Super-light sub has ‘capability greater than U.S. Navy’

By | September 12, 2009

"Deep Flight II" can dive to depths of 37,000 ft -- almost four times deeper than a giant squid which can dive to 10,000 ft.A new generation of deep-sea submarines light enough to launch from a yacht could open up the ocean’s depths to amateur explorers

The “Deep Flight” winged submersibles are experimental prototypes designed to dive to depths of up to 37,000 ft — almost four times as deep as a giant squid dives — descending at 400 ft/minute.

They are the brainchild of submarine designer Graham Hawkes who is in the process of building commercial models that can reach those depths.

Hawkes has been designing submarines since the 1960s, working initially with the British Special Forces and then for the oil industry.

He now sells his designs to wealthy sailboat owners as the ultimate yacht accessory.

“If you have the money for a mega-yacht and you’re just limited to the surface, then what a waste. That’s my perspective,” Hawkes told CNN in a telephone interview.

The late billionaire balloonist and adventurer, Steve Fossett, commissioned one of Hawkes’ experimental prototypes, “Deep Flight Challenger,” which can dive to 37,000 ft. The craft was four weeks away from delivery when he died.

Venture capitalist Tom Perkins has ordered one of Hawkes’ first commercially-available models, “Deep Flight Superfalcon” for his yacht “Maltese Falcon.” The $1.5 million sub is capable of diving to 1,000 ft and comes complete with air conditioning.

While price means these craft are out of reach for most leisure users, Hawkes denies they are simply rich men’s toys.

The “Deep Flight” winged submersibles are experimental prototypes designed to dive to depths of up to 37,000 ft — almost four times as deep as a giant squid dives — descending at 400 ft/minute.

via Super-light sub has ‘capability greater than U.S. Navy’ – CNN.com.

More info:

Link 1: pdf from Deep Flight: “The pressure hull is a thick wall carbon and glass/epoxy structure” and in another place it says, “Composites: E Glass, Carbon, Kevlar Fiber‐ Proprietary, Epoxy”

Link 2: Machine Design has this to say:

It’s taken Graham Hawkes more than 20 years to realize a lifetime goal: to build and “fly” an underwater vehicle, and possibly make some money doing it. He and his company, Malibu-based Hawkes Ocean Technologies, are now selling their fourthgeneration submersible, the Super Falcon. It’s a far cry from their first sub, Deep Flight I, but they both rely on the same principles to maneuver through and under the water.
…  Heck of a Hull
One of the most startling innovations in the Super Falcon is its hull. Pressure hulls in conventional submarines and bathyspheres have round cross sections because that shape evenly distributes the hoop stresses generated by outside water pressure. But if the hull’s circular shape deforms by 1 or 2%, water pressure instantly crushes the hull if it is deep enough.

The Aviator, the predecessor to the Super Falcon, has a cast-aluminum hull that conforms roughly to the pilot’s shape, but still has circular cross sections. “It’s a curved and tapered cylinder,” says Hawkes. “Sort of a banana with round cross sections.”

Super Falcon’s hull, a prebuckled pressure hull according to Hawkes, is made of a proprietary isotropic composite that is incredibly strong and relatively light. “We used the strength of the material to break the rule about round cross sections,” says Hawkes. “It let us build a shape that better fits a recumbent pilot. And compared to the Aviator, there’s more shoulder room and a few extra inches everywhere it matters for pilot comfort. And even if the hull deforms under pressure or impact, it won’t collapse.”

The pilot and passenger ride in a hull pressurized to within about 1% of normal atmospheric conditions and breath normal air. Outside metal panels make up the body or skin and they are attached to the hull. The body provides the aerodynamic form and covers most of the equipment, which is also housed outside the hull. But the outside skin is not watertight; rather it lets water in, keeping pressure equalized inside and outside the body. Of course, this means components have to withstand enormous pressures. (The Super Falcon is rated for 1,000 ft, where water pressure is 460 psi, but has a safety factor of two built in to the rating. So the hull should not crush until it gets below 2,000 ft, where pressure is 905 psi.)

