World Water Speed Record Challengers
The world water speed record (317mph or 511 km/h) is under assault from 3 teams. The defending world record holder, Ken Warby is up for the challenge, as are teams from the USA and the UK.
The USA and the UK were locked in a 58 year-old patriotic battle to capture the world water speed record until the Australian, Ken Warby, crashed the party and captured the record in 1977. His homemade, jet-propelled boat called Spirit of Australia achieved 288mph (463 km/h). Then, in 1978, he posted the current record of 317mph (511 km/h) in the same boat after overhauling his military-surplus jet engine to produce full thrust.
No discussion of water speed records is complete without mention of the Englishman, Donald Campbell – the most prolific world water speed record breaker of all time. His Bluebird K7, jet-propelled 3-point hydroplane successively raised the world water speed record 7 times between 1955 and 1964, from 178mph (287 km/h) to 276mph (444 km/h). His final attempt to break the 300mph barrier ended in his tragic death as he made his return run on Coniston Water, England. All subsequent attempts to break the record would adopt the jet-propelled, 3-point hydroplane design pioneered in Cambell's Bluebird K7.
Clearly these hydroplanes are not ordinary boats, sharing many characteristics with very low flying aircraft. In order to maximize speed, it is necessary to minimize the boat's drag. Given that water is approximately 800 times as dense as air, it takes 800 times more force to propel the same object at the same speed through water compared to air, due to drag. So you can see why these boats are designed for flying (or planing). A rudder at the rear and 2 sponsons (floats) with runners (small vertical fins) in the water qualify the craft as a boat and maintain some semblance of stability. I say some semblance of stability because these boats are notoriously unstable with the slightest disturbance in the water having catastrophic effects. Nearly 50% of the world water speed record attempts result in a fatality.
So what of these latest contenders?
Quicksilver (UK) is a well organized, large team supported by sponsorship and fund raising activities. Their progress toward a record attempt in 2009 is progressing well, if slowly, through wind-tunnel and tow-tank tests. The team will use a Rolls-Royce Spey jet engine after purchasing a complete Blackburn Buccaneer airplane that also serves as their engine testbed. The team's initial design was conceived by Ken Norris who, with his brother Lewis, designed the Bluebird K7 for Donald Campbell.
American Challenge WSR
American Challenge WSR (USA) has a preliminary design concept that, according to its website, "...is being designed utilizing interactive 3D virtual prototypes in a CAD-neutral collaborative environment. Extensive fluid dynamic simulation, wind tunnel modeling, and water tank testing will also be employed."
Aussie Spirit (Australia) is Ken Warby's homemade successor to his original record breaking Spirit of Australia boat. Of the 3 contenders, Warby's is the only one to have seen water in a successful test performed in June 2005. However, no more current news is available.
The well funded US and UK teams have access to advanced (and costly) Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) tools through sponsorship deals with CAE software vendors. Ken Warby follows the tradition of the hobbyist/inventor who has neither the time nor the resources to use current CAE tools. What if CAE tools were both affordable and easier to use for concept design analysis? I'm sure Ken and his fellow hobbyists would be willing to join the CAE party – having finally been invited!