"Like a Film script"

The Hanning-Lee WHITE HAWK Hydrofoil

By Simon Lewis

25/11/00 - updated 11/03/05

The story of the WHITE HAWK jet hydrofoil and the Hanning-Lees who conceived and ran it has somehow been largely overlooked in the annals of speed record breaking. This is surprising for it's a storywith so many dramatic elements and such a fascinating cast of characters that more than once during the research of this article, the author has been told "It sounds like a film script" and indeed it does!

Frank Hanning-Lee was born into a naval family and educated at Stowe school just down the road from where the Silverstone grand prix circuit is now located. At the time Stowe was a fairly new establishment, former pupils included actor David Niven. Young Frank was a boarder and studied classics - Greek and Latin - not the best grounding for his later career. Although there were obvious family footsteps to follow, he really wanted to be an engineer not a sailor, but parental guidance prevailed and he enlisted in 1937 after a "crammer" course to teach him all the things he really should have been taught at Stowe. He was a bright student and came out top of the class of twenty, he was also lucky, the other nineteen all apparently lost their lives in the war.

Having joined a ship, Hanning-Lee saw service in Singapore at the time when Japan was about to invade and later in submarines before embarking on the hazards of convoy escort duty to and from the USA. It was on one of these trips that he met his future wife, Stella, a cost-accountant in Quincy ship yards, near Boston. By all accounts she was a striking, attractive, brunette young woman with a cultured accent and a strong personality. Their first son, Vaughan, recalls that his father was very much an ideas-man. Always inventive, he delighted in new technology and saw "the big picture", sometimes at the expense of the day-to-day aspects. Stella by contrast was very practical and determined, a driving-force, the sort of character who would push a project along from drawing board to reality through whatever obstacles got in the way.

At some point during his naval service, Frank, a Lieutenant, saw and was inspired by a captured German torpedo boat which featured hydrofoils to lift it clear of the drag-inducing water. He was struck by a vision of using these for peace-time purposes. The "big picture" in this case was to develop a commercial transport flying-boat which would feature 'foils and could make use of the fact that most of the globe is a potential landing strip, as it's water! Being somewhat impatient by nature he bought himself out of the Navy 12 months short of his 10 year service and not only cost himself a good deal of money but forfeited his future pension rights. Vaughan Hanning-Lee recalls that this was very much in the spirit of the time, his father having survived active service throughout the war when so many colleagues had perished, saw little use in planning for his old age! Once in civilian life he went into business, backed up and pushed forward by Stella, running ex army DUKW amphibious trucks as a ferry service to and from the Isle of Wight. Later a boat was built to complement them, the 220 seat ISLAND PRINCESS. Finance for all of this apparently stemmed from the legacy left to Frank by his late father in 1947. It's probably that same legacy which allowed him to set off on his next venture, the promotion of hydrofoils in readiness for the aircraft he eventually planned to construct.

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