Like a Film script...
The Hanning-Lee WHITE HAWK Hydrofoil
Vaughan Hanning-Lee believes that his parents had a deal with Accles & Pollack to build the hull for a very advantageous price, maybe even free, but the press of the day still made hay of the fact it had cost the Hanning-Lees some £14,000 to get WHITE HAWK to the point of making a run. During the build, Vaughan also recalls that some work was done by Bob Sellars, exactly what it was he isn't sure, but Bob Sellars went on to design part of the Lightning fighter plane. WHITE HAWK certainly didn't lack for designers with "the right stuff"! When complete the craft was floated at Tilbury docks and a static engine test performed. Then it was loaded onto a truck which headed north to the lake district. At this time John Cobb was making the same trip but his boat, Crusader carried on past the lakes to Loch Ness where he began extensive test runs. It's interesting that both boats are exact contemporaries but also that WHITE HAWK was registered as K5 and Crusader as K6. If one assumes the first non-aircraft use of a jet engine was in Campbell's unsuccessful Goblin-powered Bluebird K4 "slipper" in 1946-47, WHITE HAWK must rank as only the second such use and Crusader as the third - something close to a decade before the concept was applied to a pukka land speed record vehicle.
The team arrived at Windermere on the weekend of the 17/18 August 1952 and encountered immediate problems with getting the boat off the transporter and actually into the water! It took until Tuesday when a mobile crane was employed to lift it bodily down into the lake at Bowness pier head, some 500 yards from it's boathouse. Amid great excitement the engine was fired and Frank took the controls. This was just a systems test and the surface was choppy, but he motored the WHITE HAWK out from the pier a short distance, plumes of spray almost engulfing it, before cutting the engine. Pushing up the cockpit cover, he stood up in the seat he waved a launch over to tow him back as the swell was stronger than expected. Later in the day the boat was towed across to the far bank where the trees shielded the wind a little and a further short run of a few hundred yards was made at low speed. "It was far too rough ... I doubt whether I managed to get above 60 mph" he later told the press. Another run was planned for the following day - weather permitting. This time WHITE HAWK gave the press men something to write about when it made a two mile run with Stella at the controls and Frank in the back-seat. This was potentially big news, a woman at the wheel of such a radical craft - not only that but she was young and glamorous and happened to be American into the bargain! One can envisage the stir this must have caused in Fleet Street and indeed there was no shortage of press men on hand to witness the drama.
Geoff Hallawell, a regular member of the Bluebird crew from 1949 onwards was among them, in his capacity as a press photographer. He recalls the boat's performance with a chuckle. "it never actually got going at any speed, it sort of porpoised up and down with big clouds of spray and I never saw it get up to more than 50 mph". Apparently the Hanning-Lees did not warm to Geoff, he says they viewed him with a degree of suspicion and were rather unfriendly, but admits that his association with Donald Campbell's team - their direct rival, was probably the cause of it! The Hallawell photos certainly make the boat look highly dramatic, even though he says that is slightly misleading! He recalls that there was a degree of American media interest in the project, thanks to Stella. This spurred Associated Press to send along their own cameraman, Les Priest and Movietone News also saw the potential of the effort, sending their north-west cameraman Jimmie Humphries to cover activities on the lake. Movietone had once been edited by Sir Malcolm Campbell of course, so they were naturally always interested in record attempts. What happened next certainly justified their presence. Frank took over the controls, Stella alighted and WHITE HAWK splashed off up the lake again amid clouds of spray then suddenly at around 60 mph hit the wake of a pleasure steamer that was moving around. Onlookers saw the sleek white jet boat suddenly dive headlong into the water and completely submerge! It bobbed under the surface swallowing a large volume of water as it did so but amazingly bobbed back up again, intact! Vaughan Hanning-Lee recalls his father telling him how it went suddenly quiet and seemed to take for ever to resurface! The reported "thousands lining the shores" watched as launches rushed out to offer assistance. It seemed to be sinking again, rather slowly, and Frank feared the hull had been holed. Rapidly a line was attached to tow it back to the pier. It was a 300 yard trip and they succeeded in dragging it into the shallows before it actually went under for the second time. Reports have it that the craft was effectively beached in some four feet of water. Ken Norris, on reading a newspaper clipping of this incident commented that the boat shouldn't have been run at all if other craft were moving on the lake, but that it was very much in the gung-ho spirit of the times that Hanning-Lee had simply "had a go". In fact it is unclear what form of team ran the boat, if any. Its possible that they were reliant on eager locals for the most part to provide launches and general help with launching WHITE HAWK and probably their Rolls Royce mechanics to keep it running. A later press report mentions "the mechanic worked until 1am the get the boat ready", giving the impression that it was something of a one-man operation!. Certainly there seems to be no record of any organised troupe of helpers.
A careful check of the boat was made after it was finally retrieved and Frank reported "There is no damage done and she will dry out in a couple of days" but in fact a couple of large dents were found near the prow and another along the starboard side which needed repairing. The press had been told Stella would be making a full out attempt on the record the following Saturday but the incident effectively ruled that out. Things then went quiet. The boat was taken off the lake and repairs and sundry modifications began. The weather also turned sour - as it always seems to when any form or record attempt is in progress!
In the meantime Cobb was undergoing tests on Loch Ness and making good progress - then disaster. The CRUSADER nosedived into the lake and exploded during the official record attempt and Cobb died of his injuries. Doubt was cast over the WHITE HAWK project. Vaughan recalls a lot of reporters hanging around for a quote, sure that everything would be called off, but it was announced that the Hanning-Lees would indeed be going ahead with more trials as soon as the boat and the weather were in a suitable state to continue. Fatal accidents in the early 50s were not seen in the same light as they are today.
News reports dried up until early October when Stella was said to have made a 100 mph run but experienced severe "porpoising" which would require more modifications and a further 5 days to fix as work was carried out not at Windermere, but in Barrow. On the 18th THE TIMES reported that a new Derwent engine was being fitted with 6000hp available. When this was completed the weather had again gone sour and after only one test run with the new unit in early November, Frank was quoted as saying he would have to wait until the lake had been combed for driftwood before more trials could take place, assuming the weather improved and the wind dropped. The modifications carried out at Barrow were said to have cured the porpoising and he denied stories that they would soon have to pack up and head south for the winter. Young Vaughan had been attending the local school and the family had been living in various local hotels. Almost four moths had now passed since the early runs, the press had largely gone home, the weather was unrelentingly dreadful - if it hadn't been strong wind, it had been fog or rain that caused endless postponed runs -and money, as always, was running low. Despite earlier statements Frank & Stella went back to London in late November, returned briefly in early December then announced the venture was being put on hold until at least Easter in the hope of better weather.
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