|So you wanna be a submersible pilot, eh?--
As jobs go, 'submersible pilot' ranks high on the coolness scale. Not many people get to spend the working day far beneath the ocean surface. But, behind the glamorous title and the choicest office window on the planet, there is a substantial amount of work every day.
Potential pilots must have a technical background, such as electronics or mechanics. A background in diving doesn't hurt either because of the operational similarities.
Pilot hopefuls first join the sub team as technicians. After spending time learning the finer points of communications, tracking, sub launching and recovery, and after spending lots of dive-time in the sub's aft observation compartment, the techs enter the pilot training program which can take up to two years to complete, depending on the need for pilots.
Submersible Pilot Phil Santos grew up on the water. He turned his love of the undersea environment into a dream job that only a select few will ever realize. While working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1983 Santos first dove in the JOHNSON-SEA-LINK submersible during a joint project with the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (HBOI). By 1985 he was working at HBOI piloting that same sub. In the years since, with thousands of hours underwater, Santos has not tired of his work.
"All dives are interesting to me," says Santos. "As pilots, we're exposed to cutting-edge science; we're on the forefront of what is happening."
However, one dive site in particular stands out in Santos' log -- the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the southern coast of Texas.
"The rocks are cut like mountain ridges and form a remarkable canyon. At the bottom there is a brine pool (a heavy layer of super-salty water) that flows over formations like a waterfall. Moving over the brine is more like flying over a lake than diving."