Yamaha engineers resurrect 32-year-old jetfighter-style hydrofoil
Hydrofoiling boats are by no means new. The first hydrofoil-related patent dates all the way back to 1898, and there are numerous photos of hydrofoiling boats zipping along from the early 1900s. But their eye-popping ability to rise up out of the water and glide along with minimal drag never fails to catch the eye and spark the imagination, and it's hard to watch one in action without wondering what it feels like to drive.
That's exactly what happened recently when a team of Yamaha staff went to clear out an old factory and came across the OU-32, a prototype hydrofoil measuring 4.8 m (15.7 ft) in length built as a "dreamboat" display for the 1988 Tokyo International Boat Show. “We came across the thing when we were cleaning and cataloging a factory warehouse," said an unnamed veteran Yamaha test engineer, "and the discovery really made us want to try repairing it and then take it for a ride."
The team sold their management on the idea of restoring the OU-32 as a research platform for exploring ways to reduce fuel consumption and increase passenger comfort in watercraft. “But to be honest," says one of the team, "we came up with all that afterwards! When we actually saw the craft in the warehouse, we all really wanted to try riding it and also wanted the younger boat engineers to try riding it as well. That was our real motive!”
Restoring it took around two months and relied on a single remaining blueprint. A new engine needed to be retrofitted, the seating was altered and there were leaks to fix. But they got it done, and finally took it out on the water to see if this wicked-looking hydrofoil, with its jet-fighter-styled cabin, lived up to its reputation of being super tricky to drive.
Well, it did. And we're sorry there's no video so we can all watch as the Yamaha team struggles to balance this thing and stop it from toppling in the turns. Without a wide track, or the ability to use your bodyweight to balance, driving the OU-32 might be a bit like the first time you try to take your training wheels off a bike. And that's the kind of kinetic problem the tends to get the mind ticking over.
“The very fact that it’s so unique and difficult made us want to get the hang of it even more," one engineer said. "Isn’t that often the case?” As a motorcycle tragic, that statement certainly resonates with me.
While the OU-32 never made it to production in the 1980s and isn't likely to in the 2020s either, it could inspire future vehicles – at least, that's what the Yamaha team will be telling management.