The History of Hydrofoils
“Gliding over all, through all… as a ship on the waters advancing” — Walt Whitman (speaking of a human soul)
We are concluding our “Fascinating Hydrofoils” series (see New Hydrofoil Concepts and Soviet “Raketa” Hydrofoils) with this overview of hydrofoil development – with some truly interesting historic vessels that you might not have seen before.
“Hayate” is a streamlined Japanese hydrofoil concept, currently located at Kobe Maritime Museum (and another Japanese beautiful “gliding” vessel showcased nearby):
Most stylish hydroplane boat ever? Also, the world’s first regular hydrofoil passenger service
Baron von Schertel was the designer of many concept Nazi hydrofoil boats (read further in this article). After the war, he moved to Switzerland and in 1952 came up with Supramar PT-10, which was also called Golden Arrow, Freccia D’Oro:
It could fit thirty two passengers and was used in the early 1950s between Locarno (Switzerland) and Stresa (Italy) on the Lake Maggiore:
Similarly stylish was the “Meteor-III” seen on Lake Wakatipu, near Queenstown, New Zealand:
“Meteor III was brought to Queenstown from England by pioneering tourism operator Frank Howarth in 1966. The 10m boat carries 17 passengers, has a top speed of 70kmh, cruises at 55kmh and is renowned for its smooth ride on the water.”
In the Beginning…
A hydrofoil is a very distinctive type of watercraft that has been around in one form or another for over a century. The first hydrofoil boat was designed and built in 1906 by Enrico Forlanini. It had a classic Ladder type construction with multiple struts coming down with multiple wings between each of them. The 60 hp engine operated two counter-rotating air props and the craft reached a breathtaking top speed of 42.5 mph during tests.
Forlanini’s started experimenting with hydrofoils in 1898 with a series of model tests, characterized by a “ladder” foil system:
On the right image above is the early hydrofoil by Gaetano Arturo Crocco, who is considered as a pioneer of the aviation and the father of aerodynamics’ studies in Italy. During the period from 1905 to 1907, together with another engineer Ricaldoni, he built the experimental boat Idroplano, with its distinct V-shaped steel foils and aerial propellers:
Telephone pioneer Alexander Graham Bell and Casey Baldwin developed a boat based on Floranini’s design in 1919. The Hydrodrome 4 or HD-4 reached a speed of 60 knots, a record for the fastest hydrofoil boat not broken until the sixties:
Here is a great scale model of HD-4, built by Dave Acker:
Perhaps the oddest of early concepts is the “Outboard Ski-Plane” from 1930, constructed by C. T. Elle, of Chicago:
“The idea is that when the boat gets up speed the front of the skis will be raised, causing the boat to come to the surface. When wind gets under the wing it is supposed to furnish enough lift to permit the boat to skip over the waves.”
The Lantern (HC-4), built in 1953 by the Hydrofoil Corporation in USA, was quite unusual in its shape and hydrofoil configuration (it also featured the earliest hydrofoils to use electronic controls):
“The Carl Boat”, or Carl XCH-4, was designed by William P. Carl in 1953:
Two 250 hp Pratt and Whitney R-985 aircraft engines with two-bladed controllable pitch propellers provided the trust to carry this craft to the highest speed attained since those achieved by Alexander Graham Bell’s HD-4: 65 mph in three to four foot waves!
This 1960s concept Boeing Aqua-Jet is truly a display of power (with its mounted airplane jet engine), featuring true aerodynamic shape:
Nazi’s Earliest Hydroplane Boats
Certainly a part of “wonder weapons” developed during the War (read our article Wonder Weapons of World War Two), these hydrofoil attack boat projects began in the 1930s and continued into the late 1944. Among them were such fantastic prototypes as this turbojet-hydrofoil hybrid:
“Designated the TR-5b, the futuristic Tragfluügelboot concept called for the addition of twin turbojets to be added to a VS- type hydrofoil to create a high-speed, heavily-armed hydrofoil fast attack craft. The turbojets (two Jumo 004s or He S 011s) were to be mated to the hydrofoil to allow a drastic increase of speed during the final attack phase and disengagement of enemy vessels.”
