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`Penguin Power' Propels The Navy

ENGINEERS HAVE TRIED for more than a century to improve on the simple but inefficient ship's propeller. The latest effort is based on penguin flippers. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have built a propulsion system that utilizes two oscillating blades that produce thrust by sweeping back and forth in opposite directions.

A 12-foot scale model of the "penguin boat" has shown promise in early lab trials. The blades achieved about 87% efficiency, compared with 70% in conventional ships--which translates into lower fuel consumption. MIT researchers calculate that converting only 3% of the U.S. shipping fleet to a propulsion system that increases efficiency by just 10% would save some $15 million per year.

Based on laboratory results, MIT's penguin boat is capable of moving as fast as conventional propeller-driven craft--and it may be easier to maneuver. All this information interests the U.S. Navy, which supports the project through the Office of Naval Research.

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