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Rediff.com  » Business » Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Last updated on: April 7, 2011 13:45 IST

Image: Necker Nymph, the solo-piloted 'flying' mini-submarine in which Richard Branson plans to explore the oceans' depths.
Photographs: Courtesy, Virgin Oceanic.

Virgin Group chairman, adventurer and billionaire Sir Richard Branson, after having set his sights on commercial space travel through his Virgin Galactic, is now targeting the oceans' depths.

Branson on April 5 showcased the 'Necker Nymph', a solo-piloted 'flying' mini-submarine in which he plans to explore depths to which no man has ever been before in all the five oceans on earth.

. . . 

Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Branson poses on top of the solo-piloted submarine.
Photographs: Reuters

Along with Sir Richard Branson, explorer Chris Welch too will test the depths of the earth's oceans in the submarine.

. . . 

Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Necker Nymph, Virgin Oceanic's solo-piloted 'flying' mini-submarine.
Photographs: Courtesy, Virgin Oceanic.

The submarine's first dive is likely to take place later this year.

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Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Virgin Group head Sir Richard Branson sits on top of a solo piloted submarine during a photo opportunity at a news conference in Newport Beach, California on April 5, 2011.
Photographs: Reuters

Pioneered by Virgin Oceanic, Branson's new initiative, the submarine 'represents a transformational technological advance in submarine economics and performance.'

. . . 

Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Necker Nymph, Virgin Oceanic's solo-piloted 'flying' mini-submarine.
Photographs: Courtesy, Virgin Oceanic

The vehicle itself is a unique design made from 8,000 pounds of carbon fibre and titanium. The pressure at the bottom of the deepest trench is over 1,000 atmospheres -- the quartz dome alone is under 13 million pounds of pressure, the weight of three space shuttles.

. . . 

Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Richard Branson and Chris Welch pose on top of a solo piloted submarine during a photo opportunity at a news conference in Newport Beach, California on April 5, 2011.
Photographs: Reuters

The Virgin Oceanic web site says that the submarine is designed by Branson's partner Graham Hawkes and is the only piloted craft in existence that has 'full ocean depth' capability.

. . . 

Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Necker Nymph, Virgin Oceanic's solo-piloted 'flying' mini-submarine.
Photographs: Courtesy, Virgin Oceanic

The one person sub has an operating depth of 37,000ft (7 miles) and is capable of operating for 24 hours unaided.

. . . 

Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Branson (R) walks along the deck.
Photographs: Reuters

Once fully descended, the submarine's hydroplanes (the equivalent of wings for submarines) and thrusters will allow it to 'fly' up to 10 km over the ocean floor whilst collecting video and data, something submersibles could only dream of.

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Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Branson (L) and Chris Welch stand on the crows nest of the Cheyenne, a 125 ft catamaran.
Photographs: Reuters

At these depths, each individual part of the sub must be able to withstand enormous pressures, 1,500 times that of an aeroplane, and protect its pilot from the extreme conditions just inches away.

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Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths


Photographs: Courtesy, Virgin Oceanic

As Branson and Welch each pilot the sub to the bottom of the planet, they will be aware that should anything go wrong, there is no rescue team that can reach them; whilst backed up by a mission crew, once at depth, the pilot and craft are alone. Full pressure testing will be conducted over the next three months, the web site said.

. . . 

Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Necker Nymph, Virgin Oceanic's solo-piloted 'flying' mini-submarine.
Photographs: Courtesy, Virgin Oceanic

The craft will cruise at a max of 3 knots and can dive 350ft per minute. At that speed, a dive to the bottom of the Marianna trench and back is estimated to take about five hours.

. . . 

Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Richard Branson (R) enjoys a moment with Chris Welch.
Photographs: Reuters

The Virgin Oceanic web site says that the submarine provides the currently unequalled capability to take humans to any depth in the oceans and to truly explore. 'It utilises the latest in composite technology and a completely unique flying wing to literally fly within the ocean environment; creatures living here such as dolphins, whales and rays have shown us this winged approach is the best and most elegant way to range the seas,' the web site says.

. . . 

Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Necker Nymph, Virgin Oceanic's solo-piloted 'flying' mini-submarine.
Photographs: Courtesy, Virgin Oceanic

'The submarine is many times less expensive to manufacture and operate than any of its less capable counterparts and is in harmony with its environment,' the web site adds.

. . . 

Branson's flying submarine to explore oceans' depths

Image: Branson on top of the submarine.
Photographs: Reuters

The submarine was originally commissioned by Branson's friend and fellow adventurer Steve Fossett who had intended to complete the first solo dive to the depths of the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench, which has a depth of 36,201 feet (or around 11 km).