Mission & Objectives
Scientists & Crew
Pilot Anthony Tarantino
a dive, Anthony checks all the equipment in Alvins basket
to make sure it is secure and that he will be able to reach everything
with the manipulator arms.
Where are you from?
Im a first-generation American. My parents
emigrated from Italy to the North End of Boston. My dad went to
the Army, got into construction, and later worked for Polaroid.
My mom was a seamstress. And a great cookthe best. I spent
my days in the park with my buddies, playing ball. I was a pitcher,
and I wanted to play for the Red Sox. Growing up in Boston, thats
not a unique dream.
Tarantino in command of the Alvin on his fourth dive
estimates how long it will take to get to the surface after
a day at the seafloor.
from baseball, what else were you into as a kid?
All my toys came together. Actually, they all
came apart Im not sure they came together. Hands-on
was my speed. It came naturally to me.
did you go to college?
My parents are great, and I owe them a lot. They
put me through school. I went to Wentworth Institute of Technology
and got my degree in electrical engineering. After graduating, I
worked for seven years at two engineering firms.
did Alvin enter the picture?
I went to Hawaii for a vacation and did some snorkeling
and my first scuba dives. It was great. There were all sorts of
interesting things in the water. I remember thinking on the flight
home, Gee it would be kind of interesting to do something
where I would see some cool stuff in the water. Being from
Massachusetts, I knew a little bit about Alvin. As a shot
in the dark, I pulled up WHOIs Web page, saw a job ad, looked
at the skills they were looking for, and said, I can do all
that stuff. So I sent in a resume, and eight months later,
I set foot on the Atlantis for the first time. I had never
even seen it before. I met the guys I would be working with, and
started up. It was Jan. 2, 2000a good way to start the new
millennium. And two years and five months later, here I am. Im
Navy deep submergence pin that Alvin pilots receive when
they qualify. Two ancient mariner dolphins surround the submarine
Trieste and Neptunes trident.
easyIm just kidding. What is the Alvin Pilot
training program like? What skills do you need?
It helps if you have an engineering background,
because the sub is very complex. You start off as an Alvin technician, and your job is basically to help out and do as much
as you can. In the meantime, youre looking and listening,
gathering as much information as possible and trying to learn about
how the day-to-day operations go, as well as what makes the sub
work. The first couple of months youre here, youre feeling
do you mean by youre feeling it out?
The lifestyle. This job has a few unusual features.
Being out here for eight months of the year. Dealing with the fact
that the people you work with are the people you live with and the
people you play with, is another big factor. Being away from your
family for so long. I dont have a house or an apartment. I
have my stuff in my sisters house in boxes. When Im
on vacation, Im either traveling or bumming a room in my sisters
house, or even my parents house. So its a nomadic lifestyle.
None of us is married. It can be very difficult to hold a relationship.
is an electrical engineer. Here he prepares to install one of
the motor controllers for Alvins thrusters after
you like the lifestyle, what happens next?
Well, while youre trying to decide whether
you fit into the program, the Alvin Group is doing the same
thing with you. If youve proven yourself, one day they come
up to you, and they say, Weve talked about it, and we
think youre ready. Youre a PIT now.
Pilot-in-training. You start doing pilot-in-training
dives. Every fifth dive, theres a pilot-in-training dive.
A PIT will go down with a pilot and one observer. We accomplish
the days science mission, and at the same time, train our
pilots. Theres no simulator. Theres really no other
way to learn. I made 16 PIT dives before I made it to pilot. Some
people have more.
are the next steps?
Theres a checklist of systems on Alvin that you have to learn. There are probably 200 electrical, electronic,
and mechanical systemsfrom the system that scrubs out carbon
dioxide from the air in the sphere to the variable ballast system
that allows you to control the subs buoyancy. You have to
be able to draw a mechanical diagram of each system and know it
thoroughly. Then you have to go in front of a pilot and display
your knowledge of each systemhow it works, why it works, and
how to maintain it. Once youve completed all the systems,
you begin the process.
process is just beginning?
The process includes four oral examinations. The
first one is with three to five scientists, who ask you about safety
and about your ability to complete scientific dive objectives. After
that, you have a review board with all the Alvin pilots on
board. You stand in front of a whiteboard, and everyone else sits
around the table, asking you questions. Theyll say, OK,
draw the VB system. You draw it out, and then they start asking
you all sorts of questions about it. I think I was in there two
days, for 4-5 hours at a time. That was tough.
After that, there are two more reviews. They send
you back to Woods Hole, and you have the same type of oral examination
with the deep-submergence engineers back at the office. These are
the guys who know all the technical bits about the sub that you
might deal with on a daily basis. They expect you to have dug into
them and know them. They just grill you. These guys have been around
for years. They know the history of Alvin, and they expect
you to know that, too. Theyll ask questions like Why
is this Alvin system the way it is?
pilots are also swimmers who assist when Alvin is launched
and is recovered. Here Anthony Tarantino has just come aboard
Atlantis after the recovery of Alvin.
you get past that, you still have one more hurdle to jump?
You have to go before a Navy review board. You
get sent to the Navys deep-submergence facility in San Diego
and sit down in front of an admiral and a group of submarine captains,
and they grill you on a bunch of situations as well. Once you get
past them, youre blessed, and you get to dive. Youve
earned your Navy deep-submergence dolphins (an insignia pin), and
youve made it. You do your first solo dive, and its
fantastic, and you get out of the sub, and they dump a bunch of
goop on you.
there a big celebration?
When you get into port after the cruise is done,
its traditional for the new pilot to throw a party for everyone
on board. I did mine in Manzanillo, Mexico, and it was a load of
fun. You get roasted by the guys. They give you gag gifts. That
was less than a month ago. Im fresh. Ive only had four
pilots also maintain the sub, right?
A submarine is not something you can put on the
shelf, dust off and use. It requires a lot more daily maintenance
than a car! Sometimes things do go wrong and need repair. Our goal
is to make sure the sub is 100% at all times. It means a lot of
long nights every now and then. And it means sometimes when you
have two or three days in port, youre just not going to get
a day off. Ive been out to sea for three months with only
one day off.
diving, what else do you like about the job?
Ive gotten to see some really great places,
met tons of interesting people. Im doing a job thats
interesting, and it means something.
must feel special to be an Alvin pilot.
I dont look at us as special. Were
ordinary people doing an extraordinary job. In my opinion, all the
pilots are super-competent in the sub. Weve all gone through
the same path, and the guys who make it are definitely solid. Youre
looking at a bunch of guys who rely on each other. Id place
my life in any of their hands. Not to make it sound too dramatic
because the sub is very solid, but you dont want to be the
guy to make a mistake that keeps the sub from coming up. Everyone
knows that. Were constantly working hard to make sure that
sub comes back up to the surface.