider and an inflatable
boat will soon be helping researchers at The University of Southern
Mississippi learn more about offshore game fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
oceanographer Dr. Vernon Asper today demonstrated a new flying boat
intended to support fisheries research as well as other projects
that require aerial observation. A veteran pilot, researcher and
professor of marine science, Asper put the craft through its paces
near the Southern Miss Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, headquarters
for the research to be the first to benefit from the new apparatus.
use the flying boat initially to help GCRL researchers locate masses
of sargassum, a species of brown algae that floats in the open gulf
and serves as critical habitat for juveniles of many important species
such as marlin, dolphin fish and tuna.
biologists at the lab study these seaweed mats and the fish that
live there in order to learn about the fishes' life cycles, feeding
habits and abundances in various places and seasons," Asper
Asper and colleagues
will transport the aircraft to gulf study sites on the deck of the
research vessel Tommy Munro. Asper will search an area within 10-15
miles of the ship, determine the exact position of the seaweed by
Global Positioning System (GPS) and transmit the positions to the
ship using a marine radio.
inflatable boat (FIB) is a commercial product built by Polaris Motor
in Italy. Asper said that although more than 1,300 are in use worldwide,
only a few are used for research.
used for coral reef surveys in Aldabra, an island group in the Indian
Ocean north of Madagascar, and they've been used for releasing sea
turtles offshore. Like small boats, they are mostly used for recreation,
although I don't find it all that recreational."
He said the
small craft is a far cry from his experiences with small airplanes.
The pilot steers the boat in the water using a water rudder and,
once airborne, uses the wing to control lift. He turns by shifting
his weight, just as a hang-glider pilot does.
is backwards compared to a conventional aircraft," Asper said.
"With the FIB you push right to go left and push forward to
The FIB consists
of a rigid-hull inflatable boat similar to the popular Avon or Zodiac
models, a jet-ski engine driving a "pusher" aircraft propeller
and a large hang-glider wing. The aircraft is carried to the research
site on a trailer or on board a larger research vessel, assembled,
and placed in the water.
group acquired the $23,000 boat through self-generated funds.
funds were used. This is an example of an excellent use of self-generated
funds to support research in the gulf," he said.
The GCRL fisheries
biologists who pioneered much of the fisheries research in the northern
gulf are now part of the Southern Miss Center for Fisheries Research
and Development at the lab and work closely with faculty in the
Southern Miss Department of Coastal Sciences, also headquartered
at the lab. The sargassum research continues under funding through
the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.