The fist armored diving suits date from the time before anybody knew anything about diving physiology. The main reason that divers went down was to make money. They were willing to take risks (the more risk the more money). Inventors in fact had the same thing on their minds: how can we get down there ? One of the flows in the development of diving apparatus (next to things like the regulator and the closed diving helmet) was the armored diving suit. The development of the suit started around 1715 and still continues today.
Supply of breathing gas to armored diving suits.
In fact, there are two ways to supply breathing gas to an armored diving suit.
In the first case compressed air is forced down via a hose to the suit and flows back to the surface via another hose where it is expelled. The suit is cleaned of CO2 in this way. The method is simple but has disadvantages. You need extra personnel on deck and more space to leave over 500 meters of double hose. Besides this you need a very powerful compressor to press air down to, lets say, 250 meters.
For these reasons the oxygen rebreather soon became a popular life support system and still is today. By the time the first Neufeldt and Kuhnke suits saw daylight, oxygen rebreather techniques were well known.
An English naval officer, Henri Fleuss, designed the first one. The basic principal is as follows:
The diver carries a rubber face piece over nose and mouth. Attached to this mask are two hoses that lead to a flexible bag. This bag contains CO2 absorbent material such as caustic soda.
With the help of non-return valves the diver inhales from one hose which has a pressurized tank of oxygen fitted to it. The diver exhales in the other hose. The exhaled air is lead through the breathing bag, the CO2 scrubbed out and passed on to the divers mouth via the first hose. He constantly re-inhales the same oxygen. Even the latest rebreather systems still follow this principle.
Fleuss sold his idea to the Siebe Gorman Company were it was further improved. All Neufeldt and Kuhnke and Galeazzi suits were fitted with these Siebe Gorman rebreathers.
We discussed oxygen poisoning in our mseum several times. It depends on the partial pressure of pure oxygen as it enters the divers lungs. The higher the pressure, the greater the chance of poisoning.
When pure oxygen is used in armored diving suits there is absolutely no risk of oxygen poisoning. The reason for this is simple: the water pressure has no influense on the steel suit. Even if you dive to 300 meters, the pressure inside the suit is still one bar (atm), like on the surface
Besides the rebreathing system which is totally mounted on/in the suit, there is still an umbilical that supplies things like electricity, communication etcetera. Have a look below for some great atmospheric diving suits.
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Find out how the armored diving suit evolved to the atmospheric diving suit in the modern diving section.