Next time you see a dolphin playing off-shore, take a careful look because it just might be a Bionic Dolphin, with a V8 motor and a human being driving it from inside. Currently only found in Northern California, the Bionic Dolphin or VASH (Variable Attitude Submersible Hydrofoil) will soon be sold in watersports stores, enabling adventurers worldwide to experience underwater flight! The Bionic Dolphin was conceived in 1974 by Thomas A. Rowe (Doc to you), though prototype development did not begin until 1988 and the first prototype, "Noland Won" did not make its first historic “flight” until September 7, 1992 at Oak Bottom Marina on Whiskeytown Lake in Northern California. It was, according to Discover Magazine, "the aqueous parallel to the Wright Brothers' achievement: underwater flight."
“Right now they're only being built in California by a few passionate technoartists, but due to the overwhelming interest in my little toy, we have decided to bring the Bionic Dolphin into full production.” says Doc.
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“The inspiration for the Bionic Dolphin is far more complex than the technology,” laughs Doc. “Part of our idea came from going to boat shows and seeing the same old thing year after year, decade after decade, a new dash, a new paint scheme but basically the same OLD stuff.”
After several decades as an engineer in the aerospace industry, Rowe decided to try his hand at designing a machine for the water.
“After learning to build airplanes and spacecraft, I figured building something to mimic dolphins should be a reasonably simple project.”
The "Noland Won" design was actually fashioned more after penguins than dolphins according to Rowe. “I wanted something very light with enough built-in floatation to be unsinkable and at the same time, I wanted something agile and quick, like an aerobatic stunt plane in the water and when we built it, we found we had both.”
In an effort to advance the technology, Doc worked with other enthusiasts, which have each diverged in their designs, with varying results. “Rob went more with the full dolphin shape, which absolutely hauls ass underwater, but it has difficulty achieving the surface speeds we were seeking” said Rowe.
The entire operation suffered a major setback when the original prototype was stolen, but after a “regrouping”, Rowe told Gizmag that they were now “putting together the next generation of Bionic Dolphins” and would “now be bringing the production of the Bionic Dolphin into full swing.”
Design collaborators Innespace Design completed a 15 foot, 110hp dolphin prototype named "Sweet Virgin Angel" in 2001. Innespace is run by New Zealander Rob Innes and Californian Dan Piazza and they are working at creating another rotary-engine-powered two-seater .
“Dan's next version will stay with the dolphin profile but with the modified shallow V transom I designed for my new Bionic Dolphin two seater. He's running a rotary engine with a V-drive.
“The new wings are stepped and use tipsails and the hull is also stepped for better surface speeds, while we don’t expect either modification will detract from the sub-surface performance.”
Doc’s next prototype is likely to be the wildest of them all so far, a two seat, radical trainer and demonstration model with an aluminium 400hp Corvette LS2 engine and race bred Mercruiser outdrive.
“This new 17 foot tandem-control techno-toy is guaranteed to be the wildest ride in the sea,” says Doc.
“Running an outdrive will be a new twist incorporated into my two seater. It will offer a new level of agility with it's vectored thrust and it will also simplify the production process by using more off-the-shelf components, rather than the one-off custom manufactured parts.”
“The new Bionic Dolphin project will be hitting the waves in 2005,” says Doc. “We expect to begin the sea trials by mid summer 2005 and begin full retail production in early 2006.”
“I plan to personally build only two more but I will put together the tooling for the production line, and will continue to design our new models” he said.
“After fielding literally hundreds of requests for Bionic Dolphins, I decided I needed to bring this technology to the working guy who is bored with the limitations of the jet-ski, but doesn’t have the time or skills to build one for themselves” says Doc.
“I am also building for customers on a CUSTOM only basis, so no two of those will be exactly alike. I like to fit the machine to each individual's dreams, much like the custom motorcycle business is doing now.
“Prices will depend largely on what the customer wants to do with it, but $50 grand would be a good starting place for the V8 two seater production model. Right now I'm building two, one for myself and one for a special customer and also getting the molds built for the first production line, so time wise I'm pretty well booked up till next year (2006) for any custom models.”
“I'd be happy to start a waiting list for those that are serious. My terms are one third to start, one third upon completion of the hull and the final one third on delivery.”
“To accomplish the process of bringing production models to the market, I have put together a team of specialists in design, technology, manufacturing and business, unparalleled in the watercraft sector.”
“My new company, NoLand Corporation, will be bringing the VASH technology to the market, TARCO Research will continue to design new VASH/Bionic Dolphin models for the pleasure, scientific, educational and commercial markets. Innespace plans on continuing with the custom design and building of craft modeled after the Angel and we anticipate NoLand will bring some of those models to the public also.”
So, for any wealthy collectors out there, this may be your last chance to own an original hand-built prototype Bionic Dolphin. And for all the working guys out there, the turn-key retail units are coming soon! Visit www.bionicdolphin.com (currently being redesigned) for news on the progress of the new prototype and the release date for the retail Bionic Dolphins.View gallery - 26 images