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Feature Story

The fully autonomous unmanned underwater vehicle Echo Ranger

Boeing/Randy Jackson

The fully autonomous unmanned underwater vehicle Echo Ranger, built by Boeing, is lowered into the cove of Two Harbors on Catalina Island, Calif., before its journey into the Pacific Ocean.

Echo Ranger: On the move again

Echo Ranger dives into the Pacific Ocean

Boeing/Randy Jackson

Echo Ranger dives into the Pacific Ocean. The Boeing-built autonomous underwater vehicle can descend to depths of 10,000 feet.

Echo Ranger, Boeing’s fully autonomous, deep-diving submersible, was on the move again off
California’s Catalina Island the week of Nov. 7.

Its mission: Performing acoustic testing to record ambient noise in the ocean (e.g. marine mammals and surface shipping) and participating in gamma-ray tests that collected and analyzed ocean samples looking for naturally occurring radioactivity in seawater. The tests are providing information that proves the capabilities of the unmanned submersible.

A mile off picturesque Catalina’s coastline, the yellow unmanned underwater vehicle submerged to depths of about 400 feet, though it can dive to 10,000 feet on selected autonomous missions.

“On top of being safer from a human risk standpoint, Echo Ranger and other unmanned underwater vehicles are also a lot more cost-effective.”

The 18-foot-long Echo Ranger was first developed by Boeing in 2001 to capture high-resolution images of sea beds for the oil and gas industries. Nowadays, it can be programmed for long-endurance, deep-dive missions that include surveillance, reconnaissance and environmental work.

Echo Ranger practicing shallow water patrols

Boeing/Randy Jackson

Echo Ranger, practicing shallow water patrols, passes in front of its command vessel just two feet beneath the surface of the water.

“This vehicle could take the place of a fully manned submarine to do some of the dull, dirty and dangerous things that large submarines are doing,” said Mark Kosko, program manager for Boeing’s Unmanned Undersea Systems group.

“On top of being safer from a human risk standpoint, Echo Ranger and other unmanned underwater vehicles are also a lot more cost-effective,” Kosko said.

Ross Peterson, Boeing Echo Ranger team lead, said these unmanned submersibles may play a major role in homeland security by patrolling the nation’s harbors.

“What we’re doing off the coast of California is paving the way for undersea unmanned missions that one day may save lives,” said Peterson. “Persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is key to keeping our nation safe, and Boeing is doing that from seabed to space.”