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Advances in robotics have impacted almost every aspect of science - From building new liver tissues, to making more advanced remote controlled helicopters. Now, these futuristic robots are even providing a window to our past, by aiding in the discovery of World War II airplanes along with remains to their occupants, the brave soldiers that fought so valiantly for their countries.
One such bot is Remus - An autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that is currently on loan to BentProp from the University of California, San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of Delaware. Founded by Pat Scannon, a former doctor, BentProp has been trying to recover WWII aircraft around the Micronesia island of Palau, for the last twenty years. Scannon's quest began in 1993 when he went to the island as part of a scuba diving team in search of a Japanese naval vessel that had been sunk by former US President George H. W. Bush, who flew torpedo bombers during the war.
Finding it had Scannon thirsting for more. So he hired a local resident to help him look for more wreckage sites, leading to the discovery of the wing of a B-24, one of the principal heavy bombers used by the United States during WWII. Intrigued, he researched Palau's history and discovered that it had been the venue of one of the most fierce battles fought between the Japanese and the US - One during which 10,000 Japanese and 1,700 Americans servicemen had been killed. Also, an estimated 200 U.S. aircraft were shot inside Palau's barrier reef, of which 40-50 planes and between 70 to 80 airmen were never recovered.
The fact that these men who had died for their countries were still laying in their underwater graves bothered Scannon so much, that he decided to dedicate his life to try find as many of the wrecks and bodies as he could, and bringing them back to the U.S. so that the soldiers could receive the well-deserved honor, and their families some closure.
For the next few years he returned to Palau by himself trying to accomplish this heroic task solo. Then in 1996, he formed BentProp, and recruited like-minded volunteers, half of whom are military members - both retired and active-duty, to help him with the search. Over the past 17 years, they have been able to locate debris of more than 60 aircraft, both US and Japanese. Given the lack of resources to deploy technology, BentProp scouted out the areas by relying on anecdotal evidence from local residents, military records and old hand drawn war maps- Not surprisingly, their searches were not very precise.
Then a few years ago, Scannon met Eric Terrill, a director at the Scripps Coastal Observing Research and Development Center, who was looking to test their advanced imaging robotic systems and a perfect partnership was born.
Using the sophisticated Remus system, which is equipped with not just sensors but also a GOPro camera, Shannon and his team can now scan the ocean floor and see exactly what lies down there, instead of relying on anecdotal evidence. Besides that, this year, BentProp also received 60 packages of advanced equipment from Scripps - Among them are underwater vehicles, cameras, various types of sonar devices and even an autonomous hexacopter for aeriel surveys to seek out wrecks that are sitting high atop the 30 feet mangrove canopies that encompass the area.
While Shannon is excited to find all kinds of artifacts, he is really hoping to use the Remus and other technology to find an intact B24 that was discovered last year by a local fisherman who stumbled upon it whilst diving in Palau's western barrier reef. From the photos, Scannon believes that it is an American Corsair, which carried between 10-11 men. If he is able to discover the plane, it would be the fourth of the eight that are believed to be hidden in Palau's western lagoon. Two were found following the war and one was discovered by BrentProp in 2004 complete, with the remains of eight men aboard - The bodies were repatriated to Arlington National Ceremony for an honorable burial. We sure hope using this new technology, Shannon is able to put find all the men that are still lost at sea.
World War II, which involved 30 countries, was the largest conflict in our history. Waged from 1939-1945 between the Axis Powers which comprised of a group of countries led by Nazi Germany, Japan and Italy and the Allied Powers led by the United Kingdom, France and United States, it began after Japan went to war with China to try expand its influence throughout Asia and Germany started encroaching nations in Europe. After a long drawn battle, the Allies finally regained control in 1945 when the Germans surrendered and the Japanese were defeated.
Unlike wars in the past, warfare technology played a big role in WWII. With many new aircraft designed especially for the conflict, the planes became increasingly sophisticated. Air-lifting was invented, allowing planes to transport crucial supplies to areas in need. American aircraft became paramount for winning the war, which is one of the reasons historians are so interested in recovering the artifacts. Now thanks to this new technology and Scannon's quest, there will be more discoveries, not just around the Palau region but other areas too - Given that over a quarter million airplanes are believed to have been destroyed during the war there are plenty of hidden treasures left to be found and a lot of airmen waiting to be retrieved from their watery graves!
Resources: Popsci.com, wikipedia.org