Like a Film script...

The Hanning-Lee WHITE HAWK Hydrofoil

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 Using the logic that speed record projects gained a huge amount of publicity at the time and that such a project would also give credibility to his future plans and influence potential backers, he decided on attacking the water speed record. At the time it was still held by Sir Malcolm Campbell in Bluebird K4. Set in 1939, it stood at 141 mph but was about to be broken in no uncertain terms by Stanley Sayers in the USA, moving the goal posts more than a little, to over 160 mph! Trawling round admiralty contacts he was able to bend the ear of a professor in the west country who was studying foils for the Navy. Frank went along to see him and came away armed with performance graphs and charts which he could base the foil designs upon. He also picked the brains of Professor Christopher Hook of the Hydrofoil society and so amassed a further heap of data some of it quite possibly still on the secrets list at the time.

However Hanning-Lee, despite his interest in things mechanical was not a trained engineer and having conceived a basic layout for the boat contacted Imperial College, London, to see if they might help him work out the stresses and structures involved. He contacted Professor Tom Fink, who in turn passed him over to a promising student of his who had come to Imperial after wartime service with Armstrong Whitworth. This student had worked on projects that included the top secret "flying wing" aircraft, his name was Ken Norris, future designer of both Bluebird K7 and CN7. Ken takes up the story; "Hanning-Lee wanted some stressing done ........ so I went along to his town house, in Chelsea I think, and met him. He took me into the cellar and showed me some performance charts and calculations he had got hold of and an outline drawing of this boat on the wall, complete with a sharks fin on the top. He said 'Can you stress that?' and when I said 'Where are the plans?' he just pointed to the drawing and said 'That's it'. I told him I needed structural plans to work from - but he hadn't got any, just this outline. He said 'Can you draw them for us?' and that's how it started".

Working to the basic concept before him, Ken drew up a steel square-tube frame clad in aluminium with a two seat, tandem-style cockpit ahead of the jet engine, a sleek pointed nose and foils borne on outriggers either side of the intake. "I didn't know anything about hydrodynamics, I was into aircraft and aerodynamics, my brother Lew was the marine expert so I asked him and he helped out. I was working for Hanning-Lee, Lew was already working for Donald Campbell (on the prop-riding K4) so we were in rival camps, but he still helped out and so we got on OK with the design".

Historian Kevin Desmond in his book WATER SPEED RECORD quotes the boat as using an early Whittle engine dating from 1943. Vaughan Hanning-Lee also remembers his father talking of the original Whittle engine, quite where it came from is not known but Navy connections no doubt helped. Vaughan also says that at some point an approach was made to Rolls Royce about supplying something more up to date, on the pretext that any record breaking would be good PR for them too. Apparently the argument worked - both his parents were "very persuasive!" and not only did he land a Derwent engine but a second to use as a spare and the loan of a couple of mechanics to work on them when the boat was up and running.

The boat was christened WHITE HAWK, because it sounded suitably dramatic! It was 25 feet in length (some reports say 20 feet) and 12 feet across the beam. Contemporary newspaper reports confuse the power output of the engine, at various times quoting 2000 to 4000lbs of thrust, possibly getting thrust and horsepower figures mixed up. The revolutionary foil system looks for all the world like tiny unturned Christmas trees suspended at each end of the outriggers (Ken Norris, looking at photos of the boat for the first time in 48 years commented "Knowing what I do now about flexing, I would make those beams a lot stronger if I was designing them today..".) The Christmas-tree consisted of three levels of foil with the low-speed top level being the largest, the high-speed lower level, very much smaller - however there is an inherent problem with hydrofoils which will be explained a little later in the story...

In addition to the two main foils a third was attached to the transom beneath the jet nozzle and this not only lifted the tail but also provided the steering input. On the nose a pitot tube fed an airspeed indicator but otherwise there was little instrumentation for the pilot. In itself, the cockpit was unusual, being enclosed, aircraft style, at a time when every other fast boat still had the pilot out in the open air with the option of bailing out if in difficulty! WHITE HAWK thus looked very avant-garde for the era.

With the design process taking "not very long, a few months", Ken was a regular visitor to the house in Chelsea and recalls being kept topped up with tea and sandwiches by Stella. However as the process drew to a close and construction was about to start he still hadn't been paid. He also noticed various items in the house, radios, furniture, being sold off as bills for other work came in. Cash flow was obviously becoming a problem, not just for the Hanning-Lees but for Norris himself. Lewis was keen for the two of them to concentrate on their new business as they were about to land the job of designing a new Bluebird and with all the WHITE HAWK drawings complete, Ken had no option but to inform the Hanning-Lees that he just couldn't stay on any longer. They wanted him to oversee the construction phase and he does recall seeing the early stages but practicalities meant his involvement with the project had ended. Through a roundabout route he did receive the £700 or so that he was owed eventually and today holds no ill feeling towards them at all. In fact he is full of admiration for Frank and Stella for actually getting the boat built "this is record breaking and unlike so many others, you have to say that they did get the thing built. They achieved something, it worked and no one can take it away from them". He remembers them as a very likeable and attractive couple with great determination and perseverance but he recalls that Frank, like many a would-be speed-king was a touch naive about the whole business of record breaking and some of the problems encountered were as a result of this. He completely lost track of the boat and regrets that he has no archives on the project at all aside from a few small photos of it being built.                                 Continued on… page 3

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