Tuesday, July 26, 2005 | Introduction by Paul Weeks

A sometime-neighbor in Oceanside – “sometime” because he’s usually based in chilly London as a partner in a marine engineering and shipbuilding firm when he’s not in, say, China or Finland – has been reading Voice of San Diego.

Several months ago, 66-year-old Craig Lang knocked on my door with plans to come to the rescue of the water-parched West – but the toe of the plan, which can simply be amputated from the rest – is a floating airport for Lindbergh Field.

Subsequently, he gave The RAND Corporation – Santa Monica’s grandfather of think tanks – a PowerPoint demonstration, which was well-received.

He was even once employed by Howard Hughes to help lift a sunken submarine from the Pacific depths – but couldn’t go to sea with the top-secret “Glomar Explorer” project because he holds his citizenship in Scotland.

I have Craig’s permission to share his e-mail message to me, herewith:

Hi Paul,

As an offshore engineer qualified in naval architecture and marine engineering, I was excited about the column I read in Voice of San Diego regarding building a floating airport as an extension of Lindbergh Field.

As a professional engineer and Fellow of the Institute of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, I agree entirely that a floating airport is not only feasible, say, off an extension of Interstate 8, but the technology has already been proven to create one.

Floating production units are already operating in the North Sea. The design for the units by Seaways Engineering Ltd., in which I am a partner, was nominated by Professor Douglas Faulkner of the University of Glasgow for the Scottish Achievements Award that year for demonstrating their safety and economic feasibility.

Most of my experience has been building ships and those platforms that can withstand the high waves of storm-swept seas. These platforms, virtually floating cities, use semi-submersible vessels, which are not stabilized by pounding them into the seabed, but are moored by chains attached to anchors that are sunk about 30 feet into the bottom of the sea.

From this technology came my idea for a floating airport.

The major part of my design, the runway, is a semi-submersible, 12,000-feet long and 1,000-feet wide. A runway would need more than one semi-submersible platform – 48, in my view – taken to sea and locked together. It would create a runway about two-and-a-half miles long.

Think of it as a square-legged table supporting several decks. The semi-submersible pontoons for legs would be so huge that the response to wave action would be zero. To an onboard observer, it would appear that he is on terra firma.

Maybe you have read or watched on TV the story about the young couple who had been deep sea diving when the Thailand tsunami hit. They said that when they came up to the surface they saw destruction and mayhem and had no idea what had happened.

They were diving below the length of the wave, which is where the pontoons that hold the columns will be stationed. They will be so far below the depth of a wave or the pounding of a storm they will feel nothing that’s happening on the surface. The deck, or runway, will be just the opposite. It will be high enough for the tallest wave to pass through.

Clearly the San Diego Port Authority could use this high value real estate for multiple uses – decks for maintenance buildings, railway connection to docks for cargo and passenger ships, hotels. It would be built on a half-million tons of steel.

The cost of the basic structure without any outfitting would be in the ballpark of one-and-a-half-billion dollars.

If San Diego’s local shipyard, National Steel Corporation (NASSCO), built the platforms, pontoons and columns this would not only speed up the construction but would also employ local labor and create an export trade because these can be built in San Diego and delivered around the world.

Craig Lang lives in Oceanside and is a partner in a marine engineering and shipbuilding firm.

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