Like a Film script...
The Hanning-Lee WHITE HAWK Hydrofoil
Quite when the idea to take the boat across to the USA was first mooted is not known, but Vaughan recalls being in America before Christmas 1952 and in March 1953 the press were reporting that the Hanning-Lees were preparing for trial runs "at Lake Mead or some lake in Florida, sometime next month" In fact they were searching for backers rather more avidly than venues and WHITE HAWK was exhibited at the New York boat show in the old Madison Square Gardens in the hope that someone rich would take a shine to the project and finance it. What actually happened was that Bill Carl and Tom Buermann, two engineers who were working for the US Navy took a look at the hydrofoils and reported back that here was something that might be of interest. Bob Johnson, the Hydrofoil Project Officer at Navy Research Office was experimenting with such devices at that precise time with a view to using them on sea planes - much as Frank was - and he was prompted to try and establish contact with the Hanning-Lees and beg, borrow or steal their technology! However Carl and Buermann found that Frank Hanning-Lee, when quizzed, expressed a strong aversion to having anything to do with the US Navy. He was convinced that a big backer would turn up sooner or later. Johnson himself visited the show and noted that the WHITE HAWK was beautifully built and that the foil system was a single large U shaped element - and here we get into one of the unknown areas of the story. Vaughan Hanning-Lee also recalls a single big U shaped foil but Ken Norris and the photos from Windermere clearly indicate that the original system was with the two "Christmas trees". Were the modifications carried out in Barrow some radical reworking of the whole foil system and was this where Lightening-designer Bob Sellars came into the picture? Sadly we do not know at this point! It's clear a lot of work went on at Barrow. Vaughan has a vague recollection that some sort of wing was fitted to the nose to help it lift, but this and the apparently altered foil system are not backed up by any photographic evidence so far uncovered. Vaughan was only seven at the time so his memories are obviously unlikely to be very technical!
Bob Johnson liked what he saw and at a meeting with Carl and Buermann cooked up a scheme for the three of them to pose as potential civilian backers and the logical deduction is that they really intended to obtain whatever technical information they could from under Hanning-Lee's nose without him realising. A meeting was fixed at the Gramercy Park Hotel where Frank and Stella had a suite. However when the Navy men arrived they were told the Hanning-Lees had a prior engagement with a representative of a major oil company who was showing interest. The meeting would therefore have to be brief. While Frank chatted, Stella excused herself and removed to the bedroom to dress for their later meeting. Johnson recalls that Frank was a likeable chap but made it clear throughout that he was not interested in any Navy involvement. Discussion about the boat continued but Stella was always within earshot and often joined in. At various times Johnson recalled that she would reappear in a state of semi-undress to make some comment, then return to the bedroom and continue her preparations. Not surprisingly the three Naval men were somewhat distracted by this situation and didn't learn a whole lot about the technical aspects of the boat! Had Frank or Stella tumbled their subterfuge perhaps? The upshot was that despite the apparent offer of help the meeting ended without any agreements being made.
The boat show ended, no backing had been secured, the oil company had offered free fuel but no cash and things were getting difficult. The boat was on a trailer, stored at Stella's mother's home in North Avington near Boston and to make ends meet, Stella had taken a secretarial job at Sears-Roebuck while Frank had been reduced to labouring on building sites! Some three months after the meeting with Johnson and colleagues, Frank contacted Bill Carl again and for some reason Carl confessed that he was with the Navy and the whole meeting had been something of a sham. Far from the expected outrage, Carl received a request to sound out the Navy's interest once more as objections to its involvement were no longer logical in the harsh financial situation they now found themselves in. Johnson agreed a deal whereby the boat would be run over a measured mile and the Navy would pay all the costs. If they reached 100 mph the Navy would then discuss a full programme of test runs. Funding for the initial run was indirect, via Bill Carl's company who already worked as Navy subcontractors.
As the engine had been idle for several months by this point it was decided to call in the Grumman aircraft company to overhaul it, which they did at no cost, as well as supplying two mechanics to help on the run. The site chosen was Eaton's Neck in Long Island Sound and the Coastguard were on hand to set up marker boats at each end of the specified distance and to assist should there be any problem, even arranging for a helicopter to be on standby...just in case. Fears about the safety of the craft were voiced when it was noticed that the cockpit canopy couldn't be opened from the outside so hammers were issued to rescue crews to smash their way in if required!
The evening before the run Johnson, Carl and the Hanning-Lees had dinner and Frank agreed to pilot the boat alone on the basis that if any accident should occur, at least Stella would be left behind to care for Vaughan! At 6.30 the following day a small crowd of boat enthusiasts mixed with the Naval people on the shore and out in launches, eagerly awaiting the run. Frank had a quarter mile run-up and apparently the boat rose beautifully onto its foils well before the measured distance and appeared to be under almost full power but before completing the distance it suddenly disappeared in a huge ball of spray and came to a halt. Boats rushed out to find Frank sitting in the cockpit with the hood raised. Apparently he stated that he had no working speed gauge onboard and at full power he simply lot his nerve and backed off the throttle! As in its early trials, the craft was found to have swallowed a lot of water so further runs were put off until the engine had been drained and dried out. The Grumman mechanics worked on this feverishly but the following day a stiff wind had sprung up and the water was simply too rough. A further day passed with inclement weather and the Navy, unable to keep its observers and the Coastguard on standby any longer, stood the test down. Johnson and his team were sufficiently impressed with what they had seen to press for a fully funded programme of test runs and the Navy made a formal request to the Hanning-Lees to discuss terms. Enter the pushy lawyer... Frank had somehow acquired one and he was VERY pushy! Certainly he valued the craft and the runs far more highly than did the Navy. As the Hanning-Lees sat back, their legal eagle proceeded to make a right royal mess of negotiations. What he proposed was on the basis of dollars per mph. The faster the craft went, the more the Navy would pay - in addition a regular salary and expenses for both Hanning-Lees would be required for as long as the tests continued. The Navy tried to negotiate but the lawyer said it was take-it-or-leave-it and pushed them to sign immediately or the deal would be off!
The deal was off.
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