With a new order for a Super Falcon submersible for Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz and his private island resort, Graham Hawkes and the team at Deep Flight are turning their attention to new 3-seater designs for the resort industry.

Dietrich Mateschitz, the marketing genius that co-founded Red Bull, will, later this year, take delivery of a Super Falcon submersible from DeepFlight to his private Fijian island, Laucala Island Resort. The two–person winged submersible craft, similar to the one previously aboard The Maltese Falcon and still currently owned by Tom Perkins, is the most advanced iteration yet of Graham Hawkes’ vision for accessible undersea flight.

The photos go some way to describing the sub, but it’s really the thinking and ingenuity of Hawkes that underpins the genius of the thing. What makes DeepFlight subs so interesting is that they can be piloted through the water very easily, and they are positively buoyant, which means their natural inclination is to return to the surface. It’s a perfect fail-safe that also gives the pilot and passenger the sense that they’re actually flying under the waves.

DeepFlight have achieved a couple remarkable milestone in recent years, including the development of Sea Glass 13, Hawkes’ patented transparent acrylic specifically designed for the DeepFlight canopies, and the subs’ full 360-degree manoeuvrability while keeping a natural upright stability. See more technical details about recent developments, safety and certification matters in a recent status report (.pdf) from the firm

The Superyacht Owner spoke with Hawkes, who is a London-born marine engineer and founder of Hawkes Ocean Technologies, parent company of Deep Flight, which also built Richard Branson’s Necker Nymph submersible.

Top: The Super Falcon in harbour
Bottom: The Super Falcon doing a "Tahoe Spyhop": a fast return to the surface

“Underwater flight is still in its early days, back about where air flight was in about 1930,” Hawkes says. “Electromagnetic propagation (radio) is killed by conductive salt water so we have no GPS or other means of global positioning. However we recommend a small surface escort boat with GPS and sub tracking (showing the range and bearing to the transponder on the sub) so surface knows where the sub is and has the data to compute its position. We also have standard UQC underwater (sonar) voice communication, so there is two way communication with the sub.”

Hawkes explained how Tom Perkins, who owns the first privately owned model, uses the vessel and navigates under water. The sub position is monitored from Perkins’ superyacht Dr. NO and is reported back to the pilot via UQC as heading, direction and progress to wherever the sub wants to go. “The sub is typically guided from Dr. NO to known dive sites and guided back as needed,” Hawkes explains. “It works very well. We’re still developing ideal instrumentation. Currently the Falcon has magnetic heading (an aircraft type vertical compass display), depth (pressure), the height above bottom (sonar), attitude (aircraft type artificial horizon), a surface VHF and sub-surface UQC phone. Otherwise, Falcon pilots are back to the early days of flight, navigating by dead reckoning, but with great instruments. It’s wonderful!”

Hawkes has spent more time piloting the Falcon sub than anyone, and Mr. Mateschitz, who is a keen airplane pilot and extreme sport enthusiast (and sponsor) will benefit from Hawkes’ experience and teaching. “I usually find bottom contours and features useful,” Hawkes told us. “We manage, but its all exploration of the unknown and most times we are just exploring and following our curiosity. Its all part of the challenge, all wonderfully refreshing and enjoyable. Sometimes we are just flying in company of very big animals (my last was a monstrously large great white shark with Sir Richard Branson in back) and you lose track of, or don't really care where you are. At those times, we just rocket to the surface, jump the forward cockpit clear of water and take a good look around for mother ship.  You take a rough bearing, then head that way and repeat as needed. It works every time. It’s a blast.” 

In a press release announcing the sale, Mr. Mateschitz was quoted, “I’m very excited to take delivery of my Super Falcon submersible, and I am looking forward to flying in the ocean and exploring the waters off of Laucala Island in Fiji. I can only imagine that underwater hydrobatics is every bit as exciting as the aerobatic flying that Red Bull has showcased all these years.”

The DeepFlight team design the subs at their Point Richmond (San Francisco Bay area) workshop, with most of the pieces subbed out to machine shops or sub-contractors like Erich Chase of ChaseBoats, also in the Bay area, who is master craftsman when it comes to working with carbon. 

DeepFlight have started to develop resort operations with a working design of a 3-seat Super Falcon (1 pilot, 2 passengers). “Our idea is to operate this size sub in pairs so that we can take 4 passengers at a time,” Karen Hawkes, Grahmas’s wife and company PR confirmed. “Atlantis does a good job of providing a tour bus experience, but we are looking at providing a higher-end (similar to helicopter tour prices), unique experience, based on underwater flight. Our basic premise is to operate from shore so that we do away with needing a mothership—which greatly elevates costs, and incidences of seasickness!”
Hawkes confirms they’ve had initial conversations with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and other resort groups, but at this point, they are focusing on continuing to develop the technology first, and haven’t begun serious talks with resorts, marinas, or other potential partners. “We are talking with Germanischer Lloyd about certification, and those talks are all going very well,” Hawkes says.

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