After driving up to Panama City late last night, I met up with JR Hott in the visitors' parking area of the Panama CIty Naval Support Facility. JR works in the unmanned testing & evaluation department of the experimental diving unit, and had graciously volunteered to give me a tour of the unit. After I picked up my visitors pass we headed through the base to the EDU.
The main event of the day was a series of dives being conducted for a dive table evaluation study. I wasn't allowed to bring my camera along, so I watched from the back of the control room while the divers suited up and climbed down through the chamber into the wet pot to set up their gear. The first group of divers dove to 190' for 5 minutes and the second group dove to 130' for 10 minutes. They pedaled bikes at depth and then underwent a few hours of observation after surfacing.
Besides observing the dives I was able to check out all the various labs and test facilities at the EDU, and of course, the massive series of interconnected chambers that make up the heart of the unit. The capabilities of the facility are impressive in themselves, but there's a lot of history behind the unit and Navy diving as well. I also had a chance to meet a lot of interesting divers and researchers.
In the afternoon JR took me out to visit Mike and Rocky at Dive Lab. Dive Lab is an R&D facility associated with Kirby Morgan that modifies or develops diving equipment for military divers. Besides getting an up close look at all their cool toys, and some of the special projects they're working on for the military, I had a chance to try out a prototype surface-supplied diving system, the KM 77 helmet. It was heavy, but also very shiny and impressive.
The next day JR and all his Navy buddies had to go jump out of helicopters and other fun stuff that I couldn't come along for, but the day I did get to spend at the EDU and at Dive Lab was incredible. Lots of very interesting people and things going on in both places, and I'm very thankful to JR for getting me in and showing me around. Next stop for me is DAN up in Durham, NC for a week, a few days at home, and then I'm off to Copenhagen to meet up with Eline and Steve for the European leg of my summer!