GREAT LAKES & SEAWAY SHIPPING NEWS
APRIL 1, 2003
UPDATED AS THE NEWS HAPPENS
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Mackinaw to get reprieve with technology refit©
By Al Miller
April 1, 2003 - The venerable icebreaker Mackinaw will be spared from retirement under a new high-tech refit plan recently funded by Congress. The Mackinaw, built during World War II to keep ships moving through Great Lakes ice, was scheduled for retirement in two years. Although big and powerful, the vessel is expensive to operate because it requires a large crew and is largely idle during the summer.
Under the Coast Guard's newly funded Advanced Technology Retrofit Program, the Mackinaw will be equipped with an advanced experimental system
that uses military-strength lasers capable of melting and shattering ice.
"This new equipment has amazing capabilities. It's like something out of science fiction," said Professor Hans Zarkov, director of the Coast Guard's Future Technology Applications Bureau.
Speaking to reporters at a briefing held Monday in the Mackinaw's home port of Cheboygan, Michigan., Zarkov said "two laser projectors will be installed on the ship's deck capable of emitting 15-second bursts of laser light focused in an area ranging from 12 inches to 12 feet in diameter. The lasers will melt sheet ice, break up ice floes, and shatter larger ice jams and windrows." ."We're excited to give the system a work out in Great Lakes ice" explains Commader Nick Johnson, Captain of the Mackinaw. "Similar systems have been in use in Europe for years and the benefit to commercial shipping is clear," he adds.
Power for the Mackinaw's laser projectors will come from two massive turbo-electric generators that will be installed in one of the Mackinaw's three engine rooms, said Adm. Dale Arden, director of the Coast Guard's Vessel Life Extension Program.
Testing of the new system at Sault Ste. Marie
(Future Technology Applications Bureau)
The engines currently occupying the icebreaker's engine spaces will be removed this summer. Although loss of the engines will slow the ship, its lack of speed will be more than made up by the laser power, Arden said.
Reducing the number of engines in the ship will mean a smaller crew size and more economical operation. Zarkov said, "the laser system may also cut labor costs in other areas."
"We're already experimenting with using the lasers to blast rust and old paint off navigation buoys and steel bridge supports. That sort of use would save countless hours of human labor," Zarkov said. "We just have to fine tune the process. The lasers do tend to melt the steel somewhat if the operator isn't careful in timing his projections. I've already warned the
crew not to use the lasers when operating around the Mackinaw Bridge."
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