Contact: Dave Munson at (207) 581-3777
Covert military operations can be a pain in the neck — and in the back, shoulders, and legs as well. Known for its speed and maneuverability, the Mark V Special Operations Craft gets U.S. Navy SEAL teams in and out of sticky situations fast, but the aluminum insertion vessel’s speed and durability come at a cost: repeated impact strain created as the lightweight craft skips across the waves can mean injuries for the sailors on board. 2001 Mt. Ararat high school graduate Kate Stephens is out to change all that, and she may help to point Maine boatbuilding in a whole new direction in the process.
An excellent student with a talent for math and an interest in design, Stephens’ decision to pursue engineering was a natural one. After graduating from Mt. Ararat, she went on to complete her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Maine in Orono, graduating near the top of her class last May. Now a graduate student in the university’s mechanical engineering program, Stephens is taking the reins on a project aimed at improving the Navy’s Mark V.
Stephens is a key player in a cooperative effort involving UMaine, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the boatbuilding team at Hodgdon Yachts in East Boothbay. The project brings together cutting-edge composites technologies spearheaded by UMaine’s Advanced Engineered Wood Composite Center (AEWC) and the long tradition of quality boatbuilding at Hodgdon Yachts. Its success could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for Maine’s boatbuilding industry.
“This is a great project,” said Stephens during a recent brainstorming session with Hodgdon engineers and Navy representatives in Boothbay. “I’m just beginning my master’s program, and I’m really excited about the opportunity to work on this.”
While the project is aimed at improving the original Mark V wherever possible, the primary goal is to use specialized composite materials in the hull and elsewhere that can absorb the shock created by high-speed travel across the water’s surface. By dampening the affects of the boat’s repeated impacts as it skims across the waves, the new materials can help to protect the crew from back, neck, and joint injuries. Working with her advisor, AEWC technical services manager Bob Lindyberg, Stephens has developed and refined an innovative impact test that was used to select the composite material with the greatest shock-absorbent properties. Ultimately, the ONR believes that Stephens’ test will be of great value when designing new composite boats.
“There has been a lot of positive feedback on this project,” said Jim King of the ONR. “The methods and materials being used here have a lot to offer.”
Maine has a long history of building military vessels, but contracts for smaller, high-tech designs have largely been awarded elsewhere. By combining the facilities and expertise at Hodgdon Yachts with the technological advances being made at UMaine, the project has the potential to open up a whole new market for the state. The project has already resulted in the creation of a new company. Maine Marine Manufacturing, LLC is the prime contractor for the construction of the full-scale technology demonstrator called the Mark V.1, and plans on competing for the contract to replace the Mark V fleet.
“Through collaboration with the university, our team is able to compete for the Mark V replacement contract, which is in the range of $200 million. We didn’t have that opportunity before,” said Steve Von Vogt, President of Maine Marine Manufacturing. “Bob and Kate’s work in the composites lab has played an important part in the project all along. This is not just theoretical research that they are doing, this is about putting a deployable, high-tech design in the water for actual use by the military.”
For Stephens, a native of Harpswell, the Mark V project is a way to not only get some valuable, hands-on experience in her chosen field, it’s an opportunity to give something back to her home state as well.
“This is a great opportunity for Maine’s boatbuilding industry,” said Stephens. “The lab work that we have done shows real progress. We’re setting milestones with every test.