Sparta, NJ High School Engineering Students Build Submarine that Astounds Teachers and Race Judges Alike

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Engineering students from Sussex County Technical School win 1st Place in ‘Innovation' at Int'l. Submarine Races in Maryland, with help from corporate sponsors like Control Products of East Hanover, NJ.

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The International Submarine Race is a fantastic event that motivates young people to explore the field of engineering

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The challenge for these teenage engineering students? Design and build a human-powered submarine from scratch, and then race it in a 22-foot deep, 100-meter long waterway against other submarines, most of which were built by students in college-level engineering programs.

“A high school is not supposed to be able to do this!” beamed Chris Land, teacher at Sussex County Technical School in Sparta, NJ. But a group of his engineering students did just that at the ninth International Submarine Races in Bethesda, MD last year, and went on to win first place in the Innovation category. Many other schools competed against them, including teams from Virginia Tech, the University of Michigan and even the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Now, those students (seniors on the team) have moved on to some of the top university engineering programs in the country.

"The reason we won in the Innovation category was because we were the first team ever to incorporate both the upper body strength and lower body strength of a single person," says Land, who was also the faculty project manager for the Sussex County Tech team. The students, Land says, always prove to be remarkably innovative and since 2003 have been entering the biannual race. Furthermore, they have won awards in various categories each and every time they have entered.

Several corporate sponsors donated parts for the Sussex County Tech submarine, dubbed UmptySquatch 3.2. Control Products, Inc. (CPI) of East Hanover, NJ, a manufacturer of high-quality waterproof and thermal switches, donated waterproof switches that proved to be critical for the submarine's success. CPI, which has plans to provide important components to additional submarine teams from other schools in the 2009 competition, intends to continue its support of engineering education through equipment donations.

"The International Submarine Race is a fantastic event that motivates young people to explore the field of engineering," says Mac Stuhler, vice president of CPI. "Being able to take part in something that helps to develop the engineers of the future means a great deal to us."

The engineering students at Sussex County Tech spent a whirlwind year designing, building and preparing UmptySquatch 3.2 for the contest, which also requires pilots to obtain SCUBA certification.

"I make the students take three to four weeks to convince me that they want to compete again, because it's not the kind of project I can drag them through," Land says. But Sussex County Tech students always rise to the challenge with enthusiasm and dedication. One of this year's submarine pilots, sophomore Chelsea Shupe, gave up her school softball career in order to obtain her SCUBA certification, help design and build the sub and, ultimately, compete in the race.

While most of the submarine designs used in the race have a bicycle pedal or rotary system that utilizes only the pilot's leg power, the Sparta students decided it was important to increase the power to the propeller, prompting them to study exercise machines that work the entire body. The result was their own invention of a novel propulsion system unlike anything conceived previously for a similar submarine project.

To compensate for the constant motion of the pilot's arms and legs, which compromises steering and depth control, the students designed a computer-controlled system based on sonar inputs. They also needed a manual override since they wouldn't be able to test the complex computerized system until the race. Waterproof switches from CPI, two for the rudder and two for the depth planes, were mounted on the handles that the pilot used to power the sub. If the switches, which had to withstand completely submerged conditions and constant use, proved too difficult to use or undependable, a reliable test run would not have been possible. As it turned out, the CPI waterproof switches worked flawlessly.

The total cost of building UmptySquatch 3.2 would have exceeded $62,000 had the school been required to foot the entire bill. As a result of corporate sponsors like CPI, the final cost to the school was barely more than $3,000.

School and race officials say that a project like this encourages students to consider engineering as a profession, which is always in the best interest of America's technological leadership and ingenuity. Almost every senior who has been a part of the Sussex Tech submarine team over the last few years has gone on to study engineering in college.

The International Submarine Races, sponsored by several regional and national companies and held at the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center's David Taylor Model Basin, is designed to give students a real world engineering experience. Safety is a key factor, especially since there is always an element of danger in underwater activities. With the availability of corporate sponsors, some competing teams have advantages over others. That, too, is part of the real-life experience, since many engineering companies, departments, teams and taskforces have certain advantages over others, even when in pursuit of similar goals.

About Sussex County Technical School
The Sussex County Technical School (, a school of choice, in partnership with family, community, business, industry and institutions of higher learning, empowers secondary and adult students to become self-directed learners and active participants in their community by providing a competitive advantage to pursue any career opportunity.

About Control Products, Inc.
Control Products, Inc. ( has been manufacturing a broad line of high quality waterproof and thermal switches since 1946. The company, known for the Precision, Efficiency, Reliability and Safety of its products, specializes in addressing OEM-specific switching challenges. In effect, the company acts as an extension of its customers' engineering departments. CPI waterproof switches are designed to operate reliably when exposed to water, oil, humidity, sand, dirt, vibration, and shock. A building block system of basic switches, mounting brackets, and actuators provides a broad array of application solutions.

For a more comprehensive story on UmptySquatch 3.2, with photos, please visit: For more information on the International Submarine Race, visit:

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