Hawkes is a self-styled renegade, a complicated character who’s led an unequivocally fascinating life. He has spearheaded countless expeditions to unseen corners of the planet, discovered hundreds of shipwrecks in pursuit of buried treasure, hobnobbed with the rich and famous, founded several companies, and is by any account one of the world’s most accomplished oceanographic engineers. And yet, today he’s piloting his latest craft in the frigid waters of Lake Tahoe at 66 years old, with a small – but fiercely loyal – team at his side.
Hawkes clearly remains active, developing new subs and improving earlier iterations, out of a genuine passion to explore, but the situation is also symptomatic of his inability to gain traction among the scientific and industrial communities with working interests in underwater exploration. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, a restlessness that compels him toward constant invention. “I’m impatient,” he says. “I started off doing military stuff, then oil and gas, and I basically burned through all of them, including scientists – I just got frustrated with all of them.” Nonetheless, Hawkes may well be on the right side of history – he certainly believes so – particularly with winged submersibles like the Super Falcon. “I think that when you’re in the middle of a disruptive technology,” he suggests, “it appears that it’s going painfully slowly. Fast forward 50 years and look back, it seems inevitable. But we’re not there yet, it’s kind of painful.”
The “disruptive technology” in question is the primary allure of the Super Falcon, the ability to fly through water, with all three degrees of freedom. “This is the same as air flight,” Hawkes explains, “the math works, and it drives the whole thing.” The small frontal profile – the sub looks like a stretched tube with wings and two protruding acrylic bulbs – creates minimal drag. Actuators toggle the wings to move you up or down; the tail fin pivots to move you right or left.
It’s an impressive, elegant machine, which makes it all the more remarkable that Hawkes is taking me for an underwater spin on this cool spring morning. He steps through the safety briefing on the cozy, two-person craft, pointing out the half-dozen dials and knobs that surround the well-secured, hopefully-not-prone-to-claustrophobia co-pilot. “If you were a fighter pilot, this would be familiar,” Hawkes notes. “If you were Alvin pilots, this would be very confusing, there’s nothing for you here,” he says in a thinly veiled jab at the US’ flagship deep-sea scientific submersible, which, to paraphrase, Hawkes views as a plodding, unimaginative dinosaur.
Safety briefing complete, the hatch is closed, the throat-microphones are activated, and we’re lowered into the blue waters of Lake Tahoe, pine trees and naked ski slopes forming my last views of the surface world.
source: wired.com By Jeffrey Marlow