Deep Flight I winged submersible, 1997

Graham Hawkes/Deep Flight

Location: San Francisco, California
Click above to view the full-size image

Graham Hawkes is our twenty-first-century Jules Verne. However, rather than simply imagining future ocean travel, Hawkes has designed manned vehicles for underwater exploration. Since the first underwater craft was invented in the seventeenth century, traditional submersibles have operated like elevators, sinking to a certain depth and only then being able to move horizontally, with limited maneuverability. By contrast, Hawkes’s Deep Flight winged submersibles represent as radical a leap in design engineering as that between the dirigible and the first fixed-wing aircraft. Hawkes’s submersibles “fly” through the water, much like an airplane. For the first time, their pilots can operate and maneuver underwater at great depths while doing little potential harm to ocean life.

As Hawkes notes, water is the planet’s true primary “atmosphere,” but humans have firstperson knowledge of only the surface skin that is lit by the sun. Scientists today believe that over fifty percent of the life forms existing in the sea’s depths are completely unknown. Until now, underwater craft used by explorers, scientists, and filmmakers have invaded these pitch-dark depths with huge, slow machines and bright lights that scare away and potentially damage the eyes of creatures in this environment. Hawkes has designed Deep Flight with tiny lights along the wings and top to act as “bio-luminescence.” This forces the user’s eyes to adjust, rather than blinding the sea life. In addition, unlike traditional underwater vehicles, which are powered by fuels that pollute the surroundings—which affects sharks, for example, the way piercing horns may irritate a dog’s ears—Deep Flight is powered by lowvoltage batteries and quiet thrusters, causing much less disturbance to the surroundings. Hawkes hopes that, as a result, the deep-sea animals will gradually be curious and come toward the vehicles so they can be seen and studied. Heralding a new age of exploration, Hawkes notes that he wants to “engineer a meeting of the eyes—human, sea creatures, and camera— underwater.”

With his wife and partner, Karen, Hawkes intends to continue developing his deep-sea winged submersibles at one-tenth the cost of other similar vehicles, making them more accessible to scientists and future “astronauts” of the ocean. Ultimately, as he observes, “I have a strong sense of design. Although I am initially drawn by the engineering, physics, and math, I have many levels of freedom to make these objects look beautiful, to please myself.”