It seems that Sir Richard Branson's quest to conquer unexplored frontiers isn't limited to space tourism.The Virgin boss's latest acquisition is a DeepFlight three-person aero submarine that "flies" through the briny deep using the positive buoyancy system developed by Graham Hawkes of Hawkes Ocean Technologies.
Christened Necker Nymph, the flying sub will find a home on Branson's 74 acre private island in the British Virgin Islands where it will take guests on underwater cruises of up to two hours. While the craft can be launched from the shore of Necker Island, it's also designed to operate from the luxury 105 foot catamaran Necker Belle - just add a quiet US$25,000 to the weekly hire price tag.
First unveiled by Hawkes Ocean Technologies (HOT) in the late 1990s, DeepFlight submersibles don't use ballast to sink in the water, instead relying on the "negative lift" created by the wings to dive beneath the waves.
The Necker Nymph (developed under the name DeepFlight Merlin) is perhaps better seen as an extension of scuba diving than a personal submarine - its "open top" design means occupants wear a face mask connected to tanks and regulators mounted inside the craft and can enjoy the freedom of "near-ideal 360-degree viewing" from a recumbent seating position. The "wind shields" in the three-seater design aren't redundant though - they remove the pressure of slipstream to deliver speed and ranges that would not otherwise be possible without enclosing the pilots.
The Necker Nymph can be "flown" from any of the three side-by-side seating positions with the pilot given joystick control of pitch, roll and yaw, with a throttle lever for forward and reverse thrust. A Flight and Navigation Computer (FAN-C) similar to those found in advanced fighter aircraft controls the rate of descent and keeps the submersible to pre-prescribed depth limits. The craft also features a triple redundancy life support system and returns automatically to the surface.
Capable of gliding along the surface of the water as well as diving, the Necker Nymph has a cruising speed is up to 2-5 knots, with less than 1 knot for observation. It's also designed to be kind to the environment it ventures into - positive buoyancy stops the craft from landing on (and potentially damaging) a reef and HOT says that its low light and noise emissions, combined with the ability to bank in 360 degree turns, make it ideal for getting close to the creatures of the deep.
When it's delivered later this month, the £415,000 Necker Nymph will be based at Necker Island - one of the private getaways in Branson's Virgin Limited Edition stable (there's also a mountain retreat and a game reserve).
Discerning guests will no doubt want to hire the Necker Nymph as part of a week long sojourn on the US$88,000 for seven nights Necker Belle, a formidable 105ft x 45.9ft (beam) carbon fibre catamaran that can reach 20 knots with the sails hoisted, has a crew of seven and luxurious berths for eight guests. The submersible launch, which includes training and a certified Necker Nymph pilot, adds another $25K - so it's going to require a serious commitment to fun and relaxation.
Necker Nymph in brief (see the image gallery for full specs)
See the stories that matter in your inbox every morning