Underwater Flight

August 12, 2012 • #

Graham Hawkes has a fascinating approach to undersea research and exploration. Rather than focusing on deep ocean submersibles (which he’s built plenty of), his company is currently building underwater airplanes, craft that fly through the water with hydrodynamic wings and thrusters, capable of flying alongside dolphins and manta rays. Hawkes is obsessed with the ocean, and is fond of saying to space explorers that their “rockets are pointing in the wrong direction”. It’s amazing how little is known about the ocean floor, and how relatively little funding we roll into hydro-exploration.

Deep Flight Challenger

The R&D work Hawkes is doing is amazing, focusing more effort on underwater flight than deep ocean dives. While they have built craft for the purpose of superdeep dives, that doesn’t seem to be Hawkes’ passion. They’ve designed and built several craft to study hydrodynamics, provide research platforms for scientists, and modes of transportation for recreation or studying the seafloor. The Merlin and the Challenger are two vessels funded by Richard Branson, under the moniker Virgin Oceanic.

I found myself obsessed with Hawkes and his work, and spent Sunday morning trolling the internet reading interviews and backstories, and watching videos of his projects. The notion of underwater flight is fascinating to me, and makes me wonder why the technology hasn’t caught on and become a popular attraction for divers in the tropics, to allow divers to fly through reefs and wrecks. I imagine flying over the Great Barrier reef for hundreds of miles sightseeing, stopping along the way for closer looks. Or diving to depth between the Cayman Islands, soaring over the bottom with sea turtles and schools of fish.

His company is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund a field test expedition to Lake Tahoe with his two-seater, Super Falcon, to perform “hydrobatic” maneuvers in the deep parts of the lake. If you’re as interested as I am in this stuff, here are some other links to check out:

(In my browsing yesterday, I also read about the Aquarius Reef Base, an undersea research station operated by NOAA since the 1980s. It sits on the bed of Conch Reef off the coast of Key Largo. The project is in danger of being shuttered soon, so they’ve launched a funding campaign to try and save the project.)