Link 3: Video here at USA Today.

Link 4: Comment from the Yachtpals web site:

Deep Flight Super Falcon is the culmination of four generations of experimental prototype winged submersibles that have succeeded in proving the concept of underwater flight, and introducing the next generation of ultra-lightweight manned vehicles that can access the oceans at all depths. The Super Falcon is the first production-model winged submersible, and was originally commissioned by venture capitalist Tom Perkins for his yacht S/Y Maltese Falcon.

“When I was looking for a submersible, I wanted a fighter jet, not a blimp,” said Tom Perkins. “The Super Falcon is a resounding success and has exceeded my expectations. I believe the Super Falcon is the future for underwater adventuring.”

Video from CNN:

It seems doubtful that the Navy with its huge budget has been outpaced by a civilian.  I tend to think the US Navy has secret stealth submarines which surpass this in speed and depth, things even more stealthy than the Astute.

Wisegeek has some facts about deepest subs:

A small submarine, the bathyscape Trieste, made it to the deepest point in the ocean, the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, a few hundred miles east of the Philippines, 10,916 meters (35,813 ft) below sea level. So clearly a submarine can make it as deep as it’s even theoretically possible to go. The water pressure at this depth is over 1000 atmospheres. Life does exist here, as well as a carpet of diatomaceous material that covers all the ocean floors of the world. As the Trieste has long been dismantled, there currently exists no manned or unmanned craft capable of making it to this depth.

Trieste was manned by two people and funded by the United States Navy. The pressure sphere used was 2.16 m (6.5 ft) across, with steel walls 12.7 cm (5 inches) thick, able to withstand 1.25 metric tons per cm² (110 MPa) of pressure. The pressure sphere of Trieste, which weighed 8 metric tons in water, was not neutrally-bouyant because the steel had to be so thick for a 2 m-sized sphere at that depth to withstand the pressure that it would have sunk like a rock on its own. Therefore Trieste’s pressure sphere had to be attached to a series of gasoline floats, accompanied by iron pellets for weight. Initially weighing slightly more than water, the craft descended 10.9 km below sea level. At the bottom, the pellets were ejected, and the buoyant gasoline floats carried Trieste back to the top.

This feat has never been replicated. The deepest-diving large, military-style submarine was the Soviet submarine K-278 Komsomolets, with a hull made of titanium, making it very expensive, but able to withstand significantly deeper dives than the best submarines made of high-grade steel, like American nuclear submarines. The Komsomolets was a nuclear powered submarine specially designed to make trips as far down as 1300 meters (4265 feet) below sea level, definitely less than the Trieste, but very significant because the Komsomolets had to “defend” a much larger air bubble against the encroaching pressure of the surrounding ocean.

Compared to the best American nuclear submarines, of the Seawolf class, Komsomolets had about 78% better diving capabilities. Seawolf submarines have an estimated crush depth of about 2400 feet (730 m). The Seawolf submarines are constructed of a high grade steel called HY-100, capable of withstanding 100 atmospheres of pressure. As a rule of thumb, the pressure increases by one atmosphere for every 10 m you descend.

3 thoughts on “Super-light sub has ‘capability greater than U.S. Navy’

  1. Carlston

    Super-light sub has ‘capability greater than U.S. Navy’

    Really, well you get the BS flag on this one. Why?
    It still hasn’t been made. And when you get a up and running sub that dives down to 34000 feet i’ll buy it. As I am a ex-submariner in the Navy….

    (-p

    Look see that, that is my amazing new tank, with capabilites greater than any seen before? What? It’s just a symbol with no backing, proof or even roof in science? Well it’s just like yer sub. 44 psi per 100 feet….yeah what’s the hull made out of? Adamanitum?

    1. Xeno Post author

      See update in article. This sub is only rated at 2000 ft and a Seawolf can go to 2400 ft, so you are correct about the depth, but what about speed and maneuverability?

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