This Could Be Big

Dive! Dive! Dive!: Teen Inventor Successfully Tests Homemade Submarine

This Could Be Big

Most hardworking teenagers play sports and complete their homework after school. Justin Beckerman, 18, does all that and builds machines. His latest creation? A fully-submersible, one-man submarine he made with $2,000 worth of materials from the hardware store.

“I actually had a lot of experience building other submarines, [but] I wanted to challenge myself,” said Justin, a life-long inventor from Mendham, N.J.

His goal was to make a sub that could “actually be used by other people and not just me,” he said.

In April, Justin unveiled the “Nautilus,” a 12-foot submarine he says can descend to depths of 30 feet. He’s still working out the kinks but we can attest that his sub works. In the video above, which we shot last Friday at Lake Hopatcong, N.J., Justin dove 10 feet in the “Nautilus” and explored the lake’s murky waters for 10 minutes.

“Successful test!” he exclaimed, after resurfacing, to his father, Ken Beckerman, and younger brother, Russell, 16, both of whom were monitoring from their dock. Nearby were Justin’s mother, Jess, his youngest brother, Cole, 12, and his cousin, Victoria Fuerst, 16.

None were surprised to see him driving a submarine he had made himself.

“A person who is not his brother must think it’s crazy,” Cole, said as his older brother was submerged. “Well, I’m used to it because ever since I was really young he [has been] making things.”

Justin’s first submarine was a small, remote-controlled prototype he operated from dry land. His next goal, accomplished last year, was to make a sub that could actually dive. But that version, essentially corrugated plastic boxes duct-taped together, wasn’t quite ready for the Navy.

“I ended up building one that could go 2 feet and that worked,” he explained, but the seal broke and the vessel flooded. Undeterred, he continued on his path to complete, in his words, “a full-scale, practical submarine.”

It wasn’t until January of this year that Justin drafted the plans that would culminate in the “Nautilus.” The submarine consists of four main parts: a section of drain pipe for the body, a small motor at its stern, two ballast tanks on either side that allow it to dive and surface, and a life support raft that pumps air in and out of the vessel’s Plexiglas cockpit via two hoses.

The “Nautilus” also sports a PA system that allows Justin to communicate to his parents, who said they supervise every excursion from their dock. Together they devised a rescue plan in case of emergency. So far there haven’t been any close calls.

“Justin has always been safe. He’s proved to us that he can handle it,” said Jess, Justin’s mother. “Even his grandfather, who is a bright engineer, would question Justin and then, after awhile, he said, ‘I can’t question Justin anymore.’“

“And that was when [Justin] was 8!” his father added.

Since unveiling the “Nautilus,” Justin has received a steady onslaught of interview requests from media organizations all over the world. A television documentary about him and his other inventions is in the works, said his father. But Justin is thinking about college, not fame.

“I really want to make a difference in the future through engineering and innovating,” Justin wrote in an email when asked what he wants to accomplish next. “I think that I want to go to a great engineering school where I can roll up my sleeves and take what I have learned to the next level.”

To learn more about Justin and his inventions, you can visit his personal website.

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