One of the more unusual modelling projects of late has been an Radio Controlled model of an unmanned surveillance vessel being developed by FORGACS Dockyard in Newcastle. We received a request about another model in late 2010 which they were bidding. Unfortunately they missed out on this project, but not long afterwards they contacted us in regards to a different model.
This model they needed to be able to operate to show what it could do. No set plans were available and several times it was thought that it might be best to delay it until plans had been finalised. However mid 2011, a basic form was established and we decided it was enough information to go ahead and have a hull produced for a 1/5th scale model of the vessel.
The drawings were enlarged to the correct scale and provided to Tim at Southern Cross Models. Due to his work load and the fact that he was still working at his full time job, it took some time to get a hull finally produced, but it was worth the wait. The hull was superb and was similar in structure to a full sized racing yacht with the keel set well back. The model was to have an operating motor, rudder and sail.
The idea behind the vessel is a small, approximately 6 metres long, sailing vessel with a winged sail instead of the conventional main sail and jib, which would not be practical for an unmanned vessel. The sail could also be lowered when the weather wasn't suitable for sailing. In addition to the aerofoil fin to drive the vessel through the water, each side of the wing and deck was covered in solar voltaic cells which would charge batteries low in the hull. This stored power would not only power the electrical equipment used to operate the vessel, its RADAR, Cameras and data satellite link, but also drive an electric cruise motor.
The vessel could be set to sail a "race track" course around an assigned area to pick up any intruding vessel with its RADAR and ESM systems and then identify it with its camera systems and relay this info back to a shore station. This information could then be used to dispatch an appropriate level of force to the area.
The model's hull and contoured deck arrived just after Christmas 2011 and work began straight away as we had a tight deadline. The model had to be ready and operating for PACIFIC 2012 Maritime Exposition at the end of January.
The model's internal systems were fitted first including the electric motor, battery racks, electrical racks, prop shaft, shrouded propeller and rudder. The deck was fitted over the top of these with a large hatch over the electrical area to allow access for change of batteries and maintenance. A prototype aerofoil sail and its associated ball and socket joint was made to test the lowering of the fin into the recess in the deck. When the sail was lowered, it fitted neatly into the deck and looked like part of the deck with solar cells facing up to the sun. A few adjustments were made and a final joint was cast and the final light weight sail built from light aircraft ply, expanded foam with an aluminium skin. This was very strong and light and once fitted to the joint it could be turned to the right direction to drive the vessel along and also lower manually into the deck recess.
It was now ready for painting and we were given free rein on the design of camouflage scheme. It was decided that this would be similar to the Hexagonal pattern used by the Army for the covers on their vehicles. Instead of black, green and tan it was done in three tones of grey. The pattern was random and seeing the model on the water proved that it certainly disrupts the shape of the vessel.
Once completed the model was tested in our local council pool under sail and motor and adjustments made to various systems. A small camera was also fitted with its transmitter into a blister on the very tip of the bow which can send back live video to a shore based receiver hooked up to the AV sockets of a nearby TV.
We then drove the model to FORGACS in Newcastle and test sailed in the Hunter River near FORGACS Dockyard at Carrington. This was not only to test the model a final time, but to teach our client how to sail the model. As a competitive Yachtsman with many Sydney to Hobart and Whitbread Round the World races under his belt, he picked it up very quickly. The model has been sailed and displayed many times in front of high profile Navy and Defence executives. We are looking forward to hopefully seeing a full sized version sailing on our oceans one day in the future.