April 4, 2022

Testing Seagliders: Behind the Scenes in Tampa

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Mike Klinker is CTO and co-founder of REGENT with CEO Billy Thalheimer. Mike along with Andrew Gregg, Test Operations Lead, Dan Cottrell, Director of Engineering, and Andrew Levin, Software Lead, are spearheading the testing efforts of the seaglider technical demonstrator in Tampa. We asked Mike about Tampa, how the REGENT team is approaching this phase of seaglider development, and what a typical day of testing looks like.

Why did REGENT choose Tampa for testing?

We ultimately chose Tampa, Florida as our location for seaglider testing for its favorable maritime weather and on-the-water safety of our test team. In addition to its conditions, we also wanted to build a partnership with a city that would be among the candidates that would host our first seaglider routes. Tampa fits that bill. We also discovered along the way that Tampa is a historic site for commercial aviation. In 1914, the world’s first commercial flight took off from St. Petersburg to Tampa. 

Mike Klinker, CTO and Co-Founder

What are you hoping to accomplish in Tampa? How is it going?

Our team on the ground in Tampa is a multidisciplinary team of software, controls, mechanical, and test engineers. We are originally deployed for an 8-week test campaign to rigorously test the system and demonstrate the vehicle’s float, foil, and fly mission. Our focus is the methodical testing to develop a deep understanding of the systems and operations of the seaglider of the vehicle while ensuring team safety.

We’ve found that the vehicle floats like a dream and moves seamlessly on the hull. We have been working up to a speed of ~35 knots, as we systematically work through various control schemes of the main and rear foils at various speeds.

What does a day of testing the seaglider look like?

Our days are heavily dependent on the weather. On great weather days, we are testing 14-16 hours or sunrise to sunset. The early morning offers the best wind and water surface environment. We house the technical demonstrator near the water so after we prepare batteries and pre-test checkouts, we head out to launch the vehicle and prepare our main chase boat and control station for our pilot and safety observers. During test runs, the chase boat follows and controls the vehicle and a second smaller boat will also follow for wildlife safety scouting and inspections in between runs.

How are you capturing and sharing testing data with the team? 

We capture data usually over the course of 1-2 hours through five different cameras mounted on various parts of the vehicle. We are logging all data including health, status, and control information. A pre-briefed set of test points help us define what we want to accomplish on the water. Following testing, we conduct post test briefs to review the test events to note significant test runs and any safety concerns. The team develops quick look reports to summarize events and note data log files of interest which are then made accessible to the larger team to parse and review using in house developed tools in MATLAB and Excel. We also overlay telemetry with different video views of the vehicle to correlate events with the data. All of this converges in team discussions about insights and lessons learned often over Slack chats.

Andrew Gregg, Test Operations Lead & Dan Cottrell, Director of Engineering

What are some things you’ve learned with a few weeks of testing in the books? Any surprises? 

A little bit of planning goes a long way with test execution. Because safety is always paramount, we prioritize pre-planning and it makes our testing on the water go extremely smoothly. I’ve also been encouraged by the sense of camaraderie we’ve cultivated in such a short time during these long and exhausting, yet rewarding days. When issues come up, the team comes together like a NASCAR or F1 pit crew to quickly repair and solve any issues that arise.  

When you’re not spending time on the water what does the REGENT testing team do for fun?

Tampa has been good to us and of course the waters are much warmer than Boston. We have been exploring all the city has to offer and most of it revolves around the water as you can imagine—lots of swimming, electric surfboards or efoiling, and of course getting together for dinner outdoors is always a great way to spend our downtime.