The 1950s concept of a fast hydrofoil “Wendell Schnellschiff” was built based on reduced-scale TR-5b idea; the vessel is preserved in the Deutsches Schiffahrtmuseum in Bremerhaven, Germany:
Other hydrofoil prototypes included VS-6 (designed by aforementioned Baron von Schertel) and Tietjens VS-7 (designed by another hydrofoil pioneer, Professor Oscar Tietjens) – some of these concepts were first tested as far back as 1932, with working boats built in 1941 – more info:
“In 1943, the 80-ton VS-8 was launched. This relatively large hydrofoil was 150 ft. long and was designed to carry tanks and supplies to support Rommel’s North African campaign”:
American NAVY hydrofoils: “High Point” and “Plainview”
In the 1960’s, many countries developed military hydrofoils. The US Navy and Boeing developed the first Jetfoil, known as the Patrol Hydrofoil Missileship (PHM), which was the ancestor of the Jetski. They also developed a commercial passenger version of the vessel. Here’s the Boeing Jetfoil (left image below):
The USS Pegasus dates from the mid-seventies:
320-ton hydrofoil vessel Plainview designs first appeared in 1961, then in 1965 the ship was built and made its first hydrofoil “flight”, but after many years of tweaking the original concept, it eventually fell victim to the Congressional budget knife in 1984 (more info):
3K SES was a “Surface Effect” giant vessel concept from 1979… with projected 3000 ton weight and speed of 100 knots in high seas, and vertical missile launch capability – more info:
US military also was interested in hydrofoil landing craft ideas. Here is an experimental US Navy LVH model, designed by Lycoming Division of AVCO:
… which was soon followed by LVHX-I and LVHX-2:
Soviet Army hydrofoils: from Floating Tanks to “Flying Submarine” Destroyers
This Soviet military hydrofoil boat was used in the 1970s:
Here is the hydrofoil-equipped car, NAMI-055B, designed in 1961:
The idea of a floating tank also occured to Russian engineers. Here is a 1960 concept for a floating hydrofoil tank, using T-54 tank on top:
Rocket-Launcher-Hydrofoil-Submarine Boat! Project 1231 was conceived and ordered into concept development in 1962: this was the ultimate Soviet Super Boat: it could “fly over waves” with its automatically adjusted hydrofoils, PLUS it could submerge – and turn into a submarine with a range of 350 miles (It could stay underwater for 48 hours):
Some of the more interesting modern hydrofoil designs
Today, hydrofoils are found all around the world, where they have proved popular and reliable. For the Golden Age of High-Speed Passenger Hydrofoils in Russia, see our in-depth article Soviet “Raketa” Hydrofoils. Other countries produced similar machines, though in not significantly great numbers.
This 95 foot long Foilcat hydrofoil assisted catamaran also seats 150 and operates in Hawaii. This is a “low-flying” catamaran, supported by fully-submerged foils, built in 1992:
Another “Foil Cat”, this time designed in Norway by Kvaerner-Fjellstrand in 1991:
Here is a modern hydrofoil “aliscafo” passenger boat, seen in Italy, in all its glory:
Modern “Victorian-Styled” Hydrofoil boat wFoil 18 Albatross is currently in the stages of fund-raising by wFoil company. It can be powered wither by detachable aircraft, or motorcycle engine, or even by sail – with the maximum speed of up to 90mph.
“The craft are staggeringly fuel efficient with initial testing showing that 7-10 litres of fuel per hour can keep the wFoil moving consistently at 40 knots. The unique spruce wood hull consists of 3,200 feet of laser processed strips.” The company plans to organize classic racing series with twelve units in production.
And we finish with a totally outrageous concept, which is more like a joke: why not attach the whole Boeing plane to hydrofoils? (thus repurposing old passenger planes into 240 km/hr “rockets”) Here is what the resulting monster may look like: